Michaeline: “Welcome to Night Vale”

White, cold marble cloak hanging over an invisible figure. You can go inside, as if the cloak draped you. Much spookiness.

Welcome to Night Vale. Do not approach the dog park. (image via Wikimedia Commons. Anna Chromy, Cloak of Conscience)

I just discovered the deliciously creepy podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale” this month. There are a million reasons for writers to listen to it and learn – texture, conveying meaning in just a few words, patterned story-telling and best of all, the podcast gave me the most thrilling surge of romantic squee that I’ve had all year.

“Welcome to Night Vale” is structured as a community radio show with the most kindly despotic announcer in a world that is just . . . odd. Secret Government kind of odd. Regular features include the news, the community calendar, traffic and the weather – all turned on their heads as tropes. For me, the heart of the series is the romance between announcer Cecil Palmer and Carlos, the Scientist.

According to interviews with writers Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, they didn’t know that a casual reference in the first episode by Cecil about Carlos’ “perfect hair” was going to turn into a thing. And, oh, what a thing. Other plotlines come and go, shape and resolve, arc and then submerge back into the deep darkness of Night Vale, but so far (I’m starting episode 54 as soon as I finish this post), the relationship between these two characters has been the most consistent story.

The romance doesn’t get a tremendous amount of airtime. For much of the first season, we get hints and a lot of unrequited longing. Like so much of Night Vale, hearing about it made me uneasy. I really worried that this romance was doomed, because Cecil seemed sort of unhinged and stalker-y. I was afraid he was going to get his heart broken.

(Oh, that’s another reason to listen to WTNV – how do you make a weirdo lovable? I don’t know, but you can see it in action, here. I think the main key is to give the character human feelings, and empathy for others. Cecil, despite his creepiness and totalitarian viewpoints, cares about other people. Sometimes, anyway (-:.)

Anyway, readers, when episode 25 finally came around, six little words sent me into a spiral of love and fangirl-ery. And here, we enter into mild spoiler territory. If you are sensitive, skip to below the second picture, after the giant radio transmitter apparatus.

Carlos almost dies saving town, and the first thing he does is call the station and ask to meet with Cecil under the mysteriously glowing lights over the Arby’s sign. Why? “I just wanted to see you.” If you have the context, you melt with delight and puddle into a small purple pool behind your steering wheel.

Episode 26 is a breather of normal news from Night Vale (normal for Night Vale, anyway), but in episode 27, we get a scoop-y, gossipy, lovely account of Cecil and Carlos’ first date. The emotions evoked are gorgeous, and sly, and there’s a lot of laughter. WTNV may be dark, but it sparkles, like stars in the void. Episode 27 gives us a glance at the sun.

After Episode 27, the relationship fades into the background, but it’s not lurking behind a curtain – rather, it’s the solid foundation to the rotting mansion that is Night Vale. Events impact the relationship, the relationship impacts the events. We haven’t seen Cecil and Carlos’ happy-ever-after, but we know that they protect their happy-ever-now.

Large, clunky radio set in a studio, with two guys from the 1950s grimly discussing matters in the background.

And now, back to our program. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

If you haven’t listened to “Welcome to Night Vale,” let me encourage you to start. It’s great story-telling, and also worthwhile to  study to see how they pull off the tricks they pull off.

And if you have listened to it, let’s have a cozy little gossip in the comments!

5 thoughts on “Michaeline: “Welcome to Night Vale”

  1. This sounds great! Like Jeanne, I don’t need more distractions from writing, and I’ve been trepidatious about fiction via podcasts because I’m not an audio book fan. However, I do need something to distract me during workouts, so I think I’ll check this out. I’ll let you know if it’s ‘my catnip’!

  2. 54 episodes! This sounds fantastic, Michaeline. I daren’t go there right now, but maybe I’ll download them all and listen to them on the plane on the way to RWA in July.

  3. I just think it’s so interesting that “radio” is making a comeback via podcasts. You can drive during it, you can walk the dog, you can do quiet housework. There may be a lot of writing jobs in the future in the area of podcasts. Oh — and if you are going ever-so-slightly deaf, you can use earphones (at a reasonable volume) to block out outside noises. So, I see a market among the younger baby boomers. (-: Heck, the older ones probably have fond memories of radio, come to think of it, and may enjoy podcasts for the nostalgia aspect.

    I forgot to mention that after listening to 25-26-27, I had to stop. I just wanted to enjoy the thrilling emotions for a little while. I didn’t listen to any later podcasts for about 36 hours, then I went back and listened to 25, 26 and 27 again. It was absolutely delicious to walk around with my head in that world for a few days.

    The podcasts aren’t usually cliffhangers, so you can do that — you can stop for a little bit. You know it’s going to be there whenever you want to come back. This isn’t usually a marketing point, but in these days of binge-story-consumption, I think it might become one. The story that lingers.

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