This particular utterance by Francis W. Porretto seems unusually pertinent to me and to the fictional realm in which I’ve been working:
A sound story will illuminate one or more of the eternal verities. It’s an element as necessary as a cast of characters: the “steak” of the fictional product. But the entertainment value of the story will arise from how cleverly and imaginatively the writer casts the conflicts that envelop his protagonists: the “sizzle” that will draw the reader into the tale, and will cause him to seek out that writer’s works in the future. Though he would spurn a writer who failed to provide a goodly portion of “steak,” the intelligent reader becomes a fan of a particular writer almost entirely because of the “sizzle.”
And we who write are fully aware of it.
Over in the ponyverse, a subset of said sizzle is referred to, perhaps ungrammatically, as “feels”: the implication is that we respond robotically in the absence of same. Forty percent of the way through The way she used to be, I drew this reader comment:
Even at this stage in the proceedings, the feels are starting to flutter. Not full, tear-jerking feels, but I have a feeling that they’ll be getting there.
Even though due attention was paid to certain eternal verities — kindness is eventually rewarded, sex for the sake of sex is not necessarily a bargain, and broken hearts are at least somewhat mendable — I’d likely have lost this reader, and undoubtedly several others, were it not for regular tugs at the heartstrings. (No, not you, Lyra.) And this isn’t purely a function of the romance genre, either: Dead Pony Flying, which opens after the funeral of one of the Mane Six, seems like it ought to be immeasurably sad, yet the ending is downright triumphant, and sometimes I think I actually hear the smiles.
And the more I think about it, the happier I am about it. I’m sure, given proper instruction and a metric ton of reference materials, I could construct an intricate plot involving characters who’d rather be doing something else but are needed to impart a Great Moral Lesson — but who’d want to read it?