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On Thin Ice · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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The Line Between Remembering and Being, Like Thin Ice
The workshop was quiet. Quiet with deep thought—but also frustration.

Art therapy was supposed to be more productive than this.

The problem came when Tempest Shadow realized, looking at her half-finished attempt at what should be a simple landscape painting, that she didn't have much of an eye for art. At the very least she found it harder to paint "happy little trees" than she had anticipated. This realization caused a rubbery ball of spikes to bubble uneasily inside her chest and stomach, making her want to smash a fragile object into a million pieces.

"I don't think this is gonna work out," she said flatly.

Spearhead cocked his head, looked at the painting, then at Tempest, then back at the painting. "Hmm," he said. "Maybe."

"Maybe what?" Tempest also realized that she couldn't get much of a read on Spearhead, the burly and jovial stallion who tended to use blacks and browns when crafting his own art. Of course, getting connected with a friend of a friend (or, in this case, a friend of Twilight's brother's) had a good chance of yielding such a result.

Spearhead eyed the malformed trees some more before saying, "So, like, what are you going for here?"

Tempest sighed. "You failed to answer my question."

"Naw," replied Spearhead, almost ignoring her. "I'm looking at this piece and I'm thinking, 'How am I supposed to feel, ya know? Happy? Sad? Content? Distressed?' I know a bro who does peaceful landscapes 'cause that's how he really feels on the inside, but..." Shifting an eye toward Tempest. "You sure you're really feeling like that?"

Tempest's mood only soured. She contemplated breaking through the canvas with a hoof. "What I'm feeling right now is anger."

"All right, make something angry then!" Spearhead sounded weirdly happy as he said this. "I won't stop you!"

Tempest looked deeper into her painting, and when she looked she saw a disingenuous attempt at expressing happiness. Then again, as she considered her past experiences, she figured that an emotion so rarely felt could only be so accurately conveyed. For instance, despite her age, she had never been in love (at least not to the degree where that love was reciprocated), so how could she project being in love onto a painting? How could she know if it was genuine or not?

"Tempest? Fizzlepop...?" Spearhead asked as if calling out through a tunnel, but at the volume of a mouse's squeak.

A moment passed before Tempest noticed, then shook her head. "This one is a failure."

"It's totally okay," said Spearhead calmly. "I get like that sometimes too. I'll be working on a piece in the middle of the night, ya know? Then I'll just... think back to something. Like when the changelings attacked Canterlot, and nopony saw it coming? That was pretty crazy."

"You were there?" Tempest raised an eyebrow.

"Absolutely!" Spearhead kept smiling. "I remember everything about it. That's why I made 'A Thousand Nights in a Hallway.' It's a painting that makes ponies get really uncomfortable when they look at it, even though it's just darkness and nothing else. You wanna know why?"

"Not necessarily...?"

"Because it makes them think back to times like that. When you don't know who your friends are and everything seems, like, uncertain. It's implicitly paranoid, or something like that." He rubbed his chin in a pseudo-philosophical manner. "And just because I'm trying to feel better about myself doesn't mean I shouldn't try to capture my state of mind when the times get tough. When I can't fall asleep at night and I keep remembering something crummy that had happened to me, ya know what I do? I try to think about how I can reflect that in a piece. Because, I guess, making art out of something is a good way to confront it." Then he went silent.

A moment passed.

"Huh," Tempest said simply.

She eyed "A Thousand Nights in a Hallway," which to this day hung on the workshop wall, and she no longer felt as angry inside as she did before. Not that she felt happy, because happiness was something that still eluded her. A crazy thought then entered her mind—the thought that maybe this scarf-wearing "dude" was onto something. It seemed almost liberating, to know that she found somepony who expressed himself in such an honest and yet roundabout way.

"Okay," she said, solemn but not defeated. "I'll try again. And I'll try to not sugarcoat how I'm feeling this time."
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#1 · 1
That title sure is ungainly and obtuse. Not unlike a modern art piece, actually.

Something I liked:

Okay, so a couple months ago I came to the realization that I kinda like Tempest Shadow stories. She's a character with a lot of potential. This entry fulfills some of that potential, mainly through its tone, which has to be my favorite part. It's slightly comedic, but it's not a comedy. It's a bit melancholic, but that melancholy doesn't permeate the story. It's kind of tranquil. Nothing big is at stake here. Yet despite not being able to paint for the life of me, I can still relate to Tempest's need to express what's been causing her pain, and the obvious Bob Ross reference only makes it sweeter.

Something I didn't like:

While I can appreciate using a deep-cut show character like Spearhead, I get the impression that he could be more fluidly integrated into the story. I also feel like there's a lot that can be done between him and Tempest that's only lightly touched on here, which is disappointing. You have two ponies who have fought in battles and who seek painting as a method of therapy, but the story more or less implies this connection, as opposed to having that be the focus. Basically what I'm saying is that when expanding this one, you should give Tempest and Spearhead more of a point in relation to each other.

Verdict: A nice little character piece. What it lacks in punch it makes up for in tone. I like it.
#2 ·
· · >>No_Raisin
This story seems fine, but even after a second reading it just doesn't click for me. Not sure I could point to any one cause. I did like the bit about anger. It got my hopes up that Tempest would draw angry little trees and have angry accidents, like a death-metal Bob Ross or something. Alas, it was not to be.

Maybe I'm just tired and it'll look better tomorrow, but, right now, this one just misses my cut.
#3 · 1
· · >>No_Raisin
I'd like a lot more:

Setting detail. Are they in a windowless room? Is that the best place to try and paint a landscape when you're just starting out? Is it just the two of them? I always thought that "workshop" meant a larger group of folks?

The content here is very nice, but right now, it's just two figures talking. Open it up and give us the space around them to make the whole thing come to life.

#4 · 2
· · >>No_Raisin
Bit of a straightforward one in spite of its title. Everything's presented rather candidly here, giving this entry a gentle feeling of ease and honesty as I read through it. In a sense, the matter-of-fact approach of the narration somewhat expresses Tempest's perspective rather well, which I believe adds to the story's character. I do think, however, that it trades away a little bit too much in the process to really let the serenity stick with me.

There's a multitude of issues I personally have with the story that I could list off, though most of them, I think, stem plainly from the uneven weighing scales of showing and telling. Right now, I think there's too much of telling to really allow myself to perceive what Tempest is perceiving. This is especially glaring when the stuff that really kicks the story off is the painting. What about it does she find dissatisfying to the point of calling it a failure? What do the trees actually look like in comparison to what she envisioned? With the story hinging on a visual medium, I really wanted to see her struggles conveyed to me through that display rather than taking someone's word for it.

I do think that's why the ending falters for me as well, in that we're left off with Tempest stating that she'll make a change and never seeing the result of that change, which leaves the entry hanging in lieu of a proper resolution. We don't get to see whether or not Tempest gets to have her cathartic moment, so it comes across as a bit anticlimactic.

Part of me's inclined to believe from the overall prose that the story would've been better off written from a first-person perspective, specifically Tempest's. I think it'll build upon the narration better, perhaps even help condense it a little more to make room for more things as well. We're pretty much seeing everything from Tempest's point of view anyway so it wouldn't be too dramatic of a shift to make to put the readers into Tempest's horseshoes.

Thanks for writing, and good luck!
#5 ·
· · >>No_Raisin
Okay, so you've won extra credit points from me for writing about Tempest. And the idea to pair her up with Spearpoint is such a good one that I'm jealous that I didn't come up with it myself. Overall, I really like how the characters bounce off of each other here. There's a lot of pleasant momentum to their back-and-forth, which ended up being my favorite part of the story.

Now, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have any nitpicks about the story, still. This entry is another story where the conflict's solution/payoff feels a little simple/obvious. I'm almost positive that every reader is familiar with the idea of painting from one's emotions, which definitely isn't a bad thing in and of itself. But whenever you do have a character learn a pretty simple lesson like this, it becomes easy for the reader to start to lose attention once they've figured it out. Tempest's reaction to the revelation feels straightforward, and in the end I'm not quite sure what I've learned about her as a character.

So while I definitely enjoyed the flow and the tone of this piece, I think I ended up feeling a little constrained by the scale of conflict. I would like to learn more about these characters and how they play off with each other, which is a testament to how well-wrtiten their chemistry/dialogue is. But right now, I'm not quite getting all of the satisfaction that I wanted.

Thanks for submitting!
#6 ·
· · >>Baal Bunny
>>Baal Bunny

I don't know nothin' about painting.

Believe it or not, the title was originally slightly less verbose. "The Fine Line Between Remembering and Being." But because I felt like the entry as a whole wasn't connected enough to the prompt, I decided to change something. I basically used this as a springboard for my other entry, since I wanted to write a story like that involving Rainbow Dash, but didn't have the motivation to do so yet. So I wrote something that would motivate me, and that is basically the function of this entry. It's got a very simple message, but that's by design, and I don't think there's anything wrong about telling the reader to be true to themselves. That is, after all, what I felt I needed to tell myself at the time.

Having Tempest interact with Spearhead was something I'd been wanting to do for a long time, actually. Maybe not specifically Spearhead (it could be Shining Armor, but in a different context), but I wanted to write a story about Tempest doing something therapeutic with a fellow veteran. Now, there are two ways I can revise this entry. I can expand what I have and have Tempest be part of an art therapy workshop for ex-military ponies, or I could go more overtly comedic and have the whole thing be basically a parody of The Joy of Painting. But with Tempest. Both sound great.

I'm pretty torn, guys. Nice to get the gold, though.

Kudos go to my fellow medalists.
#7 ·
· · >>No_Raisin

Whenever Bob Ross comes up:

I always feel obliged to point out is that he learned everything he knew about painting--including the phrase "happy little trees"--from Bill Alexander. This article here sums the whole thing up and has some clips of Alexander's show, too.

#8 · 1
· · >>Baal Bunny
>>Baal Bunny

So I had already known about this, although most people wouldn't. Bob Ross is highly influential, both in amateur painting and pop culture at large, but I don't think I've seen anyone argue that he was the most innovative of instructors. He basically took Alexander's formula and perfected it, at least if we're going by popular consensus. For me personally, I think Ross's true innovation came with his persona, which was charismatic and even photogenic but also distinctively laid-back. On average an audience member would have an easier time digesting what Ross is saying while also finding comfort and inspiration in what he's saying. How you say something is just as important as what you say, and I think Ross knew this.

And hey, if the philosophy behind both Alexander and Ross's works was to inspire more people to find their inner painters, then I can't fault them for it. Funnily enough, this very entry would inspire two of the three art pieces this round.
#9 ·

Very true:

For me, though, half the charm of Bill Alexander was this guy exhorting us to "fire in that happy little ochre color" with the fervid accent of a Prussian drill sergeant. :)

Mike Again