Today’s story will always be here to provide you with some quality teatime reading.
[Slice of Life] • 6,033 words
No one alive today can say where she came from; simply that she has always been there.
And yet, few ponies have had a greater impact on Princess Celestia’s life than Raven, her most faithful aide.
FROM THE CURATORS: “This was just published by an author whose FiMFic account is just a few months old — proof that there are still quality writers coming into the fandom,” Chris said in his nomination. And there were many ways in which Raven made that quality obvious, starting with the unrolling of its core mystery. “This has three ‘whoa’ moments, those moments I always enjoy in a story when a piece of information is revealed that makes me re-evaluate everything I thought was going on,” AugieDog said. “I can’t remember the last time I came across a story anywhere that did that to me.”
That was just one aspect of the careful construction that earned multiple curators’ praise. “The reversed-time narrative worked very well, thanks to the attention to detail from the author,” Soge said. “Little things like the tea choices or the expressions they use among themselves were well established, and seeing them deconstructed as the narrative regressed was a great way to show not only the passage of time, but also the evolution of their relationship.” Chris agreed: “What makes Raven work so well is all the little details it works in. Even as intentional repetitions from scene to scene — and the slow revelation of Raven‘s nature — draw your attention, there are plenty of small touches at the edges which make this feel like a true glimpse of history.”
We also found much to like about the careful balance of its characterization. “It’s a nice tale of dedication and friendship,” Soge said. “Raven‘s actions are never self-centered, but also not really subservient, so there is always the sensation that, even though she serves Celestia, she is her equal in a sense.” Ultimately, that added up to a read that rewarded us from start to finish, as Chris noted: “It unfolds at just the right pace, and feels a lot longer than it is — the mark of a story with pleasant depth.”
Read on for our author interview, in which SaintChoc discusses small successes, hidden 110%s, and nightmare teas.
Give us the standard biography.
I’ve been watching the show since before ‘A Bird in the Hoof’ came out in early 2011, and have been somewhat-successfully dabbling in pony fan media on Youtube, DeviantArt, and Tumblr since then. Late last year, I got into fan fiction, taking on a new name and staying ‘anonymous’ to all but some choice friends and acquaintances. It’s not the first time I’ve taken on a new name like that, and it’s really fun to let my work speak for itself and make sure I’m not getting by on any sort of name recognition. Or, you know, pity.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It really was very random in this case. I wanted something that sounded soft and friendly, so I started with ‘Saint,’ and then… I dunno, who doesn’t love chocolate? Bam. Choc. Nothing meaningful about it.
Who’s your favorite pony?
It started off as Rainbow Dash, but eventually I had to admit to myself that I liked seeing Twilight on-screen way more. So Twilight it is.
What’s your favorite episode?
“Party of One” was my early favorite, for having such a great flow for a 22-minute episode and for hitting a very good level of creepy for a kids’ show. “Return of Harmony” and “Canterlot Wedding” each might have taken that spot since then, though.
What do you get from the show?
I identify with the people making it. The vast majority of them likely got assigned to it and thought “Oh, great, a little girls’ show,” and could have just phoned it in. But they didn’t! Knowing that no one might ever recognize their hard work, they still pushed themselves to write, animate, and overall create something with actual quality — and no one would have blinked twice if it was just terrible. They inspire me to put 110% in whatever I do just in case someone notices, and I hope they’re more happy than frustrated with the amount of analysis their work gets these days.
What do you want from life?
Wow, this interview really gets into it. I just want to be happy! And I’ve found what makes me happy is to create stuff that people like. Usually using humor, but, well, these days I’m setting my sights on more emotional stuff.
Why do you write?
I’ve been writing dialogue for years — heavily for a couple years following eighth grade, then I stopped, then I got back into it with pony stuff in 2013. That was always for comedy, to make people laugh. But the only ‘longform’ writing I had done was all in school … until I got into MLP fan fiction. I started it for very silly and shallow stuff, but eventually the urge to write deeper stories came out. Ultimately, the reason I write is … to see what people say about it. Maybe that’s a bad reason, but it’s what it comes down to. I couldn’t write if no one was reading it.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
I am so not in a position to give much advice, having like five months of experience with writing MLP fan fiction, most of it schlock. I will say, though, that what works for me in all walks of creating media is to do small things. If you have trouble making big things because you usually give up before the end, like me, stick to small stuff. Small animations, small bits of motion graphics, small stories … don’t try and cling to the idea of unleashing a huge project on the world that flings you into the public eye. Small and impactful can mean so much more than something that’s pretty cool but way too long. And you’re more likely to finish it! And then you get feedback for your next project.
Along the same lines, there will always be a point where you have something at 80% and could take three times the amount of time to get it to 100%. My advice is to just move on to the next project after you hit that 80%; you’ll gain so much more experience and have so much more to be proud of if you make three things instead of one really good thing. You’ll almost never get something as good as it is in your head, but people will never know what it looked like in your head anyway. They’ll only see what you show them, and I bet that’ll be pretty okay as-is.
Did you know from the start that you wanted to write this story in reverse-chronological order, or did you make that decision later on? And in either case, what were you trying to show the reader with this decision?
That decision came at the very beginning. I read Heir-of-Rick’s headcanon here, went to bed, lay awake for an hour thinking about it, and then jotted down the story outline right then and there before I went to sleep. There wasn’t a deep thematic reason fueling this decision; I simply thought it would make for an interesting story and was the best way to hide certain dramatic aspects (i.e. how Raven had lived so long) until the appropriate moment.
Building on that, how did you go about constructing this story? We observed the effect of going back and re-reading chapter 1 after finishing the piece; what amount of re-writing and tweaking was necessary to tie the piece together, backward and forward?
I definitely made an effort to make sure the story could be read in both directions. Many have mentioned how it felt to go back and read the first chapter, but I had a fantasy that readers would outright just read it in the ‘wrong’ direction — or perhaps at least skim it, maybe with some soft and happy music playing in the background. Having just completed Undertale days earlier, the Undertale theme is my recommendation, and I wrote much of the story with that playing in the background.
If you check my story outline screenshot linked above, you’ll notice only two differences from the final product; one is that ‘They move to Canterlot’ and ‘Celestia notices Raven’s agelessness’ were combined into one chapter, because I realized after the fact that Canterlot, as far I can tell, probably came about as soon as Luna destroyed their old castle, so it couldn’t wait so ‘late’ in the timeline; the other is that there’s no entry for the chapter that features Celestia and Raven on one of the first Nightmare Nights. It’s the only chapter that was added after the fact. Why? In part, it was because the tea motif didn’t progress correctly when reading it in chronological order; her preference for dark teas wasn’t brought up before the library scene, which mentions ‘it was far too late for a dark tea.’ So I needed another chapter to work that in. I spoke about it with Heir-of-Rick, and he suggested “What about the first Nightmare Night?” And I thought that was brilliant.
The new chapter also allowed me to properly introduce the ‘drink your tea’ motif, as well as bridge the gap between the archaic speech and modern vernacular a bit more gradually — in particular, right at the beginning, both ‘tis’ and ‘it is’ are used in sequence to try and demonstrate that language is changing. And it allowed me to use an idea I had in the back of my mind that I wasn’t able to fit anywhere else: That Raven helped write the legend of Nightmare Moon that Twilight reads in the first episode of the series.
You show Raven to be a force for consistency in Princess Celestia’s life, with a number of deliberate repetitions of event and phrase throughout the piece. To your mind, does this reflect Raven’s personality and attitude, or does it reflect what Celestia needs from Raven?
I think it reflected Raven’s personality and attitude more. There were probably other ways to attempt to get someone through a thousand years of waiting — Pinkie Pie would probably throw tens of thousands of regular parties to distract Celestia, for instance. But Raven focused more on routine and structure in an attempt to make the long years pass quicker for Celestia, and I think that stems from her own inclination towards it. If she didn’t have such an inclination, I don’t imagine she could survive a thousand years doing the same job, after all. She finds fulfillment in making sure she does her job correctly every time.
The book in chapter five suggests that Raven isn’t the first pony to be affected by this kind of magic. Any thoughts on what else such magic might have caused or created?
This might be a disappointing answer, but I really don’t have any thoughts on that. I imagine it could be used to explain some oddities of the universe; perhaps the reason the sun and the moon need to be controlled manually is because of a promise made to a dying alicorn that she would get to see the sun one last time before she passed, and the universe reshaped to allow that to be possible.
… But, I mean, I’m just spitballing, here.
[Update: Now you’ve done it. I’ve totally got it in my head to write this, too, now. It’ll probably be up within a week.]
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’ll add that this story was heavily influenced by Lost, and anyone who’s watched that to the end can probably guess what character Raven shares some similarities to. But other than that … I just want to thank everyone who read it, and to thank the people at Royal Canterlot Library for liking this enough to feature it. These were some pretty cool questions; it’s always great to have a chance to talk at length about my own stuff!