[00:00:00] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid podcast. This is a show dedicated to helping you level-up your craft as a writer. My name is Tim Grahl, and I’m a writer at Story Grid along with running all of the operations around here. Starting with this episode, we are changing up the format. Story Grid’s certified editor, Kimberly Kessler will be hosting alongside Story Grid founder, Shawn Coyne, an editor with over 30 years of experience.
In this episode they are discussing how the Story Grid trinity applies to global internal genres. Before we jump in, I want to mention two things you might be interested in. First, if you haven’t seen the Story Grid Masterwork Guide to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, I highly recommend you take a look. Story Grid certified editor, Abigail K. Perry, shows us that Miranda’s skills as a storyteller are equal to his gifts as a composer. We see how he brilliantly weaves together story genres including a complex love story, a bloody war story, a performance story, and a society story about a world turned upside down all within the overarching status tale of a hero’s tragic rise and fall. You can get 20% off of the masterwork guide to Hamilton and all of our books at storygrid.com/books and use the coupon code podcast.
Lastly, the next Story Grid Certified Editor Training is coming up this February. There are big benefits to being a part of this elite group of story nerds. You can see all of the details at storygrid.com/certification.
Okay, that’s all on the announcements. So let me turn it over to Kim and Shawn.
[00:01:39] KK: Okay. Hi, Shawn. It’s so great to be here with you. And I’m just super excited to have this opportunity to pick your brain publicly in front of everyone. So I’m just super excited to be here. And I want to start very selfishly to talk about global internal genres, because that is my jam. So I want to talk about these stories, global internal genres, and I want to talk about them in the context of the stuff that we learned at the Trinity Conference. And I just have some clarifying angles that I want to get to the bottom of to figure out like how we’re applying these trinity concepts to the different genres. And if they look different or how they look different, I have some questions for you. So I guess just in general, how would you approach? How do you approach a global internal genre when it comes to the trinity principles?
[00:02:35] SC: The way I look at it is when I’m considering an internal genre, I actually focus on what is it coupled with externally. The external genre is really about sort of stimulus and input that is coming through the perceptual planes of your protagonist’s avatar.
When you’re thinking about internal genres, what you’re talking about is the way in which the avatar protagonist is processing information. So internal genres are about the frame breaking of that process, such that they become either more attuned to what’s really real or less attuned to what’s really real. When you open up your cognitive worldview frame, it’s very destabilizing too, right?
[00:03:32] KK: Yes, it is.
[00:03:34] SC: So the internal genres are really about how to do that. I always like to think about storytelling, like, “What’s the point?” Well, the point is to get a signal from the artist to the audience. And what’s in between the signal from the artist’s mind to the audience’s mind is all that other stuff that we call story, right? So we invent these avatars who play on a stage of our own invention. And that’s what the audience is actually objectively evaluating. So when you have an internal genre, it’s tricky, right? Because the thing about internality and information processing is that I will never know what’s going through your mind.
What we have to do is externalize the processes that the avatar goes through as their frame breaks. And that means knowing how people respond to stimulus and how it’s sort of out of whack. So if you’re talking about a worldview sort of transformational story, a worldview, let’s say it’s a disillusionment plot, right? So disillusionment means you’re breaking the illusion of the frame. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a negative ending. It just means that you have a more optimal, more real grip on what’s truly going on.
[00:05:03] KK: I like that distinction. Like I think we tend to think about disillusionment as cautionary and negative. But if you were believing a lie before and now you’re not, that’s still good news, right?
[00:05:14] SC: Yes. That’s a really good point, is to frame story as the means by which we learn how to navigate the world understanding that we will never get rid of the valences of pain and pleasure. It’s not about sort of eliminating affect, but it’s about getting an optimal grip on the affect feeling things, but not craving fully going nuts for one particular kind of feeling at the expense of a full spectrum of affective value. I know I’m speaking pretty abstractly. I think your original question was how do you frame internal stories within the trinity idea? Is that correct?
[00:06:03] KK: Yeah, the idea of like how are we applying trinity to global internal storytelling. And I mean, in a way, it’s probably how do we apply all of the tools. But I think, really, I’m thinking about that internal genres, like what you’re saying, it’s like they’re almost like weighted to be above the surface, because that’s like the story of what it’s about. It’s about how the characters are making sense of the world around them. And so that part feels so essential, but it’s like you can’t negate obviously like beyond the surface, and the beyond the surface just like you can’t negate. You can’t just have on the surface and not have above or beyond, right? So it’s interesting to me the weighting of those things and kind of how to come at those and how they are the same or different from like a global external genre.
[00:06:50] SC: Here’s where the rubber meets the road, is that when you’re dealing with an internal genre combining it with something – Like if you want the emphasis for the audience to take away at the end of the story, “Oh! I see. I need to sort of break my axiomatic world view in order to level-up my ability to deal with reality.”
[00:07:11] KK: That’s what I’d say at the end of this.
[00:07:12] SC: No. But it’s kind of like you have that cathartic moment like, “Oh, I see.” It’s not a catharsis of, “Oh! Thank God they survived,” right?
[00:07:22] KK: Right. Right. Right. It’s not really even about the character. It’s more about you. Like, “Oh, I take this away from me. That’s what I need.” Yeah.
[00:07:29] SC: Yeah. An internal genre is actually what happens at the end of the story is ideally the audience internalizes what the transformation process was for the avatar. And they recognized the reality of the necessity of going to the bottom of one’s self and feeling the negative feelings of that that kind of you experience in the third quadrant of all stories at a level that enables them to roll with the punches a little easier. So that when bad things do happen to them, and they happen to everyone, that they can sort of like temper that bad feeling and go, “Oh, well, sometimes you experience these dips in your affect and it’s because you’re in the process of transforming,” and that in fact is necessary for transformation.
So if you don’t have any on the surface stimulus response active interplay between external inputs into the actual being, then it becomes very heady. And then the audience is just sort of like, “I don’t really care what’s going on in the internal mind of this character. I really want something to happen.”
And so the way you can show how the character is going through this transformational process is the gap between what they’re actually responding to and what is objectively coming at them.
So I used kind of this idea in the conference where like, say, somebody comes over and says, “Oh, Shawn, I brought you a glass of water.” If I go, “I don’t want any water!” and I slap the water out of their hand, you would naturally say, any observer would say, “Wow! That’s certainly a strange response for somebody offering a glass of water. What’s going on in the internal process of that person to be able to do that? That’s intriguing.”
And so there are any number of different maladaptive responses to objective stimuli. And so that’s where the intrigue comes along in establishing how the audience is responding to the avatar’s real actions. So if the avatar is never given any stimulus, you don’t have any external genre driving the story, then we can’t really see. We can’t evaluate what’s going on in their minds because they’re not responding. And then what you end up doing is doing a lot of stream of consciousness like she thought well. And then it becomes very telenovela kind of thing, where it’s narrative telenovela where people are just going, “And then she thought, “Wasn’t that nasty of her to say that to him in such a way?” And then it becomes very like, “I’m just reporting the thought processes of the avatars and I’m not actually showing the active responses of the avatars.”
[00:10:35] KK: Well, and it’s interesting to think that, because nobody wants to change, right? We resist change so much. So like our characters, they’re not going to go through the terrible experience that is transformation without a lot of external stimuli. Like you have to be pushed to that place to actually break down and change. And so it makes sense that you – I mean, your character wouldn’t even believably change without those things, right? It can’t entirely be an[inaudible 00:11:04].
[00:11:04] SC: It’s absolutely right. We need to be pushed out of our safety spaces. So that’s sort of the meta myth of Heroic Journey 2.0 is the movement from sort of like the homeostasis at the beginning of the story where the avatar sort of feels like they’ve got this thing knocked and everything’s cool. And then some chaos drops into their lives such that they have to leave that place of comfort, because if they don’t, they’re going to experience even worse symptoms than – They need to leave home in order to prevent something worse happening, because we all have the loss aversion.
So generally, on the surface is really about the active movement of stimulus going into the avatars. Above the surface is the internal processing system of that stimulus within the avatar. And beyond the surface is the gap between what happens from the response to the stimulus. So I know that’s pretty abstract, but –
[00:12:11] KK: It’s like how we then interpret what it means.
[00:12:13] SC: Yes. The meaning is the gap, right? So we say, “Wow! Shawn is really overreacting to that offer of water. I wonder what’s going on with him.”
[00:12:24] KK: He’s going all black Irish on that water.
[00:12:26] SC: And so then that would be an interesting sort of setup. And then later on in the story there could be the payoff where, “Well, Shawn was born in Aqua Land and water –” I don’t know. But that revelation answers the prior response.
[00:12:46] KK: Right. Right. And then we go, “Yeah, that makes sense,” and we can draw our own conclusion, like, “I was born in poverty. Therefore, whenever somebody tries to give me hand-me-downs, I feel insulted,” whatever. You can take it to whatever you’re like –
[00:12:57] SC: Right. They think I’m not worthy of real clothes. Yeah.
[00:13:01] KK: Right. Right. Right. And we apply it, like there’s this – I think it’s from – I can’t even think of the book now. It’s the book about miracles. Anyway, I’ll find the title, but the quote is, “We bring everything all the meaning that it has,” right? So like whatever is meaningful to you it’s like it’s because you brought that meaning. Anyway, it makes sense that our characters are doing that and that that’s how – And the reason our characters do that is because that’s how humans do that. And we’re telling stories for ourselves so we can make sense of things. So that makes sense.
[00:13:31] SC: That’s right. But of course you have to come down on a place, right? So you do have to choose where you’re going to plant your flag. Is it going to be an external genre, which concerns life, safety, justice, that kind of thing? Or is it going to be an internal genre, which is about sort of self-actualization about world view attunement? It’s about performances, status.
The internal genres are, if you’re doing that kind of story, you’re not going to want to have a very, very explosive external genre to match with. That’s why performance genres with internal stories are a very good match, because you put the character under pressure, “Oh, you have to win the band contest in order to be able to get that prize money to keep your family alive,” right? So then it becomes, “Well, I’m not very good.” It’s like those great films from the 90s. There’s one with the piano player in, and it’s an Australian piano player. I forget what it’s called. But it’s always about will they perform? How will they perform? And it’s breaking sort of these internal stories that the characters is generating for themselves so that they open up to new experiences. So you wouldn’t want to put in action sort of life and death stakes on a mountain dealing with an internal genre. Although you do have to break frame in the action story, but it’s a different kind of degree of breaking frame. The internals are complete breakdown of the entire worldview system, whereas the internal concepts inside an action story are about breaking the frame of problem. So learning how to MacGyver out of the situation is a smaller transformational process. It’s an insight cascade as opposed to a complete world view transformation of framing.
It’s not like you can go, “Well, I’m just going to plant my flag on the internal genres and then then the external genres aren’t going to matter. I’ll talk about –” Then it’s just. That’s right.
[00:15:59] KK: Right. That’ a book no one wants to read, right? We talked about that, right? Like it’s so internal that it’s not useful. So it’s interesting talking about performance story. So I’m currently studying the Queen’s Gambit, which is my new favorite novel. Like, Walter Tevis, he’s writes such an amazing performance novel. I love it. It makes me cry. I cry over chess now. And it’s just so fantastic and so good. And I love – It’s so interesting. I mean, maybe not everybody thinks it’s interesting, because chess notations can be pretty tedious. But I think that it’s the amount of pressure that she faces in that story is really fascinating and the way that she deals with it. And there’s these really great external things happening with her life and what happens.
And I think, internally, I think it’s a status sentimental story. So it’s really about she makes it because she gets help. You know what I mean? Like she has these other people who believe in her and they aid her and she accepts that help. And she’s willing to set aside her pride to like accept help and to get over addiction and all of these things. So anyway, it’s been a really it’s been a really cool study of this performance and how internal performance feels and how external status feels. It has this very interesting mix. Anyway, I’m just fan-girling about it.
[00:17:25] SC: Yeah. I agree with that. Tevis also wrote The Hustler, which is – His point was is it better to be completely sort of dissociated and alone but brilliant? Or should we leave that behind when the opportunity to commune and connect with other people presents itself? And so I think he as an artist was constantly – That was constantly in his mind, and because you can just see it as a thematic pattern with is work. And I think as internality goes, the notion of can I make a meaningful life as a singular being as my own individual actualization. Is that enough? Or do I need to sort of go Paul Tillich and participate after I individuate? And Tevis, I think, he believed that it was required to participate. But if you look at The Hustler, it’s sort of a tragedy. So that is very much a deep ethical kind of – I wouldn’t say moral, it’s a worldview shift. How much meaning can one person create through their own set of accomplishments/status, blah-blah-blah? Versus is it more meaningful to have less external validation but commune and connect with other people in your love of chess? So the final scene in the mini-series was beautiful, because what does she do?
[00:19:16] KK: Yeah, it matches the book. It’s basically like they shot the book in so ways. I love that.
[00:19:21] SC: That’s great. That’s a well-written story. So she goes into the park and plays another game. She communes with other people. So she sees less of it as a, for lack of a – It’s sort of like philia nikea, which means the love of yeah competition, to philia Sophia, which is the love of the game.
[00:19:42] KK: Yes. Oh, I love that. So I love that you’re saying philia, because I’m obsessed with those seven types of love now, right? I’m like, “Oh! They’re so good.” It’s such a juicy place for storytelling.
Okay. So follow-up here that I want to stick with this. So when we’re talking about global internal genres and how we’re approaching them, and I love how you said, “Okay. So if you want to tell an internal story, you really need to think about the external container that you’re putting it in.”” And the kind of stimulus that’s going to come in, that’s going to be the thing that makes them change. So on the flip side of that, when you’re looking at a global external story, how do you consider the internal genre that goes with that?
[00:20:29] SC: Well, yeah, that’s all about insight generation. So like a master detective crime story, the payoff of the story is when the master detective or amateur detective solves the crime. They have the insight that generates who the perpetrator of the crime was. So that is the same systemic process as world view maturation, worldview dissolution, but it’s all about insight generation as opposed to worldview framework transformation.
So when you’re dealing with an external story, you want to focus on what’s the key thing that generates the insight for the avatar to solve the ridiculously difficult question to solve?
So here’s an example of like – Did you ever see A 127 Hours or read the book?
[00:21:26] KK: I didn’t. Was that the one where the guy gets stuck in the cliff and the –
[00:21:29] SC: Yes.
[00:21:30] KK: Okay. I couldn’t – I’ve heard enough about it. I’ve heard that it’s amazing, but I’m just like, “Oh! It makes –” Anyway, it’s just hard.
[00:21:40] SC: That’s a case where in the film, and the memoir too, it’s got a really incredible balance of external life-death and internal worldview transformation. And the way Danny Boyle, the director, made the movie work, is that the character had to have an insight. That would be extraordinarily painful and could cause his own death. But what inspired the insight was his understanding of what was really deeply meaningful to him. That was a really nice moment.
[00:22:15] KK: Right, that pairing. Ugh! Like just even you explaining it, you’re like, “Yep.” Because this is so meaningful, therefore I will choose to go through this physical pain in order to get back to this meaningful thing that I need.
[00:22:29] SC: That’s correct.
[00:22:30] KK: Yeah, yep.
[00:22:31] SC: So it’s the perfect it’s the perfect symbolic and literal representation of the necessity of going through extraordinary pain when you are transforming your world view. And it is life and death, because as Socrates said, the unexamined life isn’t worth living. And if you continue to move forward as deeply fearful of transformational processes your worldview gets more and more narrow and you find it more and more difficult to adapt to changes in your environment. So it’s a beautiful metaphor and literal story that you can look at from, “Well, the thing that transformed him was what saved his life. And what saved his life is the thing that transformed him.” And so it’s this really nice balance. So a lot of people go into that novel – It’s not a novel. It’s a memoir. But they go into the memoir thinking like, “Oh, great! This is going to be a great action story. And I can’t wait.” And it pays off. But what they get also is this deep metaphorical internal transformation story too, where you, the audience, at the end of the story you’re like, “I don’t know if I would have the courage to do that, but I understand the necessity of why he did it.”
[00:23:54] KK: It’s like that’s the spoonful of sugar, right? To help it all go down. It’s really good. It’s really good.
[00:24:02] KK: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Story Grid podcast. If your heart is set on telling an internal genre story but is struggling with how to get it on the page, I invite you to connect with me for a free consult at kimberkessler.com. That’s K-I-M-B-E-R-K-E-S-S-L-E-R.com. Tor everything Story Grid related, check out storygrid.com and make sure to pick up a copy of the book and sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid universe. Also, make sure you go to storygrid.com/books to see all the titles that we’ve released through Story Grid Publishing. 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’d like to reach out to us directly, you can find us on Twitter @storygrid. And lastly, if you would like to support the show, you can do that by telling another author about the show and by visiting us on Apple Podcasts and leaving a rating and review. Thanks so much for subscribing and being a part of our work here at Story Grid. We’ll see you next week.