I am a resident of Vancouver, Canada, and an author of young adult fiction.
About the Otter in the Park
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, around two weeks ago, a river otter found its way into Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and has been feasting on the pond’s very expensive koi.
This story has taken Vancouver by storm over the past few weeks, with a series of humourous headlines from:
- Grand Theft Otter: River otter in Vancouver park steals fish — and hearts
- Otter madness continues as Sun Yat-Sen staff try to rescue surviving koi
- Otter On The Lam After Scarfing 7 Prized Koi Fish From Pond At Formal Garden
About the Story
Though I, too, have been enthralled with the little critters escapades, and I feel tremendous sympathy for the fish, I’m not here to talk about the details of the story.
I’m here to talk about why it has captivated us so. First, I want to talk about Narrative and Point of View and how it affects an audience. To do that, I will show you the four different story types that one incident reveals.
The Otter’s Story
People on #TeamOtter, are enthralled with the otter’s point of view. Here’s his narrative (I’m assuming he’s a male otter):
An otter in a big city has his home devastated by humans. He makes his way out into the world and finds a wonderful new home: a wonderful garden and a pond filled with fish. They aren’t the tastiest fish, and the owners of the garden don’t want him there, but they keep offering him food, as long as he makes it through the obstacle course of their traps, he will survive.
(From the otter’s point of view, he doesn’t know that the humans simply want to relocate him somewhere more suitable, presumably with tastier fish).
The otter is living an adventure story. He’s in the monomyth, the classic hero’s journey. I’d also like to point out that from the perspective of the otter, he’s the underdog, because the humans dominate his environment.
The Koi’s Story
Fourteen beautiful koi have come to know the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden’s pond as their home. They have lived here for decades. Some of which have lived long lives.
Along comes a predator to their tiny corner of the world. Koi are clever fish. They know how not to be caught. No matter how much they try, though, there is no escape. One by one, this predator stalks and kills their friends and family and ravages them. He seems insatiable in his hunger. Soon, he will come for them.
This is a horror story. And the koi are the victims.
The Garden Owner’s Story (loosely told)
The owners of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden have looked after this beautiful, curtural park for decades. It is a rare park, one of the few of its kind in the world. The pond and its koi are predominant feature. Children who are now adults have visited and fed the many, decades-old koi.
A simple rodent appears. It’s hungry. It’s kind of cute. And it’s killing their fish. They don’t want to look bad and kill the pest. But it’s destroying their fish.
Koi represent many things to the Chinese culture. They are very symbolic and represent things like success in business, prosperity, good fortune. They can cost thousands of dollars each. The ravage of these honored fish seems like a bad omen.
The more they try to capture the otter, the more it evades them. They have to put their remaining fish at risk by moving them (because koi are very sensitive).
They have lost a lot, and many people in the city are fascinated with the otter’s story, and do not understand their plight.
This is a tragedy.
The Trapper’s Story
A trapper gets called into an enclosed park to trap a river otter. He’s humane and experienced with trapping animals like this. It should be easy. He tells the press his plan: put out a trap, filled with fish and chicken, and move the trapped otter to another place.
The next day, he comes back and the otter has stolen the food, but the trap has been jammed with a stick. So there’s no otter.
The trapper tries again. Again, no otter. And the otter has killed more fish.
And repeat. It’s a story loop, something out of Looney Tunes’ Wile-E-Coyote and the Road Runner.
This story is a dark comedy (a farce of sorts with devastating outcomes).
My main point here is what makes this a captivating story is not just its uniqueness. After all it’s not every day an otter makes headlines like this. What makes this story capivating is the many different sides, all of which are complex and empathetic.
To have a complex story that works well, it should be able to be told from any perspective. It’s up to the author to determine what type of story it’s going to be.
I’ve noticed as the otter continues to evade the traps and the complex koi removal takes place, the story is shifting from an adventure to a tragedy. My sense is that only when the otter is trapped and safely moved, or the koi have found a new temporary home, thus shifting this once “special interest story” from a tragedy, back into an adventure, or at least one where somebody wins.