Podcast

168 – The Importance of Novelty

The Mythcreant Podcast

Novelty is many things. It is a starship’s fusion plume against a starry night. It is primal forests disappearing into the mysts. It is an engraved silver wand that works wondrous magic. Novelty is critical to storytelling, especially spec fic storytelling, and it’s our topic this week. Joined once again by special guest host Sarah, we discuss what happens when a story doesn’t have enough novelty, how to add novelty, and what stories are already doing a good job.

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Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to [email protected]

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

Show Notes:

Skyrim

Pillars of Eternity

Harry Potter

Human Factor

Red Riding Hood’s Bargain

The Expanse

The Queen of the Tearling

Artemis

The Martian

The Shannara Chronicles

Sword of Shannara

The Fifth Season

Great Eagles

Lord of the Rings

Discworld

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Five Underused Settings in Spec Fic

Ancillary Justice

Six Tips For Sequels

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Transcript

Generously transcribed by A Perspiring Writer. 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: This is the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Chris, and with me is…

Oren: Oren.

Chris: And we also have special guest Sarah.

Sarah: Hello, everyone.

Chris: And this time, we’re going to talk about novelty in storytelling.

Oren: I mean, if we really wanted to add novelty, we should have had more of an opening bit than that, I think. Like, just introducing ourselves and saying what the topic is, that’s not very novel. It’s what we do all the time.

Sarah: [laughs]

Chris: Yeah, of course. As soon as we ask for novelty, naturally we have no novelty to offer.

Sarah: I have several… novels sitting… around?

Chris: Yeah, that’s obviously all it needed, if you just put novels in your story, if you write a novel, have it be a novel about novels.

Sarah: Yeah.

Oren: I mean, I’ve played a number of video games that were pretty convinced that if they put in-game novels in the story, that I could read in the video game, that would help? So…

Chris: Doesn’t Skyrim do that?

Oren: Skyrim… Well, Skyrim’s not actually that bad. I was thinking more of like, Pillars of Eternity, where it’s like-

Sarah: Oh, man.

Chris: [laughs]

Oren: I like Pillars of Eternity, don’t get me wrong, but the backstory is so complicated, and it clearly expected me to read a bunch of TEXT, in BOOKS that I would FIND, about the backstory, and I was like, ‘nope, sorry, not doing that’.

[laughter]

Chris: Too novel.

[laughter]

Chris: So, I guess novelty would be described as something that is- engages your attention without being, like, gripping or riveting. It’s generally things that you find fun or interesting or different. So, humor, speculative fiction is known for its novel atmosphere and settings. So, that’s usually where a lot of the novelty in speculative fiction comes from, whether we’re in a spaceship or in a fantasy land, it’s that setting that makes a huge difference. Strong atmosphere, interesting tidbits that you come upon, a lot of times the narrator and the personality of the narrator will add a lot of novelty to a story. And the reason why it matters is because it’s a way to make your story entertaining, and that’s always good. [laughs]

Oren: Right.

Chris: More entertaining, less boring. And in particular, it tends to make up for a lack of tension in the story, so if your story doesn’t have a lot of big problems, if it’s not very suspenseful or gripping, novelty really helps to make up for that. In general, lighter stories lean heavily- more heavily on having novelty than darker stories do, because that adds more interest when the tension is low.

Oren: Yeah, I think ideally, the relationship between novelty and the other elements is almost like a handoff. Ideally, what you have is novelty that like, first grabs the reader and is just like, ‘this is just really cool, there’s like, owls delivering letters, how cool is that? A giant man just busted down the door and said, ‘you’re a wizard, Harry.’’ That’s new and different. Very strange.

And then you get the handoff where it’s like, ‘okay, now there’s like a dark wizard trying to kill you.’ Right? The novelty gets you into the story, and then you get attachment, and the other important stuff, like a plot that matters and tension that keep you there. At least, that’s been my experience.

Chris: Yeah, certainly in a lot of novels, that’s how it works, because this is the ironic part, that novelty fades, so novels and novelty are not necessarily the best-

[laughter]

Chris: Novelty tends to be able to hold up short stories a lot better than it holds up novels, because it fades. Which is of course the disappointing part, but if you’re writing a short story, you can really just hammer home on some really novel parts of it, and it can really carry the story to a lot more than you could do with a novel.

Sarah: It almost seems like a lot of, especially speculative fiction short stories are almost… explicitly showcases for some novel idea.

Oren: I mean, I’ve got a couple of stories on the website right now that are basically like that. Like Human Factor, to the extent that people like Human Factor, it seemed to be mostly that they really liked the space battles, which, I had this whole thing of like, ships controlled through thought that were using predictive algorithms to shoot at each other because they were outside of the light-speed barrier, where it would be like, even if you were shooting a laser at someone, it takes several seconds to get to where they are, and by then they’ll be somewhere else, so it’s impossible to know exactly where your opponent is.

And people seemed into that. That’s not a super common thing that you see in a lot of sci-fi, so that was something that they responded to. And that can really help, like, even in a longer story, that sort of thing can help set the story apart from like, ‘I have read all of the sci-fi, and every sci-fi story now bores me.’ It’s like, ‘oh, but this is new and different.’

And that’s definitely a big draw of The Expanse. Cause The Expanse, it’s not like The Expanse is the first story to ever do hard sci-fi, but taking it and putting it in a big sci-fi adventure where- you know, they don’t have artificial gravity. The way they do gravity is either by spinning something, or by having the ship accelerate at a set acceleration, and that gives you gravity. That sort of thing is new and different, if what you mostly consume is more, you know, the mainstream sci-fi novels.

Chris: I do think that an important thing to remember about a lot of novelty is that to a certain extent, the devil’s in the details. And especially when you’re trying to implement a setting, it makes a huge difference whether you think about the ramifications of the things that are different about your setting and then let details about that shine forth. And I have some examples:

For instance, in the novel Queen of the Tearling, it’s a medieval fantasy, but there is supposed to be something unique about the setting, and that is that it is actually- I think it’s like, colonists, that-

Oren: You know, it’s actually really unclear.

Chris: It’s unclear, but it does tell you that it looks like the land was populated by colonists that had, sort of a modern level of technology, even though it’s a medieval setting.

Oren: And they came from Earth. They came from Earth nations, right? They named nations like America and Britain.

Chris: Right.

Oren: The thing that makes it confusing is that when I was first reading it, I assumed this was like Dragons of Pern, where it’s like ‘oh, they came here on a spaceship’, but the way they described the journey makes it sound like an actual ship. And it’s not really clear to me if that’s just the characters not knowing any better or if that’s actually foreshadowing for later that they’re actually on like, the lost continent of Antarctica or something.

Chris: Right, like the earth warmed till only Antarctica was habitable and then they colonized- It’s hard to say exactly what the history is, but the problem is that it doesn’t seem to matter. Nothing that the characters do seems to be flavored in terms of this detail. It seems to be kind of irrelevant, everything pretty much operates like a standard medieval fantasy setting. Just about everything. Now, there are- except for where it’s like, the main character likes books that are real world books that we’re all familiar with. But that’s about it.

Whereas- right now I’m reading Artemis by Andy Weir, who did The Martian, and he, of course, is really, really into the science, and thought really hard about what a moon colony would be like. Because this is a moon colony, I think it’s like a hundred years from now? Fifty years from now?

Oren: Yeah, something like that.

Chris: Not too far future moon colony. And we get details about the moon colony; like apparently, unless it’s for tourists, the stairs are half a meter high, because it’s only 1/6th of the gravity on the moon, and so people have taller stairs. And so, as the moon is described, there are so many details like that, that are- and it’s not like you should do the exposition dump, this is not an excuse to do an exposition dump. Weir is very skilled in giving these details slowly throughout the story as the characters are doing other things.

But that really brings the setting to life, that’s what gives it that high level of novelty, is putting in those details here and there that are imaginative and make that novel element of the setting actually feel real- feel like the characters are in it.

Another interesting example: Sword of Shannara.

Oren: What.

Sarah: I was actually thinking about that, when you were talking about post-apocalyptic stuff that… didn’t actually seem post-apocalyptic.

Chris: Yeah, so the books- I haven’t actually read the books, but right here it’s technically a post-apocalyptic fantasy, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the books.

Sarah: I think it comes up in later books. I haven’t read them either; I’ve only seen the first two episodes of the tv show, but from my brother, who loved the Shannara books, said, you find out later.

Chris: Yeah.

Sarah: Apparently.

Oren: Well, from what I understand, this could be wrong, but it’s like, there are things in there that if you’re looking for it you can see that this is like, a post-apocalyptic world, but they’re so odd and out of place that you would never notice- you would never recognize them as that. And I think part of that is because the author, for a long time, hadn’t actually determined what it was a post-apocalyptic world of.

Like, eventually he settled on the idea that it was- it was our world, that had been nuked, and then over time Dwarves, Gnomes, and Trolls had branched off of humans. But not Elves, Elves were already there.

Chris: [laughs]

Oren: That’s my favorite part about the Shannara worldbuilding, is that, yes, all of the fantasy races are offbreeds of humans- except Elves.

Sarah: [laughs]

Chris: It’s like, where did the Elves come from?

Oren: Even though the Elves are the most similar to humans, right? They’re basically just humans. Except with ears, I’m a little unclear if the Elves in Shannara live a long time.

Chris: But the thing is, the tv show then took that and really, like, brought out the post-apocalyptic parts. Especially in the aesthetics. And when you see the setting- and especially in season 2, but it’s definitely present in season 1 as well. And I feel like that adds a huge amount to the tv show. Just being able to look at the setting and seeing like, these old, rusted cars covered in vines, and old bridges, and all of this overgrown old structure really adds a lot to the tv show, that the novels probably could have benefited from.

Granted, it’s never the same having- when you’re in a visual medium and you can provide visual novelty, as it is in a book. But even so, they made a really good choice to then actually bring out that aspect of the setting.

Sarah: Yeah, that is really cool. A really good example of a really fleshed out, novel world is The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. It’s basically in this, again, post-apocalyptic world, but she did a lot of research into geology and like, different kinds of minerals, and so there’s all sorts of really cool stuff in this world, like giant geode cites, cool different crystals, different kinds of geological disasters that can happen, like different kinds of earthquakes and volcanoes, it’s just full of all of these different… sort of, earth science elements that are totally brought into the science-fictional fantasy of the world, and it impacts the characters directly.

So, it’s really the characters interacting with this stuff throughout the story. And- so it’s like the science bit, the background bit, the novel setting is continually feeding into the story and the characters.

Oren: Yeah, and ideally you want the novelty to matter, right? If it doesn’t it can just feel… gratuitous. Like, honestly, The Magicians novel feels like that, where it’s like, there’s all this magic that’s being described, but it doesn’t really feel like any of it matters? Partially, that’s just because the author’s strategy for avoiding abusable magic systems is just to not ever describe how magic works. If it’s just extremely vague, you can’t ever pin him down on anything. It’d be like ‘well, why didn’t they use this spell to solve the problem?’ And it’s like ‘you don’t know what spells they can cast!’ [cackles] [laughter]

Sarah: Clearly, they need to face geological disasters.

Oren: Although, that is also the- if I had to pick one, I would say that the number one cause of plot holes is novelty that wasn’t fully thought through. Like, you know, Eagles are a good example of that, right? Where the Eagles are very novel and cool.

Chris: And Lord of the Rings is of course what we’re talking about.

Oren: Do I need to say which one-

Chris: You know, I’m just going to assume that our listeners aren’t generally primed to like, as soon as you say the word ‘Eagles’, think of Lord of the Rings. I mean, they might be, I wouldn’t be too surprised, but I’m not going to assume that they are.

Oren: Look, the Eagle have now been immortalized in like, the two biker dudes arguing meme. So like, I’m pretty sure everybody knows about-

Sarah: Oh, I have not seen that version of that meme. I mean, I haven’t seen the biker dudes meme where they’re arguing about the Eagles.

Oren: It’s pretty good. It’s pretty good. I don’t like it because I think it ends on the conclusion that it was not actually a plot hole that the Eagles didn’t take the hobbits. It’s totally a plot hole. But anyway, um-

[laughter]

Chris: No one in the future will know what we’re talking about.

Oren: But that’s just one example, right? There are lots of others, you know; time turners are another example, or even just the owls in Harry Potter, where the owls can apparently find anybody, anywhere?

Chris: Well, I think it’s worth talking more about Harry Potter in general, because Rowling definitely succeeds in adding lots and lots of novelty to Harry Potter, and it is definitely one of the reasons for Harry Potter’s success. And, you know, if we have a seven-book series, talking about like- it does lean on novelty less and less as it goes on.

Oren: This is true.

Chris: Because, you know, it’s not enough to just ‘hey look there’s moving paintings’, and then use the moving paintings, you have to continually introduce new novel elements about the world to keep up a sense of novelty.

Sarah: She also does this payoff thing, too, where most of the novel elements end up coming back in a plot-relevant way later.

Chris: Well, I mean, it depends on what you would consider- what you’re thinking about. I think there are a lot that do. But like, for instance, the jellybeans. You know, the Every-Flavor jellybeans?

Sarah: Okay, I will concede that they are not plot relevant.

[Chris and Sarah laugh]

Chris: But like, the paintings certainly do things- perform plot functions, for instance. It’s just that she has so much novel elements that they- they’re just surrounded by them. You’re just immersed in the world full of them. And so, I don’t think they’re all required to be plot relevant.

Sarah: It’s true, she actually hides the- the things that will be important later on among the- all of the stuff that isn’t going to come up later on.

Chris: That’s very true, she is very good at foreshadowing…

Oren: Right.

Chris: …at least in the books that have good plots. Which is most of them, but not all of them.

[laughter]

Oren: Although, that is actually a trick, is that sometimes if you’re- if you only introduce novel elements that are going to be plot critical, it can sometimes get a little weird; where it’s like, the characters look at, ‘hey, a cool thing’, and then the audience is like, ‘okay, hang on, when is that cool thing going to come back? Cause that’s the only reason you would describe a cool thing to us.’

Which is why it can be useful to have novel things that are not immediately plot relevant. But even then, it should still, you want it to feel like it’s- like it is actually part of the setting, and not just something that you threw on there to sound cool. Which is obviously easier said than done, but- [trails off]

Chris: Yeah. But Rowling certainly has instances where she wants something a certain way because it’s fun and entertaining that way, but it doesn’t really make sense that way. And that- that’s certainly- after seven books of making up assorting things that are fun and entertaining, it does sort of tend to like, pile up a little bit. And that can be a problem.

Another thing I think is worth talking about as far as the Harry Potter books is- I want to loop back on the issue of narration. Because wordcraft is an incredible source of novelty, and that is something that like, when people are developing wordcraft skills, is a thing that they don’t necessarily think about at first but is actually really important. And Rowling herself has an incredibly entertaining voice.

And she- it’s interesting because she actually uses what I would call distant limited viewpoint for Harry Potter, where you’re not really fully inside Harry Potter’s head? We’re kind of like- we’re limited by what he thinks and what he sees and knows; at the same time, the way that it’s worded is very like- kind of like we’re not fully seeing from his viewpoint.

And generally, I would say that that’s a point of view that… tends to be the worst of both worlds? Where you don’t have the flexibility of omniscient or the intimacy of close. But she gets away with it because she has an entertaining, novel voice. And I don’t know for sure that she’s not making good enough use of it that she’s getting the best of both worlds, right? Or that it would really- it’s hard to say if it would be better if it was fully close or fully omniscient.

Oren: But, I mean, she does have a very entertaining way of speaking things, and Terry Pratchett does the same thing. Although honestly, I think that a lot of fantasy writers could learn from Tolkien in this respect. Cause Tolkien certainly isn’t perfect, and Lord of the Rings can be hard to get through now, but Tolkien’s ability to describe things with that sense of majesty is- even though lots of fantasy authors have tried to emulate that, very often they don’t succeed, and it’s still something that I think audiences want.

Even though it’s from the book that literally created the high fantasy genre, it’s still something that’s not very common. All too often now, fantasy can seem like- ‘it’s people with swords, whatever. They’re gonna have battles, eh, that’s fine.’ But it just doesn’t feel that way when you’re reading Lord of the Rings, and it’s like, in full force. The land feels magical, even when it’s just trees.

Chris: I think the issue with Tolkien, that I think might lead people astray, is that omniscient is a very good pairing with novelty, but it is also very difficult, and not necessarily the place that people should start.

Oren: Yeah, that’s true.

Chris: And both Tolkien and Pratchett are- I would call them masters of wordcraft. Very good at it. And they are both omniscient. And I’m not sure Tolkien honestly should have written in omniscient? I think he could have done almost everything that he did, but in a limited, more intimate viewpoint. I’m not sure that that was the best point of view. But of course, he was very good.

Whereas Pratchett really makes full use of the omniscient to talk about what he wants to, and because he’s very entertaining, that works really well, right? Whereas when somebody starts writing, a lot of times, it takes a lot of work to put that much novelty in the things that you’re saying.

It’s like, when you’re just talking about what’s happening in the story, can you be funny? Like all the time? And that’s what a lot of these omniscient narrators, like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, another example of that, are challenged with doing. Rowling is entertaining like, all of the time.

And for a lot of people who- they think that they should just do omniscient so that they have flexibility, but omniscient isn’t worth it unless you can do that. And it’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of hard work. Whereas I think that people- it’s almost easier, if you’re starting, to use your character voice to add novelty to your wordcraft. And that really requires getting into the head of your character.

Sarah: So again, back to The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin writes those books in the second person. Which is double novelty because it has the novelty of a weird, uh, person. So, she’s saying- the narrator’s saying ‘you’ all the time, so you are the receiver of the story directly. But it’s also very intimate because you’re kind of in- you tend to get in the character’s head a lot.

Chris: Yeah, I would have to agree that that sounds very interesting.

Sarah: I highly recommend it.

Oren: N.K. Jemisin does like to live dangerously. Cause if there’s one POV that’s harder to do than third person omniscient, it’s second person.

Chris: Yeah, second person is very tricky, and most people wouldn’t recommend it for like, a full novel length, but hey, I’m interested to see how she did.

Sarah: And it brings that intimacy, like- it’s very immediate.

Chris: It is very- that’s the thing, second person is even more intimate than first person. It’s very, very intimate, and that brings its own properties and its own challenges for people.

Oren: Another way that you can add novelty to a story is by putting- in fact, often this is a more reliable way to do it then just coming up with something new, is to put a twist on something familiar. And this is often just an easier thing to do because there are no actual original stories. Like, everything has been done somewhere, somehow.

But if you take something that people are familiar with, and then tweak it a bit, like, that’s new. That’s interesting. And it’s not always good. Sometimes these changes end up destroying what was good and fun about the original, but if you know where to tweak, and you can maintain the core of what made the story good, you can get a lot of mileage out of that.

Deep Space Nine, I think, does that pretty well, by tweaking the Star Trek formula to having them be about a space station instead of a ship flying around. And, you know, it struggles in the first season, like every Star Trek show did. But once it finds its legs, that dynamic is very different than the dynamic of like, Next Generation or Voyager; where it’s like- they have to actually deal with the problems that come up.

They can’t just put a bandage on it and leave, right? And that’s what makes Deep Space Nine more interesting- at least, that’s what makes it more interesting to me. And that type of novelty really helps.

Chris: Yeah, that does make sense.

Sarah: What about like, alternate universe kind of settings? Or taking a fairy tale, or some really well-known story, and changing the setting or, you know, gender-swapping the characters? I know that’s really common in fanfiction, but are there other ways you can do that in non-fanfiction?

Chris: We have, actually, another story by Oren that’s like that on our site; Red Riding Hood’s Bargain-

Sarah: Which is really good.

[laughter]

Chris: Where- people do like remixing and subverting fairy tales.

Oren: Yeah. And like, Red Riding Hood’s Bargain could definitely be called fanfiction. Unless your definition of fanfiction is that it’s copying a copyrighted work. In which case, I guess it wouldn’t qualify. But it does a lot of the same things that you would do with fanfiction, and it’s- you know, reimagining fairy tales is a super popular way of adding novelty to a story. Especially if it’s a well-known story, right?

Cause everyone’s like, ‘oh hey, I know about this- I know this story, it’s kinda cool.’ Although actually, one of the problems with Red Riding Hood’s Bargain was that people weren’t noticing it was a Red Riding Hood story at the beginning? That’s why it’s called Red Riding Hood’s Bargain; it was originally just called Red, and people didn’t notice it was a Red Riding Hood story until the grandmother showed up.

And then they were like, ‘oh, it was a Red Riding Hood story.’

Chris: Right, they were- we were looking at reader feedback, and it was really interesting to see because, you know, it just had a working title and we would look at people reading it, and the people who liked it the least were also the people who either didn’t realize that it was a Red Riding Hood Story, or like, we had one reader who realized partway through and thought it was slow, up until he realized it was a Red Riding Hood story.

And then it added a lot more novelty, which then upped the entertainment level. And so that’s why we named it ‘Red Riding Hood’s Bargain’, so that it would be obvious to everybody reading it that it was a subverted- it was a remixed fairy tale.

Sarah: I shouldn’t be surprised, cause I read a novella which was an alternate universe setting of the Star Wars prequels. So, total fanfiction, but people didn’t realize that it was just a blatant, like-

[Sarah and Chris laugh]

Sarah: -blatant note-for-note, the same story. They were like, ‘oh, I just thought it was a totally different story.’ Cause it was set in like, Viking fantasy world.

Oren: Well, also, it could have not been bad, right? And then people would have a hard time telling it was based off the prequels. [Sarah laughs]

Chris: One thing that I find fun to point out is that, related to twisting things, there’s something that I would refer to as the ‘subversive plot twist’. Where it’s- you’re adding a twist, but it’s in a sequence of events where people expect a certain thing to happen, and you subvert it by doing something wildly different.

And the way you usually want it to work is you stick really closely to a certain formula, and then you suddenly deviate away, and so it looks very purposeful. People don’t think it’s an accident. So, if you had the whole story about like, a princess being kidnapped by a dragon, and then a knight going to rescue her, and then the knight shows up, and then suddenly the princess is like, ‘what? We’re fine. What are you here for? Do you want some tea? Okay, go away now.’

Right? That would be kind of like a subversive plot twist. But the funny thing about the subversive plot twist is that, because generally in the beginning of it you are sticking to a formula so that you can then subvert it, there can be a problem where the beginning doesn’t have enough novelty. Even though you’re adding it later. [Oren laughs]

So, when you’re doing that kind of thing, you usually have to add something else novel to the beginning to tide readers over while they think that they’re just following a normal plot formula, cause otherwise they’ll be bored with the plot formula.

Oren: So, like a talking animal, then.

Sarah: Or space dragons.

Oren: Yes, obviously.

[laughter]

Chris: Yeah, if this knight-and-princess-and-dragon thing all happened in space, for instance, then it’s a knight saving a princess story in space.

Sarah: That’s my go-to cheat. If it’s like, if it’s something that didn’t happen in space, set it in space.

Oren: I mean, there are worse ways to do that. It worked for Star Wars, right? [laughter]

Chris: And we have a post on our site on underused settings, I believe?

Oren: Yeah.

Chris: And the value in that kind of thing is like, if it’s a setting that doesn’t come up very much, using it just will add a lot of novelty. Especially, again, if you get those details and really bring it to life.

Sarah: Or underwater. I haven’t seen the list, but-

[laughter]

Chris: I’m pretty sure underwater’s on the list.

Oren: Underwater’s on there. [Chris laughs]

Sarah: Excellent.

Oren: I’m also a fan of the Bronze Age, personally. I don’t think the Bronze Age gets enough attention. Specifically, the Mediterranean Bronze Age, that’s the one I know a lot about. There’s also Bronze Ages all over the world that I’m not as familiar with, but, you know.

The Bronze Age in the Mediterranean was a weird place. Had a lot of strange stuff that wouldn’t be- you wouldn’t reach that level of technology or complexity for centuries after the Bronze Age collapse.

Anyway, this is not a podcast about the Bronze Age collapse, I’m sorry. [Chris and Sarah laugh]

Sarah: There should be one-

Oren: Yeah.

Sarah: -on the Bronze Age collapse.

Oren: Just do that. Just do a story on the Bronze Age collapse, it’ll be great.

Sarah: This is the, uh, invasion of the Sea Peoples.

Oren: Oh, the Sea Peoples. Oh man. Speaking of novelty- talking about the Sea Peoples; so, historically, the Sea Peoples were a collective name given to a supposed invasion force that attacked the various Bronze Age kingdoms, and it’s not exactly clear how responsible they were for the destruction of the Bronze Age and everything, but speaking of novelty:

If you get a bunch of Bronze Age nerds in a room together, and are like ‘hey guys, we’re going to play Late Bronze Age collapse, and you’re going to get attacked by the Sea People,’ and they’re like, ‘alright, Sea People,’ and they’re expecting barbarians with swords and whatever.

Then you have a bunch of Deep Ones come out of the water. Big old fish-men. That’s the Sea People. And they’re like, ‘what?’ And there you go, you’ve added- you’ve subverted the expectation of your crowd of Bronze Age nerds.

Sarah: Plot twist! [laughter]

Oren: Since we are running out of time here; Sarah, do you have any other stories you think have good novelty?

Sarah: Okay, this is a different kind of novelty, but Ancillary Justice? I guess it has several kinds of novelty. The big one that it’s known for is that it has- uses she/her pronouns as the sort of- that’s the normal pronouns that the viewpoint character uses for everyone.

Oren: Right. Well, because her society is a single-gender society, and the pronoun that the author chose for them was ‘she’. If I remember correctly, right? That’s the-

Sarah: Yeah. And that’s pretty entertaining. Cause the first book doesn’t have- in some ways it doesn’t have a huge amount going on in one of the plot lines, except for the main character, Breq’s constant confusion about- she’s on a planet where everyone does have gender, and she’s very confused about using the right pronouns of all these people.

Oren: No, that was fun. I liked that.

Chris: Yeah, Ancillary Justice also- just, the main character was previously a ship.

Oren: That was cool.

Sarah: I mean, that’s like the coolest part about it. It leads in with the- it initially hits you with, like, ‘oh, it’s just going to be all of these she/her pronouns,’ surprise, it also has this really awesome premise and deep character drama.

Chris: And it has- the book also does a good job, I think, with the culture, where there’s a culture around patronage. That is very emphasized and kind of repeated and is clearly very important to them, and it’s almost like a substitute for romance, where what’s important is like, getting a patron, not getting a- getting married.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s a type of culture that you often see being negatively portrayed. It kinda reminded me of The Capitol from Hunger Games a little bit, in that they’re very focused on appearances and how you- the minutia of social hierarchy and politeness.

Oren: There’s also just another level of novelty, is if you are like, a space opera fan, and you’re a veteran of any space opera books, and it’s like, ‘okay, so this is a story about a big empire expanding and conquering stuff, right?’ So, you’re going to expect the focus of the book to be about space combat and shooting and like, invasions and stuff like that.

But the premise of Ancillary Justice is that the empire, the… Radch, I think is how you say it? Whatever, it’s spelled weird.

Sarah: Never had to pronounce it before.

Oren: But the space Romans are so much more powerful than any of their neighbors, that there’s not really a military question when they invade, right? Nobody can fight them. So, it’s an entirely political question. And that is a whole kind of novelty, cause it’s like, ‘yeah, this is a setting where we invade, there are no space battles because nobody can fight us.’ So instead, there’s just all of these weird internal politics.

But anyway, I agree, I just think that that’s another cool facet that can help add novelty, cause you subvert those tropes.

Chris: Certainly, different types of conflicts. You had one post about sequels, Oren, that made the very good point that if you’re not gonna escalate the conflict in a sequel, if you’re not gonna make higher stakes, then you need to make it a different type of conflict. If you change the type of conflict, if there’s social battles instead of actual physical battles- [Oren laughs]

-you know, that’s another way of switching things up and getting some variety, and ultimately having some more novelty in the conflicts that you have.

Oren: Alright, well, that’s a good point, and that’s a good thing to end this here podcast on. Thank you for joining us for a third time, Sarah.

Sarah: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Oren: Those of you at home, if anything we said piqued your interest, you can leave a comment on the website, Mythcreants.com. Otherwise, we will talk to you next week.

Chris: If you like the way we talk about stories, check out how we write them. Original fiction is now on Mythcreants.com. Presented in audio on our new podcast, Mythcreant Story Time.

[closing song]

Chris: This has been the Mythcreant podcast. Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton.

P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?

 

Comments

  1. A Perspiring Writer

    There’s a transcript here now, for anyone who wants it.

    • Cay Reet

      Thank you … I do prefer the transcripts, since I can read them at my leisure.

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