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The Order of Oddfish

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Episode 3 of the Secrets of Story Podcast: Laika and the Blue Mouse!

March 23, 2017

Hoo boy, do I have egg on my face! I totally forgot to post this back in January!

Some background. My friend Matt Bird and I started a podcast a few months ago called The Secrets of Story. In it, we try to figure out between us what makes a good story tick. What are the pro moves that great novelists and screenwriters do? What are the cringe-making mistakes that writers should avoid? Our podcast aims to get to the bottom of it!

But wait! What authority do Matt and I have to host such a podcast?

Well, Matt is the author of the excellent 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). It’s based on his storytelling advice blog Secrets of Story, of which I’m a longtime fan and sometime contributor. It’s a great blog! I’ve been reading it for years!

Okay, those are Matt’s credentials. But what right do I have to co-host this podcast? Well . . . Matt invited me. That’s about it. That’s enough, right? And I’m interested in understanding what makes for good stories. The Order of Odd-Fish came out years ago, but for one reason or another (including marvelous Lucy and Ingrid and starting the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival), although I’ve written plenty since then, I haven’t published anything. So starting this podcast is kind of like a therapy for me. Maybe, through talking over storytelling issues with Matt, I can figure out how to move forward?!

Speaking of moving forward… Here is Episode 3 of that very podcast. The problem is, we posted it on January 13, but I’m not blogging about it until now… a full 2+ months later! What gives?

The answer is pretty mundane. I just forgot. The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screening season was cranking up just around then, and I was overwhelmed, and I missed blogging about it.

Which is a shame, because this is a great episode! Some background: in an earlier episode, Matt initiated what he hoped would be a recurring feature, in which he or I “give away” story ideas. Matt’s idea was about Laika, the first dog in space, who was shot up there by the Russians in 1957, and who presumably died up there. Matt’s story said, what if, instead of Laika dying in space in the Sputnik-2 as we all thought, she was scooped up by aliens? And what if those aliens are constantly watching all the planets with intelligent life, and the first time any planet sends a living organism into space, those aliens whisk away the organism (in this case, Laika) in order to test them, to see if that planet is worthy to be included in the Galactic Empire—and if they fail the test, the planet is destroyed? And so then Laika is put in the odd position of fighting for the life of the planet that only hours ago callously flung her up into space to die?

I liked this idea. So I did something to surprise Matt. In the next episode, I was supposed to show up with my own idea to “give away.” But instead, I wrote a 75-page script based on Matt’s idea! True, I did write the script in only 3 days, so it ain’t perfect, but I thought it was a fun exercise. You can download the script here if you’re interested. It puts a kind of Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Rick and Morty spin on Matt’s idea.

Or you can listen to the above podcast! I got together with my niece and nephew Freya and Theo, and together we performed the script, which is called “Laika and the Blue Mouse.” In the above podcast, Matt and I listen to the recording of Freya’s, Theo’s, and my performance, and every once in a while Matt breaks in to give some critique of the script.

It’s fun! But it’s over two hours! So listener beware. And full disclosure, it’s not my best writing. But I thought it would be a fun experiment to crank something out quickly and then put it through the wringer of Matt’s critique. I think we all surprised ourselves and learned something. Anyway, go listen to it (even though I’m posting it months late!).

And if you want to listen in on the lively debate about the script, with lots of great advice from the commenters, check out the comments section in this post on Matt’s blog.