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In unearthing Angel’s secrets, today’s story brings potent emotions to the page.

of-angelsOf Angels
[Slice of Life] • 4,023 words

All his life, Angel Bunny has been plagued by a single question. At long last, he has an answer, and he longs to reveal it. Doing so may be the single most important thing he’s ever done, but Angel doesn’t know how to deliver the message. After all, rabbits have no need of writing.

Angel needs to learn. Knowing this task is far too important to let his pride get the better of him, Angel does something he never thought he’d do: ask for help. There’s only one pony for the job.

FROM THE CURATORS: In a way, this story is like getting two different RCL features in one — its 4,000 words are split into two chapters that impressed us in very different ways.  “The gimmick of the first half was awesome, and the second half was a great domino-topple,” Present Perfect said.  “This is just a really unique story.”

That uniqueness will be obvious to any reader within the first few sentences, as colored text splashes across the screen, but we agreed that this story pulled it off.  “The structural gimmick — that we’re reading excerpts from an enchanted book (a la EqG) — is both well-used and well-explored, and the story itself is short enough that the novelty doesn’t have time to wear off,” Chris said.  A large part of that was the way it helped the voices shine through — “the way he manages to convey the characters so well and so completely simply from their ‘dialogue’ just makes me happy all the way around,” AugieDog said — but there was also more depth here.  “The addition of interjections from Fluttershy and Discord kept the first half tense, which I wasn’t expecting,” Present Perfect said.

That depth extended everywhere in the story, from the overarching structure to the little details.  “I should mention that the spelling/grammar mistakes Angel makes are pretty realistic,” Chris said.  “I sometimes think I’m the only person in the world who cares about the realism of poor spelling, but for what it’s worth, this story has it!”  As he noted, even without the textual gimmick, it stayed strong throughout.  “The second chapter soon shifts to a genuinely poignant bit of backstory, which ends up reframing the entire work,” Chris said.  “The specific emotions and desires which color it paint Angel in a pleasantly complex light.”  Overall, it added up to a story powerful enough to sway even curators looking elsewhere for a feature.  “One of the reasons I accepted the invitation to come on board here was to nominate ‘Frequency,’ but I’ll still happily send this one to an interview,” AugieDog said. “I have a dark little corner in my heart for Angel Bunny, and to see him clearly from his very first attempts at writing all the way through the actual note in the second chapter, that’s good stuff.”

Read on for our author interview, in which PaulAsaran discusses deliberate mistakes, Discord codes, and giving voice to the voiceless.


 

Give us the standard biography.

I’m one of those lucky ones. Small hometown, loving parents, strong family ties, so on. I first discovered writing by playing with my mom’s electronic typewriter. It could save up to 100 characters before typing, which was fancy for the time. My parents instilled in me a love of reading — my dad read The Hobbit to me as a bedtime story, not realizing an eight-year-old couldn’t understand it. At some point in my early teens I realized I would rather create my own stories than read what others had already made, and my writing career began.

I started off with original fiction and poetry. I tried moving to fanfiction in my teens, but was so horrified by the offerings of the day that I quickly abandoned the whole concept. I didn’t even glance at fanfiction again until I discovered MLP:FiM.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

That’s a long story, but I’ll try to condense it. Basically, my elder sister and I often played in this fantasy world. It was a lot of fun to a pair of kids, but eventually my sister grew out of it and ‘ceded the throne’ to me, if you will. Over the years, the world went from being an imaginary playground to a testing site for my story ideas. While the world held a slew of characters, the most important was Paul, who went through every cliché in the book. By the time I had matured as an author, Paul had matured as a character, and his presence is still there to some degree in many of the stories I write. His strongest representative in my MLP worlds is my OC Verity Fine, although his personality traits are scattered amongst many of my characters.

Of course, before he was anything else, he was a blatant self-insert.

So, my penname is two things: a reference to an OC of mine who has come a long way and helped me learn how to be a better character writer, and a reference to that first playground in which I explored and learned my craft.

Who’s your favorite pony?

Princess Luna, and anyone who reads my collective works will surely notice my fondness for her. I’m also fond of Rarity, who always struck me as the most flawed — and therefore the most interesting — of the Mane 6.

What’s your favorite episode?

Sleepless in Ponyville, although Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep? and the two-part The Cutie Map are close contenders.

What do you get from the show?

For the most part, I was enamored with the characters. Aside from that, I used to watch some of the older shows — the movie featuring the Smooze was a classic of my childhood — and there’s a certain nostalgia to the whole thing. From a writer’s perspective, the sheer potential for world expansion was just too tantalizing to pass up.

On the more personal aspect, I was having a lot of trouble finding inspiration and hadn’t written anything in some time when my sister introduced me to the show. My Little Pony gave me back that spark and is almost singularly responsible for re-launching my writing hobby.

What do you want from life?

To inspire others and be remembered afterwards. Preferably in that order.

Why do you write?

The drive came when I stopped one day — I recall I was reading Piers Anthony’s Dragon’s Gold series — and said to myself: “I want to tell my own stories.” I was tired of wandering through the worlds other people had made. I had ideas, and they were no good if they were kept strictly in my head.

And that’s the first reason: to share my pleasure with others.

Today, I combine that desire with my own boundless curiosity. I’m exploring these worlds just as much as my readers are. The caveat is that my mind is constantly churning out new ideas and concepts, and I can only write so much in my lifetime.

And now you know why I try to be prolific.

What advice do you have for the authors out there?

Success is not guaranteed. This is something that every author must embrace. Especially early on, you’re probably going to make mistakes and not draw a lot of attention. Even when you’ve tasted success and are well known, sometimes you’ll write something that flops. Instead of wringing your hands trying to figure out how to fix it, move on. Take the lessons learned and apply them to what you do next. You won’t draw anyone’s attention by fixing the same story over and over again, but by producing new ones that showcase your improvement.

Every new chapter and story is a stepping stone to an improved you. Cherish what you’ve already done. If you really think they need to be polished, don’t do it right after the crushing reviews come in. Take the time to mature and write a few diamonds, then go back to polish that rock.

We don’t improve our writing by editing. We improve our writing by writing. Be persistent, accept criticism, check your strengths and fix your weaknesses. It’s not going to come quickly…

But it is going to come.

What can you tell us about the original idea for this story?

The inspiration for Of Angels came to me long before I’d even heard of Friendship is Magic. I was still in college, and I often parked my car on this dirt lot on the edge of campus. One day, I was leaving class and crossing the lot when I heard something unexpected.

I soon discovered a dog. I never determined the breed, but it wasn’t very big. It had been hit by a car, and the vehicle must to have been moving crazy fast for a parking lot considering the dog’s location and the damage.

I stayed with that dog for over an hour waiting for a van from the animal shelter to come by. I knew they couldn’t save it, the damage was too severe. But the poor thing was alive. It was so… disturbing, to think that someone could hit it and never even bother to check the aftermath. It couldn’t bark, couldn’t move, couldn’t lick my hand, but the entire time it kept looking at me.

I’ll always remember those brown eyes.

That event stayed with me for years. I kept going back to the dog in my mind and trying to see things from its perspective. What must it be like, watching hundreds of people walk past as if you didn’t exist? To be in so much pain and have nobody bother to even give you a little comfort? The dog had to have been lying there for hours. Hurting, alone and scared. I like to hope that, just by being there, petting it, offering a few words it couldn’t understand, I might have given it a little bit of comfort in its last moments.

I can’t say exactly when I equated that dog to Angel in my head, only that I was contemplating how he became Fluttershy’s alpha pet. The two just… clicked, and when they did I realized that I finally had a way to translate all my emotions regarding that day into something people could understand. That dog could finally speak, and Angel would be its voice.

But first, Angel had to know how to write.

What went into conceptualizing how to teach a rabbit to write?

Oh, that’s a tricky one. As with so many of my story ideas, I jumped into it without much planning.

The first thing I realized was that Angel would be starting from scratch. This wasn’t going to be the same as teaching a child though, because this interpretation of Angel was an adult with strong feelings and lots of pride. This colored — no pun intended — my approach to how Twilight and the others would interact with him.

A few other things had to be dealt with, such as how Angel could readily understand ponies but not the other way around. Setting the scene as being the back-and-forth chatter of a training book felt like a great way to avoid much of the tedious work necessary to bridge this gap. Setting it in a magical book like the one used by Sunset Shimmer to write to Twilight helped in a lot of ways, starting with contextually legitimizing the colored text used in the story.

Yet more importantly, it fit in with my vision of Angel’s character and goals. It let him maintain the image of staying at Fluttershy’s cottage most of the time, keeping the secret. It also helped in the matter of his pride; I for one don’t like when others are constantly watching me work and pointing out things. I imagined Angel as being similarly private, not appreciative of the kind of hooves-on teaching I can see Twilight trying to enforce.

I also took some cues from my own experience as an ESL English tutor back in college. This was helpful in recalling a few of the things that are so easy for native-English speakers to take for granted. English is one of the hardest languages to learn for a reason. I worked hard on looking for ways for Angel to make mistakes throughout the story, only to get better as his lessons developed.

But again, as is true with my general writing style, a lot of these issues and topics arose as I was writing the story, rather than in some grand planning stage. I have a very ‘off the cuff’ writing style that is typically centered on letting the characters take control. As such, my personal comprehension of their traits and behavior play a large role in the direction things take. I do exercise a little control — I know where the story has to end up, after all — but I often let the characters do most of the walking on their own.

What does Discord’s mention of “code” pertain to?

This was Discord breaking the fourth wall. He was speaking very specifically of the CSS code used to add formatting to FIMfiction blogs, comments and stories, such as [/b] for bold or [/size] for text size. I imagine this isn’t common, but I trained myself to always directly write the code for formatting changes while I’m still in MSWord or GDocs, then copy/paste the contents to FIMfiction when it’s time to publish. This saves on potential headaches from using the import feature, although it does run the added risk of typos causing formatting issues.

Angel was never supposed to understand his meaning, of course. To translate Discord’s words in a way he would have understood: “You should not have also underlined the question mark.”

I understand that some people will consider his suggestion to be in error. Let it not be said that the God of Chaos — or the guy writing him — knows everything there is to know about grammar. He just thinks he does.

What do you feel is the place of colored text in stories on Fimfiction? When should it be used?

Under the vast majority of circumstances, colored text has no place in literature. Most instances of it that I have seen have focused on using it for emphasis, such as red text for rage — usually accompanied with big, bold letters.

I consider this amateur at best. Using colored text to push emotion is the equivalent of telling the reader “I have no idea how to show you an angry character in writing.” There are plenty of ways to emphasize that work just fine. Personally, I prefer italics, or underlining if the emphasis is meant to be in a written letter — which is why so much of the emphasis in Of Angels is underlined. And of course, writing out a character’s physical manner is one of the best ways to display mood without resorting to needless visual showmanship.

Having said that, there are rare instances where colored text can be used wonderfully to do things that other formatting tricks just can’t manage. In JLB’s Amnesia: To Err, colored text was used to display both the alien and familiar nature of the creatures the protagonist regularly faced, while giving significant clues as to the exactly what he was facing. While it danced on the edge of acceptability, it ultimately added to the mystery and strength of the story.

Taking a step into more famous territory, Background Pony frequently used colored text in a way that confused at first, but as time went by, the impact of SS&E’s choice was profound and had me scrambling back to previous chapters to rediscover what I’d missed. It was tactful and intelligent and furthered the story in an unexpected way.

In my case, using colored text in Of Angels was a strategic decision. I wanted to challenge myself to write a story with no narrative whatsoever — I often invent new ways to frustrate my own efforts as a means of self-improvement — but ran into the problem of guaranteeing the reader would know who was speaking in the sometimes fast-paced back and forth of the dialogue. Since using names such as in a movie script is against FIMFiction’s guidelines, I wagered that colored text might be the solution. Writing the story in such a way as to make that decision tasteful rather than tacky was yet another issue to tackle, which I addressed partially by my choice of background — the enchanted book — and being very picky as to which colors I would use.

In summation, colored text is not absolutely prohibited, but neither is it a tool to wave around wildly. Above all else, colored text should only be used when it assists in telling the story in some fashion, preferably in a mature, subtle or sophisticated way, which is almost never. Using it to be flashy and loud is never acceptable.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

First off, I’m thrilled to finally be featured by the RCL. This has been one of my milestone goals for a long time now, and it’s great to finally check it off my list. So my thanks to the RCL and whoever it was that recommended me.

And a thanks to those friends and fans who have been supporting me since I first arrived on FIMFiction. I’d do shout-outs, but I’d probably forget a name and end up having to apologize. You all know who you are, and you’re all awesome.

To those of you who are trying to be better writers, a few things to add. First, join contests. Lots of them, especially if reviews are offered. These a great way to get your name out there and catch the attention of people willing and eager to help you improve. I strongly recommend the Writeoffs. They’re a great way to learn from some of the best literary minds on the site.

Outside of contests, write for yourself. If you’re not interested in what you’re writing, you shouldn’t expect anyone else to be either.

And one last thing, to a little friend I only knew for a very short time: I did what I could to give you a voice.

I hope it’s sufficient.

You can read Of Angels at FIMFiction.net. Read more interviews right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories for us to feature at our Fimfiction group.

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