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The Mythcreant Podcast

Updated 12 days ago

Arts
Games & Hobbies
TV & Film
Literature
Other Games
Read more

Fantasy & Science Fiction for Storytellers

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Fantasy & Science Fiction for Storytellers

iTunes Ratings

31 Ratings
Average Ratings
27
3
1
0
0

One of my all time favorite podcasts!

By Fay Onyx - Apr 15 2019
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Great writing and storytelling advice that incorporates an awareness of oppression in an entertaining (and often really funny) three person conversation. They make it fun by giving examples which they describe in enough detail that you don't need to know the particular piece of media that they are referencing. I don't really enjoy listening to most writing advice podcasts, but I love this podcast! I've learned a lot and it doesn't feel like work. I look forward to it coming out each week.

Good advice, with a dose of ideology

By Interested in Writing - Mar 09 2019
Read more
Passable-to-good discussions featuring both descriptive and prescriptive writing advice. They have a blog, but this podcast is the most valuable thing they offer. They do have a bent toward intersectionality and identity politics, and bring it up often enough to be irritating. But these moments are brief, and seldom preachy. Thus they don't ruin the episodes, and the podcasters do not come off as insufferable ideologues. The thing to keep in mind is that there is actually good advice and insight to be gleaned here. You just have to wade through a couple ankle-deep puddles of dogma on your way to reach it. Overall, a good experience

iTunes Ratings

31 Ratings
Average Ratings
27
3
1
0
0

One of my all time favorite podcasts!

By Fay Onyx - Apr 15 2019
Read more
Great writing and storytelling advice that incorporates an awareness of oppression in an entertaining (and often really funny) three person conversation. They make it fun by giving examples which they describe in enough detail that you don't need to know the particular piece of media that they are referencing. I don't really enjoy listening to most writing advice podcasts, but I love this podcast! I've learned a lot and it doesn't feel like work. I look forward to it coming out each week.

Good advice, with a dose of ideology

By Interested in Writing - Mar 09 2019
Read more
Passable-to-good discussions featuring both descriptive and prescriptive writing advice. They have a blog, but this podcast is the most valuable thing they offer. They do have a bent toward intersectionality and identity politics, and bring it up often enough to be irritating. But these moments are brief, and seldom preachy. Thus they don't ruin the episodes, and the podcasters do not come off as insufferable ideologues. The thing to keep in mind is that there is actually good advice and insight to be gleaned here. You just have to wade through a couple ankle-deep puddles of dogma on your way to reach it. Overall, a good experience
Cover image of The Mythcreant Podcast

The Mythcreant Podcast

Updated 12 days ago

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Fantasy & Science Fiction for Storytellers

Rank #1: 192 – Magic Weapons

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Magic is cool, and weapons are cool, so you know what would be the coolest? Magic weapons, which is what we’re talking about this week. Despite being nearly ubiquitous across all genres of speculative fiction, magic weapons can be tricky to work with. What are they for? What should they do? Should it even be obvious that they’re magic? We’ll talk about all of that, plus examine what happens in stories when a character loses their magic weapon. Hint, they usually get it back.

Download Episode 192 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/TMP-192-Magic-Weapons.mp3

Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to podcast@mythcreants.com

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

How to Bring a Sword to a Gun Fight

Sting

Shelob

Excalibur

Glamdring

Tenser’s Transformation

Master Sword

Valyrian Steel

Demon Killing Knife

Magic Axe 

The Vorpal Blade

The Elder Wand

The Point of View Gun

Mjölnir

Maui’s Hook

Space Sword

Trunks’ Sword

Dune Shields

Enjoying our podcast? Thank us with a review on iTunes or Stitcher.

Oct 14 2018
Play

Rank #2: 225 – Fractal Plots

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This episode is a podcast within a podcast within a podcast about plots within plots within plots. That’s right, today we’re talking about fractal plotting. What is fractal plotting, you ask? Listen and find out! We talk about the most basic parts that make up a plot, how those parts fit together, and what happens when you take them to the next level. Plus, did you know Harry Potter is basically an example of everything we ever talk about?

Download Episode 225Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TMP-225-Fractal-Plots.mp3

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Transcription

Your Plot Is Fractal

The Hero’s Journey

Harry Potter

Deep Space Nine

Temeraire

The Expanse

Orphan Black

The Collapsing Empire

Wheel of Time

The Gentlemen Bastards

Jump down to comments ↓

Transcript

Generously transcribed by Danita. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Intro: You’re listening to The Mythcreant Podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle.

Intro Music

Chris: This is The Mythcreant Podcast. I’m Chris and with me is…

Oren: Oren.

Chris: This time we are having a podcast within a podcast within a podcast within a podcast.

Oren: What. No stop. It’s gone too deep.

Chris: It’s going to make the most podcast of podcasts.

Oren: Too many layers of podcast like the quantum realm and now we’re time traveling into Avengers End Game. Why would you do this to us Chris?

Chris: So this time we’re going to be talking about fractals and in particular fractal plotting which sounds very strange, you might wonder why are we talking about fractals. Isn’t that for mathematicians. Sounds kind of overly nerdy, I know.

Oren: Actually this is a math class. You’re trapped. The doors are locked. Deal with it.

Chris: I know a lot of writers when it comes to plotting, they just want to know. Just tell me how to plot the thing. Just give me directions. Give me a road map, tell me what to do now and then next and all the way to the end. But looking at plots as fractals tells us why it’s so hard for anyone to tell a writer how they can just plot the thing particularly when that thing is as big as a novel is.

Right now there’s a big struggle because any plot structure for a novel that seems anywhere near universal is also incredibly vague. Too vague to be helpful. And we’ve talked about the hero’s journey a little bit where the hero’s journey is really funny because people seem to want to have it both ways. It’s both incredibly specific and also very vague depending on who you ask.

Oren: Yeah the hero’s journey is just like, if you take every point in the Hero’s Journey at its vaguest level and squint really hard most stories will have them in some version, somewhere, maybe.

Chris: I honestly I think even at its vaguest the hero’s journey is never going to be universal.

Oren: Yeah I would agree.

Chris: So anyway, first let’s talk about what is a fractal for people who are not familiar with that concept. Basically, a fractal is a repeating pattern found frequently in nature. Often it’s the same shape that repeats but gets smaller and smaller and smaller as it does. So if you have a triangle and it’s made up of four smaller triangles and then each of those smaller triangles is made up of four tinier triangles and each of those has four teensy weensy triangles inside.

Oren: I’m not ready.

Chris: Snowflakes are fractals. They grow via repeating patterns. They look different but they are all fractals. So that just means that our plots are unique and special snowflakes. All of them.

Oren: Oh is that what it means. OK. All right. Tell me what this means at a book level. Where does the book fall here?

Chris: Yeah, what does it have to do with books? Well I think the big problem that we have when communicating about plotting and plots is that conventionally we’ve been thinking about plots and especially the novel size, as one big complex shape or pattern.

When I think that what it really is is more of a repetition of a much simpler pattern. So any plot that you see, and this is why plots can take so many different forms and it’s hard to give people specific directions, is because again they’re a repetition of something much simpler that ends up looking complex because of the repetition.

Oren: OK. So the biggest level would be the series so if we were to take Harry Potter as an example.

Chris: Yeah let’s go ahead and use Harry Potter as an example.

Oren: Harry Potter is just a great example for so many things. So Harry Potter the series is theoretically the biggest level. Right. That’s the biggest version of this.

And then you zoom in one level and then you get the books and the books make up the series and then you zoom in on the books and in the books you get the different chapters.

Chris: I mean, it doesn’t have to be chapters. It can be a can be half story structure in themselves but they don’t necessarily-  OK, so let’s let’s define what this pattern is again. And it’s something  we’ve talked about a lot so it should be pretty familiar but it’s basically you start with a problem. Then you have a turning point and then you have a resolution to that problem.

At Mythcreants, that’s how we define plot structure. It’s very simple. Simpler than again, a lot of other people define plot structure. You can even think of it as a triangle. If you’ve ever seen one of those charts where it’s rising tension and then climax and then falling action and it looks like a triangle, that’s basically it.

Oren: But it’s not an equilateral triangle, usually.

Chris: It’s not an equilateral triangle.

Oren: Yeah usually the majority is rising action and then the climax happens and then you have a much shorter third leg which is falling action.

Chris: Right. The turning point happens shortly before the resolution. And the problem is usually significantly before that but, again, at the end it’s just, you know, I am out of Cheetos. Then I go to the store. Oh no somebody has the last bag of Cheetos. I’m going to fight them for the Cheetos, is our turning point, and then I either do or don’t get the Cheetos. That’s our resolution

Oren: I’m on the edge of my seat. Did you get the Cheetos? Can’t just leave me hanging like that.

Chris: We’ll say I got the Cheetos in this example.

Oren: Woo, happy ending.

Chris: Right. So that’s extra incredibly simple, right? A novel is way more complex than that but a novel is a very long story that has that repeated many, many times in different ways.

So anyway, let’s go back to Harry Potter. We have the problem of Voldemort and the rise of fascism and our turning point is the battle with Voldemort in the last book which is also the turning point for the last book. And the resolution is Voldemort is now dead and Harry has won and fascism has been defeated.

OK now we can go to each individual book and see that there’s that same pattern there. We can see that in book 1 Voldemort is trying to get the Sorcerer’s Stone. We have the turning point. The battle between Harry and Voldemort at the end of that book, the climax of that book and then the resolution for that book. Voldemort did not get the Sorcerer’s Stone and he’s off by himself again having lost his minion. We’ve resolved that plot but it is part of the bigger plot of the struggle against Voldemort.

Oren: OK. And then within the- do you remember the first book well enough to give us an example of this going even smaller?

Chris: I have one in my post, I think I remember. So what Rowling does during each of her books is she has usually the big plot against Voldemort or for the big plot for the book kind of happening building up in the background and then she has smaller stories about school happening in the foreground and those are shorter so they don’t have to be quite as epic in scope. But for instance, one chapter, it’s Harry is really nervous about this Quidditch game, it’s his first Quidditch game ever. But we have the Quidditch happen and Harry at the pinnacle turning point races after the snitch and manages to catch it with his mouth.

And then he- and then we’ve got the resolution. He wins the Quidditch game. So you can keep going like this. Each scene oftentimes it’s a little unclear where the structure fits in, you know it could be potentially stretched between two scenes but oftentimes scenes have this structure themselves in them. Each individual scene. This is the scene where you know Harry tries to get information out of Hagrid, right. And they have a turning point that’s involved somewhere in their conversation. He’s trying to convince Hagrid to give up information and then Hagrid probably gives it up because that’s what Hagrid does.

Oren: That’s his job. Don’t ever tell Hagrid anything if you don’t want Harry, Hermione and Ron to know it.

Chris: So one scene might be, ok, we need this information. Have a turning point with Hagrid. We got the information and that’s our scene. So the only thing that makes this- really the biggest thing that I think makes this different from the fractals that we see a lot of times in nature is that you can only get so small because you can’t divide a word.

Oren: It’s hard anyway.

Chris: We have an indivisible unit at the bottom and so it’s not an infinite fractal the way a snowflake might be.

Oren: And then when you split a word you get like a giant explosion. We’re just not ready for that kind of technology yet.

Chris: But anyways do you want to talk about more examples? I think Deep Space Nine is another good example of a plot that has easy arcs that you can see at multiple levels.

Oren: Yeah and TV shows in particular tend to do it. They tend to have a season arc which if the show is really good splits and goes up into an even bigger series arc. Like in Deep Space Nine the series arc is the Dominion War. It takes them a little while to introduce that but it happens pretty quickly. It’s within the first season they’re planting hints of the Dominion War.

Chris: And we also have the fate of Bajor and the space Jesus plot that are tied into that.

Oren: And then they have the first season’s plot. It’s especially strong. But then by the time you get into the fourth season it’s now you have to Klingon war that is the arc of the fourth season and then they have smaller sub arcs within the Dominion War.

Chris: So this is a thing that’s been increasingly aggravating me. I’m at the cusp of making up another word. Someday I won’t be making up more words but when we’re talking about all of these stories within stories within stories, having the correct language to talk about them is important and it really bugs me that subplot does not mean what it should mean. Because a subplot does not mean, oftentimes, doesn’t really fully mean a story that is a part of the bigger plot. It means it’s another story that’s layered on top of it. That’s usually less important right.

Oren: That’s not really related.

Chris: Right yeah. So you would say that Harry wanting to win the Quidditch tournament would be a subplot of the Harry Potter series but Harry’s struggle against Voldemort in book 1 is not a subplot even though it’s a piece of a bigger plot about the struggle against Voldemort.

And I don’t think we have a word for that. I’m gonna have to make one up.

Oren: Uh oh.

Chris: I know but it bugs me because a lot times when we’re plotting a novel we have to do that. We have a big arc where you have an epic battle of the hero versus the villain for instance. And then we have step one the hero needs to go journey to some place to get some magic item for instance. And that’s part of the struggle against the villain the hero is doing that because if the villain gets the magic item first they’ll become more powerful for instance.

And that by itself forms a story structure where we have the problem and the turning point and the resolution to that. And it’s a piece though of the larger story structure against that villain, right? And so this is a lot of times when you’re looking at a novel and you want to plot a novel this is how you fill in that muddlesome middle. And this is why we have the muddlesome middle because that internal structure is lacking because we know how the story begins and we know how it ends. But what do we do with all that stuff in between where the overarching story doesn’t inherently put something there. It’s because we need more smaller stories that fit inside the bigger story.

Oren: Yeah. And you can’t always just jump to the end right. That’s the automatic thing I think of when, it’s well what’s the solution to the muddlesome middle? Well maybe just do you need to have all that?

Maybe you can just cut it out and you can but then first of all that means your book is going to be very short but it also just means that when you get to the end it very often doesn’t feel it has the proper scope. You know when you get to the end of a long series, the ending has to be good in itself but there’s also just a feeling of inertia that you’ve built up over the series that is all going to come to a head right. And it’s all building to that moment and just having that inertia is a very powerful feeling.

That’s why even though the ending of the Temeraire series was pretty mediocre in my opinion, I still read it and was still really into it because I’d read twelve books to get there. And I had enjoyed most of those books individually. Now that’s not worth putting in a bunch of crap which some people seem to think it is but, there is definitely something you get from having a longer story with a lot more content in there.

Chris: I think attachment is really big because the longer you spend with the same set of characters, assuming that you like them, the writer has been successful at making you like them, the more emotionally attached you get to all the elements of the story and then the bigger the payoff when they succeed the bigger the emotional payoff. Short stories I think have a much tougher time with that attachment aspect because they’re so short whereas with a novel you have time for that emotional investment to build.

Oren: Shall we talk about some things that can disrupt the fractal? So I feel like this might be one of the reasons why big exposition dumps are a problem because it’s it doesn’t really feel like these exposition dumps are related to a problem that the character has.

I’m using “problem” in two different contexts here because you know the basic fractal unit is a problem, rising action, turning point, resolution, right. And if you have a bunch of exposition, where does that fit in there? Right now it just feels like we put the put the story on hold, on pause while we read all this world info right.

Chris: Well I think any form of putting the story on pause becomes a problem. One thing we’ve seen a lot is character takes a random side trip somewhere. It has nothing to do with our overarching plot. We’ve just abandoned it for a whole long time. But the overarching plot is kind of what supplies the tension for the overall story.

So in Harry Potter, go back, because again most of the early Harry Potter books are really well plotted. We have the little subplots about Quidditch but Rowling keeps hooking it back in to the overall plot about Voldemort or, whatever the book’s villain is, as a way of keeping tension up. So in my example about Harry winning the Quidditch match, when Harry has a victory when any character has a victory. The tension naturally drops in so it’s important to then put in another hook another problem to keep the tension going up towards the climax. Again there can be some ups and downs. It’s not like it has to be a relentless shooting into the sky.

Oren: Right. You want a minute to catch your breath.

Chris: But at the same time we have the victory, we enjoy the victory but then we need another hook. So then we have a reminder about the Sorcerer’s Stone at the end there. That puts us back to that central mystery that we know that is important. Whereas in balancing that out keeping it so that that overall hook because usually the story that’s holding the book together is the one with the highest stakes and is the most capable of drawing somebody through the story.

And so we don’t want to go too far away from it. It’s different though in more episodic works. I talked about this recently. I had a post on travel stories and the thing that defines a travel story is that we’re appreciating the moment more than we’re going to the end. We want to experience the actual travel itself. That’s supposed to be the heart of the story. And the thing that makes it different in structure is because then our episodes, our smaller stories need to be stronger and more compelling than the big story that is encompassing them.

Oren: I can see how that could be a problem.

Chris: Right. And we see that a lot where you know people will come to us for editing they’ve watched a TV show which usually are more episodic in structure or they’ve read Voyage of the Dawn Treader and they usually come to us and they have been inspired by that and then their plot doesn’t look great because they don’t understand that difference. That that worked because it was episodic. Whereas the conventional novel is not very episodic.

Oren: What do you think about the difference between a series that starts off with the with the big overarching plot, the biggest fractal layer, as a known entity versus one that kind of discovers it as it goes?

Like for example both Harry Potter and Temeraire series start off with the big overarching plot known. In Harry Potter we know it’s Voldemort although technically the book doesn’t tell us “Hey Voldemort is still gonna be the bad guy in book seven.” But you know it’s pretty clear. And then in Temeraire it’s Napoleon. The defeat of Napoleon is the point of the Temeraire series and you know he’s already the bad guy in Season 1 as opposed to something like the Expanse.

Where the Expanse starts off, each book is fairly self-contained and then usually they’ll introduce at the end, some hook for the next bad for the next book. So each book is sort of an incubator for the next plot and it kind of chains together as it goes. And I guess at that point you sort of discover that the largest fractal is actually what’s the fate of the solar system. But that wasn’t obvious that that was gonna be the big ending point at the end when the series started right.

Chris: I mean I think that could potentially work. So the advantage of something that we call the sort of fractal shape, the very clear fractal shape where we have a series arc and then a book arc and then maybe a chapter arc and the scene arc, you know where it’s all neatly layered, is that it’s easy to give the reader satisfaction of finishing an important arc.

When they finish a book but they also have a compelling reason to keep reading the series because they have that larger arc to motivate them. So if you have a series of books and the big arc doesn’t appear until later one of the biggest things is that, you know, how are you going to keep people reading?

But in the Expanse if each book hooks up to the next one then there is a solution for that. I do think that a lot of times it can be fun and satisfying to have the big arc at least present in some form in the beginning because that allows you to spend some time in each book investing in that so that it matters more when it appears. But there’s other ways to do that like maybe a character that actually appears to be a sidekick in the beginning ends up feeding into the big bad.

Oren: It also gives your book a more natural end point. The Expanse worked pretty well for a while but towards the end it starts to get like “and the next bad guy is this dude”.

And it’s, like, who? “You know this dude. We all know about this dude.”

And it’s like, I don’t. It does start to feel lopsided where I’ve been with these protagonists for like 10 books now, or maybe not 10. Not that long a series. But you know for like six or seven books now and this new villain has only just shown up and he feels kind of like he doesn’t belong. It’s like, where were you this whole time?

Whereas with Temeraire and Harry Potter it’s like I was interested. I had plenty of time to get to know the villain in addition to the hero.. So when Voldemort is defeated or when Napoleon is defeated it’s like yeah those guys I knew about them for like the whole time. I was paying attention.

Chris: Yeah. Again having that big overarching shape makes it easy for you to get the reader invested in it and build towards it in a way that it’s harder if you give it less time. Right. But then again there is a- There’s a pretty unusual shape for plots to take. I have mentioned it before. And it does work OK but it’s a little more unusual where the way the plot works is every time you solve a problem it creates an even bigger problem.

There’s no time to rest and it’s still kind of builds up. I think that having it thematically tied together can be kind of an issue at that point. And it’s good if you can find a way for it to loop back on the original problem right at the end. Keep it tied together. What it does, when it comes to enjoyment and satisfaction, doesn’t work pretty well for that to do that. But there’s also an advantage of just having that additional emotional investment for something that you’ve put a lot of work into building up from the start to the finish.

Oren: So it sounds like you could have your fractal structure be on an individual scene level. It’s like, all right we have to solve this problem in this scene that happened and OK we solved that but there’s still the big overarching problem that we know about. And that’s what’s giving us the tension.

Or if there isn’t a big overarching problem it could be we got to solve this problem and we did. Uh Oh. Solving that problem created a bigger problem and then you could do that in a book too like you could have that at the end. And that’s actually I think what the Expanse does. That method is at the end of each book. It’s like oh man you guys solve the problem but are you ready for this new problem? And it’s like no no no I’m not ready.

And this is a lesson I think you can learn because for the same reason that in a scene you know to leave a hook to keep the reader reading whether it’s a new problem or the overarching problem that’s unresolved because otherwise they might be just like “OK well I’m finished with the book for tonight I will put it away and I don’t really have any desire to go back to it because it feels like everything’s wrapped up”, right.

And you’re like “No I was going to start a new problem just like in the next chapter. Please go back. Please keep reading.”

That’s what authors sound like. And you can have the problem at the book level too right where it’s like hey we wrapped everything up. It’s like Oh. OK good.

And then it’s like hey a new book for that series came out. It’s like oh really a new book huh. I don’t know should I- should I get it? It doesn’t really feel like there was anything left to happen at the end of the last one. And it’s like the authors like “no please please buy my book”.

Chris: Yeah it’s a really hard balance because on one hand I think it is overly tempting for a lot of storytellers to end everything on cliffhangers. I do think a certain amount of courtesy to the audience requires giving them a place that they can actually walk away and hopefully, if they enjoyed your story on multiple levels, they will still want to read the next one.

I do think that having some level of overarching plot is a good idea for giving them a reason. At the same time sometimes I do think with the whole “Oh we solved this problem but we caused a bigger one”, it can be hard for the audience to rest in there. And you know having that balance where we give them a reason to keep going but we’re not just being mean I think as long as you are actually ending an arc and so they get some satisfaction for plot threads that are already resolved, I think you’re doing pretty good.

One thing that really bugs me. I’ve talked about this show, Orphan Black. I’ve just watched the first season. It’s a pretty good show but I stopped watching it because I felt that at the end of the first season that the thing that was the threat, that was driving the whole season, that was motivating the main character ended up just going up in tension and never actually got resolved at the end of the season. And when that happens when there’s no threads that are actually neatly tied off, you know, I don’t know when they ever will be. Will they ever be?

So closing a work and tying off some of those threads and actually having that internal story structure for one book does show the audience that you will actually give them satisfaction and closure to some of the problems that you’re raising and does help to build trust in that area.

Oren: Yeah. That was the issue that I had with the Collapsing Empire was that it started with this really interesting plot of the hyperspace lanes are collapsing. We really need to figure out a way to deal with this problem on a galactic scale and then a big book later that problem is exactly where it started. It’s like hang on. What. There was no movement on that plot and then it’s like well maybe next time there will be.  And then it’s well you already lied to me once.

Chris: Yep. It doesn’t help that so many writers sort of underestimate how much plot they have and how many books it’s going to take to complete that plot and keep this going forever and sometimes don’t finish their series. So the problem is real. Struggle is real.

Oren: OK. So what about if I just keep adding characters because if the plot is fractal the characters are fractal too right. So I can just keep adding them. Yes?

Chris: If you’ve got a lot. You definitely have chronic series bloat.

Oren: Why would you call out Wheel of Time personally like that?

Chris: This is something that we talk about. The tendency in a series to become more and more complicated as it goes and involve more point of views, more characters, more places to the point where instead of having rising action and getting that nice excitement in the climax and turning point it just gets slower and slower as it goes on until it’s too boring to continue and you just have to put it down.

Oren: I was going to say I really like the Gentleman Bastard series for having almost whiplash in this regard because, so some spoilers for the Gentleman Bastard series ahead.

But the end of Book One is very final. It doesn’t really feel like there’s anything big happening. It’s “hey you know we had this big adventure, a bunch of our friends died, and now we’re going to leave the city and I guess go steal something else.” It’s like the biggest hook for the second book is that “oh well we’re gonna go and steal more stuff”.

So it’s like OK you know if you like that book you might pick up the second one. It’s a fairly successful series. So a fair number people did but it isn’t really pulling you to pick up the next book. There’s no indication what the next book’s gonna be about.

And then Book 2 goes hard the opposite direction. In book 2 they’re like “oh man the whole plot of this book is we need to outwit this villain because he poisoned us and if we don’t do what he says, we’re gonna die of this poison. And so we need to outwit the villain.” That’s the whole book. And then at the end they do a cliffhanger where only one of the characters gets cured of the poison and the other character is just gonna die. And that’s where the book ends. And it’s like whoa whoa, OK.

Chris: Right. There’s obviously not a resolution to the big problem of that book right.

Oren: It’s like OK well now I guess I need to read the third one to find out if he dies.

Chris: But I’m too mad.

Oren: Ironically even though the third book is easily the worst of the series it actually ends with what I would say is a pretty decent hook because it ends with the now three main characters being like “Yeah we won and then it’s like oh but also the evil wizard you thought was dead is actually alive and doing bad things.”

And it’s like OK well I guess the next book is gonna be about the evil wizard then let’s go get him. I mean I’m not going to buy it because the third book was bad but if it hadn’t been that would’ve been a strong ending hook.

Chris: Mmhmm yeah. And to make an ending hook feel like an ending hook and not an unresolved problem, the timing matters. Generally you want to make sure that the resolution is complete for the initial story and then you open up the problem to the next story. Just to clarify because sometimes it’s a little hard to tell the differences between that ending hook and just leaving a plot thread unresolved.

Oren: All right. Well I think we’re just about out of time but before we go I just want to thank two of our patrons. First is Kathy Ferguson, a professor of Political Theory in Star Trek. Second is Ayman Jaber. You can find his stuff on thefantasywarrior.com. Those of you at home if anything we said piqued your interests, you can leave a comment on the website at mythcreants.com and we will talk to you next week.

Ending Song

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Jun 02 2019
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Rank #3: 198 – Symbols, How Do They Work?

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Hmm, this character is holding an apple; is it a symbol for original sin or health and learning? What about this marlin being eaten by sharks? Does it symbolize corporate bosses extracting value from the working man, or does it represent unfair taxation demolishing a paycheck?

If you’ve ever had trouble deciphering symbols like these, then this podcast is for you. We talk about how symbols are interpreted and how that interpretation can change the story. Then we discuss some well known symbols, including that damned marlin caught by an old man at sea. And, of course, we talk about Shakespeare, because how could we not?

Download Episode 198 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/TMP-198-Symbols.mp3

Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to podcast@mythcreants.com

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Themes Podcast

Old Man and the Sea

The Great Gatsby

The Garden Party

Crime and Punishment

Post-Colonial Reading of the Tempest

Colors Across Cultures

The Great Tulip Bubble

The Scarlet Letter

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Nov 25 2018
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Rank #4: 215 – Character Recreation

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Sometimes a character is so nice you use them twice. Or three times even. Sure, they might have a different name and be in a different story, but you still recognize them. They have the same sense of humor, the same signature swagger, or maybe even the same role in the plot. This is character recreation, and it’s what we’re talking about this week. Join us as we explore characters who have been reused time and again, with outcomes both good and bad. Plus, a special look at why duct tape is so important.

Download Episode 215 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/TMP-215-Character-Recreations.mp3

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

MI-5

Reggie Mantle

Gregor Clegane

Katara

Zuko

Mako

Korra

Sokka

Reyla

Ezran

Callum

Frank Burns

Charlie Winchester

Snidely Whiplash

Number Five

Kaylee

River

The Android

Data

Number Three

Jayne

Malcolm

Spock

McCoy

Pulaski

Jett Reno

Ensign Tilly

Commander Stamets

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Mar 24 2019
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Rank #5: 189 – Gray Morality

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Sometimes it’s obvious who’s right and who’s wrong. The hero is kind and good, while the villain is cruel and evil. But what if that’s not the case? What happens when morality isn’t black and white but rather a shade of gray? That’s what we’re talking about this week. Gray morality is very popular among storytellers, but it has some serious pitfalls. After all, if no one is good or evil, do we even care who wins? Why don’t the characters just compromise? We’ll discuss ways to avoid this problem, plus another look at the weird idea that there should be a balance between good and evil.

Download Episode 189 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/TMP-189-Gray-Morality.mp3

Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to podcast@mythcreants.com

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Star Trek Discovery

Star Trek The Original Series

Jade City

Legend of the Five Rings

Star Wars

Amon

Kuvira

Devising Conflict Between Protagonists

Captain America: Civil War

Darker Shade of Magic

Jekyll and Hyde

The Dark Crystal

Skin of Evil

The Enemy Within

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Sep 23 2018
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Rank #6: 211 – Romance Mistakes

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Everyone loves a good romance, yet storytellers aren’t that great at depicting them. There are a whole host of technical mistakes that can make a romance boring or annoying, and that’s before you even get into all the ways a romance can be creepy or gross. Don’t worry, we include some solutions for these common problems. We even hault our criticism to mention some positive examples!

Download Episode 211 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/TMP-211-Romance-Mistakes.mp3

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Ezri Dax

Julian Bashir

Harry Potter 

Ginny Weasly 

Secret Circle

Aang

Katara

Zuko

Throne of the Crescent Moon

Captain Picard

Doctor Crusher

Zoe

Wash

Mal

Inara

Abductions as Romance

Octavia

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Feb 24 2019
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Rank #7: 194 – Slasher Stories

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Is that a noise outside? It’s probably nothing, so ignore it and go get some alcohol for our underaged drinking party. Nothing will go wrong. That’s right, this week we’re talking about slasher stories, everyone’s favorite genre where breaking from societal values is punished by brutal death. We discuss the origins of certain slashers, how slashers work in roleplaying games, and how to subvert the genre’s toxic tropes.

PS: Let teenagers trick-or-treat. We’ll stand for none of that age-based gate keeping here.

Download Episode 194 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/TMP-194-Slasher-Stories.mp3

Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to podcast@mythcreants.com

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Character Karma

Friday the 13th

Scream

Behind the Mask

Halloween Films

Nightmare on Elm Street

Candyman

Dread

Hunter: The Vigil

Supernatural

Carry

Alien

Cabin in the Woods

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Oct 28 2018
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Rank #8: 201 – Political Movements

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A revolution without podcasts is a revolution not worth having, at least that’s what we think here at Mythcreants. Other people feel differently, and they might form their own political movement with a no-podcasting agenda. Fortunately, we’ve invited Kathy Ferguson back one more time to talk about political movements, so we’ll be prepared. We talk about what motivates people to get out in the streets, how to realistically show such movements in fiction, and why pure-bloods hate muggle-borns.

Download Episode 201 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/TMP-201-Political-Movements.mp3

Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to podcast@mythcreants.com

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Muggle Born

Occupy Wall Street

Prefiguring

The Cloud Minders

Bar Association

Ishka

Past Tense

Apartheid

The Lumpenproletariat

The Allegory of the Cave

1905 Russian Revolution

Night Watch

Rejoined (Called Reunion in the podcast by mistake)

Natima Lang

Tekeny Ghemor

Hunger Games

Transcript

Generously transcribed by Ursula. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock and Chris Winkle.

opening song

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Chris and with me is Oren and special guest, returning for the third time, Kathy Ferguson, professor of political theory in Star Trek. Thank you for joining us Kathy.

Kathy Ferguson: Thanks for inviting me.

Oren: And if you look on the nameplate, it’s also professor of political science and women’s studies, but we think the Star Trek part is what’s most important.

Chris: So this time we’re going to talk about political movements, which is a really exciting thing because in spec-fic, oftentimes stories are happening at the epic level, which is really big changes to the world, and a lot of times that means making some kind of change to the government. We do actually get quite a few questions from people about, you know, how does this happen, and to a certain extent there has to be some kind of reconciling between how it works in real life and what a story needs. Because stories need a kind of single protagonist that by themselves has a significant influence on the outcome of the events. At the same time, if you focus too much on that, there can be a tendency to, sort of, erase all the other people that must have put in their time, and risked themselves, into making change. And so looking at how you can kind of combine those factors and how these things actually happen is really useful.

Oren: Right. I mean, political movements are just one of the many places in fiction where there is a pull between fiction’s need to focus on a small number of people that the audience can remember and identify with, versus the reality that these things are almost never the work of one person, right? There are always lots of people, many of whose names you will never know, even if you research it. So there’s a few things that I thought would be useful to look at like, what it is that political movements need? And I think the first thing is: They need some kind of goal. And there might be more than one, there might even be conflicting goals within the same movement. But, you know, political movements don’t come out of nowhere. They’re responding to something someone wants, whether that be a noble goal like achieving civil rights, or an evil goal like, you know, suppressing all of the muggle-borns, that sort of thing.

Chris: Yeah. I remember one big criticism of – what was it called – we are the 99% – that sort of brief protest movement that happened a number of years ago…

Oren: Yeah, I think that that phrasing came out of the Occupy Wall Street movement –

Chris: – Occupy Wall Street movement, that’s what I mean – they didn’t really have a concise goal. Of course, they fizzled out, they came and they kind of said their piece, and we don’t really see Occupy Wall Street so much, although probably a lot of the same people are involved in other other things now.

Oren: Well, I would argue that they did have a goal. It just wasn’t a well-defined policy goal. Like, their goal was greater equity in income, and reduction of income inequality. That’s a very vague goal. It wasn’t like, “We want this legislation passed to achieve this.” But not all movements are going to have that, right?

Kathy: And what we tend to see historically is: the more anarchistic a movement is, the more its goal is to show by what it does the possibility of living a different way. Occupy didn’t have a set of demands that it presented to the authorities, and reporters and governments find that frustrating, but what Occupy did was, they lived in a park. And they created their own system of power, and they created their healthcare, and they had a library and they fed people and they governed themselves. And they became a model. And the anarchism – it’s called prefiguring: you prefigure the future that you want by showing that it is possible to live that way in the present.

Chris: Yeah, I remember hearing about Occupy Wall Street having their own kind of system for determining who speaks when they gather, and it was a very non-hierarchical way of letting people speak. And because every voice was heard it was, I think, harder to come up with demands, but they did show what they wanted.

Oren: Right, and I find one of the most fascinating things about political movements is how they organize both in macro terms, but also in micro terms. Because if you have a big enough protest, that protest has to be run. If you’re going to have thousands of people in the same place for several days, there are logistical concerns you need to work out, and that’s something that I think is just interesting and I feel like there’s potential for storytelling there. Not all stories want to go that far into the weeds, but I just find that fascinating. One thing that I know that fiction often gets wrong – we talked about this a little bit a couple episodes ago with the political theory – is that fiction tends to assume that there is a neat resolution. There’s one thing you can do and now you’ve sort of solved the problem. We talked about that with The Cloud Minders, which is an episode of The Original Series where a bunch of, you know, super rich aristocrats live in a floating city while a bunch of low class laborers work in mines all day to supply them with everything they need. At the end of the episode Kirk gives the miners a breathing mask so that the poison gases won’t affect them and it’s like – okay, problem solved?

Kathy: Yeah … rebellions need to be part of a longer timeline or they don’t they don’t make any sense, and you also can’t really see what they accomplished because often is it isn’t visible in the short term, or isn’t as visible. They might be small victories along the way, but often what each manifestation of a social movement does is, it contributes to the next social movement.

Oren: And I think for storytelling purposes you do want to feel by the end of the story like something was accomplished. For example, if you’re doing some kind of equality movement where a disenfranchised group of people is trying to attain better rights – unless your story takes place over a really long period of time, it is very unlikely that it would be realistic for that group to achieve equal treatment, let alone justice for the way they’ve been treated in the past in just one story. But you can still have like a satisfying climax by, for example, letting the story revolve around passing some kind of legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate against these people. Now that doesn’t fix everything. We have seen that in our society. The Equal Rights Act did not end racism, but it was a major victory for the civil rights movement. And you can build your story around that.

Chris: And if you’re not doing something that is epic-level, you can also do a little microcosm where, you know, a certain group is being excluded from some facility. The struggle of the story is getting them to not be excluded anymore. And that’s a small victory and it’s part of a larger movement and that movement is not done. It’s also easier for individual actors to make a big difference when you have a microcosm.

Oren: Yeah. I felt like Deep Space Nine’s Bar Association was a really good episode for that because we haven’t undone the the ill treatment of Ferengi workers. What we have instead is, Quark’s workers will get a better deal and Rom is leaving Quark so that he can focus on what he really likes, which is being a mechanic. That gives you a good feeling, like something was accomplished, but it doesn’t feel unrealistic or out of nowhere, the way I would argue the end of Deep Space Nine does, where Ishka off-screen apparently solved Ferengi problems. They’re all good now, the Ferengi are a socialist utopia and it’s like, how did – what? How did that happen, seems a little odd.

Chris: So one place that seems like a good place to have an intersection of story with a larger movement is the idea of inspiring a crowd. Now, is this a real thing, are political movements energized, inspired or started by one iconic thing happening, or is that just –

Kathy: It’s unlikely that they’re started by that, but they may be sparked. You have to have both a longer time frame where things evolve and periodic catalysts that are often a circumstance that invites a certain kind of leap forward. I really like the Deep Space Nine double episode Past Tense for this; this is one of the best Star Trek portrayals of a social movement, it seems to me.

Oren: Just to summarize what happens real quick, because not everyone’s seen these episodes: Past Tense is an episode where they go back in time to the mid 21st century, so for us that’s about 20 years in the future now. And in this time period there’s so many problems with late stage capitalism, and so many people are out of work that they started putting out of work people in sectioned-off parts of the city. And if that sounds like unrealistic and bizarre to you, at the time this episode was made the city of Los Angeles, I think it was, was considering something like that, which they voted down. They decided not to. But, you know, people watch that episode and say this could never happen, it’s impossible – and it’s just not. It definitely could happen. But anyway, that’s the basic premise, to go back, and they have to deal with this problem.

Kathy: And certainly it has happened in other societies. Bantustans in South Africa under apartheid, where it was actually separate areas, heavily policed. So; the episodes show Sisko coming back and essentially taking the place of Gabriel Bell, who, as history originally unfolded, would have been one of the leaders, but was killed helping Sisko and the doctor and so they had to intervene and try to put history to rights. So here are some of the elements that I think it had that make it a really good portrayal of a social movement: First of all, it showed why people’s expectations would be higher for themselves than their circumstances allowed. There’s a theory in the social sciences called the theory of rising expectations, which is that people tend not to rebel if they don’t expect things to be better. So just being oppressed isn’t enough to make people rebel. They have to have some belief that things could be better. Part of having that belief is having had some experience of better conditions. In Past Tense the people who are in the sanctuary had not that long ago not been in there. It was in their own living memory that they had lived otherwise, so they could reasonably expect to. And they knew the leaders – and there were multiple leaders. That’s another thing I liked about the movement, Gabriel Bell wasn’t the single leader. He worked with a variety of other people. And there were factions between them, which is another thing that typically happens. And they debated the use of violence which also typically happens, and they had goals: In this case their goal was to eliminate the sanctuary and restore the federal legislation, creating jobs. And a last thing was that rebellions need some narrative of justice that they can share with the larger public so that they are not isolated explosions, but they’re more participants in a set of cultural practices that has some grounding in the society. Otherwise, they just look alien and weird.  And it’s not that everybody will support them, but they will be recognizable, it’s possible to understand what they are about and so they will get some support. In Past Tense they were able to get access to the internet and use the internet to broadcast their message, and to do it in a persuasive way. Being publicly persuasive is an important part, but it has to be in combination with the other parts.

Oren: My favorite part of Past Tense is when they get a bunch of government attention by taking these hostages and then they’re like, “Okay, well, we need to talk to the government. So we need to hide all of our radicals and bring out this comfortable, safe, centrist dude, who will negotiate because he’s someone that they’re more comfortable with talking to, as opposed to our brick-throwing, mask-wearing guys.”

Chris: So in this case, you have assumed that when there’s unfair conditions, there will be some kind of movement, or some people thinking about it?

Kathy: The very most oppressed people aren’t likely to rebel. Marx called them the Lumpenproletariat. They’re the people who don’t have enough of a toehold in the system to have any sort of stable place. No matter how oppressed they are – Marx did not think that they would. Now other people said, yeah, they can rebel, but it’s harder. They don’t have the ground and it helps to have some marginal amount of resources, but also to expect to have more. It’s that combination of having a little, but having an expectation for more, that is perceived as a legitimate expectation. So it’s the gap between what you’ve got and what you ought to have that really motivates rebellion.

Chris: So the person most likely to start a movement is somebody who was in that condition and then maybe gets free of those conditionsand wants everybody else to be free too.

Kathy: That’s classic in political theory. That’s the metaphor or the allegory of the cave in Plato’s Republic. That philosopher in the cave – well, he’s not a philosopher yet – but person in the cave who breaks free and goes out and realizes that everybody’s stuck in a cave and what they take for reality is only shadows. And it’s his obligation to go back.

Chris: But just seeing rich or powerful people taking advantage is not enough because the assumption is, “Okay, the king is super-rich and we’re struggling, but there’s no way it’s ever going to get better for us. That’s just how it is.”

Kathy: Yeah, that’s just how it is. There has to be some way to imagine things could be other than they are.

Oren: Right, although in some cases at least – and you could debate how much this is a movement versus just a movement of survival – but one of the things that is most likely to start revolutions are food shortages. A lot of governments have been toppled by bread riots because there just wasn’t enough food to go around for whatever reason. People, when they decide whether or not they’re going to participate in a political movement or rebel against the government, they have to make a lot of cost-benefit analysis. If for whatever reason you feel like, “Well, my situation now kind of sucks, but I’m alive and I have a farmhouse or whatever and if I rebel I could lose that”, then you might not. But it’s hard to get more desperate than when there’s not enough to eat. And at that point people who might otherwise have been willing to accept the status quo, or at least not to put their lives on the line to fight it, are suddenly like, “Nope, we are going out there, because we literally will starve to death if we don’t.”

Kathy: Right. Historically the bread riots often are the time in a in a period of unrest where, if they weren’t active before, women become active. Women go out and confront the authorities with empty shopping bags. That was one of the things that happened in the 1905 revolution in Russia, and the czar’s troops killed them. But then in 1917, the revolution erupted again and people who hadn’t been killed remembered 1905, and so memory was built of that resistance, and the food riots happened again. And what you might call ordinary men and women, who would normally be in a more of a make do mode, when there’s no making do anymore, and they often have a responsibility for somebody else, that, you can’t keep the lid on very well.

Oren: One of my favorite stories that portrays this sort of thing is the Discworld novel Night Watch – because you know, we haven’t gotten through a podcast and never mentioned Discworld. So in Night Watch we see the circumstances that lead to a possible uprising, in this situation where the city is being led by a very unstable ruler who’s all about extracting as much wealth as he can from the people so that he can have the best parties. And there’s certainly some European analogs for this. But people are still more or less trying to make do as best they can. There’s an inciting event which creates a chain reaction, because they were all primed for this anyway, which leads to this chaotic rebellion. It’s clearly modeled on various uprisings in France where they make a bunch of barricades … And in the end it is crushed, as rebellions often are, but it plants the seeds for future change. Which is again a very common thing with rebellions, it very often takes more than one rebellion to topple the government – because governments are in charge because they have the power, and so taking that out is never easy.

Chris: So what does it take for a rebellion to succeed?

Kathy: Well, a couple of key things. Historically, rebellions are very unlikely to succeed. If they’re full on revolutions, attempts to overthrow a government, they’re very unlikely to succeed if the army and the police support the existing government, because they army and the police always have more guns. So when you look at Russia in 1917 as opposed to 1905: In 1917, many of the czar’s troops were not willing to fire on the protesters. So you either need the Army on your side, or you need them kind of neutral. But if they’re still on the government side, you’re going to lose. So that’s one element. Another, sort of in terms of the psychology of the rebellion, a philosopher named C. Wright Mills said this really well: People have to be able to take their personal problems and redefine them as public issues. And if you can get a whole bunch of people to do that, then you’ve got sort of an emergent rebellion happening, because once it’s a public issue then it’s a shared problem and there is no private solution to it. There has to be a shared solution to it. One of the examples where Star Trek could have done that and didn’t was what is otherwise I think a wonderful episode, Rejoined, in DS9.

Oren: And what happens in Rejoined is, Dax, the Trill who has multiple lifetimes, meets up with another with another Trill with whose symbiont they were in a romance in a previous life. I think they were married. And now they’re both women. The best part about the episode is that it doesn’t care that they’re both women.

Chris: There’s no commentary on it.

Oren: Nothing. There is a taboo about their relationship, but it has nothing to do with their gender, which is just super nice. So it’s a great episode. But Kathy’s about to explain where it could have gone farther.

Kathy: Well, what you just said reminds me of why I think it’s such a great episode. It does what political theory needs to do in order to really break through the familiar, and that is: It takes something that we think we are familiar with and it makes it strange. So from our point of view as contemporary viewers, it was a relationship between two women but it makes it strange because the being two women was irrelevant. Nobody cared that they were two women; what people cared about was that they had been associated in a past life. So the taboo was strong, but it was not the one we expected. And it made you very aware of what you thought you were looking at compared to what the other characters thought they were looking at. That’s a perfect political move. That’s actually very good for illustrating Foucault’s arguments about making the familiar strange.

Oren: It also does a really good job of walking that balance between showing us why people believe the taboo without actually justifying it. Because that’s a thing that a lot of fiction has trouble with, whereas in real life, people believe taboos for reasons. They don’t just come from nowhere, but they’re usually wrong. And balancing that in a lot of fiction it’s like, “Why would anyone believe this? Why would anyone do these bad things? There doesn’t seem to be reason for it” versus “Well, you’ve convinced me that this thing is actually bad and they shouldn’t do it.”

Kathy: And in Rejoined, I’m left as a viewer siding with Kira and others on the station who said, why can’t they reassociate? And the Trill government is then put on the defensive to show why it would be a very bad thing for Trill society and they don’t do a very good job of that. That’s where the political vacuum got created in the episode. If they had only had a part two, where they followed up to show what happens in a society when you forbid behavior that isn’t actually very harmful, but you police it. You forbid behavior that many people want to do and it really isn’t that particularly harmful, but it’s strictly forbidden. Well, you create a political movement. And so why didn’t they show all the joined Trill who wanted to reassociate, which I would think would be a lot of them because they would have past parents, past children, past lovers? They would want to have a connection with them. Why didn’t they all get together? Why didn’t they make their personal problem into a public issue? Why isn’t there a colony somewhere of rejoined Trill who rebelled against Trill society?

Oren: Well, apparently they solved all that off screen because Ezri Dax has no issues getting back together with Worf in a couple of episodes. That’s definitely because all those problems were resolved back on the Trill homeworld and not because of poor continuity.

Chris: It also reminds me of the book The Feminine Mystique, which I think is famous for taking the dissatisfaction of being a housewife and turning it into a political issue of, why can’t women go out and you know, take jobs? When every woman was separate and by herself and thinking, “What’s wrong with me that I am not super contented washing floors?” – you know that had to turn into a political issue.

Oren: Another thing that I thought was underused with the Trill was their idea that actually almost everyone is compatible with a symbiont, and they have to lie and say that almost no one is so that they there are enough symbionts to go around. It seems to me that just naturally would have led into an extremely like tiered society with the joined Trills being treated like royalty and everyone else being like the common folk, where it’s like, “Oh man, there’s a joined symbiont in danger. Yeah, we’re going to send in 500 people to save them. I mean, we’ll probably lose half the rescue workers, but this person has like 12 lifetimes of experience. We can’t let them die. They have all of our best poet’s memories inside them.” Right? I just feel like there was some potential there. But you know, unfortunately Deep Space Nine was not The Trill Show.

Chris: It might be worth also talking a little bit about the kind of reverse: stories where democracy falls to fascism. You know, it’s not all not all stories of good things happening. One thing that I think about is that the Star Wars prequels were not good stories. But I feel like the idea there was okay – it’s just that the storytelling was so poor that it made it look really bad – when the chancellor created an outside threat to get the Republic to vote away democracy.

Oren: Right, and those things – where the chief executive manufactures a crisis, or takes advantage of a small crisis and makes it a big one to seize permanent power – happen constantly. It’s a very real problem. In fiction, in general you want to go with trying to make whoever the chief executive is not obviously evil. Because in real life, the reasons why these things happen are often very complicated. For example, just to pick a random one, the leader of Turkey is currently in the process of doing that, and has largely completed it, where he has essentially convinced the country to vote away their democracy. And from an outsider’s perspective, it looks incredibly obvious what he’s doing. But if you were doing it in fiction, you would probably want to make him more charismatic and seem like he actually had good things in mind, so it could be maybe a little bit more of a surprise. Unless you want to deal with the fact that he actually has a lot of support, and that’s the reason why he can get away with this stuff.

Chris: Or just honestly, making the threat more compelling, because a lot of times in the real world the threat is just xenophobia, right? It’s like, “Oh, there’s migrants and refugees coming into our country.” That is the threat that is driving some of these societies to vote away their democracy. Whereas I think you would do a more compelling job if you were doing speculative fiction by having a threat that isn’t just racism. You know, a threat to drive them to say, “This does feel truly threatening to us, we really do need some strong executive who can make quick wartime decisions”, or etc.

Oren: Or you could go the old Roman route and have dictators that actually gave up their power at the end of being dictators. Really weird concept but it actually happened. When one of them finally didn’t, everyone was like, “What, you’re not giving up your dictator power? But like literally every other dictator before you has done that!”

Chris: Yeah, that’s what the issue is in the senate with the filibuster, right? Social convention when it comes to maintaining democracy only lasts so long, you know and sooner or later somebody …

Oren: Right. And we’ve been talking a lot about progressive social movements, but you can do a regressive social movement as the bad guys. Very often they will use a lot of the same language, but the people they are appealing to are the people who are already privileged, and are either afraid of losing their privilege or want more. Harry Potter is always the one we go back to for that, because you’ve got the super privileged pureblood wizards, and those are the ones Voldemort appeals to, being like, “The muggle-borns are going to take your position in wizarding society, they are going to steal your magic.” That is incredibly realistic. And you have the wizard government, who is in theory there to try to stop Voldemort, but it’s really more concerned about what the leftists – and by the leftists I mean the Order of the Phoenix – are doing and wants to deny that the extreme right even exists and isn’t really a problem and won’t confront it until it’s too late.

Chris: This kind of reminds me of how before the Civil War, even though a lot of people did not believe that slavery was a good thing, there was a problem with the government not being willing to have a war over it. It’s the temptation to just keep the peace. And you know a lot of people think that Lincoln was not actually going to ban slavery. The reason why the southern states seceded is they thought he was. They forced the issue because they were afraid that he was going to ban slavery, but he might have actually allowed it to continue to keep the peace with them. There were ridiculous compromises where okay, we’ll add a slave state and then we’ll add a non slave state and then we’ll add a slave state to the union, then a non slave state, just to make sure that their power was perfectly balanced, so that we could perfectly compromise these two sides. So that the government didn’t have to go to the effort of actually freeing all the people in slavery.

Oren: Yeah, people will go to a lot of effort to maintain the status quo.

Chris: Right. And in Harry Potter, in the fifth book, Fudge doesn’t want to acknowledge that Voldemort might be back, because he just wants things to stay the same and he will allow terrible things to happen so that he doesn’t have to deal with it, unfortunately.

Kathy: I also think, going along with it, it’s often that elites give themselves a lot more credit for being able to control somebody who comes at them from the right. You know, the German governing elite after World War One thought they could control Hitler.

Oren: Certainly. What’s the name? Not Bismarck. What was the guy – Hindenburg? Hindenburg certainly thought he could.

Kathy: Yeah, and by the time they realized that they couldn’t do it, it was too late.

Oren: All right, well, to leave you on a slightly more positive note than that, let’s try to come up with some other positive examples. I actually quite enjoyed the the maquis with Deep Space Nine. Although, even more so, I really like the civilian revolution against the Cardassians in Deep Space Nine. Because it’s built up very slowly over multiple episodes. You see signs of people who are working against the government everywhere, from a school teacher who is considered a radical because she teaches that maybe a military government isn’t the best way to do things, all the way up to the radical elite, as they might be called, like the guy who thinks Kira is his daughter. It builds up really nicely, and one of my main disappointments with Deep Space Nine is that that revolution happens off screen, and is then crushed by the Dominion off-screen, and I really wanted to see more of it. It’s explored actually quite interestingly in some of the Star Trek novels, which I don’t usually recommend but a few of them were quite good for that.

Kathy: One of the things they would have had to face if they had done it on screen is the tension that would have emerged in a revolutionary movement of Cardassians whose motto was, free Cardassia. What kind of Cardassia did they want? Because if they just want the old system, but they want to be in charge, then that’s going to be contrary to the empowerment of the of the revolutionaries that happens during the process of rebelling. People rebel and it tends to empower them – it could kill them too, but it can also make them feel like they are entitled to have a political voice. So if your rebellion is in the name of authoritarianism, what are you gonna do with all these empowered people? It would have been a great story.

Oren: I really would have enjoyed it. I mean, I still like Deep Space Nine, but I think there was some missed potential there.

Chris: Yeah, this does come up in kind of interesting ways in the end of the Hunger Games series. In The Hunger Games, there’s these districts, it turns out to be 13 of them, and the first district is controlling all the other districts in kind of an imperial way. And there’s another district, outside of their control, that is also powerful. And so in order to free themselves, they ally with the district out of that control, but then that district looks like it’s just going to replace the first one. They have this issue of, are we just being the same people but reversed, are we now going make children from the first district compete in these Hunger Games, or are we actually going to manage to do something different.

Oren: Are we actually going to improve the situation. Yeah. That’s one of the big questions that I really like doing – I do this more in role-playing games than in written stories – but I’m a big fan of going, “Okay, you guys won the revolution – now what? You overthrew the government, now you have to run the country and see if you can do any better.” But are we are definitely out of time. So before we end I want to thank our most generous patrons for the third time in a row. One of them is here: Kathy Ferguson, thank you very much.

Kathy: You’re welcome.

Oren: And our other Patron that I must thank is Ayman Jaber, he’s been very generous to us and you can look at his stuff at his blog, thefantasywarrior.com. For those of you listening, if anything we said piqued your interest you can leave a comment on the website at Mythcreants.com. Otherwise, we will talk to you next week.

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Dec 16 2018
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Rank #9: 214 – Moral Dilemmas

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Sometimes your hero is stuck between two choices, neither of which have a good outcome. Will they allow the villain to escape or shoot said villain in the back? Will they destroy one city to save another? Will they eat less at dinner so they have more room for dessert? Those are all moral dilemmas, which is our topic for this week. Listen as we discuss common problems with moral dilemmas, how to avoid those problems, and what moral dilemmas can add to the story. Plus, why doesn’t Dragon Prince’s Claudia carry a meat cleaver with her at all times?

Download Episode 214 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/TMP-214-Moral-Dilemma.mp3

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Star Trek Discovery

The Truman Show

Infinity War

Dragon Prince

Avatar: The Last Airbender 

The 100

Legend of Korra

Harry Potter

Narnia

Tuvix

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Mar 17 2019
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Rank #10: 188 – Messages and Themes

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What is a story’s message, and what is its theme? Are those different things? Have we been using words wrong this whole time? This week we aim to find out. Listen as battle lines are drawn over academic vs common word usage, and then as battle lines are erased so we can talk about what classic books mean. We discuss reader interpretation vs author interpretation, the importance of context, and why some messages are better than others.

Download Episode 188 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/TMP-188-Message-and-Theme.mp3

Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to podcast@mythcreants.com

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Fahrenheit 451

The Author is Dead

The Hunger Games

Battle Royale

Jekyll and Hyde

The Death and Life of Turing

Mad Men

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Sep 16 2018
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Rank #11: 202 – Omniscient Narration

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It can be challenging to tell readers everything they need to know through a character’s point of view, so why not ditch that confinement and use a narrator who knows everything? That’s called omniscient narration, and it’s what we’re talking about today. Joined by returning guest Ariel, we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of omniscient, comment on works using this narrative style, and describe our omniscience pet peeves. We also talk about Discworld, obviously.

Download Episode 202 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/TMP-202-Omniscient-Viewpoint.mp3

Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to podcast@mythcreants.com

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Sword of Summer

Eifelheim

The Broken Earth

The Lovely Bones

The Book Thief

Lord of the Rings

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Hogswatch

Going Postal

Consider Phlebas

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Dec 23 2018
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Rank #12: 219 – Over-Burdened Stories

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This intro was originally five paragraphs long, but that would have been way too much information, so I shortened it. Coincidentally, we’re talking about over-burdened stories. What makes a story over-burdened, you ask? Listen and we’ll explain! We talk about how stories get loaded down with too much information, what the consequences are, and how you can prevent it. Plus, a fight over maps in fantasy novels!

Download Episode 219 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/TMP-219-Over-Burdened-Stories.mp3

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Liberating Over-Burdened Stories

Concepts for Becoming a Better Storyteller

“Grok”

Working Memory

Neuromancer

Shadowrun

Hackers

Umbrella Academy

Discovery

Wheel of Time

A Song of Ice and Fire

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Wizard of Earthsea

Chronicles of Prydain

Eragon

Lord of the Rings

The Last Ringbearer

Cloud Atlas

Primer

Dragon Prince

Rogue One

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Apr 21 2019
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Rank #13: 212 – Fake Outs

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Today our podcast is about stories that only do what you expect – PSYCHE, it’s really about fake outs! We bet you were really surprised by that sudden reveal, but was it a good thing? Did it add to this paragraph, or was it just a cheap trick? You’ll have plenty of time to think about it because that’s what we’re talking about today, except with real stories and not the intro text to a podcast. We discuss why storytellers use fake outs, how they can do more harm than good, and some instances where they actually worked. Plus, the only story we could think of with a triple fake out!

Download Episode 212 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/TMP-212-Fake-Outs.mp3

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Empire Strikes Back

Commander Saru

Dramatic Irony

The Next Phase

The Matrix

Teen Wolf

The Wrath of Khan

Cabin in the Woods

Game of Thrones

Infinity War

The Last Jedi

Iron Man 3

Pacific Rim 2

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Mar 03 2019
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Rank #14: 197 – Supernatural High School Drama

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Pay attention, everyone! Class is now in session, and I hope you have done your homework as well as found a date for prom. That’s right, this week we’re talking about high school, but specifically supernatural stories that take place in high school. We’ll discuss why high school is such an attractive setting, how to mesh magic elements and high school elements, and how you can do a teen focused story with no high school at all. Also, we spend a good five minutes analyzing season two of Stranger Things because there’s always more to draw from that well!

Download Episode 197 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/TMP-197-Supernatural-High-School-Drama.mp3

Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to podcast@mythcreants.com

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Cyberpunk Podcast

Haunted House Podcast

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 

New Charmed

Do College Students Read? 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Harry Potter

How to Create a Rational Magic System

Teen Wolf

The Runaways

Cloak and Dagger (Which Oren called “Black and White” by accident)

The Secret Circle

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Nov 18 2018
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Rank #15: 200 – Horses in Fiction

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Everyone knows that the chosen one must have a chosen horse, a beast so noble and strong of will that no other warrior can ride it. Or maybe not? It turns out that horses are complicated animals, and they don’t always go along with human plans. Fortunately, we have special guest Kathy Ferguson here to talk horse-shop with us today. We’ll look at some common misconceptions about horses, what it’s like to train a horse, using horses in battle, and of course, elephants. For some reason.

Download Episode 200 Subscription Feed 

https://mythcreants.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/TMP-200-Horses-In-Fiction.mp3

Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to podcast@mythcreants.com

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Shadowfax

Horse Gait

War Horse

Black Beauty

The Black Stallion

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

My Friend Flicka

Percheron 

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Dec 09 2018
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