[0:00:00.6] TG: Hello and welcome to the 100th episode of the Story Grid Podcast. I’m your host Tim Grahl, and I’m a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly – well, Shawn is not going to be on this episode.
A while back, I’ve been trying to figure out what we’re going to do for this 100th episode and I kept having all these different ideas; most of them elaborate and unmanageable. Then as we are getting close, I started thinking that I just wanted to hear from you the listeners, what you thought of the podcast, what its meant to you, and I wanted Shawn to hear this as well. Because every week we get on these calls and we record them and we put them out.
Sometimes we get feedback and sometimes it’s good, sometimes – a lot of times it’s critiques on Shawn’s feedback or my own stuff. I thought it would be fun to just hear from you. To me, it was just a whim of like, “Okay, I’m just going to ask everybody to send in their recordings.”
I saw them piling up over the last few weeks just showing up, and I was saving them to listen to them all at once. Again I wasn’t thinking too much about this. I just thought, “Well, you know I’ll listen to them and they’ll probably be nice and we’ll put them together and that will be the 100th episode. Fast forward a few minutes and I’m sitting in my office just crying as I hear your stories of what this podcast has meant to you.
Most of you probably know that this began as a selfish journey for me to get Shawn’s advice without having to pay him as an editor. I talked him into starting this podcast, just so I could learn from an expert on how to write, not having any idea where this would end up going two years later.
Then to hear from so many of you how much it’s meant to you just – well, you’re about to hear. I encourage you to listen all the way to the end. This is probably one of the longest episodes we’ve ever had. I tried to get everybody’s in. I got so many – I tried to get as many as I could, and although not all of them made it into the final.
Yeah, let’s just jump in and get started.
[0:02:24.3] Female: Hey, Shawn and Tim. In my other life, I’m an academic editor. So when I found Story Grid, I immediately recognized the gold in the systematic tool for my fiction writing. Must have taken 40 pages of notes from those first Story Grid blog posts, and I’ve been listening to the podcast since the beginning.
Story Grid articulates diagnostic language that my writers group uses with each all the time as well. I’m sure I’ll take the class someday. Thank you both for putting this out there and making this available to us. Keep your eyes peeled for DC Harrel, fiction author.
[0:03:09.7] Gina: Hi Tim and Shawn. My name is Gina. I’m both a writer and an editor. I learned about the Story Grid from a fellow editor of mine about a year ago. I started listening to the podcast first. I didn’t order the book until about a month ago.
I was preparing to go away for some time specifically to work on my novel. I ordered the book, I devoured it and I was absolutely one way, by the fact that someone had finally applied a methodology to this mysterious and inexplicable thing that we editors do.
My intention in working on a novel was to spend some time on some of the lighter scenes, but like so many writers, I was unhappy with my first scene and reworked and reworked and reworked it so many times and I had put it aside for quite a bit of time. But after reading the Story Grid, I was really driven to go back and try to rework that one more time and see what I could do with it.
Honestly, I don’t even know if I can describe to you how good it felt. When I got through with that chapter, it felt so good to know that it was working. One of the most fundamental things that I learned from reading the Story Grid and it’s so simple, but it’s so important is how every single scene must turn. Just applying that one thing to my first chapter made such a difference.
As far as an outcome for me, of course, globally it’s going to make my writing so much better. But greater than that, it’s given me some language to use with my clients for talking about their books and also structure to help them go through the process of editing and understand exactly what it is that I’m doing along the way.
As far as how it’s impacted me personally, it’s drastically going to change the way that I am able to work with my clients. Like I said, just giving me the language to talk about some of the things that I do in a way that I think they can comprehend and really help them become better writers.
Thank you Shawn, thank you both for doing what you’re doing with the Story Grid. Keep it up and I am eager and anxious to learn much more about the Story Grid. Thank you guys.
[0:05:33.4] Female: When I started in January of 2016 with a new accountability group, I was trying to catch up on the Story Grid Podcast. You were just starting out, but there was so much I wanted to learn. I had read the book, and thank goodness for the podcast, it’s just helped to reinforce the concepts.
My accountability group has been meeting weekly for almost two years now. We’ve always discussed your podcast. We’ve always been quoting Shawn. Now one of our members is a certified Story Grid editor. That’s probably been the biggest impact for me, having someone who understands the methodologies and shows up every week on Skype to talk, just like you Tim and Shawn.
I have the Story Grid addition of Pride and Prejudice and I purchased the workshop to study at home. I can now see myself completing my series and fulfilling a dream of finding an audience for my books. Having a community of story nerds is awesome. Thank you Shawn. Thank you Tim.
[0:06:33.4] Calvin: Hey, Shawn and Tim. My name is Calvin and I actually got the Story Grid back in 2015 and I recently reread it, and then for the past couple of months I’ve been catching up on podcast episodes. When I first got the book, I had written a 100,000 word manuscript that was kind of a lot like Tim’s first draft way back.
It didn’t really work. I got like 20,000 words into the second and I restarted second draft and pretty soon I gave up. Since rereading Story Grid a couple of months ago, I realized that in that story I never had the five commandments of story in any given unit of the story. That was just clearly what was wrong with it.
So I’m working on something now that I made a scene outline for. Even though I’m on the first draft, I can tell it’s going a lot more smoothly. Every scene is definitely worth reading, not like before. Before I just tended to meander when I didn’t have a plan, and I’m just not doing that anymore in my writing.
I feel like I’m being way more purposeful and that my productivity is actually going towards creating something that people might want to read. That’s the way that Story Grid has helped me, which I am really appreciative of. I just want to say I love the podcast, and keep it up. Thanks.
[0:07:49.7] MD: Hi, my name is Mike DiMartino and I was the co-creator and executive producer of an animated series called Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel The Legend of Korra and it aired on Nickelodeon for several years.
So I’ve had a lot of experience writing for television. But in 2014, the show wrapped up and decided to pursue my dream of writing novels and I got a book deal for a trilogy, a middle-grade fantasy series. It’s called Rebel Genius. The first book is out now, but I came to the Story Grid a little bit late. So I had written the first book and I was starting on the second book, and I hit a wall and was really struggling with how to write the book, how to finish it, how to develop it and make it great.
I had an editor and she was awesome, but most of the time I was on my own trying to figure out how to write this book and I came across the podcast, I came across the book, read the book cover to cover, loved it and I think the biggest take away from me was that the constructing the scenes and writing the scenes and using the five commandments was a super big help in figuring out how to tell the story I wanted to tell.
I just want to thank you guys for doing what you do. Really love the podcast. Always learn something from it. I enjoyed the seminar you did. I watched it online, and just appreciate all the work you guys are doing. So keep it up. Thanks.
[0:09:20.2] CG: Hi Shawn and Tim, this is Christy Garrett from Sacramento, California. What I’ve learned because of the Story Grid is that I finally know how to structure a full length novel. I’m now halfway through the first draft of my third book, and I’m really excited to see it going so smoothly.
I think the Story Grid is perfect for plotters. An outcome, well I wish I could tell you I’d gotten a book contract or one writing award, but I feel that getting halfway through a properly structured novel while working full-time is reward enough.
The Story Grid Podcast really has meant so much to me just listening to Shawn’s comments on craft and his suggestions on books to read, his reassurance to you and us through the process of becoming a better writer. All that makes the Story Grid Podcast better than any MFA program, to me at least.
His philosophical insights are fascinating, and the way he’s include us writers into the hero’s journey and its importance in story structure is priceless. There are many other podcast by developmental editors, but they don’t have Shawn’s depth of knowledge and experience. There is no better writing instructor on the air.
[0:10:35.7] Male: Shawn, Tim, I’ve listened to the Story Grid Podcast for some months now. I came to it late, because I started with the book and then that led me to the Story Grid website and that led me to the podcast some months after you had started recording it. But I’ve gone back and listened to lots of the old ones.
You wanted me to talk about outcome. I have to tell you, I still laugh at myself because I was listening to the episode where you talked about how Jessie burned down the tower in that one test, and then you said you were going to go back and have her mentor tell her about being the thorn or something like that so she was kicking over the chess board, instead of finishing the game.
That moment was an epiphany from – I channeled my inner Seinfeld. Wait, that’s a thing? You can do that? That’s opened my eyes to how writing go and just likely you want to talk about outcomes, I’ve finished my first short story. It’s the first time I’ve written a story pretty much in one sitting that didn’t seem drained of merit when I was done with it.
I think the story isn’t quite complete. I think it doesn’t quite stick to the five commandments of story. But instead of crumpling it up and throwing it against the wall, I’m going back and adding in the things that need to be added to make it work as a story. This gives me hope that several of the novels that I thought of ideas for, I could actually turn into novels.
Thank you so much. It’s been a great deal of fun. I look forward to anything and everything you guys want to talk about from now on.
[0:12:08.7] ND: Everyone, my name is Nelson Dewitt. I am working on a documentary film and on a autobiographical novel about something that happened to me when I was 16. So just a little background here, I grew up outside of the Boston area as an adopted child. When I was little, my parents really couldn’t tell me much about why I had been put up for adoption.
Then in 1997 we got a phone call out of the blue letting my family know that my birth family had been looking for me for 14 years. It turned out that I had been separated from them during the civil war in El Salvador and they had been looking for me ever since. In December of 1997, almost 20 years ago now, I flew down and met 30 to 40 of my members of my birth family for the first time.
The Story Grid has been incredibly helpful for both of these products. I’d say the main thing that I’ve learned is how a story works, both on the global level but also on a scene-by-scene level. Now I’m not someone who’s ever attempted anything like this. This is the first time I’ve worked on a film or a novel, but what amazes me is how despite following the Story Grid process, my ramblings have turned into something that really connects with people.
Just a couple weeks ago, I released the first chapter of my book on my blog mostly for friends and family and it got a lot of really positive feedback. People said it was well written and a few of them even cried. Now, I wish I could say I was some sort of savant and brilliant literary writer, but that’s not the case. I really think what made it great was that I followed Shawn’s advice and strictly adhered to the inventions of story.
As far as how the Story Grid has impacted me personally, I’d say it’s helped me a lot. It’s helped me see my experiences in a new light. I mean, having a story like mine can feel overwhelming and there are many times throughout my life where I felt like I was lost at sea, kind of just adrift. Learning the conventions of story has helped me re-contextualize some of those experiences and understand why it was hard.
I can look back at a difficult moment and say, “Yeah, the reason that was difficult is because it was my all is lost moment.” That has helped me just sort of come to a peace with everything that’s happened. So learning the Story Grid has been incredibly helpful both personally and professionally.
I just want to thank Shawn and Tim for all the hard work that they’re doing. Congratulations on two years of Story Grid and I can’t wait to see what the next two years brings.
[0:14:51.0] Male: Hey Tim and Shawn. I think I got into the Story Grid Podcast about halfway through it or something long after you started it. Decided this was one of those podcast I needed to go back and listen to the very first episode.
I’ve gone through all of them to get all the wisdom that you dispense. It’s really helped me think through the novel that I’ve said in here and that I want to get finished backing up a bit. I’d heard about the Story Grid book, I had it on my wish list, figured I would get to it one of these days. Then about a year ago, I was at the tribe conference, you were both there.
I listened to you in person, got excited, even more excited when you handed out this awesome gift of a free copy of the Story Grid book to all the participants there. Then life got crazy this past year, but I’m finally ready at this point to start doing something with the first draft of my novel that now has been sitting for way too long.
The next step is to do a full Story Grid analysis of it. Excited about what I will learn about that, about my story and how to make it even better than I’d imagined. Then I heard about that you’d actually published a Story Grid version of Pride and Prejudice, I’ll pick that up as well. Awesome to have that as a resource.
Please, please keep doing the podcast. You are truly inspiring and you’re inspiring me and encouraging me get my book finished and get it out there for people to read. Thanks for all you do.
[0:16:33.4] BL: Hi, I’m Becky Louise. I’ve been a writer for many years, mostly non-fiction. I wrote what Shawn calls a big idea book about perception and four or five more how-to books based on the first one. But a few years ago, I decided I wanted to write fiction; definitely a different proposition for me. It took me forever to finish the first book.
Finally, I gave it to an editor for a look. She said, “Pretty good, but it’s missing some things.” “Great. What?” I had no idea what she meant or how to fix it. Then I found Story Grid and everything made sense. I fixed the first book called Caress, published it, and I am almost ready to publish the second in the series. Much easier this time, because I have been studying and following the Story Grid, listening to the podcast about the book, about the course.
I tell every writer I can about it. It’s a godsend. I have no idea how anyone writes a book without it. I know I can’t.
[0:17:47.1] DS: Hey, guys. This is Dan Stout in Ohio, and I just wanted to leave a message and let you know how useful the Story Grid has been to me, both in the original incarnation of the website and then the book and now podcast. A great example would be working on my novel. I had a three-chapter section that I knew was repetitive, and it was a classic example of I knew it wasn’t working, but I didn’t know why. I was banging my head against the wall for it seemed like months.
The action in each chapter was different, the characters were different, the location was different, but they just felt too similar. It wasn’t until I actually took the time to plug everything into the Story Grid spreadsheet that I saw that each chapter was comprised of two scenes, one of about 2,500 words, followed by another of about 900 words.
It was that 2,500, 900 repetition across three chapters that made things start to feel uninteresting. Once I put it into the Story Grid sheet, it was just a matter of a few hours to get things fixed and working. I’m happy to report that I have recently signed a contract on that novel and its sequel, and of course, I am taking some of that advance money and have enrolled in Tim’s Instant Bestseller Course, because I want to make sure that those aren’t the only two books I’ll ever get to publish.
Thanks again guys, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with the podcast next.
[0:19:18.1] Female: Story Grid has made me think more strategically about how a story works. I never understood why I like some stories and not others until I learn what was missing from the stories I didn’t like. The parameters that Story Grid gives me as a writer provide me the basic structure so that I am free to be creative with the story, but still meet my reader’s expectations.
Writing is an even more creative process now that I understand the guidelines behind them and what makes a good story. I’ve also been introduced to people I never would have met before because of Story Grid.
Thank you so much Shawn and Tim for all the time that you’ve put into this, and looking forward to the future.
[0:19:59.0] AH: Hi Tim. Hi Shawn. Anne Holly here. Congratulations on the 100th episode. That is an amazing achievement. I’ve listened to every single one. Shawn, I want to tell you that you have changed my life. A couple of years ago, I had a novel that I loved, but I just couldn’t figure out how to fix it and I’m so discouraged with editors and writing groups. I just gave up. I literally told family members, “I’m not even calling myself a writer anymore. Don’t call me that. I’m done.”
A couple of days later, the Story Grid came into my life, because of course it did. I used it to rewrite the novel. I took a long time, couple years, but I did it and it’s finished. It’s really pretty good. It’s coming out in February, and you are in the acknowledgments right after my mom. I thought you might like to know that.
Thank you so much. The work you do has changed my life and I believe it’s changing the world.
[0:20:53.2] HB: Hey Shawn, Helena Buche here. Thank you Shawn so much for all your hard work developing the Story Grid and for making it available to us. I think it should be called Story Grid Buddhistesque Psychology. It’s become a permanent lens for how I look at what’s happening in life.
Something different happens now. I can’t help thinking, “Wow, that’s an inciting incident if there ever was one.” For example last night, it was 80 something in-laws insist on driving an hour to have dinner with us rather than letting us come to them. What could possibly go wrong?
The Grid allows me to back up and observe events that I used to get sucked up into. Story Grid helps me help clients, sure. But it’s made my life a lot richer in the process. It’s a tremendous gift to all storytellers that will endure for generations to come.
Thank you, Shawn.
[0:21:43.5] JB: Hey Tim, Shawn. Jerry Bohlander, author of the Entrepreneur Ethos, as well as the five-story grid editor. Story Grid has been an awesome tool for me in my writing. It allows me to use my engineering mind to make things a lot more simple and systematic, which is sorely lacking in the other writing tools that I’ve used.
Keep at it. Congrats on the 100th episode. Looking forward to a 100 more and just really excited to be part of the Story Grid family and just really love what you guys are doing.
[0:22:29.7] Kelly: My name is Kelly and I’m a sophomore college student. I listened to the whole backlist of the podcast, and the biggest thing I’ve learned so far from Story Grid is the importance of genre. I’m editing one novel and beginning to brainstorm the next. Considering genre has been really helpful in both the fixing and brainstorming processes.
I really want to thank both Shawn and Tim for all the time and energy they put into to the Story Grid Podcast and everything else. It’s had a huge impact on the way I think about story.
[0:23:00.0] Melanie: Hi Tim and Shawn. It’s Melanie from Brisbane in Australia. Story Grid has been a game changer for me. It saves me years of editing time and been a great way to problem solve. I can’t thank you both enough and I’m looking forward to the next 100 episodes.
[0:23:15.2] Telmitch: Hi Shawn, Telmitch here. Congratulations on your 100th podcast episode with Tim. You’ve really helped me taken the focus off language and rules and you’ve gotten me to understand story in a new depth. I really thank you for that.
[0:23:34.3] Male: Saying that the Story Grid changed my life is not an exaggeration. I first heard Shawn Coyne on The Creative Penn, Joanna Penn’s podcast, and I was immediately struck by not only the sincerity and the passion that Shawn had for the art of storytelling, but I had gone through many different methodologies before.
What struck me about the Story Grid was the fact that it was so easy to implement, yet so complex at the same time. It allowed you as a writer to sort of hit the top level really important points of storytelling that’s been wired into our DNA for thousands of years. But it also gave you the depth and the detail to go as far as you wanted to take it. Then from a commercial side, it was very apparent.
My pre-Story Grid works for my Story Grid works and everything that I’ve used, every title that I’ve published with a Story Grid methodology has sold five to 10 times better than everything else. That alone would be enough justification for me to continue using it for as long as I plan on writing books.
But I also want to say that Shawn himself has been an inspiration. He’s been really transparent and helpful in an industry that has historically not been that way. I think the reason I connected with Shawn is because to me he feels like an outsider in that industry; someone who is willing to put his own reputation on the line in order to help people bring better stories into the world, which I also agree with Shawn as a really noble calling and it’s something that’s really important and something that I take great pride in doing.
Just as a final thought, the ability and the opportunity to sit with Shawn and Tim for a week and learn how to become a Story Grid editor was a pivotal moment of my life. It’s something I’ll never forget. I learned so much from those two guys in that week that I’ll be forever grateful for.
Whether I ever have a client or not, that was an experience that again has literally changed my life. I’m looking forward to the next calendar year of my own writing and helping other people discover and implement the Story Grid and put some great stories in the world.
Shawn, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
[0:26:08.6] Shelly: Hi Shawn and Tim. This is Shelly. I’m so, so happy to be able to congratulate you and celebrate your 100 episodes. I am a recovering academic, and so in grad school I read and wrote a lot of abstract stuff about the power of stories, to shape the way we think and the way we see or history and future.
Shawn’s approach to crafting stories is the first time I really understood the how and why of it all and at that level. Your discussions over the past two years often hit me like tidal waves, and I would think about them for days after.
Now I hear and read stories everywhere and I think, “Hey, an inciting incident. Or was I just a speech in praise of the villain?” By early this year, I was so overwhelmed by the Story Grid wave that I just started swimming in it. Now I’m looking forward to working with the tools every day as an editor, and to listening to your next 100 episodes.
I think that that means this is a happily ever after love story, but I need to put it on the grid to make sure. So happy 100 you guys.
[0:27:16.0] MW: Hi Tim. Hi Shawn. My name is Maya Walker and I wanted to congratulate you on the 100th episode of the Story Grid Podcast. The Story Grid has made a huge impact on my writing life. Back in the late 1990s and the early 2000s I was sending several manuscripts out all over New York trying to get published and I kept getting rejections.
I was pretty sure that my writing wasn’t terrible and I was pretty sure that my ideas weren’t terrible, because I kept getting requests for manuscripts. A lot of the time, the editors and agents would ask me what I had on hand, they would ask me what I was working on and could I send it to them.
The problem was they would hold onto stuff for 18 months, sometimes two years. They would tell me that I couldn’t submit it to anybody else while they were looking at it. I did the math, and it became clear that if I couldn’t figure out what was going on and why I was getting rejected, my life would be taken up with people holding onto my things for two years at a time and I would never sell a book.
Eventually I gave up. I had better things to do. I had a family to raise and it didn’t make sense for me to keep going forward when I couldn’t figure out what was going on. But I couldn’t stay away from writing forever and I eventually went back to it.
I took a couple of classes, I got some resources on story structure and I kept hitting the same wall. The classes would do things like move my comments around or have me fill out these character worksheets, and I’m pretty sure that that was never my problem. The story structure materials would tell me to write chapter by chapter outlines before I’ve written the book, and that definitely wasn’t going to happen.
What did make all the difference for me was listening to the Story Grid Podcast. Being able to listen to Shawn teach Tim how to work through a project, using language that made sense, that he would define, that I could understand. Genres made complete sense to me. All of it made complete sense to me.
Most of all, Shawn made space for Tim to let the muse work. That was huge. That Shawn allowed Tim to keep writing even when he wasn’t quite sure of what he was doing and whether it would work. That’s what I needed. I needed somebody to tell me that it was going to be okay, that I could fix things and that I needed to let the muse work.
Thank you so much guys for putting all of these out there for all of us to learn from. I’m so excited about the stuff that you guys continue to do. I’m excited for Tim’s book and I’m excited to learn more. I’ll be listening. Keep up the good work and congratulations.
[0:30:15.1] JP: This is Jay Peters. I just wanted to say that Story Grid and the podcast taught me more about story structure than any class I’ve ever taken. Now I can’t watch or read any story without looking to see if it follows the story structure rules that Story Grid taught me.
This has earned a lot of popular stories for me, but it’s also made me appreciate the good ones even more. I just want to say thank you to Shawn and Tim for everything you guys have taught me and the Story Grid community.
[0:30:42.2] JB: It’s rare to come across a teacher, a book, or something that profoundly changes you as a writer. Things like that are far and few between and you’re lucky if it ever happens to you at all. Story Grid has been that for me.
I first stumbled across the Story Grid Podcast while I was looking for something new to listen to while I mowed my mother’s lawn. I’ve been working my way through a list of podcast about writing. About 20 minutes into the Story Grid Podcast of Shawn and Tim discussing an early draft of a chapter, I was stunned. I mean, I was astonished to find someone talking about writing the way I’ve been thinking about it since I recently made the commitment to be a better writer.
So here are two guys talking about scene structure and elements of plot in minute detail. I mean, hardcore stuff that I’ve been studying on my own for a while. I remember Shawn noting that Tim had already used a talking over coffee scene and they need to get some action in there.
I was so hungry for this level of analysis. Pretty soon after that I was pouring through the website like a kid in a candy shop. I bought the book and I read it through, and I filled most of a notebook with notes. Then I took a draft of one of my own stories and I started working it through the Story Grid. I wrote up a foolscap, I studied the genre descriptions and I began to analyze my draft for the five Cs globally and scene by scene.
I had already created a comparative plot analysis chart, and I felt like I was homing in on something. I didn’t know what, because I didn’t have anything close to Shawn’s years of experience. Story Grid pulled together things that I already knew about plot development, but haven’t managed to assimilate yet. That gave me new insights, both on plot and on approaches to the real heart of a story, which is our emotional relationship with the protagonist.
Then it tied them altogether. That’s one of the things that really resonated with me that a simple structure like Shawn’s five commandments repeats itself on different levels of analysis, on different scales of storytelling, the macro and the micro levels, and that the whole structure is driven by shifts in internal and external values.
It was revelatory and it was within my reach. Since then, I’ve used Story Grid tools over and over again. As a writer, it’s really ramped up the quality and even the quantity of my work. It’s given me a very different perspective as a reader as well.
Writers know you get better at writing by writing. Story Grid really stepped up the game for me. Shawn’s analysis, methodology showed me specifically how to identify the things in my work that needed improvement, but more importantly, how to fix them.
So a huge heartfelt thank you to Shawn and Tim for teaching me the Story Grid method through the podcast, blog, books, and even in person, and then how to weave together a consistent and compelling storyline.
I write better stories now. I’m Julie Blair and I’m a certified Story Grid editor.
[0:33:55.8] VF: Hi, I’m Valerie Francis and I write women’s and children’s fiction. I discovered Story Grid in January 2015 when I heard Shawn on The Creative Penn Podcast. I had just finished my first novel, and the whole process had left me frustrated, confused and frankly exhausted.
I’ve gotten a lot of well meaning, but ultimately useless advice from both editors and beta readers. Since that didn’t feel right to me, didn’t feel right to them either, but no one could tell me what wasn’t working, let alone offer solutions.
In many cases, the advice I got actually made my story worse. By the time I heard the interview with Shawn, I was at wits end. But in that one hour, he answered so many of my questions that I was hooked. The Story Grid haven’t been published at that point, so I started to study his blog. I printed off the posts and I made tons of notes.
I had finally found a concrete way to evaluate what I’d written. I could see what wasn’t working. Moreover, I had tools to help me improve my craft. Never, honestly never in my whole life did I think I could get so excited about a spreadsheet.
The Story Grid is pretty heavy reading. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was understanding at all. When the Story Grid Podcast started, listening to the exchange between Shawn and Tim really helped me crystallize the various story concepts. Many of Tim’s questions were my own, and Shawn’s explanations allows me to deepen my understanding of story structure in a way that I hadn’t been able to do with the book alone.
I don’t know what the plans are for the future of the podcast, but Shawn I’m so grateful to you for sharing your expertise with regards to story and story structure. Time, thank you so much for having the guts to put yourself out there so that we all can learn.
[0:35:55.1] CH: Hi, Shawn. It’s Courtney Harrell, one of your new certified Story Grid editors. Wow, that sounds so awesome to say. I actually just wanted to say first of all congratulations on your 100th podcast episode. What an amazing epic adventure you’ve taken us all on. Tim, congratulations to you as well.
Seriously, from the deepest part of my heart like thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with all of us. You know, ever since I was a child I’ve been watching movies, I’ve been reading books, I’ve been so lit up by storytelling and it’s just all I ever wanted to do with my life.
I know story lives intuitively inside all of us, and you made me wanted to not only learn more about that but you’ve helped me become a stronger storyteller. Now you’ve given me this tremendous opportunity to help writers and creators tell stronger stories.
Just when I first heard about the Story Grid it was from another writer friend of mine. I was so excited, because I read so many books by other authors that kind of made sense in a moment, yet I never felt like I walked away with any of the information sticking with me. It never felt very approachable or clear or that there were steps to take.
When I read the Story Grid, you present all the information in such an intuitive, understandable, casual tone and approachable way that not only did it make sense to me, but it stuck. It always gives me a place to go back to with my own story and how to work with other writers as well.
I’m so lit up by this. I was so excited about our workshop. I’m so excited about this new journey in my life and in our life as a group, and also if I’d had a Story Grid editor many years ago, I’m sure I would’ve published many more books.
I just deeply, deeply thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. I know and I can tell that it comes from the bottom of your hearts. I just want you to know that you really empower us as writers. The podcast have been just this – the word I use to other people is goldmine of information. You just keep giving and you keep helping me, because Tim actually brings up a lot of the same questions that I have, that I’m sure the other authors have too. You keep giving me like less anxiety, to be honest. You help me be a less anxious writer.
Anyways, again you’ve helped present a new exciting direction of my creative life. So I just want you to know that what you do and what you’re sharing with everybody around you, it’s just rippling outward, and we’re all getting to be more creative and more successful, more excited because of what you shared with us.
I’m sure not saying anything different than many other writers are saying, but the biggest, most tremendous thank you and congratulations.
[0:38:46.4] LW: I’m Leslie Watts. I could go on and on about all the things I love about the Story Grid, from macro to micro and back again. But if I were to sum things up, I think I would say that Story Grid shows me how stories work, but also why I love certain stories, what makes them so engaging.
The Story Grid helps me learn about myself, because I’m drawn to certain types of stories, but I also resist certain types of stories. If I follow those breadcrumbs, I can create a roadmap to help me tell the stories that I want to tell. I can analyze the work of masters and stand on their shoulders and express similar ideas and themes, but according to me and my worldview.
The Story Grid though is also a tool to diagnose problems in my stories and in those with my clients. It provides concrete steps that we can take to improve our stories. It’s an objective method of evaluating what’s actually in the manuscript.
It shows me what I can’t otherwise see. This helps me provide useful and actionable suggestions rather than vague ones that don’t help anybody. In this way, the Story Grid is like an X-ray machine. It tells me what’s wrong, but it also provides the antidote for the problems, which is pretty amazing.
It’s simple in a way. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s a complex process, but it has simple steps. It takes work, but if you follow the instructions, then when you’re done you’ll have a clear view of what’s working, what’s not, and then what to do about it.
I can’t really talk about the Story Grid without talking about how grateful I am to Shawn Coyne, for doing the crazy amounts of work that it took to collect and analyze the best thinking on story and prepare a process that he used and tested for years and now is sharing with all of us.
He doesn’t keep the tool to himself, but rather generously shares it with writers, because he understands what stories can do and how they can make the world a better place. What I love about the Story Grid is it’s this amazing tool for storytellers, that helps us unpack story, unpack who we are and the stories we want to tell, so we can express our gifts in the world. That is really magical.
[0:42:01.2] Wendy: Hi, Shawn. My name is Wendy and I am a writer and a freelance editor who works on fiction, among other things. Thank you so much for the Story Grid. It was the answer to a prayer for me. When the book came out, I had spent the last 10 years trying to get a handle on how to break down the third draft of my novel in such a way that I could see who is in each scene, what happened, which plot or sub-plot the related to, and what the scene meant in the overall story arc, so that I could approach the writing of the next draft systematically.
I had tried everything, manual and automated, index cards, writing software, mind mapping, notebooks, workbooks, spreadsheets, graph paper, drawing things on a white board, you name it, and nothing was exactly right. Then I saw an ad for the Story Grid, the book. I don’t remember exactly where or when, but I think it’s very likely that I squealed in surprise, delight and hope. I bought it immediately.
I read it that I didn’t have time to work my way through a manuscript with it, because of other demands on my time. But come January, five friends and I, freelance fiction editors all and some of us are also writers, we’ll be doing a group study of the Story Grid and applying it to a novel. We haven’t decided which one yet; to reinforce our understanding and application of the Story Grid methodology. I can hardly wait.
Thank you again, you and Tim for everything in the Story Grid universe. Keep it up.
[0:43:34.4] AS: My name is Alice [Supplo], and I’m a Story Grid certified editor. I’ve wanted to be an editor for years. I had heard the publishing is an apprenticeship industry, so in order to learn how to edit books, I need to get a job under a successful editor who would show me the ropes.
Of course, I needed connections and experience first. I got a writing company called The Write Practice, and I got to edit my first book. It was a terrifying experience that showed me exactly how much I didn’t know. There were a hundred things I could tell the writer about their story, a hundred problems like it points out, but which ones would actually help them craft the second draft? Honestly, I wasn’t sure.
Around this time, I discovered the Story Grid. I was dubious at first. Could there really be a structured methodology for what seems like a subjective and intuitive process? But I quickly realized that this was a fantastic system for approaching a story and getting right to the heart of what it needs to make it better.
Then I went to the Story Grid editor certification course. A quick side story, I had this literature class in college where I wrote this absolutely terrible paper. Like it was late at night the night before it was due and I was staring at the screen as I typed words. Even as I typed, I had no idea what in the world I was saying.
The class was on Faulkner, so to be fair I didn’t really understand the source material either. I was sad to turn in the paper, because I knew it was awful and I didn’t want my professor to tell me the 50 things I knew were wrong with it right there on the surface.
When I got it back, I was amazed because my professor had somehow managed to completely ignore all the terrible problems with the paper structure and weak sentences and questionable train of thought, and he’d gotten right to the heart of arguments I was only vaguely aware I was making. He gave me really helpful feedback on those.
With the editorial letters I wrote before the Story Grid certification, I think I got down several layers, beyond the weak sentences and the manuscripts definitely and probably below the next layer too. But I wasn’t sure I got down to the bottom layer and I felt like I was swimming around in the sea of almost core layer of problems, semi-arbitrarily choosing which ones I wanted to talk about.
Applying Story Grid the way it equips to do, cuts down all the way to the bottom and get straight to the essentials when my professor for that horrible paper. Because of that, I’m way more confident overall and the material I give to each writer. With Story Grid, I know that I’m identifying the fundamental challenge with each book I edit, and giving the writer clear steps to fix it without overwhelming them with unnecessary lesser changes.
What has Shawn’s work and Story Grid meant to me, it feels like I’ve been handed the golden ticket of editing. Like Shawn has walked through the fire to retrieve the competency grits and he’s now gifting them to me. Like he’s handed me my dream on a silver platter. Like a wealth of other glowing metaphors, but you get the picture.
I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that Story Grid and Shawn’s support has changed my life. I could never have gotten here on my own, and it’s only the beginning. Thank you Shawn and Tim for everything you’ve done with the Story Grid. I’m looking forward to many years more.
[0:46:57.0] JM: Hey guys, it’s Joanna Marsh. I discovered the Story Grid shortly before the first podcast episode was aired, so I’ve been listening the entire time. I can honestly say it’s been a complete godsend. I’ve learned so much from Shawn. I think one of the biggest things is the concept that the micro and macro of use and consciously zooming out to the macro view whenever I get stuck. That’s a skill I’ve learned from the Story Grid. Before, I would just panic and pretty much quit during these moments, but now I have these proven method of fixing problems and them moving on. That’s been huge for me.
Definitely, the most tangible outcome has been the publishing of my first novel Cantique. I am certain I would not have finished it or shift it without the Story Grid, the podcast, as well as the encouragement I received at the Story Grid workshop in New York back in February.
That was the final push I needed to get my writing on to the world after sitting on it for a long time. I am forever indebted to you guys for that. Even beyond that, Shawn has totally changed my mindset as a creative person. I’ve always been kind of a secretive writer, sort of compelled by this profound need to write, but then paralyzed by the fear that my work would never be good enough, that it’s too weird or whatever.
But now I’m constantly swallowing that fear, sharing my work, writing more, knowing that it’s never going to be perfect, but that the Story Grid is there to help make it better. Shawn’s passion for stories and storytelling has made me realize how important stories really are. So now I’m willing to take risks to be a better storyteller, whereas I never brave enough to take before.
Thank you both Shawn and Tim so much for your work and for doing this podcast. It really has changed my life.
[0:48:56.9] Male: It was about this time last year, the beginning of a new school year I wasn’t excited to teach. The previous year had been a struggle for me to say the least. Despite having taught for 15 years, I was floundering. I couldn’t inspire my students and I was losing my passion for teaching.
I had several students who would walk out of my class due to a loophole on the rules, halfway through the day’s lesson pretty much every day. I was ready to start looking for a new job, even if it didn’t use the degrees I had worked so hard to get. I was done.
I had written a 300-page manuscript several years before, before I even met my wife. It was moderately good, but I didn’t know what I would do with it. I had considered chopping it out, but without editing, which I couldn’t afford on a teacher salary. It wouldn’t have made it very far.
I put it in a drawer. Several years and marriage, two kids, three degrees and a couple houses later, it still lives in that drawer. After the birth of my son, the year before last, my wife’s struggling to claw her way out of a clinical depression. My worst year teaching was making – working at Home Depot look pretty attractive.
I had some colleagues who were talking about podcasts, and though I haven’t really gotten into them, I went around looking for something interesting. That’s when I found your podcast. Between Tim’s struggles and Shawn’s advice, things seem to fall into place. Yes, I know that sounds melodramatic or sycophantic even. I suppose it’s a bit of hyperbole, but in a way it’s also true.
The first episode I listened to was critiquing Tim’s beginning hook back in September of 2016. I listened to the first half of it and decided that I needed to go back to the beginning and see what this was all about. By the time I got home from work, I was intrigued. By the end of the week, I was hooked.
I became so focused on what you were doing. My three-year-old daughter begged me to play music when I drive to daycare, and my wife bought me a copy of the book for Valentine’s Day. I started writing again, and progressed through the beginning hook of a new novel. After listening to first draft is done, now what?
Back in May, I realized the reason I didn’t know what to do with my manuscript is because I had never really learned how to edit a story. Things were starting to look up. That’s when the light bulb went on. I started adapting the Story Grid method into my literature and instruction. Everything from William Shakespeare, to Paulo Coelho and it has revitalized my teaching.
Using several aspects of the Story Grid spreadsheet and the foolscap global Story Grid, I’ve been able to increase my student’s understanding and appreciation for literature and foster deeper understanding of the values and themes within the works that have led to some really interesting discussions. What I thought would help my creative writing class, that I thought at the time turned out to be so much more.
Well, I’m sure that you’ve at least considered the implications of the Story Grid on education very much. Love to hear what you guys think about its applicability. Thank you for doing this. It really has changed the way I look at stories.
[0:52:00.8] Female: When my son took his life, darkness came for me. It didn’t knock. It entered, sat in my chair, put its feet up and opened my diary. I changed into pyjamas and sat down beside it and we merged. During my pyjama year, I stayed home. Outside was a minefield. Someone might ambush me with a word. A woman and her son might sit on a park bench and share a sandwich.
Some people I thought were friends stayed away. Tragedy might be contagious. It didn’t matter. I didn’t want to see them anyway. Every morning when I woke up, my son was still dead. The stories I told myself about my life were ashes now, mingling with son’s remains inside the wooden urn his best friend had turned on a lathe.
A few months in, people posted online about a new podcast called The Story Grid. Distractions were welcomed. I started listening. I always wanted to be a writer, but I’ve done everything except write. I’ve been an English major, but I didn’t know the five commandments of storytelling. I love stories, but didn’t know what made them work.
I listened, I studied, I took notes. I learned about resistance. I decided to story grid a book called I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. A teenage protagonist misses her mother who died three years earlier. She says, “Nobody ever tells you I’m gone. Gone is or how long it lasts.” The author had reached across miles and years right into my grieving heart. I closed my eyes and wept.
I thought about what Shawn always says, “Stories matter. People need stories and people who write them are performing a great service.” I wanted to do that. 15 months after my son died I graduated to yoga pants, cleared a spot at a small table next to a window and started writing the novel I had been scribbling notes about for many years.
It’s not about my son, but he is on every page if you know where to look. I wrote every morning. Disordered notes organized themselves into a beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff. I felt like Shawn was my own editor. Tim was my role model. If he had the courage to put himself out there in front of everyone, I could too and I should, I must.
Among the stories the world needs are the ones only I can tell. I had known that. Years ago when I studied painting, I learned to lay the shadows in first. It’s the deep darks and dusky mid-tones that make the light color sang. Stars only twinkle in an inky sky. Loss and joy lived together in an eternal embrace.
I tried to put this into my writing, and now I have the tools to do it. Will I ever write about my son’s death? I don’t know. It’s still raw. But if I do, by God, that story will have a beginning, a middle and an end. It will have obligatory scenes and genre conventions and Russian dolls nesting inside other Russian dolls. It would be dolls all the way down and up. I’ll give it the best start in life, so that it can reach across miles and years deep into the hearts of the people who need it.
Thank you Tim and Shawn for giving me the means to do that.
[0:55:56.6] JK: My name is Joanna Kuntz and I am a struggling writer trying to tell a story that works. Until I found the Story Grid Podcast, my journey as a writer was nothing but a series of false starts. I graduated college in 2005 and brought myself an old underwood typewriter on eBay, on which to write the great American novel.
It was a beautiful machine, but I had two major problems. First from years of neglect, the key stuck together and the paper wouldn’t advance. Second, I had no idea how to write a story. Solving the first problem was straightforward. I had never used a typewriter before and had no idea how it worked, but it was easy enough to tinker and figure it out. It was entirely mechanical. Each tiny part had a job and had been cleverly engineered to fit perfectly together to create a functioning whole. With no experience and no teacher, I managed to take the thing apart, clean up the innards and reassemble it in good working condition.
Learning to write a story was a different beast. I had a series of exuberant starts that quickly turned to be well driven. When I realized I didn’t know how to grow the seed of an idea into a full story, I would abandon it. Years passed, I carried my trusty underwood with me from one apartment to the next, always displaying it prominently on a shelf where I could see it every day.
I love the way it looked. Even more, I loved the potential it represented that one day before I died, I would write a novel. But that novel remained a vague romantic idea that I never committed to, because I lack the tools and deep down I probably believe that writing a book took inborn genius, and I was afraid I might not possess it.
In 2015, 10 years after buying the typewriter life took a turn. Two weeks before giving birth to my first child, my little brother died suddenly and unexpectedly. After many relatively uneventful years of life, I experienced a new depth of emotion as I faced death and new life so close together; intense love, joy and grief all at once.
I felt desperate to explore the human condition through writing fiction more than ever. But still, I didn’t know how. At the same time, losing my young brother exposed how unexpected life can be. If you have a dream, you better get to work on it right away because you never know how much time you have.
Enter the Story Grid Podcast. My mom turned me on to the podcast when it was brand new, so I was into you guys from the very beginning. It has shown me that you can learn to write a story, that you don’t need to be a natural-born storyteller or some kind of genius to do it. That if you know what to look for, you can pick apart stories and see their building blocks just as you can with a mechanical typewriter. The more I listened, the more I understand how to create my own stories.
Thank you so much Shawn for sharing what you know. Tim, thank you for putting yourself out there. Going through this learning process publicly takes an insane amount of courage. But watching you go from zero to hero over the past two years has given me hope that consistent hard work and practice will pay off for me too.
Yes, there is mystery and art involved in the process. But now I have faith that those things will come given enough work and directed study. The Story Grid Podcast has given me the tools and the confidence to get started. Unlike my past fizzled attempts, I’ve started writing regularly. It is still so hard, but not unmanageable. I feel like I know what I need to do now to improve.
Thank you so much. Please keep doing what you’re doing.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:59:23.5] TG: Thanks for listening to this 100th episode of the Story Grid Podcast. It’s hard for me to start to put into words what all of these has meant to me hearing everything that you guys have said about the podcast. I know that we have a lot of people that listen to this every week and I know you guys probably feel the same.
I thought I would end this episode just telling Shawn a little bit about what this has meant to me. You know Shawn, I remember when I reached out to you the first time just to get a little bit of advice on writing and you were willing to jump on the phone.
I had this big plan to just ask you a couple quick questions and get you off the phone in 15 or 20 minutes, and we never even got past the first question. You just started diving into the teaching on story and theory and all of the things around Story Grid. Then you so graciously agreed to do this podcast.
Now fast forward two years and such a better writer. But even, that’s an obvious thing of getting your teaching for two years, of course I’m going to become better. But I think the other thing that meant to so much to me is to get to be a part of this thing that’s touching so many people’s lives. Obviously, there is no way I could do this on my own. But yet, I get to reap so many of the benefits.
I was at a conference, a writer’s conference a few weeks ago and I’ve been working in the publishing industry for a decade now. Been writing and putting stuff out besides of Story Grid. But over and over, people came up to me, talking about what the Story Grid has meant to them and listening to the podcast and hearing us struggle through story.
Getting to do something that has meant so much to so many people has just been life-changing for me. I’m excited about all the stuff that we have planned around Story Grid over the next couple years and getting to continue to do this podcast with you and become a better writer and to do something that I feel like – I knew that people loved it, but just listening to all of the recordings just really hit home just how powerful this has been and just humbles me that I get to be a part of it.
So thank you Shawn for taking the risk with me two years ago and continuing to walk down this road with me and with the thousands and thousands of people that listen to this podcast. Thank you Shawn. It’s been a great 100 episodes. Just like everybody else, I look forward to the next 100.
So let’s do the final ending of this podcast. So as always, if you need anything Story Grid related, that’s storygrid.com. If you want to look up any of the past episodes or show notes, that can be found at storygrid.com/podcast. If you want to reach out to us, you can do that on Twitter @StoryGrid.
As always, if you would like to support the show, there is two ways to do that. The first is to tell a friend about the show and get them listening, the second is to go into the iTunes podcast and leaving a rating and review. That’s how more people find the podcast.
Thanks as always for listening and we will be back next week.