Time for a non-story post! I’m in the process of revising chapter 1, so I can’t really put out new content… well, I suppose I could, but that would be a bit more work than I want to commit to. In the meantime, I thought I’d share my thoughts on how I come up with my stories.
All stories ever have conflict; it’s what makes them a story. There’s a central problem that must be overcome, and the story tells how it’s handled. Therefore, to come up with a good story, you’ve got to come up with a conflict.
Conflicts don’t have to be on the epic scale. You can craft a good story around just about any problem there is. “We’re out of eggs” is as valid of a central conflict as “we’ve been enslaved by the dark lord of evil,” and might actually be easier to write a story about, as that’s a situation that’s much more familiar to just about everyone.
Of course, there’s no reason you can’t have a big, huge, important-sounding central conflict. It will definitely make your story sound more exciting when its summarized.
There is one thing to be aware of when deciding on your central conflict. In general, the larger the scale of the central conflict, the more writing that has to be done to support it. This is not always true, but it’s going to be really hard to write a story about the conquest of the dark masters that is as short as a story about getting more eggs.
Remember, there is no such thing as a bad central conflict. If it’s a problem that needs fixing, you can tell a story about how it’s fixed.
Note: This is the end of the chapter, and I’ve made some changes to the original plot summary that will make several details here look like they came out of thin air. The chapter will be edited and partially rewritten before final submission; there, the errors will be fixed.I recommend you check out the published final draft once it comes out.
Lenny scanned over the faces of the ones who were judging his protocol and procedure to see how much they were following their own rules. As far as diversity in clothing went, there were no surprises. Those that did wear clothing wore suits or gowns identical down to the designer of each thread, save for one mare who had decided to really let her mane down by letting her collar line extend a full inch farther up than anypony else’s. Better call the fashion police on her, thought Lenny with an inward roll of his eyes.
Actually, the longer Lenny looked at the mare, the more aware she seemed to grow of her variance. She broke his gaze for a moment only to lock eyes once more, and Lenny noticed her shifting uncomfortably. Suddenly, he realized that she was likely far more concerned with his staring than her own appearance, and he quickly directed his gaze elsewhere.
Stupid. That was stupid. Lenny knew that if he didn’t control himself, he was going to offend somepony. This mistake particularly upset him, as he had earlier practiced keeping his eyes off of any one particular pony in a crowd, and had been pleased with the results. He would have to be especially careful not to let arrogance take him over again.
So focused was Lenny on keeping his eyes moving that he failed to notice the Director stepping up to him with his certificate. A soft “excuse me” from the Director fixed that, and Lenny whirled around to give his bow. He did so harshly but not unacceptably so, then snapped back around to take his leave.
As soon as Lenny felt the shadow of the backstage obscure him completely, he exhaled. He let the rest of his body relax as he sauntered up to the exit, even allowing himself to laugh silently. His mind drifted to the shop that waited for him at the end of the line in Ponyville, where finally he would be able to devote himself to helping others.
Lenny smiled to himself in triumph. Only one short train trip stood between him and his new life. He opened the door and stepped out into the hall.
End of Chapter 1
He wasn’t left much time to dwell on it. No sooner had the door slammed when the announcer called Lenny up to the stage. At least, he tried to.
“Lehbeetofs Terrance, eh…” There was a pause, and the sound of shuffling papers came over the speakers. “Um, excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, I…”
The pittering of feet was heard before the emcee’s assistant was heard whispering to him. “No, it’s leh-bee-TAU-fess!”
Lenny rolled his eyes. It wasn’t the first time his name had been mispronounced. He didn’t know why his parents hadn’t chosen a simpler name; he hated having to explain its exact pronunciation to everypony who read it.
“Yes, of course, um, sorry about that, folks. Next is Lebitauphus Terrance.”
Lenny swallowed hard and took a shaky step forward, then stopped to gather his wits. He had to calm down. All he had to was walk up there, stand smiling for a few minutes, then walk back. Nothing to it.
Lenny continued past the last three ponies and slipped through the gap in between the curtain and the wall. He squinted when the the stage lights hit him, but did not let it affect his gait. He kept himself moving until he reached the brown piece of tape that marked his position. Here, he slammed his hoof down and turned to face the assembly.
The voice in the loudspeaker began to go over Lenny’s achievements and accomplishments. It didn’t take very long. Lenny never had much interest in getting involved with after school activities here, as the biggest sport here was croquet and the most exciting group was the accounting club.
Sweat started forming on Lenny’s face as the heat from the lights beat down on him. He did his best to keep a smile plastered on, but this was really starting to get to him.
Lenny and the remaining ponies looked on as the next four ponies were called up in turn. Lenny’s stomach churned as he watched each commendation session pass uneventfully; the ponies’ perfection wasn’t helping the pressure he felt. They made every step with ease and every bow with style.
The stallion after that wasn’t so lucky. As he was coming back from center stage, he misstepped and stumbled over his own hooves. He caught himself before falling completely, but it was too late to prevent the crowd from breaking into a cacophony of whispered unpleasantries. The pony did his best to hold a neutral expression for the last few steps back in, but as he passed through the curtain, Lenny could see his eyes glistening.
As soon as the pony was out of sight of the audience, he stopped and let himself sink to the ground. He gulped down hard and blinked furiously, trying to rid himself of his tears. Lenny racked his brain for something comforting to say, but the horrible truth was that he was a bit relieved this pony had screwed up before his own turn. It killed Lenny to think it, but he knew that the crowd would be distracted by the other pony’s mistake for some time, which meant that there would be less demand for perfection from the last few ponies.
The other three ponies must have shared Lenny’s view; they were standing a few feet off to the side, looking in every direction except for the sad pony’s. One of them cleared his throat loudly.
The silently sobbing pony lifted his head to locate the noise’s source. A rosy tint colored his pastel aqua coat as he realized that he had just broken down in front of his peers. Without a word, he leaped to his feet and galloped out the back door.
Lenny’s conscience screamed at him for not helping the poor stallion. He could have at least offered a few words of encouragement; maybe he could have said that it didn’t really matter anyways, and that all this would be forgotten in a few days. Unfortunately, that would have been a lie. It would take a spectacle of greater proportion to make the gossip-hungry circles of high society pursue new prey.
The group split into two to make an aisle for Farley. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Here we go,” he muttered to Lenny. Sucking in his gut, he marched onto the stage and took his place in the middle.
Lenny let out a sigh of relief. Earlier, he couldn’t wait to get called up, but now that the moment had actually arrived, he was reminded of just how much he hated being in front of a crowd. It made no difference whether he had to deliver a speech or just stand there looking pretty. The ponies in the seats spread out before the stage were there for only one reason, and that was to watch their child or grandchild or second cousin once removed receive their honors. Everyone else was just fodder for judgement to them, which meant that Lenny would have to try extra hard to put on a good show.
Lenny looked through the gap in the curtain again. Farley seemed to have no trouble at all playing his part. He stood there with his chest held high and his shoulders set, beaming at the crowd. He swept his gaze across each section, careful not to lock eyes with any particular pony. Every time the announcer revealed another aspect of Farley’s importance to the school, Farley gave a bow barely deeper than a nod, but with more deliberation.
Finally, the announcer reached the end of the list of Farley’s achievements. The director of the school, who had previously been standing on the far side of the stage, trotted up to Farley, who turned to face him. The unicorn showed him his notice of graduation, and Farley arched his back in a bow that touched his nose to the floor. After the director returned the gesture, Farley pivoted smartly and returned backstage.
As soon as Farley was through the curtain, he let his chest drop and let out a breath in exhaustion. He stopped for a moment to wipe a layer of sweat from his forehead before continuing to the door at the back. “Good luck,” he whispered as he passed Lenny.
“Whatever works for you.” Farley shook his head slowly before heading over to the other ponies.
Lenny hurried to keep up with his friend. They both stopped on the outside of their group, which had by this time formed itself into two neat rings of four conversing friends. Lenny shot Farley a look of annoyance. He didn’t actually care that much about not being able to talk with those stuffy, snub-nosed, bureaucratic little jerks, but the fact that they had assumed this just because he was a few seconds late really irked him. Now that they had formed into their cliques, It would be awkward to specifically ask for inclusion.
Farley returned Lenny’s glance with raised eyebrows and a shrug. Most ponies in this school completely ignored Farley when he tried to talk to them, so there wasn’t much he could do to help. Lenny sighed, rolled his eyes, and swiveled his ears around to make sure he didn’t miss anything interesting.
The clunk of metal on metal echoed across the room, and Lenny tracked the sound to its source. The last pony from the previous group had just made it through the door. After that, there was silence. Now, that was surprising.
Lenny looked around the room. Save for his group, the room had been completely emptied of all ponies. What was once a colorful, if not somewhat muted and drab, display of colors and cutie marks had resumed its existence as the lifeless shell of a black box theatre. Lenny was reminded of how quickly time seemed to fly by whenever he got lost in thought.
The public address system suddenly crackled on. All conversation in the remaining ponies halted immediately, and Lenny stiffened. This was it. The final casting call. The names on the emcee’s list had been placed in a random order to ensure fairness, so the next one could be any one of them. Lenny felt a shiver of anticipation run down his spine. As one, the ponies turned up to the speaker array they could see through the crack in the curtain.
The voice blasting over the loudspeaker was better defined here than it was where Lenny had been sitting, rendering active listening unnecessary. Everypony strained to hear it anyways.
The next graduate’s name rang out over the silenced ponies, both the ones behind the stage and the ones in front of it.
A familiar dull green hoof prodding at Lenny’s side startled him out of his reverie. Lenny looked around to see that everyone else in his group had gotten up, and all nine of them were staring at him expectantly.
“Hey!” Farley whispered. “ We’re up next.”
Lenny glanced at everyone in apology. “Uh, sorry.”
Lenny sprang to his hooves. The group started moving towards the stage, but Farley hung back. His ears hung loose and he seemed to be very interested by a certain spot on the floor. “Um, so, about earlier…”
Lenny lightly socked Farley on the shoulder. “I was over it as soon as it happened. Don’t worry about it.”
Farley’s ears perked up slightly at this, but he still kept his mournful expression as he met Lenny’s eyes. “I still shouldn’t have flipped out so much. I’m sorry.”
Lenny smiled. “You think I’d let something as small as this come between us on our last day together as students?” He snorted and shook his head. “No. We’re good.”
Farley let a grin of his own pull up at his mouth. “Thanks.”
“Yep.” Lenny swung his head in the direction of their group. They were starting to gather around the entrance to the stage. “We’d better get going.”
Farley nodded in agreement. Lenny lifted up his back left leg and tapped it once against the wall, generating a surprising metallic thump. He looked back up to see Farley staring at him. Lenny raised an eyebrow. “What?”
Farley pointed at his leg. “You still doing that?”
Lenny shrugged. “Can’t be too careful during graduation.”
Ever since he had gotten used to his metallic bone plate, Lenny had knocked it on walls instead of knocking on wood. He wasn’t very superstitious by nature, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. Lenny figured that whatever force made the wood thing work would accept knocking on most other materials as long as the intent was the same. Besides, it made a cooler sound.
Lenny hadn’t needed to wait much longer before the nurse ponies had burst through the door to him in for a proper setting of his leg. The doctor had confirmed that Lenny had, in fact, broken his leg, though the fracture was more complicated than could be fixed with just a cast. He had been fitted with metal implants to hold his leg together while it mended; a simple operation, the doctor had assured him. Being in no position to argue, Lenny had agreed.
The recovery had put Lenny out of school for several weeks. To make up his class work, he had found himself spending more time than ever before at the archives. Often he had to sit staring at books until his brain felt like marshmallow pudding, and even then he couldn’t call it quits for fear of falling even further behind.
His study sessions did have one bright spot. Twilight Sparkle was the only other pony who would stay until closing, so every night he would walk with her and chat about what they had studied. It didn’t really matter that they never really had the same subjects; both Twilight and Lenny knew that summarizing the day’s lessons to another pony would help it stick in their own minds. At times, their conversation would drift to other topics, and one night it had happened upon life in Canterlot. Twilight Sparkle had confessed that she, like Lenny, thought it silly to put on a front just so she could mingle with the upper class.
As it turned out, her motivations for feeling that way were very different from Lenny’s. She didn’t see the importance of interacting with anypony at all and merely wanted more time to study, while Lenny was driven specifically by his passion for making other ponies happy. Personally, he thought this was a much better reason than Twilight’s, and from that moment on saw her almost as more of a robot than a pony. Still, he could talk to her whenever he wanted to complain about the endless dinner parties and infinite faux-pas of high society life; that she did understand.
Sadly, Twilight Sparkle had suddenly stopped coming to the archives a few years ago. He was pretty sure she had moved as per her mentor’s request, though which trade she was apprenticed in was beyond him. It was too bad; she might have been colder than most, but the number of ponies Lenny could relate to at all around here were far and few between.
The unicorn dashed forward, stopping in front of him. “Are you sure? Which one?”
Lenny pointed at his hurt leg. “There; that one. I can’t put any weight on it at all.” He glanced back up at his rescuer. “Can you help me to the hospital?”
The unicorn shook her head, causing her mane to to toss about haphazardly. “No way. All the leading first aid manuals advise against trying to move somepony with a broken leg by yourself. I’ll have to call for help.” Her tail swished as she considered Lenny’s leg. “But there is something I can do.” She whirled around and galloped towards the end of the aisle. As she whipped around the corner, she threw her head back and instructed Lenny to stay there.
Despite the clawing in his leg, Lenny rolled his eyes. It wasn’t like he was going anywhere.
Lenny rolled onto his back, careful to avoid any fallen books. That advice from the purple pony probably stemmed from keeping his leg immobilized, which he was happy to do. Even brushing against the carpet as he twisted around made it tingle a little, but now that he had flipped he wouldn’t have to worry about holding it up.
The sound of running directed Lenny’s attention to the aisle’s end, and he saw the unicorn round the corner. She was levitating a few packets of ice as well as a three-legged wooden stool. When she caught sight of Lenny, she furrowed her brow. “I told you not to move.”
Lenny shrugged, causing the other pony to shake her head. “Whatever,” she said. “I would have flipped you anyways.” With that, she got to work. She slid the stool near Lenny’s hoof and dropped the ice alongside it. She then walked up near him and took a deep breath. “Now, this may hurt just the teensiest bit.”
Without waiting for a response, she seized Lenny’s hoof, forced it up, and magically shoved the stool underneath. Lenny sucked in sharply as she lowered his leg onto the makeshift ottoman. “Discord’s beard!” he cursed. “If that’s your idea of not hurting much…”
“Oh, calm down,” the unicorn said. She busied herself laying the ice packs on top of Lenny’s leg. The chill burned like acid at first, but after a few seconds the numbing brought welcome relief from the pain. Lenny had to admit that this pony knew what she was doing.
The pony finished applying the last ice pack. “I’ve sent for a stretcher. They’ll be here in just a few minutes; in the meantime, you need to lie still.”
Lenny gave a weak smile and pointed at his leg. “With all the dressing up you’ve done here, I’m not sure I could move even if it wasn’t broken.” He looked up at the pony. “That ice actually really helped. Thanks, um…?”
“My name is Twilight Sparkle.” The unicorn smiled, looked down, and picked at the ground with a hoof. “And don’t worry about it. It’s what anypony would have done.”
The reduced pressure sent magma shooting through his leg. Lenny started to lose track of his surroundings. Logic and reason were forgotten as Lenny gave into the pain and let his subconscious turn the world into a waking dream. He watched a human climb out of the book he was looking for and turn the bookshelf into a pile of feathers. Ah, so that was why he no longer felt that heavy weight any longer. The human threw the feathers into the wine-colored sky, and Lenny watched as they turned into swallows that flew up into the path of the sun. His work finished, the human sat down on the grassy hill.
Lenny walked over to the human and admired the necklace of dragon teeth that he wore around his neck. The human smiled and passed his fingers over it, making the teeth clink against each other. He bent down low and beckoned Lenny to listen, and Lenny stretched his neck to get closer.
The human’s voice was jarringly loud and surprisingly feminine. “Hey, you! Move your flank!”
The sky turned bright red and shattered into a million books that faded into the void. Lenny’s leg was throbbing with pain, and his face contorted into a tear-stained vortex. He opened his eyes to see the purple unicorn grimacing as she worked to keep the bookshelf from crashing back onto him. She trained a dilated pupil on him and again barked the command to get moving.
Lenny scrambled to pull himself forward. Again his leg scraped against the shelf, but this time it passed underneath. His hoof banged against the shelf, and Lenny gasped in pain. He threw his free leg around and used it to push the caught one over to the side of the shelf where it was farther off the ground, and with one final heave, he was finally completely clear of the shelf.
The unicorn dropped the shelf and it crashed back to the ground. She immediately plopped down herself, breathing heavily. After a moment of this, she looked back up at Lenny. “Are you all right?”
In spite of the dull pulsing in his leg, Lenny nodded. He tried to climb to his hooves, but as soon as his left hindhoove touched the ground, pain fragmented its support. Lenny’s hurt leg buckled, and he fell flat. “I think my leg’s broken.”