[0:00:00.1] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host, Tim Grahl and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He is the creator Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.
In this episode, Shawn and I continue to kind of help me get back into my novel and figure out how to get started rewriting this. I’m hitting an interesting roadblock where I just feel like finishing up my nonfiction work; Running Down a Dream, just kind of change the way I look at writing and I approach writing, and so I’m having trouble figuring out how to get started again on the novel.
Shawn gives me some homework that I think is a good place for each of us to start when we’re trying to figure out either our novel for the first time or to step back into it again. So I think you’ll enjoy this episode. So let’s jump in and get started.
[0:01:03.7] TG: So, Shawn, we talked last week about kind of the initial things as I start stepping back into my novel and trying to finish it, and I’ve have been thinking a lot about it this week of just how I really want to get this finished. I think it was really helpful, well, with you a couple of months ago, or like, “We’re going to publish this book in June,” when we’re talking about Running Down a Dream. I was like, “Oh, I should probably finish the book.” So I really would like to – My goal is to publish that, publish the threshing this year. Even if we don’t hit that, that’s kind of what I’m shooting for. I think we can do it.
So I feel like something changed in me when I kind of broke down on the podcast a couple of months ago and then was able to finish the book, Running Down a Dream. As I’ve started to like send it out to get blurbs and that kind of thing, the feedback has been good and I’m just realizing, I think I’m a different writer now. Even saying that sounds – I feel like both pretentious and cliché.
[0:02:15.1] SC: Like a lightning bolt is going to hit you. Yeah.
[0:02:17.4] TG: Yeah, like something – Because Candice is always like joking with me about how insufferable writers are, and I feel like that’s one of those insufferable writer statements. But now as I like look at the threshing again, I’m like I want to bring this new kind of depth that I feel like my writing has to the novel. But I’m sitting, I went back and like was scanning through what I have and where I stopped a few months ago was that – Or I’m on the second draft, so I did a whole first draft and then we went through and like spreadsheeted it and looked at it through the hero’s journey and all this kind of stuff we did, I think, it was last summer on the podcast.
Then now I’ve been working on the second draft and I’m literally like right in the middle, like the last scene I wrote was the middle point of the middle build. And so I’m kind of stuck with like I feel like this novels a little – It’s like this thing I forgot about that that I’m now trying to remember, even though it’s only been a few months. But at the same time, like should I just jump in and – I’ve finished – The last scene I wrote was scene 31. Should I just like buckle down and do scene 32?
We talked a little bit about last week of like this taking this big kind of big picture view, but now I’m like should I go back and like re-fool’s cap it or should I – I don’t know. I’m just kind of wondering what’s the next thing that I write part of this. Again, should I just jump into scene 32 or should I step back? I’m a little lost with where to actually jump in on this.
[0:04:07.8] SC: Well, it’s a very good question and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot too for – I don’t know, the past three or so months. The reason why it’s a really good question is that it’s all most inevitable that writers and storytellers, often times the world interrupts their creative process, and it’s not that the evil resistance rises and they’re lazy and they’re not butting their butt in the chair and all that stuff. It’s sort of, when you’re a professional, you understand that often times you have to leave your project for a while and you can torment yourself about that until you’re blue in the face or you can say to yourself, “This is just reality,” and that’s what happened to you.
We’ve been talking about Running Down a Dream, that book, for almost as long as this novel, and the great thing is that Steve Pressfield is a guy who produces all the time, and Steve sent me a new book that he wrote that was fantastic, and in my estimation as the editor and publisher of both of you guys. I said, “Wow! This is a really cool opportunity.” Steve is looking at the professional’s life and the artist’s journey from project to project and establishing what he calls the body of work, and you were looking at the amateur transitioning from amateur to sort of professional.
So it was two looks at sort of the heroic journey of the creative person from two different perspectives. One from somebody who has produced incredible works and just keeps doing it over and over again, and someone who’s at the beginning of their career who’s transitioned into actually even identifying that you had the ambition to write in first place, and then you wrote your first book and that kind of what you detailed in your book too.
I don’t mean this to be a sales pitch for both your book and Steve’s, but what that said –
[0:06:26.4] TG: No, I don’t mind [inaudible 0:06:27.5].
[0:06:27.9] SC: I know. No, but I’m just trying to explain how an editor and publisher thinks, right? So when Steve deliver that to me I said, “Tim’s going to finish his book, because if I can publish both of these books on the same day, they can help each other.” People who read Steve’s book, there is going to be some of them who say, “This is really, really cool, but boy, I am so not there yet that I really can’t even apply a lot of these concepts practically to my life.”
Okay. Those people, they can read your book and go, “Okay. Now I get it. You have to sort of thrash around, like this guy Grahl did,” and eventually you can transition into the life of someone like Steve who really sees project by project evolution of an artist, and then those people who read your book would be like, “Yeah, this is really kind of fun and interesting, but I’ve got some stuff already done and I don’t really know why I’m picking the projects I’m picking.” They can read Steve’s book and get something out of that in a deeper way than from just reading yours.
So together, they’re really a wonderful – I like to say it’s the right side of the brain, which is Steve and the big picture abstractions of the creative journey and the creative life, and then your book is the left side of the brain, the practicalities of paying your bills while you are struggling to find out even what it is that you want to do. So it’s a right brain, left brain package that was irresistible to me.
So I said, “You got put the novel on the back burner and you got to finish this book,” and over the past couple of months you’ve really cranked down and you’ve finished it and I think it’s really terrific. So we’re going to have that available in July and we’re working through all the copyediting and proofreading and all that stuff now too. So that’s great.
Now, meanwhile, the threshing has been sitting in a drawer, in a metaphorical drawer, for three months, and I think you are correct when you say you’re a different kind of writer, because the cracking moment, it’s almost like when I had my knee replaced, there’s a moment in the rehabilitation that my physical therapist who is this really sweet woman who was also a killer. She was really nice to me, but she would not let me get away with anything.
She had this phrase that she would use called cracking the knee and it’s when – Yeah. It’s like when all the scar tissue from – I had four knee surgeries before I finally had it replaced. So it was loaded with all these scar tissue and goop and she said, “Oh! Today is very exciting,” and I go, “Why is that?” She goes, today we’re going to crack your knee,” and I didn’t like the sound of that for good reason, because essentially what she did is she got me my range of motion back, but it required her to literally bend my knee into a place that groundout all the bad scar tissue. We don’t like to crack our knees. We don’t like to really go to the depths of what is really painful. For good reason, who wants to re-experience pain?
So the process that unearthed Running Down a Dream, the book that you wrote is completely different from the book that you were supposed to finish, and that’s because you cracked your psychic knee in that podcast which was really kind of cool that you had that emotional experience and we taped it and people could hear it.
[0:10:21.9] TG: Yes. That is – Cool is a word for it.
[0:10:25.8] SC: No. I mean, that’s what you have to do and have the courage to do that. Yeah, so you were absolutely a different writer now because you had to literally slay that dragon before you’re going to be able to bring any gold back, and the gold that you brought back is Running Down a Dream, which I think is a really – It’s a really wonderful book about the struggles, the everyday practical struggles of someone who has a dream, a creative dream to bring something that they’re not even sure that they know what they want, but they know it’s out there and just moving forward.
Okay. So because you cracked your knee, your psychic knee, now to look at your book now – The short answer to your question is, “What do you do now? Should you go back and start working on scene 32 after –” No. No, because – And I really believe this after all the work and research I’ve been doing over the past months. I really believe that the most important story skill is the macro skill, and the macro skill is understanding what the beginning, the middle and the and. This happens, then this happens, then this happens, then this happens and then it pays off.
So the macro skill is also the realm of the archetype, the archetypical stories from thousands of years that have been retold, the heroic journeys, Homer and all of that stuff are distillations of thousands and thousands of little stories that just didn’t have the full thing. So all these little stories were told over and over again, and the best one sort of rose to the top, and the best of the best rose – I mean, when I say the best, I meant the most truthful, the most truthful stories that help people survive a very difficult existence.
Homer and The Iliad, and the Greeks, and the Bible, and the Mesopotamian stories, and Gilgamesh and all of these deep, dark, older stories that are still around to this day. There’s a reason why they’re here. It’s because they are the distillation of human truths over time. They’re stories though, so they’re metaphorical and they serve archetypes.
So the macro, in order for your story to survive for more than one person, what you need to do is to really get a global sense of the archetypical global human story, and thank God we had people like Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell, and Jean Piaget and all these people who really looked at this stuff for a long time.
So that’s the big macro thing. I think I’ve been touching on this for the past couple of weeks about chaos, order, and the individual, which we can get into a little bit more later. But in practical terms, the way to sort of get back into a project that you did not abandon, you just had another thing you had to do, is to start with your macro.
One of the things I’m really excited about doing this summer is going through these 15 big picture macro scenes that must be in a long form story, everything from the novella, maybe a longer short story, up to crime and punishment. They have these 15 scenes. I’m not making that up. They have to be there, and when I go through them – So anyway, what I think we should do with the threshing is to go through your 15 scenes, must have scenes again, and think through them on a macro level. It’s going to be a little bit frightening and intimidating to you because we will inevitably find flaws in what we’ve been working on, right? Because what we’re doing is we got a brand-new microscope, or a brand-new telescope, and it’s great, but what it does is it’s going show us things that we didn’t see before, and this is what the storytelling craft is all about. It’s about finding new tools, new telescopes, new microscopes and finding a whole sort of series of them so that you can look at your story through different prisms and different ways to make sure that all of the jigsaw puzzle pieces are fitting together in the best possible way.
When I say the best possible way, I mean we’re ere not shooting for the New York Times bestseller list. That would be great. We’re not shooting for banging out as many books as we can in a shorter period of time so that we can get the algorithms going at Amazon and sell more product and move on and just churn and churn and churn. What we’re looking to do is to create a story that ideally will last longer than either of us physically on the planet, and that’s a really, really high bar. It really is. It’s a crazy high bar, but why not put it there? Why not shoot for that? If we miss, maybe it’s around five years. Five years is pretty great, but let’s shoot for immortality and our failures will – It’ll be okay.
All right. What I think we should do is let me just go – Why don’t – First of all, does that make sense to you?
[0:16:31.9] TG: Yes. I mean, I feel like – Well, you said the macro is important or is the most important thing, but we’ve also talked about before how like being able to write a scene. I would guess you would say being able to write a scene is kind of the first real skill you need where when it comes to understanding story, understanding the macro is the most important thing. Is that what you – Because we’ve talked before about like how being able to write a scene is the first thing every writer should try to do. Being out of write a working scene, but then trying to line up 60 scenes into a book is it a whole different kind of understanding and project in writing a working scene.
Yeah, so the idea here is we take these 15 scenes that need to be in a working novel and we’re kind of looking at the book through that lens. Now, does that mean I write these 15 scenes first and then fill in in between, or is this just identifying what they are and what needs to happen in each of those?
[0:17:41.9] SC: Yes, the second one. It’s looking at what you’ve already created, identifying – Because we already did this. We just need to review it again to familiarize ourselves with the story itself and also to check that it’s progressing in the archetypical fashion that the genre kind of tells us it should be doing. I don’t want to get in too much to the genre stuff yet because – Like, if I had a ladder and I had rungs going up the ladder. There would be a different sort of tool on each one of those steps. So I’m not even – Somebody – I should probably do this sooner rather than later. I would be able to tell you, “Let’s say there are 8 tools, or 9 tools or, 10 tools. Each one of those tools will be a way of looking at the story and checking whether or not it is abiding by the traditional structural conditions of that particular tool.”
So at the very bottom, the very lowest microbe resolution would be in my estimation, when we’re talking about story, is the beat, right? So you could look at beat by beat by beat by beat by beat, and instead of 60 scenes, you would look at probably 180 to 200 beats. Now, that for me is a tool to save for later, and in fact when I was running the Story Grid, I hit a moment where I was literally going beat by beat through the Silence of the Lambs and I said to myself, “No. No. No. No. You got to stop. You’re getting way, way too microscopic here.” It would’ve taken me another three years to finish the book and I realized, “No. I just have to go with my macro and my micro tools, the fool’s cap global story grid, and the story grid spreadsheet, and you bring those two things together and –” Basically, just to go back to my right brain, left great brain analogy, the macro is your right brain, and the spreadsheet is the left side of your brain.
I’m a very big believer that until we integrate both sides of our brain and we’re capable of allowing the right side to inspire us with global grand visions, well, we let the left side practically bring those visions to reality until we’re capable of saying there are two sides of our brain. There are two sort of ways to work and it’s going back and forth between those two things that allows us to create things that will last longer than we can.
So if I take the scientific approach to storytelling, then all I would tell people to do is to spreadsheet themselves to death, and I would say, “You have to trust the math. You have to trust the math. If you do it this way with your spreadsheet and you have 15,000 columns on your spreadsheet and you check each one off, then you will have a workable book.” Well, that’s not true. That’s not true at all.
Now if I were on the other side of the equation I would say, “You cannot learn story structure. There is no such thing as story structure. All of these people who say that there is are charlatans, who are lying to you to take your money, and all of that science is baloney. We are inspired by the muse who delivers us wonderful stories that come out of our unconscious and it is our job to intuit what the muse and saying and to put the brilliance of the muse on to the page. So don’t believe anybody who tells you differently. The muse is everything, and there’s no science to writing. There is no computer will ever be able to write a novel, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.”
So they’re right too, but they’re also wrong, because there is archetypical story structure. There are – A hundred years of psychology prove that there is – And humanities prove that there are archetypical truths told through story. That’s why the Bible is still around. That’s why the Koran is still around, because these are subjective truths told through fiction and metaphor that are – They stand the test of time.
There’s a reason why we know Grimm’s fairytales, because they’re dealing with archetypical truth of human existence. So you need – In my estimation through all of my 30 years, 20 – However long you been doing this, I’ve been fascinated by this idea. We need to bring the right side of our brains and the left side of our brains together. So we allow our wonderful visions and fascinating ideas, the muse, we allow that and we encourage that part of ourselves and we ask ourselves crazy questions, like, “What if this happened?” and then we let that part of our brain spitball all kinds of really cool ideas to us.
Then the left side of our brain listens to that right side of our brain and then it says, “Well, I wonder how I could do that practically. How could I tell that story? What would that mean? Well, I would need to have some structure to this story. I need to limit myself on what I need to say. What are those limits?”
So the 15 scenes that we’re going to talk about are, in my estimation, a great way of getting – Bringing down very, very large idea that came to us on the right side of our brain and bringing it down into a space that we can start – It’s like getting that big chunk of marble that we can start chipping away at and creating some kind of sculpture.
So when we get stuck and we’ve got this half formed thing made of out of clay, what we need to do is step away from the clay and sort of get our materials back. The way to do that is to use this tool, which would be probably on the eighth step of the ladder. There’re probably two or three more tools above it, believe it or not, that we’ll talk about as we’re talking about this eighth step. But we got to start somewhere, right? And if you’re going to start somewhere, start with the macro, because the macro is where immortality it. Things that come to us from the right side of our brain are deep, deep, deep truths that we are constantly trying to make sense of. So let’s start there and see if what we’re trying to do conforms to a deeper archetypical Jungian story and how we can manipulate the scenes to make sure that it is moving in the direction that will seem truthful to readers and exciting to them. These 15 scenes are broken into three sections, right? Are you still there, Tim, or am I boring you to tears?
[0:25:53.0] TG: Yeah. I’m here. Yeah.
[0:25:55.2] SC: Okay. Oftentimes I hear like the radio silence and I think, “I’ve finally gone mad and finally siting in a room talking to myself.”
[0:26:06.0] TG: You’re not even doing a podcast. You’re just talking to yourself. You think you’re talking to somebody.
[0:26:10.5] SC: Yeah. That revelation will really put me into the loony bin. Okay. So there are three things in a story, right? It’s a trilogy. We got the beginning. We’ve got the middle and we’ve got the end, right? So within those three sections, were going to have five scenes in each of those sections to make us 15 scenes, and you’re not going to be surprised when I describe each of these five scenes.
So let’s start with the beginning hook. The beginning of hook, the very first scene in the beginning hook that has to be there is the global inciting incident scene. So this is the inciting incident that starts the entire story. So that seeing obviously is critical. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. Okay. So that’s number one.
The second scene that’s really, really important and has to be there is what I call – And this is a long one, the beginning hook turning point progressive complication scene. Now, it’s the beginning hook turning point progressive complication scene. Now, there’s a reason why I have all those words in there and it’s because I can walk through them now. You know what? I’m not going to walk-through them now. I’m just going to give you all 15 of the scenes, and then we can walk back when we go through them for your book later. All right. So that’s the second scene. I’ll repeat it again, the beginning hook turning point progressive complication scene.
Now, the third seeing is the crisis of the beginning hook scene. It’s a scene that has the crisis of the beginning hook. The fourth scene is the climax of the beginning hook scene. So this is the result, the decision, the answer to the crisis question in the climax, and it’s a scene. The fifth scene is the resolution of the beginning hook scene. So that is the scene that resolves the beginning hook and is usually a way of transitioning into the next scene, which is the inciting incident of the middle build scene. This is the moment when the beginning hook transitions into the middle build with something innovative and unexpected or it’s usually the moment when the ordinary world is left by the hero, and then they transition and go into the magical world or the extraordinary work. Okay. So that’s the six scene, the inciting incident of the middle build.
The seventh scene is another long one, okay? This is the turning point progressive complication of the middle build scene, okay? And then the eighth scene is the crisis of the middle build. The ninth is the climax of the middle build. The 10th is the resolution of the middle build. And the ending payoff begins with the inciting incident of the ending payoff scene, and then there’s the turning point progressive complication of the ending payoff, and it’s also turning point progressive complication of the global story too, right? Because the payoff is the payoff of the global story. Everything that you’ve been building from the beginning hook through the middle build pays off in the ending.
[0:30:01.6] TG: All right. So not just the name, but you’re saying it’s the turning point progressive complication, not just of the ending payoff, but of the entire book.
[0:30:11.2] SC: That’s right. That’s right. It’s sort of the – I won’t get into that yet. It’s difficult not to move between the steps of the latter.
[0:30:21.2] TG: Like to try to race up to the top you mean?
[0:30:24.1] SC: Well, no. It’s like you can confuse people by moving – Like if I say, “This scene, if you look at it with another tool, is this.” That can confuse you unnecessarily. So it’s a great idea and it’s difficult to do, is to don’t keep switching back between tools when you’re going through a work. Stick to your tool, and when you want – I mean, this is different because I’m explaining a process by which I am working out at the same time. So my mind tends to constantly be churning connections. So revelations come to me as I’m talking, and like my muse will say, “Oh! What you just described is also the – When the hero releases their gift to the world,” and I want to tell everybody that, but I shouldn’t, because we’re not looking at this from the hero’s journey point of view right now. We’re looking at this in terms of really, really macro universal, archetypical telescope, because every single story has these 15 things in it and some don’t. Some are not fully all about the heroes journey, but they still have this ending payoff turning point progressive complication scene. Does that make sense?
[0:31:57.4] TG: Right. Yeah. That makes sense.
[0:31:58.9] SC: So I’m trying to move, like I think there’s a very big telescope, and I’ve been talking about that the past couple of weeks, and that’s at the very top of the ladder, and that big telescope is about order, chaos and the individual, the Trinity. We’ll look at your story from that very large telescope soon, but when you do look at it from the very large telescope, people can get very confused and they start worrying about whether or not all of the forces that are in – Those three forces are perfect and you can’t tell that until you start sort of going down the ladder of tools and then – Suffice to say that it’s my belief, after a lot of hard work, is that these 15 scenes are the way, the best way to check your macro. Then after you kind of have these sorted, then you can tweak them. You tweak them with the other tools as supposed to use those as the guiding principle above all others.
These 15 scenes are critical to really, really nail, and when you really nailed them and you’ve put together a brilliant sort of trajectory of story from scene to scene in these 15 descriptions, the other scenes almost become quite easy to figure out. It’s like the moment when you understood, “Oh my gosh! I have to use my personal story to give power to these tools that I want people to have in Running Down a Dream. So that’s what I think these 15 things are.
All right. The last couple are the crisis of the ending payoff, and the crisis of the ending payoff is also the crisis of the global story, right? Because it all comes down to the ending payoff. So the beginning of this story is the introduction of the things that are at stake here and the ending is what is happening to those things by the end, and then we have the climax of the ending payoff global story, and then we have the global resolution scene and also the ending payoff resolution scene. They’re the same thing. So does that make sense?
[0:34:34.8] TG: Yeah. I’m just finishing writing them down.
[0:34:39.9] SC: Okay.
[0:34:40.7] TG: So would I start by a going through my first half of my second draft that I have and trying to identify which of these are in there and figure that kind of stuff out?
[0:34:57.7] SC: That’s a really good question. How do you figure out these 15 scenes? It’s all very nice and well that every story has to have these things. But how do you construct it? Where is the foundation? Where’s the second floor? All that stuff. Here’s through a lot –
[0:35:17.9] TG: Yeah. Because it’s like you can buy me this awesome new tool at the hardware store and give it to me, and I’m like, “This looks awesome. I have no idea how to use this in a he practical kind of way.”
[0:35:32.3] SC: That’s right. So let me tell you how I use this tool it. I think it’s going to be useful to know this.
[0:35:39.2] TG: Okay.
[0:35:40.2] SC: The first thing I say to myself is, “What are stories about?” Change, right? They’re either cautionary or prescriptive tales for the reader. So what I want to do is look at the beginning and the end first. So the first thing I want to identify is the global inciting incident scene. The very first scene I want to figure out is what is the global inciting incident scene, and in your case it’s when Jesse gets caught, right?
[0:36:14.7] TG: Right.
[0:36:15.4] SC: Okay. So I would write down, “Jesse gets caught stealing credits,” or something. That’s your global inciting incident scene. Now, the next question you want to ask is; what is the global resolution scene?
[0:36:31.9] TG: You mean, at the very end?
[0:36:33.5] SC: At the very. It starts where and it ends where? So if she gets caught, it’s an interesting way of looking at it, right?
[0:36:44.4] TG: Yeah.
[0:36:45.1] SC: What you’re basically saying is, “If I’m driving from New York to Los Angeles, where do I start? I start on Central Park West and I’m going to end on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.” So now I know, right? I’m moving from Central Park West. I don’t say New York, right? Where in New York? Where? Oh! Well, Central Park West. Were on Central Park West? I don’t know. 283 Central Park West. Okay, great. So is that where the car is?
I mean, these are very practical things, right? If you drive across the country from New York to Los Angeles, you need to know these things. If you’re a storyteller, you need to know these things. I’m starting here and I’m ending here. What’s the address of where you’re ending? Oh! Well, the address of where I’m ending is Jesse – The resolution of this book is Jesse is now – What? She’s home?
[0:37:51.3] TG: Well. So the way that we resolve the first one, the first draft, which I still really like, is yeah, she goes back to New York. But now everything’s in chaos, because she shut down the grid and she’s in charge.
[0:38:07.3] SC: Okay. So where is she specifically at the end of the story? Is she specifically at her mother and father’s apartment? Is she in Times Square?
[0:38:18.5] TG: No. I was going to put her in Times Square because that’s where she was –
[0:38:24.9] SC: Shamed.
[0:38:25.2] TG: Shamed. Yeah.
[0:38:27.2] SC: Okay. Cool. Jesse is in Times Square and everyone is asking her what she’s going to do about it. Something like that. She answers, “I don’t know.” Something like that.
[0:38:42.6] TG: Yeah, that’s the end of the book, is basically, “What are we going to do now?” and she says, “I don’t know,” because that will kick in –
[0:38:48.6] SC: I don’t know. That’s a great ending. What? You wanted me to – Sort of like, “You wanted me to end this tyranny, and I did. What do you want me to do about it?” She’s returned with a gift, and the gifts is “freedom”. So that’s the ending of the book. That’s a pretty cool ending. It’s a pretty cool beginning. Those are seen number one and see number 15. Then what you want to do is walk back from – I think you want to walk back from the ending payoff. So the next scene you want to figure out is what’s seen number 14? What’s the climax of the ending payoff global story? What’s the climax of this novel.
[0:39:38.5] TG: The climax is the answer to the crisis. So the climax would be when she doesn’t just win the –
[0:39:47.6] SC: The grid is destroyed.
[0:39:49.4] TG: Yeah. She doesn’t just win the threshing. She destroys the grid.
[0:39:53.7] SC: So the climax scene is when Jesse destroys the grid.
[0:39:58.0] TG: It’s when she has to choose between her family and shutting down the grid.
[0:40:05.9] SC: Great. Okay. Now, what’s the crisis of the ending payoff global story? Well, it’s not as easy as saying something like, does she choose her left arm or her right arm to cut off, right? Because that’s really, really – We get it. When you say her family are shutting down the grid, it’s not very specific. If someone said to you, “Tim, you’ve got –” let’s see, “50 words to tell me your global story. You get 50 words.” Then you’d want those words to be extremely specific to the best of your ability. If they’re a little vague, you want to keep sort of mining down to as specific as you as you want as you possibly can be.
So the crisis, when Jesse’s inside the grid, is the crisis will be, “Do I pull the plug and shut down something that I don’t even really understand?” That sounds like a pretty radical decision. It would be like me turning off my heat on my water. Which would I turn off first? I don’t know how to turn the heat back on. So if she takes out the grid, what’s the – The other thing has to be even more horrible, or if she doesn’t take out the grid, what? Her brother gets killed? Her family is murdered? Her arm is cut off? What? What is the alternative to her not shutting down the grid?
[0:41:53.0] TG: I don’t know. I mean, I feel like I need to go off and think about this.
[0:41:57.1] SC: Okay. Yeah, I’m not I’m not asking you to give me the perfect decision right now, but that’s the question you want to answer. One of the things when I wrote the Story Grid is, we just need to find out what the problems are. Once we know what the problems are, then we can really hyper focus on that problem. So the problem is we need a really amazing crisis as the ending payoff for our ending payoff. The crisis has to be, “Oh my gosh! What is she going to do? This is an impossible situation.”
[0:42:41.6] TG: So, I mean, should I just like to take these – I mean, should this be my homework this week where I just take these 15 things and try to fill them out and then we can look at them next week?
[0:42:56.4] SC: Yeah. Then once you’ve filled them out, send them to me and I’ll look at them before the show starts, and then what we can do is use another tool to analyze them thematically to make sure that they fall within that trilogy, that trinity of archetypical story that I’ve been really deep diving into, which is order, chaos and the individual and how they negotiate that. So I think that’s a good idea, and refer to your manuscript. Tell me what’s in the manuscript now and then also think about how you might elevate it, right? How you might level it up in your next draft.
[0:43:47.4] TG: Okay. Then try to be as specific as possible.
[0:43:51.2] SC: Yes, and as few words as possible, and that’s very difficult to do, right? You want to be massively specific with the fewest amount of words. Probably, there are biblical stories that are less than 10 sentences that people had been chewing over for thousands of years. So you think about a biblical story, like Cain and Abel. That’s like – I think it’s maybe 10 sentences. Not even sentences. That story is so rich and deep that people have been thinking about what it means for quite a long time. So the trick is, “Wow! Imagine being able to distill a very complex story into the fewest, most specific words possible,” and that’s a really amazing thing about the Bible and many, many other sacred texts around the globe. I’m not discounting the Koran or anything else like that, and my familiarity with the Bible is not as great as it should be, but I’m just using that as an example, because I was raised in the Christian church.
Anyway. So if you can think about, “If I had to tell the story of Cain and Abel, could I have written it in 10 sentences?” Like, “Holy cow! That’s amazing. Cain and Abel in 10 sentences?” I mean, John Steinbeck wrote East of Eden, a very long book. Guess what it is? It’s the Cain and Abel story. He said, “I want to really peck at that little story and figure out what that really means,” and he wrote a novel of 200,000 words based upon those 10 sentences.
When people say, “There is no structure or meaning to the universe and it’s all just random.” I completely disagree, because if somebody can extract a lot of really incredible story out of 10 sentences – Steinbeck wasn’t the only one who does this. I mean, Shakespeare, people write novels and novellas based upon the primal stories within Shakespeare too. King Lear became Jane – I forgot her last. A fantastic writer, I forgot the title of her book too.
Anyway, my only point is that terrific writers get inspired by these deep, archetypical, abstract stories and are able to use those as inspirations for their own creative work that are unique universes of story too that support the underlying truths from time, and that’s what storytelling is really about. It’s really about the reaffirming the deep subjective truths of time in an entertaining, and creative, and innovative way by using both sides of your brain.
[0:47:18.3] TG: No, that’s good. I mean, that’s what I’m trying to do here. So, okay. So I’m going to take – My homework is a take these 15 scenes, write a short specific outline of these 15 scenes in my book, and then I’ll send them to you and we’ll analyze them on next week’s episode.
[0:47:43.7] SC: Yes. The only other thing that I’ll point out just as an aside here, is that I’ll be doing every single one of the scenes in really super high resolution detail in the summer coursework that we’ve set up at Story Grid. So if this is of interest to anyone, I’ll be doing probably about an hour lecture on each one of these scenes individually and using three masterworks to illustrate everything that I’m talking about, so The Martian, Bridget Jones Diary and Fight Club. So I’m really excited about this new tool. It’s not a new tool. It’s exactly what’s on the fool’s cap global story grid, but it’s even – I’ve discovered it’s even more important than I originally thought.
[0:48:38.8] TG: No. Yeah, that’s can be great. Awesome. Okay. Well, I’ll get to work and we’ll go from there.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:48:46.0] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Story Grid podcast. For everything Story Grid related, check out storygrid.com. Also, if you want to join in on our summer semester of Level Up Your Craft that Shawn and I have talked about over the last couple of weeks, you have a little bit more time to jump in on that. So I recommend you do it now. You can see more about that at storygrid.com/summer. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m excited to learn from Shawn, even though I get to talk to him every week. I’ve already seen the first lesson and it’s just really good, and I think everybody, all of you listening, if this is your jam, if this is what you like to do, I highly recommend that you check it out. So, again, that storygrid.com/summer.
If you’d like to check out the show notes for this episode or any past episodes, all of that can be found at storygrid.com/podcast. If you like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @StoryGrid. Lastly, if you’d like to support the show, you can do that by telling another author about the show and by visiting us on Apple Podcast and leaving a reading and review.
Thanks for subscribing and being a part of our work here at Story Grid. We will see you next week.