Anne Hawley is the author of Restraint, a love story set in 19th Century London. She’s a Story Grid Certified Editor specializing in literary and historical fiction, and is the producer of the Story Grid Editor Roundtable podcast.
[0:00:00.3] AH: Hello, and welcome to the Story Grid Masterwork Experiment. My name is Anne Holly and I’m an experienced novelist trying to ground my craft more solidly in Story Grid methodology. I’ve agreed to be the lab rat in an experiment conducted by Shawn Coyne. He’s the creator of the Story Grid Editing Method, the author of the book, The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know and an editor with many years’ experience in the big New York publishing houses.
In the Masterwork Experiment, Shawn and I analyze the brilliant short novella Broke Back Mountain by Annie Proulx. With an eye to understanding what it’s made of, right down to the beat level. Then my job will be to write a novella of my own using exactly the same beats and structure but with a different setting style and voice.
Last week, we covered the broad outlines of the experimental protocol. In today’s episode, Shawn and I review the editor’s six core questions and use the answers to fill in the global foolscap worksheet which is a one-page analysis of the whole story. We argue a bit about the love story convention requiring a so called gender divide between the lovers. We also conclude that it is hard to draw a precise conclusion about the story’s internal sub-genre.
Put on your white coat and safety goggles and step into the laboratory for Episode Two of the Masterwork Experiment.
[0:02:08.9] AH: Good morning Shawn.
[0:02:09.4] SC: Good morning Anne.
[0:02:10.4] AH: How are you today? Are you ready to launch into this again this week?
[0:02:14.4] SC: I absolutely am and I’m glad you mentioned that because Steve Pressfield and I have this procedure that we use every week when we have our weekly business call. It seems to have served us well over the years, so I’ll share it with you and then maybe we can use it in the work that we do together.
[0:02:34.3] AH: Okay.
[0:02:35.8] SC: The first thing that Steve always asks me is, “Why are we on the phone call? What’s the purpose of this meeting and let’s sort of figure that tout before we completely dive into details that may or may not help us?” Let me just establish what this experiment is about. Again, we’re calling this the Masterwork Experiment for a very particular reason and we’re calling it an experiment because we’re going to use sort of this scientific method in such a way that we’re going to test to see if a professional writer, such as yourself, can follow a masterwork all the way down to beat by beat, in such a way that you can create something original, unique and only Anne could have written.
In essence, it’s a way of using a masterwork to inspire us to create an original piece of work. We’ll see if it works. As we talked about last week, the masterwork we chose, or I chose, was Broke Back Mountain and there are a number of reasons why I chose it. The first being is that it’s just probably one of the most perfect many love stories I’ve ever read.
It’s 10,600 odd words. It’s something that we together can sort of metabolize and digest in a way that we can come to an agreement about how this thing is constructed. If we were going to write this up as an experiment, that would go in our sort of the beginning of our materials and methods section of our experimental paper.
The materials we’re using are the masterwork, Broke Back Mountain, which brings us to the methods. What are the methods that we are going to use in order to give you, Anne, a set of constraints or prompts to inspire you to write a 10,600 odd word piece of work which may be shorter, may be longer but we’re not really sure.
The methods we’re going to use are of course the Story Grid methods.
[0:04:40.4] AH: Okay.
[0:04:41.0] SC: Now, what is the Story Grid and where did it come from and why should anyone really care? All right. Those are the kind of questions that torment me in the dark night of my soul.
[0:04:50.3] AH: A little Story Grid 101 here.
[0:04:51.7] SC: Yeah, a little, and it’s really quite simple when you come down to it. The Story Grid came about because a I needed to do well at my job and my job was, sort of picking works of art that my publishing company at the time, I was working at the time at St. Martin’s Press, Double Day Publishing, Dell Publishing. My entire traditional publishing book career, I had to find some way of being able to determine which books I thought would work the best commercially. Which ones would sell the best?
In order to do that, I created this Story Grid methodology and so it all begins with what I call The Editor’s Six Core Questions. These are the core questions that I ask myself whenever I was really interested in a particular book that came across my desk. These are the questions that I would answer in editorial meeting s so that my colleagues would say “Yeah, that sounds great, let’s sign it up,” without them actually having to read the book itself.
Let’s just run through these six core questions and then we’ll get in to how we apply these six core questions to Broke Back Mountain. The very first question I ask myself is, it seems like an easy answer but it’s difficult, is “What’s the genre?”
Meaning, what genre of story are we talking about? What kind of category is this? This is a very important question to ask because each genre has its own particular sensibility, structural elements et cetera. Which we’ll get into in a minute. I’m just going to start sort of prompting you with these questions Anne.
[0:06:42.0] AH: Okay.
[0:06:42.6] SC: Let’s just lay out my five-leaf clover answer to that question. There’s five little bits and pieces that define what a genre is. The first one is the length.
[0:06:53.2] AH: This is short.
[0:06:55.6] SC: It’s a short length, right? It’s a novella, it’s bigger than a short story, not quite as big as a novella, it’s actually in between super short and short. We’ll just call it short.
[0:07:04.3] AH: Okay.
[0:07:07.4] SC: What do you think the structure of the story is? Is it an arch plot where we follow sort of one or two characters on a global change progression from one place to another or is it mini plot, which would be multiple characters, anywhere from three to say seven, something like The Lord of the Rings? Or is it anti-plot which is, things occur that don’t really have any definable change.
[0:07:40.3] AH: Well, it’s clearly arch plot, it has a single story that proceeds more or less linearly form beginning to end with two main characters.
[0:07:46.8] SC: Both characters have a change that occurs, great. Okay, that’s the answer to the structure, its arch plot, the length is short. Style. Now, style can be anything from sort of a musical, to a documentary, to literary, I don’t really want to get into the nuances of literary style. This definitely has literary sensibility to it just based upon the pure quality of metaphor and line by line writing.
Other styles are comedic, drama, theatrical, dance-ish, you know?
[0:08:23.7] AH: It’s not dance.
[0:08:24.3] SC: It’s not dance, no. If you were to define the style, what would you say?
[0:08:29.2] AH: Well, I think it’s a drama, clearly.
[0:08:31.1] SC: Yes.
[0:08:32.9] AH: There’s not much humor in it, it’s a very straightforward story with a lot of emotion. I mean, I’m not quite sure how to define drama, it’s kind of like you know it when you see it.
[0:08:44.1] SC: Well, I would say, the difference between drama and comedy, if comedy is sort of like the characters are doing everything possible to avoid authentic emotion. Everybody’s sort of running away from authenticity. Drama is people are trying to deal with the reality of their emotional experience. Comedy, what’s so funny is that it’s in the avoidance of actual, authentic, emotional kind of communication. This is why sometimes you see a comedy and you go, “Will you just open the door? The guy’s on the other side of the room.”
There’s so many setups of ridiculousness and if people would just face the music and deal with authentic emotions, things would sort of work out.
[0:09:34.4] AH: In this case, would you say that although the characters themselves are working pretty hard to avoid authentic emotion, especially Ennis. That the narrator or the author is intent on the reader having a true emotional experience?
[0:09:47.5] SC: That’s correct.
[0:09:48.7] AH: Okay.
[0:09:49.7] SC: The drama-comedic choice is a style choice which is in the hands of the creator. Part of the fun of parody is mimicking a dramatic story and then poking fun at it by using comedic elements. Okay, that style, that’s number three in our five leaves. The fourth is, the reality, what sort of reality are we dealing with and there are sort of four different kinds of reality – there’s fantasy which is Lord of the Rings arena where you have distant past, magical simulations of what it might may have been like in the past and it adds sort of a supernatural element to it.
Science fiction fantasy is projecting into the future. Then there’s all sorts of subgenres within each one of those categories. And then there’s realism, which is sort of, this story could have happened and then there’s factualism. Which is what people often refer to as historical. Meaning, this story, it’s made up based upon factual evidence of a particular time and place.
Like Steve’s novel, Gates of Fire is factualism, it’s a historical fiction based upon a factual event where there were 300 Spartans at Thermopolis. Lastly, is absurdism, which is a reality that is much a part of the anti-plot structure. I’m pretty sure we’re not dealing with absurdism. How would you categorize the reality here?
[0:11:32.8] AH: Well, it’s realism. I mean, it’s natural, it’s set in a slightly historical period but I wouldn’t call it historical, except that it has references to events in history that kind of place it in 1963.
[0:11:44.1] SC: Yes, exactly. Great, that’s number four, the reality is realism with a historical undertone that’s not very factual driven. No one had ever heard of cowboys who fell in love in 1963. Well maybe Annie Proulx did but nobody beyond her did. Okay, now we’re getting into the nuts and the bolts of what people usually think of in terms of genre and that’s the content leaf.
Now, the content leaf has 12 different categories. Nine of them are what I call external genres and three of them are internal genres. Let’s just start sort with the external genres and external genres are things like action, horror, crime, performance, society, western, love story, that sort of thing. What external genre are we working here?
[0:12:39.8] AH: Well, this is primarily a love story.
[0:12:40.1] SC: Yes. Now, the great thing about love stories is that they have this sort of internal genre already baked into them. Meaning, love is absolutely a human experience that changes one’s life. With that change, comes an internal shift in the two lovers in the story. Love stories have baked within them an internal genre and that internal genre would be from all of your study, what is the internal genre here?
[0:13:15.7] AH: I think it’s clearly a world view internal genre and I’m not comfortable that I’ve pinned down the sub-genre of world view but let’s say maturation, because that’s usually what a love story’s internal genre is. It might be ignorance to wisdom.
[0:13:31.2] SC: It could be. Let me just quickly go over the internal genre, you have the world view genre, the status genre and the morality genre. Let’s just talk about world view for a second. Now, the world view sub-genre means, the thing underneath it that is more specific. A world view shift is when somebody’s internal view of the world shifts.
They change the way they look at things. There are a bunch of sub-genres within that. One of course is what’s called the education plot which is, it moves from meaninglessness to meaning. At the beginning of the story, the character has a sense that you know, everything’s just sort of meaningless. And then at the end, they come to a different point of view which is that there is meaning in the world. That’s the education plot.
The maturation plot moves from sort of naïveté, believing that the world is black and white and that there aren’t any real difficulties in being able to pinpoint particular phenomenon in the world, to wisdom. Which understands that there are all kinds of shades of grey and elements on the spectrum of individual values that are difficult to navigate and understand.
Wisdom is, somebody once described it as, I forget who, understanding that you don‘t really know anything, right? Naiveté is when you think you know it all and wisdom is when you understand just how little you really do know. Okay, that’s the maturation plot, the third one is the disillusionment plot. That moves from sort of, it’s a movement from a belief in a particular institution or value and then it shifts to being disillusioned by it.
For example, in Silence of The Lambs, that I write about in the book. Clarice Starling moves from a belief in the federal bureau of investigation as an institution of good, to disillusionment at the end. That it actually gets in the way of justice as supposed to finding justice.
Revelation is a movement from ignorance to knowing. What you can see here is, when I’m talking about education, maturation, revelation and disillusionment – all part of world view – is that it can get a little squishy in that one person’s revelation may be another person’s education plot.
[0:15:58.7] AH: Well, that’s kind of what I’m struggling with here.
[0:16:00.9] SC: Yeah, the key point is to understand that there’s been a world view shift and in a love story, the characters have a world view shift, especially like every love story still has a protagonist. We’re still following one person’s real, deep experience and while the second lover in the story is key and super important, we’re not getting sort of the depth of internal movement as we do in the protagonist. Just keep that in the back of your mind.
I’m sure it’s very clear to you Anne because we’ve talked about this so many times together. What we’ve got here is a love story, external genre and a world view either education or maturation plot, or even a revelation plot, or disillusionment.
[0:16:54.4] AH: It’s world view somewhere, that was my definite conclusion. My definite conclusion is that it’s probably world view something. One thing that I found useful because I write love stories and some of my clients do and a question comes up all the time. “Well, I have two protagonists because there’s two lovers.”
I struggled with this myself until I ran across a notion, I think it was in The Art of Dramatic Writing, that said you have to pick one protagonist and one of the lover’s acts almost like an antagonist to the other lover. I found that a useful way to think about who to track in my scenes and I’ve been assuming, in this case that Ennis is the protagonist, is the primary protagonist.
[0:17:33.5] SC: Yes.
[0:17:34.8] AH: By that definition. He’s the one who is being importune, I guess, you could say by Jack, into this love affair.
[0:17:06.8] SC: Yes, I would agree with that and just to go to that point about the second lover being sort of the antagonist to the protagonist, I would agree with that because it goes back to sort of the romantic sensibility, the romantic sort of ideology if you will, the philosophy of romanticism. The philosophy of romanticism is it takes love as sort of an active, an action, as it had been thought of prior to the birth of romanticism. I think you could trace it back to Thomas Coinus.
It equates love to a supernatural sort of phenomenon and in this sort of mythology of romanticism, there is a perfect fit, right? There’s that perfect person on the planet that is your one true love. That’s part of the romantic myth. That’s very interesting when you start looking at love story from sort of a Yungian point of view because Yung was all about the yin and the yang within the psyche and if you take your protagonist and say, if one part of their sort of personality has come to dominate them, then the perfect fit for that person would be the yin to the yang of their personality.
This is how we see a lot of love story structures. The gender roles are very clearly delineated. What we’ll see in Broke Back Mountain is that one of the characters takes on the traditional whatever, mythical role of the feminine and one takes on the mythical role of the masculine.
It’s those two sort of parts of the psyche that come together in union and love story. Yes, they are at odds because in order to keep that global oneness value in the psyche, those two people have to reconcile, come together and join together for eternity.
Looking at the second member of the love pair as the antagonist to the protagonist is actually useful tool, as you described, because it aligns with the metaphysical and psychological psycho technologies of what we understand about philosophy and metaphysics. All that is to say is, I agree.
[0:20:18.3] AH: Okay.
[0:20:19.4] SC: That’s actually – we just answered question number one in my six questions, which this is the basis of what I call the macro view of the story. It’s the beginning of formulating a macro understanding of the movement, the structure, the gestalt of the entire thing.
We’ve answered the genre question. Now, question number two is really important and we had to have answered genre before we could answer this one and that is, what are the conventions and obligatory scenes for that genre? Now, this is where we have to sort of come to a bottom line conclusion. The global genre at stake, when you have an internal and an external in a particular story. You have to pick one and the great thing about love story is that you always know it’s the external love obligatory scenes and conventions that are going to be really the salient ones that have to be in the story.
[0:21:22.9] AH: Right.
[0:21:24.8] SC: I know you’ve done a lot of work on this so I’m just going to fly through the obligatory scenes here for a love story. The first thing is that the lovers have to meet, right? We need to see them come together. Then the second thing is, we need a scene or a moment in the story when they have a first kiss or some sort of intimate connection, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical embrace or anything. It’s an intimate connection. The third one is sort of the premature declaration of love.
That means, one of the characters sort of blurts out or confesses their love to the other, they baked it in a little bit too early, right?
[0:21:59.6] AH: Scare the other one off, or put the other one off or –
[0:22:03.4] SC: And everybody can relate to that because either they’ve made that confession to somebody else in their life or that person has confessed to them. That’s why it’s, you know, all these obligatory scenes and conventions come out of reality, right? This is what we human beings experience when we’re in a love universe. The next obligatory scene is the confession of love and that’s when the one character really does just lay it on the line.
[0:22:30.2] AH: Yeah, the three little words or –
[0:22:33.6] SC: Yeah, exactly.
[0:22:35.6] AH: Right.
[0:22:36.9] SC: Then of course, we need a lover’s breakup. It’s never that easy, nobody wants to read a story where people go, “Hey. I love you.” “I love you too.” “Great. Let’s get married.” End of story. Nobody believes that because it never happens that way. The lover’s breakup as an obligatory scene that’s necessary to sustain interest in the reader because it’s believable. What are stories but sort of, simulations of real experiences that we try to use to guide us in our own lives.
If your story isn’t sort of mirroring the essence of a real, love experience, then you’re going to have trouble. Lover’s breakup is crucial because everybody goes through it. Then there’s the proof of love scene which, in my estimation, is the core event of love story.
[0:23:22.0] AH: When you say core event, we should probably also clarify what that means?
[0:23:27.2] SC: Yes. If I had to sum up what I meant by the core event, I would say, it’s the one sort of super-duper moment in a story that everyone signs up for when they agree to go see it in a movie theater or to read the novel. For example, in a thriller, we go there because we want to see the bad guy and the good guy fight. We want that sort of hero at the mercy of the villain scene, in which the underdog hero has to take on the super powerful villain.
In a love story, we want to see the lovers prove to each other, through sacrifice, that they are in it for the other person’s happiness. The proof of love is about recognizing that the other person’s gift to them has changed now. It’s changed their world view, they no longer see the world in the way that they had before. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, the proof of love is when Mr. Darcy has the understanding that Elizabeth Bennett, she’s already rejected his advances to marry him.
He has no belief that she loves him or would ever have him as her husband and yet, he proves his true authentic love to Elizabeth by saving her family from ruin. With no belief that he’s going to be rewarded for that sacrifice. The proof of love scene, it can be that dramatically specific, like in Pride and Prejudice, or it can be this moment in time when the character realizes that their life was changed forever, for the good, by the other character and I think that’s the kind of proof of love scene we find in Broke Back Mountain.
It’s a very bittersweet proof of love that makes us very sad and yet it allows us to believe that Ennis, you know what? He did have love in his life. His connection with Jack was enough to sustain him so that he could become a functioning member of society and do the work that he thought was necessary on the planet.
In many ways, Jack saved Ennis, it saved his life.
[0:25:55.9] AH: Interestingly, in Pride and Prejudice, that scene does not actually occur on the page. We don’t find about it until Elizabeth finds out about it.
[0:25:58.5] SC: I don’t think that’s true. I think that the uncle and the aunt are privy to that information and that the aunt is the one who tells Elizabeth. Darcy sort of disappears after he hears the information from Elizabeth that her sister has run off with the scoundrel and Darcy sort of runs away, Elizabeth thinks he thinks she’s so low class that he’s got to get away from her and then he makes things right.
[0:26:33.3] AH: Right.
[0:25:34.9] SC: That information, while off stage, when it falls into Elizabeth’s lap, when her aunt tells her, that transforms her and says “My gosh, this guy is incredible. I love him for who he is,” not just the trappings of Pemberley which she was attracted to Pemberley.
[0:26:54.7] AH: It doesn’t hurt.
[0:26:55.6] SC: She’s sort of talking herself into, “Maybe it won’t be bad married.” Then that proof of love is the thing that said, “My god, this is my authentic love. This is the guy for me, this is the perfect match for me.” While the technicalities of the proof of love are not on stage, Jane Austin brilliantly decided not to put them on stage and to use it as Robert McKee would say, “exposition as ammunition,” right?
It caused the change for Elizabeth to transform from possibly convincing that maybe in her mind, this guy is not so bad, to holy cow, this is the one for me. This is the beauty of this exercise, right?
Because it’s really important to ask yourself what you’re doing and why and to run through the methodologies so that as you’re applying the methodology, you have a clear understanding in your mind how effective they are. Having these discussions and debates about these particular moments in these stories, is really an important part of constantly testing the methodology.
Anyway, let’s move on. The last obligatory scene is when the lovers re-unite or they don’t. They usually do in some form.
[0:28:11.2] AH: In death.
[0:28:13.1] SC: In death, yeah. They do wear accounts in their soul. Then, the conventions, there’s always a triangle, there’s usually another person involved. Helpers, there are people who want these two people to get together. There are harmers, those who don’t. There’s a gender divide, which I’ve already talked about, where one of the characters expresses more masculine traits, traditionally masculine traits, and the other represents the more traditional feminine traits. Now, there is plenty of romantic comedies where the woman in the story is more manly and the man is more womanly, and that is part of the fun of a romantic comedy. This isn’t like a political debate about the gentrified. It is just the traditional mythic characteristics of gender.
[0:29:02.5] AH: Okay, well you got to watch the use of that term these days.
[0:29:03.6] SC: True, yeah. So, I am trying to be specific but not offensive but it’s in here that is all that I can say.
[0:29:13.4] AH: Okay, we’ll debate it further as we go along.
[0:29:15.3] SC: Yes. The external need. Okay, so external need is, there has to be something that is driving them externally that either gets in the way or helps them come to commit to the other person. So in Pride and Prejudice it’s the necessity of one of the Bennett sisters to get married. In here, both Ennis and Jack, right on the bottom of the social spectrum in the west and they need work, or they can starve and die. It’s that important.
Opposing forces, this is generally groups of society, which is against the union of the two lovers. Secrets, so the secrets are usually one of the lovers is holding a secret from the other one or from a third party. Secrets are very important and until they recognize and reveal the secret to the other partner, they are not going to be able to come together with that partner in the way that they need to. Rituals, meaning the two lovers start to have a particular daily quotidian life together.
They go to the same coffee shop, or they like to do crossword puzzles, or something like that. There is a ritual behavior that the two of them really love to do and they share it with one another.
[0:30:40.8] AH: Now I am picturing Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy doing crossword puzzles together.
[0:30:48.1] SC: Yes, but what they do-do is they’re very, very clever, so they like to clever talk one another. They sort of suddenly goose one another with their intelligence, which is a beautiful ritual throughout that problem. Moral weight is the last conventional meaning. There is a real, real power to the love story. The moral weight of the goodness of love. The necessity of love in order for a person to feel connected to the universe has this very heavy moral weight.
All of this stuff that I have just gone over in my estimation, is brilliantly realized in Brokeback Mountain. So that is why I chose it as the master work because it really delivers on all of these levels.
[0:31:32.1] AH: I had very little trouble finding all of these examples clearly laid out. There were a couple where I had a little bit of a question. Proof of love, you know, we talked about that a little bit last time but mostly, they are all really clear in the story.
[0:31:47.1] SC: Great and we can delineate all of that stuff as we go through the book at a higher resolution but I do want to talk about the gender divide again, just because I want to make sure that I am not overstepping my interpretation. So for the gender divide for me, there is a moment in the story when Ennis gets the job to be the camp tender, the person who cooks the meals and takes care of the camp, gets the supplies, that sort of thing, and Jack is hired to be the camp herder.
Which means that Jack has to leave the camp and go and take care of the sheep at the upper meadow, probably an hour and a half ride away by horse back and he has to sleep in the meadow overnight to make sure that wolves don’t kill the sheep. Then he comes back in the morning for his breakfast and then he goes back and then he comes back. So, for me that was an indication of one taking the traditional feminine role from say the 20th century.
Where the female stays at home and tends the house and the male figure goes and does the work. In the story, Annie Proulx shifts it and Ennis offers to take on that role because Jack didn’t like that role. Jack felt more comfortable taking care of the camp. The other great thing about Jack is that he is really, really sympathetic and empathetic to Ennis. So, he’s like, “Dude, let me just tell you it is really terrible out there,” you know?
“It’s no fun. You have to wake up 12 times a night, there’s wolves, it is not such a great job. So, do you really want to do it because it’s terrible.” Ennis, because Ennis Del Mar translates to “island of the sea.” Google Ennis translation and Del Mar. Ennis I think is a Gaelic reference to an island.
[0:33:49.8] AH: No kidding, wow. Okay that is interesting.
[0:33:51.7] SC: And Del Mar I think is Spanish meaning “of the sea.” So anyway, so Ennis he’s a loner. He is an introvert. So, he doesn’t mind going out there. He doesn’t mind waking up, he doesn’t mind that sort of work. So, Ennis is in the wrong archetypical world, so he trades. So it was that moment for me where Annie Proulx really showed these guys are starting to take on the Yin and the Yang of a relationship. So just throw out all these stuff about male-female.
If you say the feminine sort of sensibility and the masculine sensibility and every single person in the world has both within them, Jack tends toward the feminine. He likes to express the feminine mystic, if you will, and Ennis is more of the masculine mystic. So that is why they switch and that is why I thought it was a really nice part of the story where she nailed that gender divide in a way that wasn’t ridiculous or sledgehammering. Would you agree with that or not?
[0:35:01.7] AH: Well that is an interesting take because that switching of jobs is a really key moment in the story that drives the rest of the story forward, but I’m also struck by the fact that a certain personality divide if you will, is brought out in Ennis being much more cautious and unadventurous. I mean he says, “The farthest I’ve ever travelled is around the coffee pot looking for the handle,” where Jack is much more extroverted and outgoing and adventurous.
Which characteristic I think of is if you have to make Yin Yang masculine-feminine kind of thing, introvert-extrovert, sort of those types of divisions, it is the other way.
[0:35:42.1] SC: Well I was making the argument that Ennis was introverted and Jack was extroverted.
[0:35:43.4] AH: Right and that extroversion would be more associated with this masculine side of the Yin-Yang thing and introversion would be – I am getting at the feeling that yeah, they go both ways.
[0:35:55.4] SC: You know what? I think you’re right. Yeah, exactly. Well done, I agree and okay, you know how I always talk about you have to abide the convention and obligatory scene, but the masters not only abide it, they innovate it, right? And that is what we are talking about right now. Annie Proulx innovated that convention because what you just said is absolutely true and I hadn’t seen it before. They both have both.
And it is not as easily categorized as I made it out to seem because of that point that you just made out, which is an innovation within the genre and brilliantly done. What was the last thing I wanted to hit on that? Oh, this is just a little tiny bit that I noticed while I was going through the thing. She says, “Jack grew up on the northern end of Wyoming on the boarder of Montana while Ennis grew up on the southern border of Utah.”
[0:37:08.9] AH: Right, they’re like diagonal across Wyoming from each other.
[0:37:10.7] SC: So they are like north-south, above ground, below ground.
[0:37:14.6] AH: Highlands, lowlands.
[0:37:15.1] SC: It is really a great metaphor, really great. So that’s the answer to question number two, what we just went over in the last 15 minutes, what are the obligatory scenes and conventions of the genre of the master work? So, the third question is, what’s the point of view? And the point of view is, what sort of decision has the writer made in terms of telling the story? Is it written in the first person, the third person or the second person?
[0:37:43.8] AH: Well this one is the third person. Not only the third person but very much omniscient and I think it is really interesting that one of the reasons, one of the methods by which she keeps this story so short, is by leveraging that omniscient point of view. She can just tell you things.
[0:38:03.5] SC: Yes, it is almost journalistic isn’t it?
[0:38:04.4] AH: It is amazing because she can cover 10 years in a sentence that way, which would be pretty hard to do if it was in first person for example of either character.
[0:38:11.0] SC: It reminds me of the journalism of Joan Didion. Like Joan Didion could write a seemingly simple piece that would have great resonance and universality to it because she really hones that sort of omniscient third person journalistic point of view, just stating the facts but from a very particular way of looking at the facts. So that sense of sensibility. Brokeback Mountain style reminded me of Didion in that way, but she was also able to get into the thought processes and minds of these characters at the same time in perfectly stated short sentences.
For example, there is a sentence in there right after Joe Aguirre gives them the lay of the land and I think the words are end of quotations marks, he’s finished talking to them and then there is a simple short sentence that says, “Two deuces going nowhere.”
[0:39:16.4] AH: Yeah, isn’t that great.
[0:39:17.8] SC: Right and that’s Joe Aguirre’s point of view and guess what? That’s the point of view of society of those two men and there it is in five words. So anyway, it is really important while you are doing this stuff to really shout out these moments of really finely tuned work because yes, it is third person omniscient point of view. Yes, it’s journalistic but she also has the skill to drop in one sentence that is from the point of view of a specific character that does not interfere with the global narrative choice.
So, the point of view obviously is expertly drawn and for reasons of simplicity, third person omniscient is exactly what you’d want to sort of write down as an answer to that question. So, the forth question in the six editors questions when they are trying to evaluate a work is, what are the objects of desire? And what that means is, what does the protagonist want and what does the protagonist need? So, what do you think the objects of desire are in Brokeback Mountain?
[0:40:30.1] AH: Well, for one thing they descend directly from the genre and in a love story, the protagonists want love and connection or some kind of commitment or intimacy. So that’s what I put down, that Ennis really wants to connect.
[0:40:47.0] SC: See, I would say that that was their need. I would take their want in a much more external direction and I would say that Ennis and Jack want to get along. I mean get along socially, right? Ennis just wants his daily bread. He wants to work with his horses. He wants to be outside, he wants to live on an island of himself and just get enough to build a life and that’s enough for him. It is the symphony for the common man, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Jack, he wants to rise in social status, that is why he wants to be a bull rider. He wants some sort of third-party validation and it’s obvious when we meet his father later on why, but Jack to me is looking for recognition of his humanity. Ennis is looking for being able to be himself and to live a life that is noble and honorable and that’s it and what they both need of course, what they need deep down, is to find their opposite and to bond with their opposite.
Find the love, find their soul mate. So, I mean there is a reason why it’s called soul mate is that it brings the Yin and the Yang together of the complete personality. So that is how I would describe the objects of desire. Remember the want is the external and the need is the internal. So, the want for Ennis is just to get along and the want for Jack is validation of his humanity through status, rising in status in some way, and then they both need love.
[0:42:42.8] AH: So curiously what you are describing here is that the external want is what we call the conscious want or desire, is arising from their internal genre. So you’ve got Ennis with the world view internal genre and Jack with a status internal genre and yet that is their external want and the need arises from the love genre, which is how I got twisted around here.
[0:43:06.7] SC: I think what you will find in really well wrought love stories is that whenever the characters are in search of love, you know it can work, sure, like Elizabeth Bennett isn’t in search of love, neither is Darcy, right? And neither are these guys. These guys are trying to make a life for themselves. They are not really thinking about love. Ennis is engaged to Alma Beers, right? That is a transaction of life. He doesn’t understand love as a psychic force.
Love to him and to Jack was probably, “Get myself a good woman and settle down and get myself a little spread,” that kind of thing, and they haven’t really even considered that there was an Ennis out there, or a Jack out there for them, which makes the purity of this story so much better because it goes to romanticism again. The romantic myth is that love is like lightning. It strikes, it happens and if you are lucky enough you can put that in a bottle and live with it with the rest of your life.
[0:44:19.1] AH: There is a moment in a scene, I am calling it scene eight but I think I am wrong about the numbering, it is when the middle build begins and they’ve left the mountain together and Ennis has married Alma and she says here, “Alma Junior was born and their bedroom was full of the smell of old blood and milk and baby shit and the sounds were squalling and sucking and Alma’s sleepy groans all reassuring of the conduit and life’s continuance to one who worked with livestock.” I thought that was such a mundane, basic – love isn’t in there. It is just like what animals do.
[0:44:55.4] SC: That’s correct.
[0:44:56.5] AH: I thought that was just really beautiful.
[0:45:01.2] SC: Stunning and early on in the story when Jack and Ennis go out for a beer after they got the job, Jack being this is his second year on Brokeback Mountain tells Ennis about the lightning that struck up there and it destroyed a bunch of sheep, didn’t it? It killed a bunch of them. So, it is a foreshadowing metaphorical moment that is just so well done and then when you consider the romanticisms use of the metaphor of lightning. You know lightning strikes, we fall in love. You can see why she chose that phraseology to fill in there.
[0:45:42.4] AH: Also, Jack coming from a town called Lighting Flat.
[0:45:45.3] SC: That’s right. It’s not a coincidence, right Anne? Once maybe, twice is not a coincidence. Okay let’s move on. We’ve gone through four of the six, the fifth question is, what’s the controlling idea theme? And the way I always suss these things out is I think about the value at stake. The global value at stake at the global genre and the cause of its movement from one place to another. So, using that formula, the global value of a love story is love and so now what we need is to come up with a single sentence that states the controlling idea theme of the story.
So, what do you think it is Anne?
[0:46:35.3] AH: Well I came up with – this was another question mark but here’s what I came up with – love fails when lovers don’t believe they can overcome the obstacles of a society that forbids their union.
[0:46:48.2] SC: Okay that’s absolutely valid. That’s certainly in the story. The more romantic would be something like love transcends earthly experience. So, the elements that you could say is that Ennis and Jack were bonded spiritually after their union for eternity. Now I think both of those controlling ideas work because it is true that Ennis was terrified of having an authentic out of the closet relationship with the man he loved, and he wasn’t stupid. I mean he was correct, they ended up killing Jack because of that.
[0:47:34.1] AH: Right and Ennis is explicit about the life and death stakes that he believed were at stake.
[0:47:38.3] SC: Yeah and he wasn’t bullshitting, you know? He’s not. He sees it very early on.
[0:47:43.3] AH: Right, he personally witnessed a murder, right.
[0:47:45.3] SC: Yeah very early on, he says, “This is the world we are living in, deal with it.”
[0:47:52.1] AH: You know I didn’t like to use the love fails rather than love succeeds kind of approach to the controlling idea because you don’t walk away from this story feeling like it was – it is cathartic and there’s a certain tragic element to it but yet you do feel like love has endured. But not in a really satisfactory way as far as the average everyday experience of a committed relationship.
[0:48:17.6] SC: That’s true. It is a non-traditional love that actually saved one man’s life and caused the death of another. So yeah, it is ironic paradoxical or whatever you want to call it. There’s super-duper negative and super-duper positive operating at the same time at the end of the story, which is a formula for catharsis, and it hits anyone who reads it like lightning.
[0:48:48.8] AH: Like lightning, yeah.
[0:48:49.0] SC: You know it is –
[0:48:50.7] AH: Well it does if you have a soul at all.
[0:48:53.5] SC: Yeah, that well wrought, you know? And this is the kind of story that changes the world. It really is and one of my favorites for that very reason. Okay, so let us move onto the last question, what is the beginning hook, the middle build and the ending payoff of the story? So, what insights the story, what build the tension in the middle and what pays it off at the end? I am going to throw that to you and see what you come up with here.
[0:48:25.8] AH: Okay, well I did come up with a sort of a sentence each for the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff. Let me tell you what I got here, but they are sort of sideways on my screen. I am trying to turn my screen around here. The beginning hook is when Ennis meets Jack on Brokeback Mountain and falls unexpectedly in love. He must deny the elicit attraction or else accept it and face the many limitations it presents. He denies it and they part ways, but he is heartbroken.
For the middle build, when the relationship is revived, Ennis must decide whether to make it more permanent, losing his wife and daughters and risking societal sanctions, or else learn to bear what he can’t change. He defaults to bearing it, loses his wife and children anyway and winds up alone.
Then in the ending payoff, see if I can get through this without actually crying, let’s see, when Ennis learns that Jack has been killed, he must decide how to go on without him and figure out whether the relationship had any real meaning despite the problems and infidelities. He chooses to remain alone faithful to the memory of the love that he and Jack shared.
[0:50:35.2] SC: I couldn’t have done it anywhere near as well as you did.
[0:50:39.9] AH: Awesome, that’s great.
[0:50:42.1] SC: Yeah that is exactly what I am talking about when I am talking about hook, build, payoff and it definitely aligns with my interpretation too. So that is part of the scientific method. It is testing the methodology. So, does one person’s interpretation align? It doesn’t have to be perfect, but does it align with another’s? Does the methodology work from two different sources of analytical thinking? So, this is great, I feel good. This is probably the 4,000th time, you know? It is aligned for me using the Story Grid with somebody else.
So basically, those six questions that we just went over, I created a document that I call the Foolscap Global Story Grid page, and on that page, it breaks down an entire story onto a single piece of paper. So, Anne, I know you created this, so we’ll put this in the show notes, but this is what the Foolscap Global Story Grid is all about. It is to give you the gestalt an entire story in one page.
The reason why it is great to have that is that if you ever have a question in your mind, “Well geez, how did she solve that problem? How did she put that convention in her love story?” You can just go to your Foolscap page, get the answer, and then that can inspire you on a similar question or problem that you are faced with. So, I think this is a great start. We’ve got the macro view. We are both in alignment with the way this is working and so the next stage for our next session will be to put what I call the Story Grid spreadsheet, which is the micro point of view, on top of Brokeback Mountain.
Which means we’ll analyze the story scene by scene and so we’ll come up with a list together and have complete agreement of what these scenes are that make up the entire story. So we’ll figure out how many scenes she puts in the beginning hook, how many she puts in the middle build, how many she puts in the ending payoff and that will be our next series of chores to do and we’re doing all of this, just to remind everybody, that at the end of this process, we’ll have a to-do list for Anne of prompts for her to use to inspire her to write something original, only in Anne’s mind, that would follow the same structural outline that Annie Proulx so brilliantly achieved in Brokeback Mountain.
So that’s all I’ve got for this week Anne, unless you have any questions.
[0:53:28.5] AH: My mind is reeling. There is a lot of work here to do. I just wanted to say one thing, just for people listening, that this process of breaking a story down into the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff, recognizing these sort of act breaks and that sort of thing was really, really difficult and frustrating for me when I first started trying to do it, not on this story, but quite a long time ago now.
The only way you get to it is to do it over and over again with multiple stories. I just want to emphasize that for people who feel frustrated in the face of breaking their own story down into this foolscap. Yeah, it’s really hard. It takes a long time to get the hang of it.
[0:54:10.8] SC: Well, anything worth doing is hard, right?
[0:54:12.3] AH: That’s right. I mean you just expect some cognitive dissonance, expect to have to hammer away at it and not feel real good about it and feel stupid and all of that kind of thing, it was really a barrier for me to overcome to let myself just feel stupid and ignorant and do it anyway and eventually get the hang of it.
[0:54:30.9] SC: Well you sure did. I’ll tell you, great work.
[0:54:32.5] AH: Well, thank you. Well, I will get to work on my scene break-down and we’ll talk to you again next week.
[0:54:42.0] SC: Okay, thanks Anne.
[0:54:43.6] AH: Great, thanks Shawn.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:54:45.0] AH: Well that’s a wrap for episode two of The Masterwork Experiment. You’ll find links to my foolscap page and my scene spreadsheet in progress in the show notes. We have included a link to the New Yorker edition of Brokeback Mountain as well because we’ll hope you’ll read it and follow along. It truly is a brilliant story.
For anything Story Grid related, visit storygrid.com. Be sure to pick up a copy of the book, The Story Grid and sign up for the newsletter to get a weekly notice of all the wonderful things that we are constantly working on in the Story Grid universe. If you’d like to learn more about me and my work, you’ll find me at annehawley.net. You can also join me on the Editor Roundtable Podcast, where I team up with four other Story Grid certified editors to analyze the structure of a movie or a novel every week. To support the show, tell other authors about us or leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcast or Stitcher. It really does help new listeners find us.
Join us again next week when Shawn and I begin our deep dive into the scenes and individual beats of Brokeback Mountain. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.