[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 and the behind-the-scenes guy here at Story Grid. This podcast episode is hosted by Story Grid certified editor, Kimberly Kessler, alongside Shawn Coyne, the founder of Story Grid and an editor with over 30 years’ of experience.
In this episode, Kim and Shawn wrap up their discussion of beats by diving into expository beats and how they work in your writing. Before we jump in, I want to invite you to join the Story Grid Guild. This is our membership program focused exclusively on helping you use the Story Grid tools and methodology to level-up your writing. It includes monthly trainings and Q&A’s with Shawn and our Story Grid certified editors along with writing exercises and a community forum. Along with this, we are making some exciting new upgrades to this membership program in 2022. Plus, if you join now, you get two free months of access. You can see all the details at storygrid.com/guild.
Okay, that’s it for me. So let me turn it over to Kim and Shawn.
[00:01:15] KK: In all of the stuff that we’re talking about, these are our bottom-up tools that are emerging now. These are the beats, these different types of beats. These are bottom-up tools that are being created and that you introduced at the Trinity Seminar of these different types of beats and that we can use at the line level to build our scenes ultimately so we can tell our thematic, meaningful, cathartic story.
So we’ve talked about the active beat, the stimulus and response of the active beat, and the three types there. And now we’ve talked about the passive beat, which is a stimulus and I guess would you call it no response or just a response that is not direct? It’s an indirect response? I guess how would you categorize that one?
[00:02:04] SC: Okay. So an active stimulus or response is one of two kinds. The first one is communication. So Kim coming up and communicating, “May I sit here?” That’s an active communication. Now if you just came up and took the chair and sat down, that would be a motor action. Well, actually that would be communication. But if you came up and you put food, you took the cinnamon roll off of your tray and you put it on my tray and said, “I bought that for you. I’m sitting in this chair.” That would be a motor action because you were actually delivering stimulus of food to me, right? There’s communication and then there’s motor action.
So a response has either communication or motor action. So a passive beat would have non-verbal communication usually in the freeze mode, or flight mode, or fight mode. So those are the three subtexts. And so each one of those, motor action and communication, if you think of communication, it’s sort of the potentiality of something. And motor action is the actuality of something. So if I said to you, “If you don’t be quiet, I’m going to slap you.” That would be a potential communication, which is less energy than if I slapped you. So the energy transfer in communication is less than motor action.
I don’t want to get super entangled in all of these numeric representations of power, but I can say that I’ve developed a technology that actually generates numeric representations of all the qualitative things that I’m saying. So I don’t want to scare you, but there is a spreadsheet that is available that will come online shortly that is a bottom level of energy transfer that evaluates all of the things that we’ve been talking about and it assigns numeric value so that you would be able to see how well you are fluctuating the energy transfer that’s going to the audience, right? So it’s all about energy from this story itself, the objectively quantifiable things that are literally on the page. How much energy of that is going to the audience? It’s really fascinating stuff. And there are many, many sub-levels of this that are all based upon the agent arena agency formulation. And then there’s a trinity.
I think I talked about this. The arena is sort of like everything. So it’s the numinous. What’s the numinous? The numinous is made up of three things; chaos, order and complexity, right? Okay. And then there’s the agent. What are agents made up of? Well, there are first party agents, second party agents and third party agents, right? So we have this circle of relationships. First party would be our family. Second party would be like Dunbar tribe affiliations. And third party would be mass people that we don’t know very well.
And then the self would be agency. And the self has a trinity within it; the monster, the lion and the person. So you’ve got all of these different levels that play out under different degrees and urgencies. So there’s the now, the durational and the eternal in terms of urgency. So that’s a time factor. And then there’s degree, which would be the arithmetic linear one plus one equals two degree. You have one apple, I have an apple, I give you an apple. You now have two, right? So that would be sort of an addition or a subtraction.
And then there’s a multiplicative, which would mean like you have two and I give you two and you get four, or whatever. So you have like these degrees of energy depending upon like, “You’re our hundredth customer. You get a free ham,” versus a free ham sandwich, versus a slice of ham, right? So a slice of ham, a ham sandwich and a whole ham. Those are degrees. And then there’s the exponential degree, which is massive increase.
So anyway, I’m giving very broad outlines of the means by which I’ve created these channels of energy transfer that can be quantified according to the qualifications of the literal words on the page using these constructs that come from anthropology, philosophy, quantum physics, all kinds of stuff. So it’s a very powerful tool that shows that will be a very good analytical tool that will show people how their scenes are going. How their beats look? How the beats are changing? How they’re not changing? What a masterwork scene looks like versus what their scene work looks like?
So if you use the tropes and constraints of a masterwork scene and then you say, “We want you to write a scene using these tropes,” like what we did in Ground Your Craft, only at a much higher resolution level, then what you can do is you can detach a person from their work in progress and go, “Hey, look, you’re practicing layups here.” Don’t get attached to your avatars and your stimulus. You’re just goofing around here, right? So let’s see if you can goof around and mimic a scene changing the arena and the agents and the agency, but using the conceptual abstracts from that masterwork. And then you can take a look at what your graph looks like versus the graph to the masterwork and say, “Well, you see how Ursula Le Guin did this here and you didn’t? Well, how did she do that? Well she was very clear about whether that was enlivening or depleting, and yours is kind of wishy-washy.”
So the signal that’s traveling to the audience is not as high as the signal that Ursula Le Guin is able to do. So you need to change the qualification of your language in that line such that it’s more clear to the audience that this is enlivening or depleting. And you can go down a whole scale of those kinds of qualifications and quantifications, which is going to be extraordinarily and is already extraordinarily powerful. And what it does is it takes theory and it makes it practical so that you’re getting feedback at a level that’s really fast. You’re able to change your beats. And so when you change your beats, your tropes that are beats that build into small little units, your tropes get better and then your tropes get better and then the big parts of your five commandments of your scene get better. And then guess what? Your scene gets better.
[00:09:24] KK: That sounds great. I would really want that for myself.
[00:09:28] SC: It’s on the way. It’s on the way.
[00:09:31] KK: So let’s make sure – I want to make sure we get to talk about the last type of beat, which is the expository beat.
[00:09:37] SC: Yeah, the expository beat is let me just preface it by saying, as I was talking about the power of energy that is shot to the audience, the beats have a hierarchy of power, okay? So the most powerful energy that can be transferred to the audience at the beat level, just abstractly, is the active beat. So the active beat has the most power. The passive beat has the second most power. And exposition has the least amount of power. So exposition is sort of, “It was a dark and stormy night,” right? So it’s the voice of the author who has been hired by the artist to tell the audience specific things and to join active beats, passive beats together so that they flow in an optimal grip for the audience to understand.
The role of exposition is it’s almost like the role of the really good narrator in a puppet show. So the narrator of a puppet show, if you’ve ever been to a really good puppet show, it usually starts with the puppet master comes out and she has her hands behind her back. And there’s a puppet stage. She’ll come out, and you’re a little kid out in the audience, and she’ll come out and say, “Good morning boys and girls, and dads and uncles, and aunts and whatever.” And she’ll say, “Today we’re going to tell a story about –” And then what she’ll do is she’ll drop a little puppet on the stage, a marionette, a little pig named Elmo or Elroy, right? And then what do we do? We move from looking at the author down to the stage and we go, “Oh, look at that little pig. He’s so cute.” And then we impose ourselves onto that avatar. And then she can start talking again. But we’re still focused on Elroy. And it’s usually like Elroy had a friend named Priscilla. And then she’ll drop Priscilla, Priscilla the spider. And then the spider will walk out and there’s the pig and there’s the spider, right? And so exposition is that sort of puppet master.
Now the puppet master has to be very, very good. They need to know when to interrupt and when not to interrupt. And then they take on the voices of the characters, right? “You’re my friend.” “No. You’re not.” And so we watched the puppet master and so the puppet master is exposition. So the choice of the puppet master is the point of view choice that you’re going to take plus a narrative device. The masterwork is The Hobbit. It’s a great narrative device. It’s a grandfatherly bedtime storyteller. That’s immediately clear the minute you start reading The Hobbit, “Oh, this is kind of like my grandfather or my grandmother telling me a story right before I go to bed.” So it’s not going to be too scary, but it’s going to have plenty of action. And it will be scary, but not that scary, right? They’ll know exactly when to stop pouring on the scary stuff by being able to read me as they’re telling me the story, right?
Once we discover that, that expositional voice becomes very clear to us. And so that’s why it’s really important for the artist to hire the right author. And you’re not going to be surprised when I say each of the genres has a nice category of good choices to make for point of view and narrative device, right?
[00:13:17] KK: Yuh-huh. Okay. Yeah, can you elaborate on that a little bit?
[00:13:20] SC: I don’t want to generalize too much, but usually a first person narration in a crime story, that’ll work. It’s like Dashiell Hammett or Agatha Christie, “I got the call at 9:30. The night before, I had a few too many to drink down at Bob’s Bar and Grill. Well, the dame came in at five –” The silly film war movies, right? They’re usually from either the point of view of the master detective or Watson, like the sidekick character. So there are certain conventions and certain genres that make a lot of sense. Like a society novel is usually written from almost an institutional omniscient point of view. Anyway, that’s kind of the traditional society novel of, say, Henry James or something like that. Each of those, that’s a whole other 13 hours of podcast.
[00:14:22] KK: Cool. Note to self. We hopefully can return to that.
[00:14:24] SC: Yeah, yeah.
[00:14:25] KK: That sounds awesome.
[00:14:27] SC: All right. Yeah. So getting a sense of the author. Now, why am I talking about the author? Because the exposition comes from the author.
[00:14:34] KK: From the author. Okay. Yes. Yes.
[00:14:36] SC: And then, of course, there are three kinds of exposition. There’s world building. There’s camera shifting. And then there’s transitional. So world building – Now when I say these are three, now obviously there’s a little bit of each in all of them. But there’s emphasis, right? So a world building emphasis would be something like it was the best of times. It was the worst of times, the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities, which is establishing the gestalt of the arena and the time period right off the bat.
A camera shifting would be something like, “Well, Jim was tending the fire. Alice decided to go into the woods.” So we’re watching Jim tend the fire. And then the exposition moves the camera of our mind to Alice. And now we’re with Alice as she’s walking into the woods. So that would be camera shifting exposition, which all of this is about really making the flow of the channel of the information from the artist to the audience very clear and fluid.
And lastly is transitional. So it would be something like moving from an active beat into exposition or exposition into active beat. So Jim was always a kind of guy. On Thursday the 13th, Jim saw Alice down the road, “Hey, Alice, it’s me, Jim.” So now we have stimulus and now we get Alice responding to Jim, “Hey, Jim, how you doing?” So now we’ve got an active beat. That’s a terrible active beep. But the transitional –
[00:16:27] KK: Shoe leather. Shoe leather.
[00:16:28] SC: Yeah, yeah.
[00:16:29] KK: Enlivening, enlivening. I’m seeing it.
[00:16:33] SC: So what you would have is expository transition that moves us into the moment of action and then it can pull us out. So you have to remember a story is discontinuous. Meaning we only pull up the good stuff and then we dramatize the good stuff in these scenes that are events and then we stitch them together so that there is the appearance of continuity, but it’s truly discontinuous.
[00:17:01] KK: Oh, that is so – Like it’s so true when you say it. But I think it’s not something that I think about enough, right? And I’ve heard you talk about this with Tim on the podcast before where when you have the beginning writer who’s like trying to account for every moment. And I’ve I have so been that writer where you’re like, “Cool. Hand on the doorknob. They turn the door. They opened the door. They step through the door.” And you’re like dramatizing every moment, and it’s agonizing, right? And you’re like, “Oh, that’s not essential.”
What’s interesting to me, and I wonder if it’s sort of a problem of the modern day writer, that we’ve been so ingrained lately and hit over the head sort of with like making sure that we’re in this really deep point of view that we’re really with our characters and embodying them and really having that – What do you call it? Where you have that inner monologue going for them?
[00:17:55] SC: Oh, free and direct style.
[00:17:56] KK: Free and direct, yeah. So pretty much all of the writing advice out there is like deep point of view, deep point of view, right? And you get it so that the audience can connect with your character. But also I think one of the risks is you have a tendency to start doing this like dramatizing every moment and every bodily function and every thought and like everything. And, yeah. So just what you’re saying, they’re discontinuous, but you stitch it together in a way that makes it feel continuous for the audience. The audience doesn’t feel like they’re being like jerked around all over the place. They’re being really like delivered and carried from one moment to the next. That matters.
[00:18:36] SC: Think of it as a sort of like holding – Not that your audience is a child. But holding your child’s hand as you’re going through a crowded carnival or something, and you know if your kid loses the grip of your hand they’re going to get lost and they’re going to get scared and they’re going to – It’s not going to end well, right?
[00:18:58] KK: Yeah, not a good experience. Yeah.
[00:18:59] SC: You’re going to be very upset. Right. So what you want to do is lead your audience through the carnival with a lot of respect for their cognitive capacity. So it’s almost as if you’re not leaving a child, unless you’re riding YA. But, YA, you don’t want to put a lot of free and direct style in there. I don’t know. That’s not – Please, take that with a grain of salt because I’d really have to think that through. But the thing about YA is that children’s information processing systems are not as well developed as adults. Part of the thing is that you do want to give them a little bit more information than you would. And you do want to explain information processing at a higher level than you would an adult novel.
Anyway. So you’re sort of like leading a loved one through – Like, say, you lived in Paris and your loved one, maybe it’s your father, your mother, your sister, your brother, your literal loved one comes to visit you in Paris and they’re an adult and you know that they can handle themselves. But you want to make them feel comfortable. And you’re walking through Les Halles or something and you’re going through the thing and you just kind of hold their hand the way.
Anyway, that’s actually a cultural thing. In Italy, a lot of friends do that. They’re always holding each other’s arms and walking themselves through because they want that connection to be there. So you’re connecting to the audience and giving them an optimal grip. And it’s sort of like explaining the important things as you’re walking through the story. And that’s what the author does. And so the relationship between the author and the audience is super important, right? Because if it’s a grandfather telling a bedtime story and they start using profanity, it’s going to upset the audience. Like, “What’s with grandfather? Whoa!” right? And when you think of it that way, then you can attune the exposition to the appropriate frequency so that the audience feels taken care of.
[00:21:15] KK: But not babied, right? Yeah.
[00:21:17] SC: Not babied, right? But being respected as functional information processing systems that that don’t have to be explained everything.
[00:21:28] KK: Yeah, that’s good. That’s really good. So I love that. I love, again, this level of intention and awareness of my role as an artist, right? And the author narrator that I am hiring from within myself and really choosing with intention who I want that to be and the kind of voice that they’re going to use based on my intention of who I’m telling the story to, which, yeah, all of that. Just really the level of awareness. And all of that is constraints, right? You’re really picking. You’re narrowing and choosing. And then you’re sort of choosing the constraints about who’s speaking and who they’re speaking to. And then you’re really narrowing the constraints about, “Well, what are we talking about? What kind of story? What’s the peanut butter cupness of this story?” Mm-hmm.
[00:22:20] SC: What’s enlivening? What’s depleting? What are the variations of enlivening and depleting? How is this person processing this information? How can I get that information to the audience without telling them how they’re processing it? Because, obviously, if you can suspend that payoff of the climax from the result of their information processing, we are only what we do, right? So I can think until I’m blue in the face about what I want to do. But until I do it, you don’t really know the content of my character. If you say to me, “Well, what are you going to do? Are you going to throw that rock at that person? Or are you going to step in front of the rocks? Or what are you going to do?” And I just sit there and I hum through my processing system and I never make a choice. I’m just living in the potentiality of choices, the combinatorial explosive nature of all the things I could and could not do. And I’m not collapsing it down into a binary choice of what is the best bad choice, whether you’re a reconcilable good. And I’m not actualizing.
So it’s through our actualization that gives us clues about the information processing system and how that processing system came to the conclusion to enact that decision. So we can, yeah, objectively quantify all those actual things in a story and then back propagate the information processing system that resulted in that decision. But it requires a lot of thinking. It requires a lot of top-down processing to understand the very concept of the monster, the lion and the person.
So a lot of times I think people get a little bit lost in a lot of the philosophy and cognitive science that I bring to storytelling. And they’re kind of like, “Well, geez! That’s really cool. But I don’t really know how that applies.” This is how it applies because you have to enact all of that understanding in the practice. You have to dribble the ball. You have to lift your leg properly. You have to put the basketball in the middle of the square. And you got to consistently do that so that you can deliver working scenes that can build into something larger.
What’s really exciting right now is we’re rolling out. And over the next couple of months and years, we’re rolling out a system by which you can practice dribbling and getting lay-ups without getting so attached to your avatars that you can’t change them, or be so defensive about them, or feel like somebody’s ripping your throat out if they go, “You know what? That stimulus isn’t good.” And so you’re like, “Oh! Let me try another one. What do you think about this one?” “I got a million of them, man.” Because you do, we all do.
[00:25:11] KK: Right? There’s no scarcity in your imagination. Yeah.
[00:25:15] SC: No. Zero.
[00:25:17] KK: Yeah. I can really relate when you’re talking about our character and we’re being frozen with combinatorially explosive possibility. Like that is me trying to write. I’m like, I could do anything. What am I supposed to do?” And so, yeah. And I guess what I’m loving about what you’re saying is that it’s giving me permission to be my top-down self and to really like think about what I’m trying to say and build myself all the way down to – Like, obnoxiously, I can outline my story beat by beat. I just can’t write the beats, right? So it’s super irritating. But now if I’m like oh, “Okay. Now I know like how to actually turn my outline into something.”
[00:25:55] SC: Yeah. You know how to get to your tropes. You know how to get down there.
[00:25:58] KK: Yeah, exactly. I know how to get to my tropes. I’m like, “Yeah, this is what it’s going to do.” I could tell you the story out loud and you’d like follow along. We’d laugh. We’d cry. It would be great. But I can’t like make it – I mean, it’s really hard to put it into words that are written down the level of precision that that takes, right? For me to make that choice has been really difficult.
So anyway, I am encouraged and I believe that the listeners are going to be encouraged. And I certainly know everyone who went to the Trinity Seminar is encouraged. Because there are these micro tools and it is making all of the theory that we’ve been talking about for five years really practical, right? And it really is – This is for writers, for storytellers, so that we can share our peanut butter cupness with our audience, right? Yeah, that’s great.
[00:26:42] 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. For 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.