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It Could Have Gone Better · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
A–
Magic theory was supposed to be Sunset Shimmer's best subject.

At the top of the paper between her little hooves was a letter and a line, circled in red ink. Normally, this letter looked like a mountain with a frosted peak, reaching high above the world and daring her to scale it. But now, it looked different, with that long, pregnant line next to it. She didn't know what to make of it, but it made her stomach twist with hunger.

Old Mrs. Felthoof, the only other pony left in the sunny classroom, had her nose in her work. "Sunset Shimmer," she intoned. Her nasally voice always felt like a fly swatter. "The only filly who could look at an A-minus like it's a prison sentence."

Sunset slammed her test onto her desk. Without meaning to, she sniffed.

Mrs. Felthoof's head shot up from her work. "...Are you crying?"

Another sniff. A swallow. Another look at the letter and the line.

The rickety teacher sighed a long, impatient sigh. She pushed herself up from her desk and trotted to the back of the room. She pushed Sunset's mane away from her eyes. "You know, I don't normally say things like this because it can go to a filly's head, but... you were top of the class, Sunset. By some margin."

"I don't care about my class."

"I've noticed!" Mrs. Felthoof exclaimed. "And your classmates have noticed, too."

Sunset's next reply bubbled up her throat, and then scrambled back down. She tried to make eye contact with the towering teacher, teetering like a wooden structure nearing collapse, but her eyes only made it to the mare's pearl necklace before falling again.

Mrs. Felthoof bent down for her. "You're here before everypony," she said. "You sit at the back and don't talk except to answer my questions. You... disappear every lunch—"

"I'm studying." Sunset answered routinely. "At the library."

"Look, dear... There's more to life than trying to be the best."

Sunset finally looked up. "So you're saying I should try to be a washed-up old teacher instead?"

Before Mrs. Felthoof could even stutter, Sunset snatched her test from her desk and stormed out of the room. She didn't look back.




"Another A!" the big orange stallion celebrated, sweeping his daughter into his arms and twirling her around the dirt floor.

The red mare with the fraying gray hair and the baggy blue eyes gently rapped her hooves together, in beat with the dance. She smiled awkwardly. "Our little girl is so smart!" she declared, joining in for her own hug.

Sunset giggled as much as was expected of her. Lightly, with a touch of embarrassment. She waited for the dance to finish.

"Thanks, but—" she shrugged "—it's just an A-minus."

"So what?" her father laughed. "Celestia's school doesn't accept A-minus?"

Sunset looked up at him. "No," she said. "The cut-off is A."

Her father bit his lip, and was suddenly unable to look at her.

Her mother, meanwhile, got right up close and touched her filly on the nose. "Well, I'm not worried. It's Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns! And you are as gifted as they come."

Sunset was still staring at the crumpled page on the floor. She picked it up. "It's okay," she said. "Next one's tomorrow. I'll do better. I promise..."

Her mind, now on autopilot, asked a question she wouldn't have asked had she been thinking.

"...What's for dinner?"

Her mother's mouth quivered. Her father scuffed the ground.

"It's bread again, dear," her mother answered. "I'm sorry."

Sunset smiled, pretending she didn't see her parents falter. "That's my favorite."




It was a watchtower.

Sunset was sprawled on her family's mattress, feeling the familiar prick of a spring in her back. She held her test high above her head.

It was a watchtower. The little triangle at the top was where the guardpony sat. The minus was a beam of light, searching for her, keeping her in her place, not letting her escape.

In a sudden flurry of whimpers, Sunset crumpled the test and threw it across the room. It barely made a noise, hitting the wall and the floor. She wanted to scream, but her parents would hear her at any volume.

She decided she would wake up even earlier tomorrow. She would be the first in her seat—so early that she would even beat Mrs. Felthoof there. And before that old crone arrived, Sunset would find her answer key and commit it to memory.
Pics
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#1 · 4
· · >>Miller Minus
I’ve seen impoverished Sunset before, but this sold it in a new way. Between what she sees in her grades and her drive pushing in her in every direction she can think of, this is one of the better origin moments I’ve seen for her.
#2 · 5
· · >>BlueChameleonVI >>Miller Minus
This entry is split into three sections, and two of them are great.

The first, unfortunately, is not one of those two. The setup is rough, and the exchange between Sunset and her teacher strikes me as rather cliched, in the sense that classroom exchanges don't really sound like this.

I guess it came off as inauthentic, which is a shame because the other sections came off as anything but inauthentic.

Personally I'm not familiar with the idea of Sunset coming from a poor family, but regardless I think it's handled masterfully here, with far more subtlety and emotional depth than the first section.

You can still see that bratty side of Sunset, long before she redeemed herself, but you can also see a Sunset desperate to climb out of her bad position in life. I found myself disliking and yet also sympathizing with her.

I knew people who were like Sunset when they were kids, so I think that adds to the emotional weight.

I'm feeling a decent to strong 8 on this.
#3 · 4
· · >>No_Raisin >>Moosetasm >>MLPmatthewl419 >>Miller Minus
I don't think Celestia's School being that strict sits well with me. I'd like this much better if she were pushing to get an A even though her grades were sufficient already. It would make the ending more poignant because it would reveal that what Sunset actually cares about is ultimately meaningless—she's learning the wrong lessons, she isn't simply driven by the need to get into a good school. There's more to her character.

Everypony fails, and Celestia's School would acknowledge that. What matters is how they deal with that failure, which is what this piece is really about.
#4 · 3
· · >>Moosetasm >>Trick_Question >>MLPmatthewl419 >>Miller Minus
>>Trick_Question actually got me thinking, He's got a point there. Like a really good point, because how ridiculous is it that a school, even a high-tier school like Celestia's, have the minimum be an A? Who would even be able to meet that?

That's weird on its own, but it also undermines what the story is trying to say about Sunset's character, because it justifies her obsessiveness by basically saying she'd need to be even more solipsistic in order to pass.

So yeah, going to have to lower my score to a decent to strong 7 on this one.
#5 · 2
· · >>MLPmatthewl419 >>Miller Minus
>>No_Raisin
>>Trick_Question
There are some colleges like this. Especially prestigious ones.

I went to a college prep school, and knew plenty of students who wanted to go to their parents’ alma mater, or just something prestigious, and I heard (never from my own parents, thankfully) stuff like “Bs are for Bums” and other stuff insinuating parents would disown their kids for Cs and whatnot.

Still, no one can beat you up like yourself. I’d like to see this expanded.
#6 · 2
·
>>No_Raisin
She's got a point, actually. Not that it matters. :twilightsmile:
#7 · 3
· · >>Chris >>Miller Minus
>>Trick_Question
>>No_Raisin
>>Moosetasm

I thought of it as Sunset lying about what the minimum is. Because her personal minimum is an A, so she feels like it is a failure, a slap in the face to her hard work. This line from the first section is what led me to this:
you were top of the class, Sunset. By some margin.
#8 ·
· · >>Pascoite >>Miller Minus
Hmm.

This is a solid entry, so don't worry about it. The subject matter is aptly tragic, with Sunset's "do or die" outlook carrying a heavy load of dramatic irony when we know what a monster she'll become. The imagery with the "A" and the "A-" is pleasing to read and good at complementing Sunset's frame of mind. The main points are delivered with economy without feeling rushed, so you've spaced out the plot points quite well.

And yet... And yet...

Maybe it's because Sunset comes across as too abrasive, or maybe I agree with >>No_Raisin that the first scene feels less organic and fluent than the other two. Maybe it's the issue with the "Grade A entry requirement" for Celestia's School, which feels like it does validate Sunset's concerns too much (after all, relative performance in one classroom is irrelevant next to absolute grade here). Maybe it's because the poverty thing feels like it's just there, not meant to be explained but meant to evoke sympathy and little else. Maybe it's because it's hard to tell if Sunset's perfectionism and friendlessness are caused by that poverty or if the lot feel more coincidental (after all, within the confines of this fic, there's no obvious reasoning connecting her background to her performance, at least that I could see).

I'm really not sure which of those factors is impinging on my entertainment, but something feels a bit off when I read this one, which is why - despite the fantastic prose and clear yet clever concept - I can't call it a top contender. Part of the problem for me is that the fic might be relying on implication a little too much, and that we're introduced to Sunset as a stroppy little perfectionist before we meet with any tragedy.

Could be worth, say, moving the first scene to later and leading with the second scene? That introduces us well enough to the piece, and starting with the strong hints of her bad background could strengthen the implication that she's fighting to get out of poverty, rather than starting with her throwing a hissy fit despite having a grade most would envy. After all, we generally assume that what comes first is what's most important and overshadows what follows. And it would invite our sympathy without straining it right off the bat.

I'm speculating, sadly. All I'm confident of is my global assessment, but hopefully I've at least chucked a few titbits your way you could investigate?

P.S. "Arm" reads a bit awkwardly when we're reading about ponies. Might just be me: I do think you should change it.
#9 · 1
· · >>BlueChameleonVI
>>BlueChameleonVI
"Arm" actually is a correct term for a horse's foreleg.
#10 ·
· · >>Pascoite >>Hap
>>Pascoite

All right, but I still stand by my impression of the word (i.e. that it reads strangely when referring to pony limbs). I'm too familiar with the convention that quadrupeds have four legs but bipeds have two arms and two legs. Plus, I suspect most other people would be too.
#11 ·
· · >>Hap >>Miller Minus
>>BlueChameleonVI
I guess you can't help reacting to something the way you do, but just go on FiMFiction and see how many places authors use "arm" to mean a foreleg. I do it myself, and nobody's complained.

EDIT: There are canon examples of it, too.
#12 · 2
· · >>Miller Minus
I mostly enjoyed this fic. Like a couple of other commenters, I am getting a little hung up on the "CSGU only takes students with straight As, minimum." That's not really a thing colleges do IRL, for fairly obvious reasons: because teachers aren't of consistent quality all across the state/country/world, because getting a B in 9th grade PE probably doesn't say much about your ability to study law, etc.

(Grades do matter, of course; I'm finding my immersion challenged by the strictness and absoluteness of the cutoff, not the fact that some sort of academic expectations exist)

A few things come to my mind, if you want to change this to make it work better for myself and readers like me. Most obviously, you could lower the grade; CSGU not taking students with any Cs on their report cards would... well, some readers would probably still find that a little impersonal and uncaring for the Magical Land of Equestria™, but it would at least be closer to realistic, and probably close enough that most people won't get hung up on it from that angle. Giving Sunset a C does change the dynamic of the story, though, so that may not be a direction you want to take this. You could also change the source of anxiety slightly, to her needing a scholarship (third-party, almost certainly) that requires a 4.0 or better; that dovetails nicely with the "too poor" angle, though you might still get readers who feel that "can't afford higher education" isn't setting-appropriate.

If your intention is, as >>MLPmatthewl419 read it, that Sunset is lying, then that needs to be better justified. I could see her lying to her teacher about it to try to get the grade changed, but why would she lie to her mom and dad? What's the point of that? If this was what you were going for, give her a clear motivation for exaggerating the school's requirements.

The change I, personally, would make (i.e. the objectively correct answer) would be to tie school admission/eligibility to a single test (some Asian and European countries more-or-less have this kind of setup IRL, if you want to research examples), and have CSGU eligibility guaranteed to students who ace said test. That doesn't need to be the only way into CSGU, that way; it's just the only way to be sure she can go. And she can be treating school as basically one long practice test for the only one that really matters. That makes the teacher's "don't worry so much," a bit more accurate, while still keeping the sense that she doesn't "get it," and feels to me like exactly the kind of thing a child could/would latch onto.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on that particular aspect of the fic. None of them would require a massive re-imagining of the beats - the three scenes you've got feel like well-fit from an emotional/tonal standpoint. Overall, nice work!
#13 · 1
· · >>Miller Minus
Genre: Autoflagellation

Thoughts: I'm struck by the emotional weight of this story. Quite beyond the question of whether the A- truly skunks her future, I feel a clear sense of Sunset's desperate circumstances and her determination to escape at all costs. It's emotionally taut, and the poverty of her family is presented in a way that could easily come across as maudlin, but somehow doesn't. Frankly I'm not quite sure how it manages to do that.

So yeah, this packs a hefty punch in the space. I keep thinking I'm going to find a "but" in my thoughts about it but it thus far remains but-free.

Tier: Top Contender
#14 · 2
·
>>Pascoite
>>BlueChameleonVI
I am now imagining a scene from some future episode. Celestia shouts to her castle guards, "Arm yourselves!" When she turns around, all the pones have human arms, flopping around on the floor, unable to walk.
#15 · 4
· · >>Miller Minus
This was a lovely little story. I don't have much else to add that hasn't been said already.

I was, however, reminded of my grandmother, who, every day after school, asked me, "Did you get a hundred?" Even a straight A was not good enough.
#16 · 2
· · >>BlueChameleonVI >>BlueChameleonVI >>Trick_Question
I have to admit, I'm surprised! I was pretty sure this one wouldn't even get close to top three since I was smelling some "damning with faint praise" in the comments. But I guess I was being... #blessed with faint praise.

The entries this round were really top notch, so third place has me beaming. Thanks so much, guys.

A–: A Retrospective,

or

Why is Celestia's school so freaking hard to get into?

See >>Moosetasm.

In our world—our dire, hope-crushing world—universities don't "set" their acceptance cutoffs any more than a gas station sets its price for regular grade gasoline. It's based on competition.

From the University of British Columbia's website:

A competitive university like UBC receives more applications than can be accommodated. We wish we could admit all qualified applicants, but we just don’t have the space.


We can argue about what the demand for CSGU would be, but I maintain that the most realistic thing to do in this story was to give them a very high bar to clear, because it is Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, and the demand for such a school would be through the roof. In my view of Equestria, if they "acknowledged that everypony fails," then they would be stuffed to their ceiling with foals named after cosmic events and synonyms for "shine".

But I'm not saying any of those who brought it up are wrong—it should be called up if it doesn't make sense, because as has been pointed out, there are always methods to make this more clear or hit harder. And with more wordspace I would probably expand on that better, especially after having read everyone's thoughts.

It's just too bad I didn't get the opportunity to imply that Twilight only got in because her parents are rich and had the right connections. Implying dark undertones to the canon is like my favourite hobby.

And now for some actual responses

>>Trick_Question
>>No_Raisin

Sorry to single out these two comments but I found them to be a little unfair. What you're describing is a different story from mine with a different message, so this comes off less like how my story could be improved, and more like a pitch for a different story that should have been written instead. Harsh, bro. And sis.

I mean, to further prove my point, I don't even agree with this pitch. If I had read that story, I probably would have thought it was approaching Idiot-ball to have Sunset overachieve for no reason, and I probably would have complained that there are no stakes and that I'm just reading about a brat being a brat (who I know is going to turn out to be a brat). That story doesn't interest me.

But still, thanks for reading. Just had to get that off my chest.

>>No_Raisin

This entry is split into three sections, and two of them are great.

The first, unfortunately, is not one of those two.


This note is interesting to me because I thought the first part was the strongest going into this! Something ,something, kill your darlings… Thanks for pointing this out.

>>MLPmatthewl419

I thought of it as Sunset lying about what the minimum is.


An interesting perspective, but I can confirm that this isn't what I was going for. Again, more explanation would have been helpful I'm sure.

See, the problem was that I needed more words. Not my fault or anything.

And with regards to that line, I just want to point out that a child's class can be full of a bunch of schmucks but it wouldn't boost or diminish his or her application for higher education. Though I can see why it's distracting. Thanks!

>>BlueChameleonVI

Maybe it's because the poverty thing feels like it's just there, not meant to be explained but meant to evoke sympathy and little else.


A-ha, see, this is why I thought the next two scenes were the weaker ones. Thanks for bringing this up because I was almost starting to wonder if I had not, as it turned out, made an oopsie. But the connection is too tenuous.

Could be worth, say, moving the first scene to later and leading with the second scene? That introduces us well enough to the piece, and starting with the strong hints of her bad background could strengthen the implication that she's fighting to get out of poverty


And it's interesting you bring this switcheroo up because I'm starting to wonder how many stories I've written that have a twist, in which moving that twist to the beginning of the story makes the whole thing boring. Obviously a good twist will elevate a story, but surely they should be able to stand on their own without it, no? And I feel that this story is an example—a straight swap with only a minor cleanup would sap all the intrigue, for me, and in fact get quite sappy. I'm betting there's a way this idea works with more of a rewrite though, I'm sure. Something I'm going to think about.

>>Pascoite
I can't even take credit for being technically correct here; that's a mistake. I don't consider the forelegs "arms" even if they technically are.

>>Chris
>>CoffeeMinion
>>Hap
>>FanOfMostEverything

This retrospective is too long already to respond to these comments too. But hugs and kisses for your notes and thoughts and suggestions and your handsome, handsome faces. Have you been working out?



See everyone in the next round! I've already booked Friday off from work :rainbowdetermined:
#17 · 1
·
>>Miller Minus

Firstly, you got 3rd place anyway, so eh, who am I to judge?

Secondly, it didn't really strike me as a twist per se. The main twist was in the third scene, with Sunset resorting to cheating. That seemed enough for me. Myself, the poverty stuff felt like it should justify her actions but there's no explicit cause-and-effect in the story as presented, or even a well-conveyed implicit one. In any case, the emphasis on her less commendable qualities was what weakened it for me: I place a premium on a main character who's either sympathetic or at least entertaining enough to get away with it. Sunset here struck me as neither, at least at first, which was why I suggested starting with the scene that establishes her sympathetic motivation.

I got no problem with her being nasty and cheating later, but leading with the sympathetic foot means I feel the tragic elements more strongly, whereas leading with a snotty perfectionist means she's gotta work later to recover from that bad start, and it weakens the tragic. The order in which events are presented: that has consequences. And there are ways to make it non-sappy and non-boring.

But the majority voted otherwise, so might be just me.
#18 · 1
·
>>Miller Minus

Also, I should've said this earlier: Congratulations for the bronze, good sir knight! I salute you. May we meet on the battlefield again.
#19 · 1
·
>>Miller Minus
In that case, I'd say I only suggested that because I missed the intended message of what you were writing. Is it supposed to be portraying Sunset sympathetically? Is her cheating justified or isn't it? The message right now is muddied for me.