The Story Grid Rule of 530

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You’re here because you have a dream of telling a story that works. Story Grid gives you the tools to do just that. By studying the Story Grid methodology, you can save yourself years of practice and millions of words by grounding your craft in proven technique instead of trial and error. 

With Story Grid, your dream is in reach — but Story Grid tools can only make that dream come true if you take them out and build with them. 

The Story Grid Rule of 530 is our recommendation for a daily goal that will form the foundation of your daily writing practice.

Every day, you’ll write five hundred words of prose and spend thirty minutes doing deep analysis using the Story Grid methodology. If you’re consistent and put in the work, this manageable daily habit will reward you with a steadily growing word count and a deep knowledge of storytelling craft.

Let’s take a closer look at both components of the Rule of 530, and then we’ll explore tactics for establishing your practice and building consistency.

The Five Hundred

In the first part of your daily practice, you’ll write five hundred words of prose.

If you want to be a writer, it’s critical that you get words on paper. That’s why the first pillar of the Story Grid Rule of 530 centers on word count. 

Quantity First

The formulation of this recommendation as a word count goal is no accident. In your writing sessions, you’ll be getting a draft done. It might be messy and imperfect. That’s ok. The important thing is to write.

By focusing on your word count instead of setting a time limit, you’ll produce more. If you understand that your output doesn’t have to be perfect, you can silence the inner critic that stops your words before they hit the page. 

Perfectionism doesn’t help you in the writing process. It can work against you by limiting your output and stifling your creativity. In the long run, focusing on producing more will help you to produce better quality stories. In the book Art and Fear, authors David Bayles and Ted Orland relate the story of Jerry Uelsmann, a professor of photography at the University of Florida. (In the book, the authors altered the details to make it a ceramics class, but the principles remain the same.) The professor split his class into two groups. Students in the first group would be graded on the quality of their best photo, while students in the second group would be graded on the number of photos that they took. In the end, the best photos taken by the group aiming for quantity were better than the photos taken with the object of producing a perfect image.

Your writing is like those students’ photos: if you get caught up in producing a perfect draft, you’ll miss opportunities to practice and improve your craft.

So, when you write your five hundred words every day, embrace the chaos. Get your ideas on to the page, messy and imperfect. Once you have your draft on paper, you can edit it. You can apply your understanding of story to figure out where your stories need improvement. As you make those changes, the patterns of a story that works become ingrained in your mind, like muscle memory. The next time around, you’ll avoid the mistakes that you made last time and find new ways to improve. As the quality of your drafts spirals upward, you’re honing your writing skill by applying your theoretical knowledge of storytelling. 

At the same time, you’re expanding your theoretical knowledge by putting it to the test. When you edit your drafts, you are not only fixing the areas of your prose that need improvement; you’re also learning more about the specific concepts in storytelling that you need to improve to level up your craft. Further, you’re putting your abstract knowledge into real situations where you’ll uncover nuances about how different concepts work in different contexts.

To write stories that work, you need to develop both your theoretical and practical skill sets. Abstract knowledge and practical knowledge are two different modes of knowing that are most powerful when you employ them together. The theoretical knowledge of storytelling is conceptual knowledge, which means that you have an understanding of information and facts. When you put that knowledge into practice, you build up your procedural knowledge, which is the ability to perform a skill. These two modes of knowledge complement each other and build on each other to form a more comprehensive mastery of story. The Five Hundred helps you to bring your two modes of storytelling knowledge together.

How to Write the Five Hundred

If you already have an established writing practice, it might be easy for you to write five hundred words in a session — but if you dread the thought of staring down a blinking cursor on a blank page, Story Grid can help you overcome that obstacle and start writing.

The key is to plan ahead and break down your writing into tasks that you can take on in your writing sessions. If you are looking at a blank page with no idea of what you want to write, the infinite possibilities can prevent you from even starting. Once you have a small, concrete task to accomplish during your writing session, it will be easier for the words to flow.

Focus on the Scene

For your daily practice, focus on writing solid scenes. The scene is the fundamental building block of story. If you can get a scene right, you are well on your way to telling a story that works. 

The optimal length for a scene is 1,500 to 2,000 words, so you will be completing a scene every three to four days. 

Before you sit down to write, use Story Grid to map out your scene. Having a plan in place will make it easier to start writing. 

First, decide on a genre to work in. This will give you the general arena of value shifts that you’ll be working with. 

Next, choose a type of scene to write. You might choose an Obligatory Moment for your chosen genre (for example, the Hero at the Mercy of the Villain scene for a Thriller or Lovers Meet for a Love story) or an archetypal scene type that works across genres (for example, Stranger Knocks at the Door or Job Interview).

You might be ready to start writing after deciding on your genre and scene type, or you may want to create an outline of the scene’s Five Commandments to follow as you write. It doesn’t have to be very detailed. You can experiment to find what level of planning works for you. 

The important thing is to get to a place where you can sit down for your daily practice and start writing right away.

The Thirty

After you’ve written your five hundred words, the second part of your daily practice is to spend thirty minutes doing story analysis using the Story Grid methodology.

Story Grid supercharges your writing craft by helping you to understand the patterns in stories that stand the test of time and by giving you the skills to apply those patterns in your own work. To understand those patterns, you need to see how masterful writers put them into practice. That’s why masterwork study is a core component of Story Grid.

Choosing a Masterwork

Before you can study a masterwork, you have to pick one to dive into. 

If you are already drawn to a story, there’s a reason that it’s compelling to you, and that’s a great one to start with. 

If you feel overwhelmed because there are just so many stories, you’re not alone. It’s easy to overthink and try to pick the perfect story to analyze. Don’t worry: you’ll be analyzing lots of stories over your career. There’s no pressure to find just the right one to start. Think about your favorite stories, or the books that are most like the ones that you would like to write. Then pick one, and jump in. 

As you improve your craft, you may want to be more targeted in how you choose your masterworks so that they will improve your storytelling in specific ways. Let’s go over a few strategies that can help you build a reading list that will allow you to grow as a writer.

Read Widely

One option is to pick stories from across the twelve Story Grid content genres to develop an appreciation for different genres, including ones that you might not be familiar with.

Reading stories that you would not ordinarily choose will broaden your horizons and challenge the assumptions that you have about storytelling. You might even find a new favorite genre when you branch out and experience new areas of story. 

Even if you decide to stay with a familiar genre, reading widely can help your craft. There are many similarities across genres. Some Conventions and Obligatory Moments, like All is Lost or Hero at the Mercy of the Villain, span multiple genres. By reading widely, you can learn the nuances of these events by comparing how authors implement them in masterworks of varying genres. You might even find ways to innovate the Conventions or Obligatory Moments of your genre by taking inspiration from other genres.

Reading widely establishes a solid foundation of story knowledge. Once you have that, you can dig deeply into one area that fascinates you.

Read Deeply

It’s important to develop a deep understanding of the genre that you want to write. 

When you are compiling a masterwork list with this goal in mind, you’ll want to choose several books with similar storylines. By comparing them and seeing what components they have in common, you’ll be able to pull out the Conventions and Obligatory Moments of your chosen subgenre and differentiate them from the parts of the story that are unique to each specific masterwork. 

Once you understand the rules and requirements of your genre, you’ll be able to tell a story that readers of that genre will love because it fulfills their expectations for a great story. You’ll also understand the Conventions and Obligatory Moments well enough to innovate them and surprise your readers. 

Let Your Work Guide You

The two parts of the Story Grid 530 work together. As you write your prose, you’ll discover areas that you need to work on to improve your craft. You can use that information to compile a list of masterworks to study that will help you to see how other authors have solved that specific problem. For example, you might be struggling with writing a particular scene type, so you could gather a list of works with exemplary instances of that kind of scene. 

Masterworks help with more than just the Content leaf of the genre clover, too. If you are writing a short story for the first time, look at short stories to see how other authors have used that form. If you’re trying to write a funny book and your humor isn’t landing right, find comedy in any content genre and study how the authors constructed the jokes so they worked. 

What Makes a Masterwork?

There’s no definitive list of masterworks. You can find them through reading stories and finding ones that stay with you, by looking for books that have remained popular through time, or by asking for recommendations from friends that love stories. If you ask other Story Gridders, you can specify a certain genre, subgenre, or even story event, and someone will have a recommendation of a story that they love that fits exactly what you’re looking for. 

Also, don’t be afraid to explore different story forms. Narrative is all around us, in books, films, TV shows, songs, and poems. No matter the medium, the pillars of storytelling remain the same. Choose art that speaks to you and see what the analysis can do for your craft. 

Masterwork Analysis

Once you’ve chosen a work to analyze, the next step is to choose how to apply the Story Grid methodology. 

Story Grid has many levels of analysis that you can apply to masterworks, but the best place to start is with The Story Grid Editor’s Six Core Questions. 

These questions give a comprehensive, macro overview of the Global Story. They are:

  1. What’s the genre?
  2. What are the conventions and obligatory scenes for that genre?
  3. What’s the Point of View?
  4. What are the objects of desire?
  5. What’s the controlling idea/theme?
  6. What is the Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?

This is a great place to start because it teaches you macro storytelling. It’s important to get the Global Story right before you focus on the details of your scenes so that you don’t waste words on scenes that don’t contribute to your overall story.

It’s also relatively quick to apply to a Global Story, so it allows you to analyze multiple stories and compare them to each other. 

After you’ve practiced applying this level of analysis to a range of stories, you may find that you want to delve into creating a spreadsheet of a masterwork. That’s a good exercise to understand how the micro components add up to a macro story. 

You might also work on your micro storytelling by analyzing and recreating scenes. 

Story Grid has a range of tools to help you level up your craft in the specific area that you need to improve. Keep them in mind as you study storytelling, but start by applying the Six Core Questions to your chosen masterworks. You’ll be amazed at the insights into story structure that you’ll gain from this practice, and at the corresponding improvement to your craft that you’ll see in your daily Five Hundred. 

Building a Writing Practice

Now that you know what your daily practice will look like, let’s go over some concrete tactics for fitting your writing into your day. Any time you start something new, including a new habit, you’ll encounter Resistance to implementing the change. Even if you’re excited and motivated to start your writing practice, using support strategies to help establish your new practice is critical to making it stick. 

Schedule

Days fill up quickly, and even the best intentions to get writing done sometimes get pushed aside to make room for the urgent demands that come up throughout the day. Make your writing practice a priority by scheduling time for it and sticking to your schedule. 

The 530 will take you about an hour to complete. Try to find a time when you are alert and have energy to devote to your writing and study. 

Set Up Your Space

Once you know when you’ll write and analyze, decide where and how you’ll do your practice. What this looks like depends on the space you have available and what makes you comfortable when you write. 

Try to find a relatively quiet place where you’re the least likely to get interrupted or distracted. Make sure you’re comfortable and that the space can accommodate the tools you need to get your practice done. 

Next, gather the tools you’ll need during your session. 

For the Five Hundred, you’ll need something to write with, whether that’s a computer, your phone, or paper and pen. Make sure that you can access any programs that you are using to write (for example, your word processor) so that you don’t have any technical problems that interrupt the flow of your practice. If you would like to use dictation instead of typing or writing, set up your microphone and dictation software and test it to make sure it’s working correctly. 

For the Thirty, you’ll need the masterwork that you’re analyzing. If it’s a film or a song, you’ll need a device to play it back while you analyze. You’ll also need a document set up with the Story Grid Editor’s Six Core Questions. 

Prepare as much as possible so that, when you sit down to your daily practice, all you need to do is start your work. 

Plan Ahead

Planning your writing session will help you to start writing right away so that you can finish your practice in a solid hour of work. Before your writing session, make sure that you have a clear plan for what you will write that day. 

Stay Accountable

When we set out to do creative things, we encounter Resistance. It’s inevitable and even welcome, because it means that we’re on the right path. Since we know that Resistance will try and stop us, we can make the first move to prepare for its arrival. Before it shows up, while you are excited and hopeful at the start of your practice, build a team to help support you through the rough times ahead. Find someone to check in with. Here at Story Grid, you’re surrounded by writers who are on the same path that you are on. 

Track your progress by marking a calendar when you complete your daily writing practice, and schedule regular check-ins with your accountability group to let them know how your practice is going. You could even take that opportunity to have some fun talking about the stories that you’re analyzing and creating. 

Having that support will keep you consistent in your writing practice and excited to keep going. 

One Drop at a Time

Using the above techniques, you’ll be putting words on paper and diving into your masterworks day after day. The Story Grid Rule of 530 is intentionally a small, manageable goal to help you achieve consistency. Sometimes, it might not seem like you’re making much progress, but you are. The key is to keep going with your daily practice. 

Story Grid makes writing a Global Story manageable by breaking it down into concrete tasks that give you a clear direction for your writing. Storytelling math breaks down that 80,000 word behemoth into four 20,000 word acts; sixty 2,000 word scenes; 5 Commandments per scene.

The math works in reverse, too. Five hundred words a day means two scenes per week, and over a hundred scenes in a year. That’s almost two novels. Every day, your Five Hundred words are building up your story, and with the craft that you learn from your Thirty minutes of study, it’ll be a story that works. 

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About the Author

Danielle Kiowski is an author, editor, story nerd, and data geek. As the founder of Writers by Night, she empowers ambitious professionals to fulfill their creative dreams of becoming fantasy authors — without burning out. Get her resources for writers and take the first step toward your creative future today.

www.DanielleKiowski.com/forwriters

www.WritersByNight.com

The Writer’s Daily Practice: A Guide to Becoming a Lifelong Storyteller
by Danielle Kiowski
To write a story that captivates readers and stands the test of time, you need a daily practice and professional tools. In this guide, fantasy author and editor Danielle Kiowski... Read more »
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Author Danielle Kiowski

6 Comments

Mary White says:

I think this is the practice I’ve been needing. I’m a little concerned that it will pull me away from the limited time I’m giving to editing my current WIP. As I read this article, though, a flutter in my gut is saying I need to do this. I’ll give it a couple months and then reevaluate the practice. Thanks for the push to get more serious about my writing!

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Johne Cook says:

This is excellent advice. Tim Grahl was just talking about how he tries to write 500 words per day and uses an iOS app to track that and keep him accountable.

Years ago, when my kids were old enough for me to think about picking up my hobbies again, I read an hour every day at lunch: 30 minutes to ‘sharpen the saw,’ and thirty minutes for pleasure. This is a neat way to meld both activities to give your writing a strong, practical boost.

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Allison Fairhurst says:

Great article, Danielle! I will definitely pass this on to clients & writer friends who are a little bit stuck. I suppose we all have our moments of stuckness, don’t we?

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Scott Mitchell says:

Thanks for the great article, Danielle! That’s a great concept, combining 500 words of writing with 30 minutes of analysis. I’m reading a biography of Ernest Hemingway (“Autumn in Venice”), and it describes his workmanlike approach to writing: “He charted his progress with daily word counts, steadily increasing his output from four hundred words per day. . .”
Scott Mitchell

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Oli Doyle says:

This is brilliant thanks Danielle! I have been finding it tricky to do both the 500 and the 30 because I love free writing at the blank page but don’t always love finding and fixing the problems.

I love the way this practice resolves this in such an elegant way. Thank you!

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Rianne van Rees says:

Really nice ideas here, I’m certainly going to try them out. I was wondering though how editing a draft fits in. I am between drafts at the moment, so then there’s a lot of analyzing and thinking about the story. Would that fit in the 500 words, if you’re writing to brainstorm, or would that be the 30 minutes of analysis?

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