Friday, May 31, 2013

Softy8088's On the Importance of Spelling

One of the problems with being a fan of a cartoon for little girls about magical horses is, the characters have unusual names, and so they often have unusual spellings, too. We spend hours debating what is 'correct', but what if even the ponies are unsure?

[Comedy][Shipping] • 4,100 words
After a busy day celebrating princess Mi Amore Cadenza's birthday, Shining Armor and his wife take time to wind down, relax, and talk. The topic of their conversation soon moves in an unexpected direction, and the couple finds that their marriage still has surprises in store for them both.

Hit the break for a chat with Softy8088 and a link to On the Importance of Spelling out on the ponynet. Don't forget to grab your own ebook copy over at the Downloads page!

Where do you live?

Toronto, Ontario, Canada... or close enough to it, anyway.

What kind of work do you do? (i.e. are you a student, do you have a career/day job, etc)

Software developer.

How did you discover My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? When did you realize you were a fan of the show?

April of 2011, I had been seeing images of ponies popping up in random places. (No, I don't mean 4chan... I don't go there much.) The very first clip of the show I ever saw was the opening of "Sonic Rainboom" on YouTube. It looked, at the very least, like it wouldn't be pure torture to watch, with interesting characters and at least some humour. The comments floating around were all saying that the show was surprisingly good.

So, I grabbed the all the episodes available up to that point and watched them all over the course of three days.

I realised I was a fan by the fifth episode, so... within 2 hours of starting?

Do you have a favorite episode?

"Party Of One" remains the episode that, to me, showcases the best aspects of FiM: sharp humour, wonderful characters, hilarious gags, great music, a real lesson in friendship... while also having some seriously dark and disturbing undercurrents. It makes for a solid, never-boring 21 minutes of entertainment. It's the one I'd recommend to convince any non-brony to start watching the show, and its rewatchability hasn't waned at all for me since the day I first saw it. That's my favourite.

Runners-up are "Sweet and Elite", "Sisterhooves Social" (Rarity learns the best lessons!) and "The Crystal Empire". (Yes, I mean that. Sombra was way cool.)

Who is your favorite character based purely on the canon of the show itself? Would your answer change if you considered the fandom in its entirety (i.e. art, fanfiction, memes, etc)?

Twilight Sparkle is best pony. Why? No use beating around the bush; I see a lot of myself in her. She is the character I can most relate to. Her loner bookworm tendencies, her obsessive organisation, her constant need to excel, her worries about disappointing her mentor, and her occasional act-without-thinking responses to stress. These are all traits that I either have or have had. Twilight's development in the show is either a reflection of my own, or a positive guide for me, or both.

That said, I like the entire mane cast. Despite not being my favourite, Rarity consistently has the best episodes. Fluttershy is sweet and kind and impossibly cute. Rainbow Dash is just plain awesome, period. Pinkie Pie can always cheer me up. And Applejack is the best background pony, of course. (I kid! I kid!) Each one contributes to the dynamic, and the show just wouldn't be the same if any of them were missing.

And while the fandom comes out with some great stuff, the show is the one true source of inspiration for me. My answer remains the same.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

Software Engineering students are nicknamed SoftEs – "Softies". I'm not a software engineer, just a dime-a-dozen Computer Science graduate. But I think that's what I was thinking about when I picked "Softy" as a login name for some disposable user account somewhere, untold eons ago. The 8088 is a reference to the Intel 8088 microprocessor. I never owned one, but the name is fun to say ("Eighty-eighty-eight"). If you have a very loose idea of "fun".

So, both parts of the name are computer references, and both have absolutely nothing to do with me personally.

Have you written in other capacities (other fandoms, professionally, etc)? When did you first start writing?

I never wrote anything substantial until FiM came along. Back in my school days – and we're talking elementary school here – I would always ace creative writing assignments, and I wrote mostly nerdy sci-fi-inspired things in the vein of Star Trek or The Outer Limits. In truth, I always thought of those assignments as a burden and didn't really enjoy writing. I preferred to do math problems. (Math, incidentally, is awesome because not only can you get it perfectly right, but can then go on to prove that you got it perfectly right.)

High school was much the same. I didn't write anything that could be considered a "story" during my time in university. I always did love reading, though.

About a year ago I finally got inspired to put a real story together after I saw how much content the MLP fandom was producing, and I figured I could give it a shot. The result was about five paragraphs' worth of a Trixie-oriented story whose basic plotline was suspiciously similar to The Moonstone Cup. Said story is abandoned, buried, and forgotten, and we shall never speak of it again. Thankfully, I made another attempt, and another, and another. And eventually, it seems I got something right.

In short, not counting school projects, I only started writing less than a year ago.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?


Sadly, not as many books as I used to. Lately I've been sticking to short stories, articles, and online discussions. Oh, and pony fiction, of course. The Internet is a great source of knowledge and entertainment, if you can develop the skills to filter out the mountains of crap.

Who is your favorite author (published or fanfiction)? Do you have a favorite story or novel?

This is a tough question. For published works, I'll just go with the old sci-fi standby, Asimov. In terms of fanfiction, that honour goes to Blueshift, who has produced the most consistently awesome pony stuff.

That said, my tastes are best described as "eclectic", and just because an author wrote something I liked is no guarantee that I will like their next story. I judge every work individually, often not bothering to even look at the author until I'm finished reading.

Stephen King believes that every author has an "ideal reader" – the one person who they write for, the one person whose reactions they care about. Do you have one, and if so, who is it?

I write because I like it, and I like what I write. In that sense, my ideal reader is me. I don't think that's what was intended by the question, however.

I have no one ideal reader, but what I appreciate most are those readers who give me feedback – especially the critical kind. And especially if that criticism makes sense. The ideal reader for me, then, is the person who can argue about what I wrote so effectively, that they change my opinion about my own work.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers, or writers who are struggling with their own stories?

Read. It's the most cliched piece of advice, but that's because it's so true. Read a lot, figure out what you like and why, what you dislike and why, and apply that knowledge to your own work.

Also, get proofreaders, or editors if you can. Take criticism, and take it well.

Write because you want to.

What is your typical writing process? (Do you work through multiple drafts, do you have any prereaders/editors, etc?)

I get many, many ideas. These ideas are usually very simple; just a few lines of dialogue or some kind of gag. 90% of those ideas don't go anywhere and are forgotten. Some, however, stick with me and play over and over in my head. Around those I try to work out a story plot. 90% of those plots aren't coherent enough to be workable. For those that are, I sit down and start writing. 90% of the time, I decide that while they might be workable, they just aren't worth the effort, and I give up after a couple of paragraphs. The remainder is what I stick through.

Outlines are kept strictly in my head, and subject to change at all times. I write out of order – horribly so – and weld the pieces together afterward. I keep a thesaurus and dictionary handy – word choice is usually my biggest frustration. Once something is written, though, it's mentally marked "done" and I'm generally reluctant to change it. I give the story a final read-over and correct any errors and blatant awkwardness, then publish.

I currently have no prereader or editor, which in light of the previous answer makes me a colossal hypocrite.

If the above sounds a lot like "I have no process", that's pretty much the truth. How I manage to output anything readable is a mystery even to me.

What inspired you to write On the Importance of Spelling?

I had just seen the umpteenth debate about the spelling of Cadance's name. In between wondering why anyone would waste their time arguing about such an insignificant detail, and spending hours vehemently arguing my obviously correct opinion against those trolls who kept refusing to acknowledge just how wrong they were, an idea popped into my head:

What if this exact spelling conundrum existed in-universe?

And what if the true answer was something horrible enough to make both sides cry tears of disgust and despair?

I basically set out to remind everyone that things could be much, much worse.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing On the Importance of Spelling?

Surprisingly, no. Apart from my computer being uncooperative, the writing itself didn't give me much trouble – unlike most of my other works up to that point. I had a pretty solid idea of how Shining Armor and Cadance behave around each other, and their dialogue flowed naturally. Descriptions of actions are always tricky for me, but with this story being very dialogue-heavy, the amount of narrative I had to write was very manageable. The innuendo-loaded "twist" near the beginning wasn't planned; it just seemed to write itself.

The biggest worry I had was whether the way I chose to spell out the letters would grate on my readers, and I know that for a few it did, but the goal was to make it intentionally a little confusing, as it was from Shining Armor's perspective.

Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell forced me to make a few edits post-publishing, but nothing major. Cadance still has a family, and still celebrates a birthday, as most adopted children do.

When you set out to write On the Importance of Spelling, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

Nothing particularly profound. There's some stuff in there about your identity being determined by who you are and what you do, and not by how you're labelled by others.

Mostly, though, the message is "Don't allow details to blind you to the truth of what's important. Appreciate the good things, and don't ruin them by nitpicking." Or, more simply, "Don't sweat the small stuff."

And yes, that message is aimed directly at the fandom.

Where can readers drop you a line?

PM me through my FimFiction account. I check it pretty much daily.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Yeah. To anyone who enjoys the textual spew I toss up on the interwebs:

Thank you. Thank you for the comments, the likes, the encouragement, and especially the constructive criticism. You have no idea how much it means.

Also, what the hell's wrong with you? Go read someone with actual talent.

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