November 30, 2016
Here’s some good news that I haven’t mentioned on the blog yet. I just started co-hosting a podcast with Matt Bird, author of the brand-new screenwriting/novel-writing advice book The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers (which you should go out and buy right now).
For years I’ve been a fan of Matt’s storytelling advice blog. I’ve gleaned insights from it, recommended it to other writers, and even shamelessly cribbed from it for the writing classes I’ve taught. Now Matt has boiled down the essence of his enlightening-but-sprawling blog into a tight, super-useful, enjoyable book.
(I’ve commented a lot on the blog, too, and even did a series of guest posts about all the crafty techniques Star Wars employs to convince us Luke Skywalker is a great hero, and not “whiny” as some critics lazily characterize him. Here is part 1, part 2, part 3, and a final tangent).
What’s the podcast about? Well, it turns out that although I agree with most of what Matt says, we also have significant disagreements! Every week Matt brings up some storytelling advice from his book, I disagree, and then we argue and banter about it—entertainingly, I hope. Sometimes I’ll talk Matt around to my point of view. Sometimes Matt will convert me to his. Sometimes we’ll discover a new truth together. You can subscribe to the Secrets of Story Podcast here. Leave a review, too, if you’re so inclined!
The first episode has us disagreeing about one of Matt’s recent blog posts, Channel Master Thespian. Matt’s claim, as far as I can tell, is that to make your script as good as possible, you can’t imagine the best actors in the world are performing the roles you wrote, but rather the worst. He claims you need to make your script bulletproof by removing anything that could be characterized as “hammy.” I disagree with this, and try to persuade Matt that such obsessive self-doubt and perfectionism leads to timid, defensive writing. Matt argues that most audiences distrust what they’re reading or watching, and that the artist starts off at a disadvantage that s/he must quickly overcome; I don’t deny that the artist must work hard, but I feel that there is a natural amount of initial audience goodwill that can be capitalized on instead of denied. Anyway, you can hear the episode here on iTunes, or if you’re not an iTunes person, here it is on SoundCloud:
Question: how do I even know Matt? I met Matt through his amazing wife Betsy Bird, way back when The Order of Odd-Fish was published. Betsy is a children’s librarian and superblogger, and way back in 2009 she did a great interview with me on her essential children’s literature blog Fuse #8. She’s also the author of one of my daughters’ favorite picture books, Giant Dance Party, and she co-wrote Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, which is an inside look at some of the unruly personalities and untold stories about the folks who write children’s literature (sometimes quite scandalous!). She also has a humor anthology for girls coming out in Spring 2017 called Funny Girl, with contributors like Raina Telgemeier, Cece Bell, Jenni Holm, Rita Williams-Garcia, Shannon Hale, and more!
Quite a couple, the Birds. Two blogs and four books between the two of them. They used to live in New York and were long-distance friends, but last year they moved to the Chicago area and Betsy now works with my wife Heather, both of them at the Evanston Public Library!
They say to hold your friends close, and your enemies closer. I’m of the philosophy that you should hold your talented and productive friends even closer than your enemies. So I’m glad that the paths of the Birds and the Kennedys have converged! May they never diverge!
Now go listen to the podcast, fool! Only fifty or so days left of America, so let’s listen to podcasts!