Our recent “Correct the Record” contest asked readers to help us choose authors whose previously spotlighted stories weren’t the best showcase of their writing strengths. Today, we’re offering a double feature with two of our three contest winners!
Evil is Easy, Governing is Harder
[Adventure] [Comedy] • 18,246 words
One day, just like that, Celestia decides she’s going to go mad with power.
FROM THE CURATORS: The need to correct the record here ran deeper than Aragón being best known for his comedies. “His current featured story was written in the style of another author,” MrNumbers said in the story’s nomination. “This one, though, is some of the tightest comedic construction I’ve ever seen, in a style I don’t think any other author on the site could pull off.”
Not only did voters agree, but Evil is Easy also accumulated superlatives both from FanOfMostEverything’s “Imposing Sovereigns” contest (where it soared to an easy first-place win) and from our curators. “This is Aragon at his best, and it’s a must-read,” Present Perfect said. The reason was simple. “It’s ding-dang funny,” AugieDog said, and Horizon agreed: “Fires on all cylinders. It’s Pratchett-level wizardry to keep an 18,000-word story so unwaveringly fast-paced and hilarious.”
And there was consistent depth here beyond the hilarity. “I was extremely impressed by how Aragon managed to weave dozens of different running jokes into a coherent, and even surprisingly poignant plot,” Soge said. “It is complete insanity from start to end, but there is a method to the madness.” Present Perfect echoed that sentiment: “The ponies in this story aren’t so much out of character as they are infected with a type of blithe insanity, to which only Daring Do is immune, the poor dear.”
Spring is Dumb
[Comedy] [Romance] • 9,255 words
Rainbow Dash knows one thing for sure, she is definitely not a barbarous, uncivilized dolt who doesn’t know polite conversation from a hippopotamus’s rear end. And also that she’s definitely not the one who’s wrong. Rarity is wrong. Rainbow Dash is absolutely, totally, a hundred percent sure of it.
But then why did Rainbow just buy a wagon load of apology bouquets?
FROM THE CURATORS: RCL-wise, this story was the victim of unfortunate timing — when it was published for the Raridash group’s “The Four R’s of Spring” contest (where it was unanimously declared the winner), we had just approved HoofBitingActionOverload’s previous feature for posting. Spring is Dumb has received acclaim from around the fandom in the meantime. “An absolutely hilarious story with an amazingly voiced Rainbow Dash,” Titanium Dragon said in this story’s nomination. “This shows HoofBitingActionOverload’s breadth of skill … a number of his romance stories and comedies are excellent, and I’ve always considered Spring is Dumb to be his best work.”
We agreed — not just that this was a solid romance, but that it’s a superlative story, period. “As someone that always seems to dislike shipfics, I was immensely surprised at just how good this story is,” Soge said, and Chris’ recommendation echoed that: “Unless you’re absolutely 100% allergic to main six shipping, you should check this one out.”
Among its core strengths was its portrayal of the ponies we know and love. “Characterizations are fantastic all around, including all the side characters,” Soge said. “That it manages to be this funny without ever being caricaturesque is nothing short of an achievement.” And AugieDog had special praise for the narrative voice: “Re-reading it now, I’m struck again by how effortlessly the author makes it seem to craft a completely consistent character out of someone who contradicts herself every third or fourth paragraph.”
Read on for a few words from our spotlighted authors, in which Aragón and HoofBitingActionOverload discuss Indiana Jones sincerity, Rainbop Dashboard, and how these stories exemplify their styles.
Aragón’s commentary on Evil is Easy, Governing is Harder:
This story is special to me, actually. I have things to say. But first, a prelude:
So when I got selected as a re-feature for the RCL, Horizon sent me a PM where he explained how this was gonna work. He also said that, uh. Try not to overshoot this? I mean, it would be great if you kept it at… say, one thousand words of rant? Please? Like, just for once in your—Aragón look just don’t do what you usually do, and we’re golden.
I could just feel PresentPerfect in the distance, glaring at me, making cutting gestures towards my neck. He has to edit everything authors write in these blogs. Horizon just reads my bullshit, but PresentPerfect deals with it.
(I’ve got no idea what the rest of the curators do. Then again, hey, someone has to water the plants.)
Me being me, not rambling for ages was pretty much not an option. So, fiendishly clever daredevil I am, I thought about going to MrNumbers, great friend of mine he is, and just chat with him for a while about the story. Then, I’d post the chatlog.
Around 6k words of dialogue later, I realized I’d made a heavy mistake. So here’s a heavily, heavily trimmed down version of what, I assume, I was supposed to write from the get-go. This story, and how I wrote it.
MrNumbers: I’d say that the pulp really made it what other stories of you that go for this ‘author appeal’ feeling weren’t, which is to say, tightly structured
MrNumbers: You had an adventure plotline to follow and a really strong framework rather than a series of character escalations
MrNumbers: Proving the two aren’t mutually exclusive
MrNumbers: Once and for all
Aragón: true, there was an actual plot to frame the fun
Aragón: also, funny how you say it like that, the whole ‘you had an adventure plotline rather than a series of character escalations’
Aragón: ’cause this story was written by me but inspired by you
Aragón: and weirdly enough, you actually came up with the most Aragonish bit of this entire story
Aragón: talk about that, yo
Aragón: give us a verse, drop some knowledge
MrNumbers: This was way before FoME’s contest even happened, by the way
Aragón: yeah, we were already working on this on a conceptual level and then the contest happened
Aragón: and I immediately called dibs on Madmare Celestia ‘cause I realized this fit the prompt, and it was also a great excuse to actually write the story proper
MrNumbers: Yes, exactly. So, I was trying to write the most Aragon story I could think of, essentially
(Spoilers from Now On!)
MrNumbers: And it came down to a plot of; “Celestia says a lot of wise and inscrutable things while doing crazy bullshit that makes no sense and terrifies her secretary, but in the end Rube Goldbergs a solution for all the nation’s problems”
MrNumbers: And I couldn’t make it work. Made the entire framework, the major story beats that’d have to happen, even got through 2,000 words of it myself before going; “This isn’t working, I can’t make this work”
MrNumbers: You just made the secretary Daring Do, Celestia is an evil queen, and suddenly the whole thing worked
Aragón: fcking yeah man
Aragón: thing is, funnily enough, this was never about Daring Do at first
Aragón: it was about Celestia and nothing else
Aragón: and it was impossible to make it work – there was no way to carry this particular narrative, because without a ‘surface’ reason for Celestia to do crazy shit it was just inane stuff going on
Aragón: I spent four days trying to write that story, and it was fucking impossible
Aragón: and then I just said you know what, fuck it, I just want to have fun – and then BAM
Aragón: DARING DO FLASHBACK
Aragón: and I said HEAVEN FUCK THAT’S IT I’M GONNA HAVE FUN NOW
Aragón: and suddenly it was super easy to write, once I changed the focus and made Daring Do and Sugar Song the actual protagonists
MrNumbers: It’s surprising how much you were able to keep, though
MrNumbers: The gunpowder plot and the diplomacy problem was from that first story
Aragón: the gunpowder was from there already?
Aragón: I thought we brainstormed it together
Aragón: we talk so much about ideas that I legitimately can’t tell which one is yours and which one is mine anymore
MrNumbers: We do
MrNumbers: We absolutely do
MrNumbers: My original idea was she’d go down to the sewers, borrow all their matches, and come back with them to light a birthday cake
MrNumbers: And then the conspirators would have no matches to light the bombs
MrNumbers: Or something like that
Aragón: we also thought about having dragons as enemies, instead of minotaurs, I remember
Aragón: and the gunpowder would be their favorite meal or some shit like that, so that’s how they’d solve that issue
Aragón: but it didn’t work for a variety of reasons, and it wasn’t elegant
MrNumbers: That one was your initial twist to tie them together, because we both thought something like the birthday cake idea was too weak
Aragón: having the cows be behind the gunpowder plot so there’s a clear thematic link between them and the minotaurs – and the opening joke – was all mine, though
Aragón: and for once I am ABSOLUTELY sure this idea is exclusively from aragon ‘cause I was giggling while you read that revelation
MrNumbers: I feel like it’s very fitting though that you get refeatured for this
MrNumbers: First time you wrote something in someone else’s style and got featured
MrNumbers: now you’re getting this one for someone else trying to write in your style and you fixing it
MrNumbers: It’s so you because it’s you fixing someone’s parody of you
MrNumbers is the main editor for the story, and the dude who helped me write it. But while he inspired the core, as we just said, using Daring Do to tell the story – and in so, turning a ridiculous comedy into a swashbuckling adventure with an actual plot, puns, and banter – was my idea.
And there’s a reason for this.
Aragón: Indiana Jones was important to me as a kid, man.
Aragón: children need heroes
Aragón: there’s a lot to say about nostalgia, but there’s more to say about joy, I think
Aragón: children need heroes, but kids also need fun, and there’s this incredible happiness that good adventure stories can bring
Aragón: and this shit matters to you when you’re younger, even if you don’t realize it
Aragón: it shapes you
Aragón: you find something that you look up to, something that you build up as your ideal, and something you sorta… hide in when you need to?
Aragón: that sounded like it’s dark, I’m not talking about escapism or anything
Aragón: the hypnotic power of stories
Aragón: the way they change you, and teach you, and make you laugh and cry and have fun, and kids are still learning to see the world, building bit by bit what will later be their personality
Aragón: and the books you read, the movies you watch, that helps with that
Aragón: it was this sense of total adventure, of a charismatic hero, lots of action, lots of jokes, and lots of fun
Aragón: that’s what I think about whenever I write Daring Do, and definitely what I wanted to sorta do with Evil is Easy
Aragón: Indiana Jones was fun
Aragón: fucking unapologetic fun
Aragón: and to me it was the world
I’m glad people liked this story, and I’m glad it got re-featured. But to be completely honest – I’m mostly glad I wrote it, glad I could have fun with it. Just, to be able to remember this childlike wonder, this sense of bursting with excitement when you heard the crack of a whip and a Nazi was punched, and somehow translate it into the page.
In the end, Evil is Easy is just a story. Some people liked it, some hated it. But it’s gotta be the least cynical story I’ve written in a long time. Poured my heart into it, in a sense.
As a kid, Indiana Jones was the world to me. I’m happy to discover, in a sense, he still is.
HoofBitingActionOverload’s commentary on Spring is Dumb:
It’s been a long time since I last read Spring is Dumb, and a lot longer since I wrote it. It was published three years ago, which in fanfiction years puts it up there with the grumpy old man waggling his cane at greasers on his lawn and teeter-tottering the jitterbug at the Lion’s Club every Sunday afternoon after church. And my memory is terrible anyway.
Nothing can be said about this fic without first paying homage to Bitter Harvest by Esle Ynopemos, another Royal Canterlot Library featured story. The influence Bitter Harvest had really can’t be overstated. As murderous treacherous turtles plotting in sand castles were to George R. R. Martin, Bitter Harvest was to Spring is Dumb. I lifted the story’s big hook from Esle Ynopemos. Namely, the whole main character’s deal of ‘I’m definitely, totally, completely not in love with that cutie-patootie pony over there, no sir, no ma’am, no way!’
It’s a wonderful little workaround of the old ‘Show, don’t tell’ mantra. It’s just so damn disarming. It turns out you can tell the audience anything so long as you tell it in the negative. You can blatantly say any thought or feeling a character has so long as you say they don’t have that thought or feeling. I’m not sure how long you can pump that particular chocolate cow before the udders start malt-chafing, but it certainly carried these two stories.
Also, Spring is Dumb was specifically written for a contest organized by the RariDash group. It was inspired by their prompt, and everything about the fic’s plot was molded to fit the stipulations of that contest. Most of my shipping fics are get-together stories, because my favorite part of falling in love is falling in love, before all the nitty and gritty of adult relationships dirties the visors. But Spring is Dumb is a getting back together story, a different sort of beast.
Anyway, I was supposed to be writing “a few sentences on what aspects of this story make it a good introduction to your style” here. If this fic is representative of any element of my ‘style,’ whatever the hell that is, it’d be Rainbow Dash herself. Spring is Dumb was an apotheosis of sorts for my take on the plucky-spunk pegasus.
A lot of the praise for this story has centered around its narrative voice, which makes sense, because even on my fiftieth reread or so, the voice is still about as home-remedy eye-watering strong as salt water in the sinus cavities. What’s surprising is that so many think the voice here is Rainbow Dash’s. Because it isn’t.
The Rainbow Dash in Spring is Dumb is pretty obviously not Rainbow Dash. She’s definitely not the Rainbow Dash from the show, and she’s even less the hundreds of different Rainbow Dashes you’ll find loop-de-looping in hundreds of different fics around Fimfic. She definitely looks and acts and kind of sounds like Rainbow Dash, but she’s a unique creation. I’d written a lot of stories about Rainbow Dash making out with her friends, and in all of those I’d been slowly, but not really consciously, building this character out of knick-knacks and pattywhacks. But it wasn’t until Spring is Dumb that she came fully into being.
This Rainbow Dash is a bit more stupid than most, more childish. Her thoughts and feelings are naive, erratic, and reactionary. A lot of her thoughts could easily be mistaken for something that might explode out of Pinkie Pie’s head. She’s got an energy, a right-there-Fred intensity that can’t be suppressed. This Rainbow Dash might be a bit funnier than average. She can also really nail an analogy from time to time. She’s rarely selfish. She never goes out of her way to hurt anyone else. She supports her friends in anything and everything. She doesn’t have much experience with relationships, and she’s galloping face first into one big romantic misconception and mistake after another. But she’s genuinely trying her best to figure things out.
She’s genuine in all things, actually. This Rainbow Dash doesn’t do a lot of performance. When she says she’s the greatest flyer in Equestria, she believes it. Even if she worries it might not really be true. She can’t just say it, she has to prove it. She needs others to confirm it. This Rainbow Dash isn’t crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. She’s crunchy and chewy all over. This Rainbow Dash doesn’t know the definition of self reliance. She needs some pony to show her the way. She needs some pony to eat her, chew her up, and spit her out in some form that’s more confident, more grown up, more responsible, and more capable of handling her doubts. She needs to get spit out a better balance of crunchy and chewy. That pony for her has variously been Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and, in this fic, Rarity. But whoever it is, this Rainbow Dash needs some pony to bounce her fears off of, so a friend can show her just how silly those fears really are.
The main character of Spring is Dumb isn’t Rainbow Dash. It’s Rainbop Dashboard, dunce extraordinaire, hopeless romantic, and hands down the cutest, snuggliest, cuddliest pony sailing the seven ship-fic seas.
Oh, and thanks to the Royal Canterlot for featuring Spring is Dumb, to the people who voted in that contest for voting for it, to shortskirtsandexplosions for declining the refeature so there’d be room for me to ramble-amble up on the podium for a while, and extra special thanks to all you weirdos out there who keep reading this old dinosaur of a shmoopy fanfic! I’d order you all drone-delivered high-accuracy hugs and kisses if I could.
If you’re interested in any of my more current work, I’m having some itty-bitty tidbits of success in the world of original fiction I’d be happy to share.