I read once that all fiction is a lie, that the author merely adds enough detail, makes things reasonable, and insists it all happens, to the point the reader becomes convinced of it and believes the lie. All the guidelines for good writing only constitute ways of making the reader drop his objections to the utter falsehoods.
So Applejack walks over and shakes her mane out. She’s gotten a little muddy bucking apples after the recent rains, but dirt never bothers her.
Sound like her? I think so. But wait, I haven’t painted the picture yet. Yeah, sorry, it’s one of those stories.
Sweet Apple Acres spreads all around like the green jewel she knows it is, flecked with red apples, as if Pinkie Pie herself had strewn them about like bits of juicy confetti while on a sugar rush. I don’t recall seeing any other color there, but they did grow corn that one time. The weather never gets too hot here, not that she’d care. Over the years, she’s gotten so used to all the birdcalls around her that she barely notices anymore, except when she pauses for a drink of cider; then she can breathe easy and really listen for a change. But they’re so ingrained in her mind that she can hum along, second only to Fluttershy. She gathers all these things up and stores them away, and they don’t always come immediately when bidden, but family wisdom just accumulates like that.
A few shouts sound from over by the clubhouse—Apple Bloom playing with her friends, no doubt. Granny Smith, enjoying a nap back at the old homestead, and Big Mac somewhere off in the fields. It’s easy to place him there so I don’t have to think about where else to put him.
It can’t be too easy to keep the grass mowed between all the apple trees, but they manage it somehow. Say the sheep come over and keep it cropped short. Yeah, that’ll work.
Are you happy here, Applejack?
She smiles and nods. “Sure I am, sugarcube.”
She calls everyone that, even me. Not that sugar cubes mean anything to me, but she has a habit of using the term. Even though I’m no horse, she doesn’t care.
Are you happy, though?
For a second, she frowns and looks at the ground. Do earth ponies draw strength from that? “I think so.”
You see the problem, then. Are you happy for real? Or just because I wrote you that way? Would you even know the difference?
“I…” she starts to answer. I know all the memes. She’s a background pony, unimportant insofar as she only facilitates what happens to everyone else. She’s dumb. She’s boring.
I don’t think so. She doesn’t take her time answering because she isn’t well-spoken. More that she likes to think through her entire answer before giving it. I’d prefer a considered response to a hasty, stock one. Don’t tell me what I want to hear, AJ.
You know you’ll be the only character listed in the tags, and that could well mean not many people come to read.
Now she scrapes a hoof at the ground. “If I’m happy, I’m happy. I guess you might take it like someone in one o’ them old folks’ homes who’s out of his gourd. We like to think how bad they must have it, but really, we feel worse, right? If they’re frightened or in pain or something, yeah, it’s easy to call it bad. But if they’re doin’ just fine off in their little world? We should all have it so good.”
She didn’t respond to the last part, about her character tag. I’d hug her, but man, that opens a can of worms.
A lot of these fans are still pretty young, you know? Little kids have a sense of family, and it gets important again once you grow older. But it seems like it doesn’t hold as much sway for those in between. Still trying to forge their own identities, which means not hewing to a group like that. I admire you, though, AJ.
And she laughs. “I don’t mind, sugarcube. I can’t help being that way, as you might say—heh, now don’t that sound like Zecora?—but I love my family. I would, no matter what.”
I hope so. Plus you like to cut to the chase, avoid all the nonsense. The practical one. I’ve said this before, but I think that’s another reason people call you boring: they don’t like practicality in their fantasy world. Do you remember that?
“Naw,” she says, shaking her head, “but that sounds about right.”
I sit there for a minute, not saying anything. Of course that’s not true, since I’m writing this, but Applejack still picks up on it.
“So, sugarcube, you have some grand adventure planned for me? Some time with the family? Maybe I get into a tussle with Rainbow Dash?”
No. I didn’t really have any ideas for a story. I do have one I planned to write years ago but never got around to—see, this would take place right after “Look Before You Sleep,” and you still felt bad about what happened at the sleepover, so you invite Rarity over to have dinner with your family, and she doesn’t trust you, but it’s also looked down upon to refuse an invitation like that, so… well, I don’t want to spoil it. I might yet write it.
“She doesn’t trust me? The most dependable, most reliable—”
Relax. You know it’ll all turn out fine.
It’s not really a setup for anything bad to happen, plus I just don’t have a taste for hopeless endings.
“You didn’t spell that as ‘Ah.’”
Readers know how you talk. Yeah, yeah, I wrote a “s’pose,” so I’m inconsistent, but there is a difference. Anyway, here, I’ll get another pen. You write your dialogue, however you want to. Just put it in quotes so it fits what I’ve written so far. I’ll fill in the narration bits.
“You’re doing fine by me.”
No, really. It’s important to me. Like I said, how do you know whether you choose to say things because you actually want to or because I wrote that you wanted to? It’s another one of those outright lies, something I can never truly convince the reader of, but I want to give you a voice. Please?
She slouches a bit, but I think it’s all an act; a spark glints in her eye as she takes the pen in her mouth. She doesn’t get to do this very often.
“Alright. If you don’t have a story planned, why’d you bring me out here?”
Yeah, as much of a “cut the crap” pony as ever. I probably should start making a point, or I’d have no purpose. I shouldn’t waste the reader’s time, after all.
I wouldn’t have expected this, but it’s difficult to type. Not as much as if I were saying it for real, out loud, to a person, but still… it isn’t something inconsequential that blazes on the screen for a moment, but who cares, because in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t mean anything. This does.
I wanted to tell you I love you.
She blushes, because that’s what characters always do when someone says that to them, right? It’s the approved response, time-worn, tried and true.
No. She doesn’t. Because I watched her and recorded what she did? Or because I say so, and my word is law here? I can’t prove either one, but no, she doesn’t blush, because she doesn’t. She’s seen this enough times, and she can act a certain way if it’s required of her, but nothing is required here. Just be Applejack.
She nods and scuffs a hoof at the dirt like she’s having the most mundane conversation possible. “I figured.”
Not love in that way, though. Do I say that for her benefit or the reader’s? Or mine?
I mean… are you aware of all that? The countless stories where you love this or that character? Where you love someone who started out as a friend, or some new character, or some Anon, or some unnamed “you”? Or where you love a character who’s obviously the author himself? There. I removed all that. I didn’t create some overpowered wonderpony to stand in for me. It’s just me.
“Yeah, I know about those. They’re not exactly well-hidden,” she says with a knowing grin.
But do you mind? If I think about what I’ve written… I don’t recall writing a romance about you. Well, there was the one. But it’s not published, under this account, anyway. I have to wonder, though. Do you like being a part of romances? Do you see it as a violation to end up in them? Or does it feel more like you’ve just read the stories instead of living them? I don’t know. I don’t know how I’d feel about that. I mean, the more mature stuff—I don’t read it. It’s not like I have a moral objection or anything; they simply don’t interest me.
Ugh. I can’t know, can I? If you love getting paired up all the time, if you wish I’d do that for you, would I have failed you? Or if you hate every minute of it and wish it would stop, then that’d obligate me to go on some crusade against it, right? Start into some diatribe of a blog post.
I don’t know. I don’t want to know. Does that make me a monster for not sticking my neck out? Blissful ignorance, huh?
She doesn’t answer right away. Yeah, “diatribe.” I used a fancy word with her, and she knows exactly what it means. She isn’t dumb. Like I said, she just wants to think things through completely first, make the most succinct and precise answer she can. Her brother takes it to the extreme, but an economy of words is just another offspring of economy, something the Apples know well.
“I’m a fictional character, sugarcube. I knew how all this would go when I signed up for the gig.” Her tied-back mane flips around with her laughter. If she can at least joke about it…
“See, you might as well ask the cow if he minds munching on grass. It’s just what he knows. It don’t bother him none.”
Well, abuse is just what some people know. That doesn’t make it okay.
For a second, she opens her mouth, but she has to think it over again. Now she has the same problem I do: she can only ask me to believe her. I can never know for certain.
“You have nothing to worry about. And I wouldn’t lie.”
So it doesn’t bother her? Or she just doesn’t blame me? That’s probably as much of an answer as I’ll get.
Anyway. I’ve wandered off topic.
I’m reading a book right now where the author relates his adult life to his obsession with sports, and in places, he’s brutally honest about it, and I admire his courage. A lot. Could I do that? I really wanted to here, to bare some really personal things about what ponies have meant in my life. Would people even want to hear that?
“You gotta say what’s on your heart, sugarcube.”
I already said I loved you. What more do you want?
I mean… you’re all just so adorable and fun, and I’ve loved spending time with you. I always wonder if it’s too much, though. My son’s enjoyed watching with me, and he’s gotten some of the toys, picked out others for me. I spend a lot of time helping authors, though. Too much? I don’t know.
I almost always play with him when he asks, but he’s getting to the age where he doesn’t ask much anymore. Was it enough? Did I let all that take too much attention away from him and my wife?
“You know I can’t answer that. You also know what family means to me.”
Yeah. It’s just… I’ve helped so many people. It’s a great feeling, seeing that someone made real, verifiable progress as an author, that someone got a new appreciation for some aspect of writing because of the time I gave them, and I wouldn’t have had much of that knowledge to pass on if not for this community. I’ve learned so much, and I want to give back, but all the late nights start getting to me.
Just one more chapter so I can get a response to this author sooner, just one more story to keep the reviewing queue going, and once in a while, I dare to take a few hours to myself and write something of my own. I don’t do that much anymore, you know. But pushing all the time, a little more, a little more, and living on far less sleep than I should, for years now, all because it feels good to help.
Then knowing I’ve pushed too far, because it gives me an arrhythmia, and I have to make sure to get to bed earlier, midnight this time, no later, and then I look at the clock and how did it get to be 1 AM already? Tomorrow. I’ll catch up on sleep tomorrow. Just enough to where it goes away, live on the edge.
She looks down and scrapes a hoof over the emerald blades of grass. “Shoot, it’s not worth hurting yourself over me. I didn’t want that.”
I know. It’s not your fault. I could be more conscientious about it if I really wanted to.
“Well, take care of yourself, then.”
See, you even have me doubting now. You used my speech tic there.
Applejack only shrugs.
Jeez, I… I cover my eyes and look at the floor. Except of course I don’t; I’m sitting here typing this.
About one of those “just another chapter” times… you know how it is with kids. Babies need constant attention, then when they grow into toddlers, you have no privacy, and both will leave you exhausted. My wife’s got a very narrow window of time between putting the kid to bed and getting zonked out. So she came downstairs wearing something slinky, and I was not five minutes from a good stopping place of helping an author, but that’s all the delay it took for her to fall fast asleep.
And now there are… medical complications. Not that she can’t—it’s just caused some issues, for years, that finally went away, but now maybe they’re back, and—
“I got the picture, sugarcube. Or close enough, anyway.”
You can’t take for granted that anything in your life will always be there. Five minutes made me feel like I’d made a value judgment, and I never let it happen again. Sure, I get the occasional comment about how much time I spend on the computer, but if I shuffled around tending to four hobbies instead of one, I don’t think anyone would complain. I’d look busier, I guess, even if I wasn’t being more productive. But I do make time for them. I hope it’s enough.
There goes another downvote.
At least I did it. I put myself out there.
“Did it help?”
I don’t know. But I do love you. I love all of you. Yeah, you’re adorable and cuddly, but that’s extra. What I love is what I was able to do because of you. I hope I’m a better person. But you did give me another way of relating to my son, and I’ve learned a lot about storytelling that I could pass on to a lot of other people. I think I’ve made a little mark in the world, and I never would have without you.
She doesn’t get the limelight very often, and this time, she does blush. The pen drops. She doesn’t have anything to write. She just gives me a hug before she fades away.
Thank you, Applejack.