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The Order of Oddfish

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Secrets of Story Episode 29: When Do You Write For Yourself? When For The Story? And When For The Audience? (with guest Jonathan Auxier)

July 16, 2021

A brand-new episode of our Secrets of Story podcast is up! I’m enjoying making ridiculous graphics for each episode. I fully intend to retroactively make a graphic for each and every episode, which infuriates Matt. In a series of furious texts he said, “I really don’t want you to make 29 of these. My face is not my brand . . . I didn’t become a podcaster to have my face out there! I’m not a show dog!” I find this reaction strangely satisfying. To see the graphics for all the episodes, check out the rejuvenated Secrets of Story Twitter feed.

But before we get into the podcast, a few announcements. As you probably know, my new speculative thriller Dare To Know is coming out September 14, 2021. Please pre-order it here.

Shelf Awareness ran a great review on Dare To Know, accompanied by an interview with me. Find out which parts of the book are inspired by improv guru’s Del Close’s death-visions, a baffling cab ride I took with my wife, and why I dread December 19, 2046!

But hey, you might not even have to pay for your copy of Dare To Know . . . Goodreads is running a giveaway of fifty advance reader copies. Enter their free drawing by July 31, 2021 and see if you get lucky.

Now, onto the Secret of Story podcast episode! Kidlit author Jonathan Auxier (The Night Gardener, Sweep, the new Fabled Stables series, and more) returns for a fourth time for this one:

In this episode, Jonathan floats his idea that writers generally go through three distinct stages of writing a story: first you’re writing to please yourself (the “author draft”), then you’re revising to perfect the story itself (the “artifact draft”), and finally you’re revising to take the audience’s reactions and sensibilities into account (the “audience draft”). Matt and I love this idea, and we tease out its implications. What if you do the steps in a different order? (Bad idea.) What if you’re giving (or receiving) notes appropriate to one stage when the process is in a different stage? (It could derail you, even if they’re good notes.)

Jonathan’s a smart cookie, and always worth listening to. I have to say, this is one of my favorite ideas that have come up in the course of the podcast, reconciling my belief in the primacy of one’s personal vision and Matt’s insistence that the audience must always come first.

Find more information about this episode, and to join the discussion, check out Matt’s post.

Secrets of Story Episodes 26 and 27: Special guest Lou Anders on Character and Plot

June 14, 2021

I’m in the news! Austin Gilkeson interviewed me for the Japanese Consulate’s E-Japan Journal about how my time in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) inspired me for The Order of Odd-Fish and Dare To Know, as well as my other experiences in Japan. Read it here.

Okay, I know I’m posting these podcast episodes a little out of order, but roll with me here. Matt and I had author Lou Anders on our Secrets of Story podcast in a big two-parter to talk about his own systems and insights into storytelling. We meant for there to be only one episode, but Lou had so many smart points to make, we brought him back for two episodes!

Lou is the author of the Thrones and Bones trilogy, Once Upon a Unicorn, and Star Wars: Flight of the Falcon. In episode 26, he dropped by our podcast to offer his own system of how to polarize characters.

Now, over on his blog, Matt has come up with his own system that broadly classifies characters as head, heart or gut (or permutations thereof). In Lou’s alternative system, he separates characters into four pairs: protagonist / antagonist, mentor / bad example, true believer / skeptic, and thinker / feeler. He illustrates with examples from Star Wars, Big Hero Six, and Avengers, and we test out his theories on Harry Potter and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Can Lou’s character archetypes help you? I think there’s a quite a bit of truth in it. Lou is a smart guy and is certainly worth listening to:

For reference, here are Lou’s eight archetypes and how they shake out in different examples:

Who? What do they do? In Star Wars In Harry Potter
Protagonist or Hero Main character, who has a goal to achieve and something to learn. Luke Skywalker Harry Potter
Antagonist Places obstacles in protagonist’s path. Grand Moff Tarkin Voldemort
Mentor Relationship/”window” character with something to teach. Obi-Wan Kenobi Dumbledore
Bad Example Tries to pull our hero onto the wrong path or illustrates the wrong path. Darth Vader Draco Malfoy
True Believer Has unshakeable faith in the hero / the mission. R2-D2 Hagrid
Doubter Challenges the hero’s methods (could be for various reasons: cowardice, spite, skepticism, etc.) C3-P0 Snape
Thinker Reflects on the hero’s course of action before taking action of their own. The idea person. Princess Leia Hermione Granger
Feeler Always shoots first and rushes in where angels fear to tread. The action person. Han Solo Ron Weasley (?)

You can join the lively discussion about this episode in the comments section of Matt’s post about this episode.

But Lou’s not done with us yet! Matt and I have him back for the next episode, Episode 27, in which Lou explains how, in many stories, the hero passes through four stages: Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, and Martyr. Will Matt and I buy it?

Bonus: Lou tells a great ghost story about when he was living at James Thurber’s old house as an artist-in-residence!

Follow and participate in the discussion about this episode in Matt’s post. In this discussion, it comes out that I don’t really like the term “Martyr” for the last quarter of the story. A commenter suggests “Mensch” instead, which I vastly prefer.

For reference, here’s how Lou’s system breaks down:

Stage What happens? In Star Wars In Harry Potter
Orphan Literally or figuratively, our protagonist is out of touch with love, friends, family—either by circumstances or by choice. Luke’s an orphan who lives with his just-okay aunt and uncle. Then his aunt and uncle are killed, his home destroyed! Double orphan! Harry’s an orphan who lives with his dreadful aunt and uncle (under the stairs, kept out of sight)
Wanderer Our hero has now entered a world of adventure. He/she wanders, looking for clues, meeting mentors and helpers, and overcoming obstacles. Luke leaves his home planet, books a trip to a missing planet, runs around the Death Star. Harry goes to Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, learning magic, making friends.
Warrior Having gathered most (if not all) of his/her helpers and found most (if not all) of the clues, it is time to act. Our hero now actively goes on the offensive. He/she fights—not always successfully—to achieve his/ her goal. We have to rescue the princess! We have to stop Voldemort!
Martyr (or Mensch) In order to win, our hero has to be willing to die—and not be reborn—for the greater good. This is also the point at which the hero must confront that which is wrong about himself/herself and let it go. Luke flies his spaceship on what seems like a suicide mission and even shuts down his tactical computer at the crucial moment. Harry faces Voldemort (through Quirrell) alone at the end.

What do you think? Lou’s insights might not apply to every single story, but I can think of many, many stories that do fit his theories. I’d be eager to have Lou on the podcast again sometime. I like his analytical way of thinking through the nuts and bolts of storytelling, which of course is what Matt’s and my podcast is all about!

Secrets of Story Episode 28: Does The Order of Odd-Fish Follow Matt Bird’s Rules?

June 2, 2021

Look at this amazing Order of Odd-Fish art by Isa—that is, Bellaboutime on Instagram! I’m awed by Isa’s depiction of the All-Devouring Mother’s multifarious and terrifying eyes, its multiple slavering mouths, and the fascinating way it unravels and collapses. Every inch of the monster-goddess is packed with beautifully gruesome detail (I love the bits of gristle hurtling out of its maw!). And the way Ian and his ostrich are silhouetted against the smoldering red sky is epic. Gorgeous and impressive!

Wait, why am I posting Order of Odd-Fish fan art? Well, one reason is because I started an Instagram of the many pieces of Odd-Fish fan art that I’ve received over the years. Another reason? Matt Bird and I recorded a brand-new episode of our Secrets of Story podcast . . . and it’s all about Odd-Fish!

Matt and I have been debating storytelling techniques for years, both in real life and on his Secrets of Story blog (which led to his useful, successful, and highly recommended Secrets of Story book).

There are two other great episodes that Matt and I recorded with writer Lou Anders, but I haven’t officially posted about them on this blog yet. But I’ll get around to them soon! But I wanted to post about this episode while it’s still fresh.

On his blog, Matt has been advancing his theory that to suck us into a story, the writer needs to make the reader Believe, Care, and Invest. That is, the reader must be made to Believe in the world of the book (usually through some oddly specific details), Care for the hero’s situation (often because the hero suffers some unmerited or disproportionate insult or injury), and Invest in the hero (by demonstrating that the hero has it in them to solve the problems of this story).

Matt annotated the first chapter of Odd-Fish in this post on his blog, and did a Believe-Care-Invest test in this other post on his blog. Both of his posts are worth reading if you’re curious to see the nuts-and-bolts of how the first chapter of Odd-Fish works!

And if you’re interested in how Odd-Fish holds up against Matt’s storytelling best-practices advice, here’s the episode of the podcast:

In the episode, I mentioned the fan art gallery show / costumed dance party we did for Odd-Fish way back in the day. It was a wild night, the costumes were glamorous, the dance-fights were spectacular, the art was top-notch! Lurid pictures, shocking video, and the total low-down on that party can be found here.

Also in the episode, Matt and I refer to a chart that interrelates the nine major characters of Odd-Fish‘s ensemble. You can see it below! Our hero Jo is in the middle, and you can see how she is related to each supporting character by how they bring out a certain aspect of Jo through being a negation of some aspect of her character (for instance, Jo has a plain style and doesn’t want to be notorious or in the spotlight; the opposite of Sefino, who has a foppish style and craves notoriety and the spotlight). And those supporting characters are related to each other as negations of similars: for instance, Sefino is a silly dandy while Ken Kiang is a dangerous dandy. I didn’t start writing Odd-Fish with a chart like this in hand, but a chart like this was being built throughout the writing of the book, and it helped to sharpen and distinguish the different characters.

Click the chart for a larger, easier-to-read version:

Matt and I also talked about whether Odd-Fish polarizes characters into Head, Heart, and Gut, as many stories do, an interesting phenomenon we discuss in Episode 23. That kind of polarization does kind of work for Odd-Fish, but not as tightly as I expected it would. So I thought about it, and I realized that Odd-Fish has its own character archetypes . . . and maybe the challenge for every author is to figure out our own archetypes that are natural for us to write, and not just mechanically repeat archetypes that we see elsewhere. Anyway, here are the bespoke archetypes I figured out for Odd-Fish:

All right, that’s enough about The Order of Odd-Fish for now! After all, I’ve got that brand new book coming out in September!

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