Creating a Story Grid – Part 1

We have now entered the 4th step in moving from first draft to second draft.

This week we dive into how to work through each scene in developing an actual Story Grid Graph.


[0:00:00.5] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is the show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host, Tim Grahl and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He is the creator of Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 plus years’ experience.

In this episode, we step into the next tool in evaluating your first draft, we’ve gone through three so far and this is the fourth one and if it sounds like kind of a long slog, that’s exactly what it feels like on my end anyway. What I’m hoping and what Shawn says and I think is true, is this is going to make the shift from the first draft to the second draft, just make the book so much better looking at the story from all this different angles.

This is the fourth tool, it’s definitely one that’s probably the hardest on me to wrap my head around but I think it’s a really great one and I’m excited to jump in and get started.


[0:01:05.5] TG: Shawn, we’re continuing to work through the first draft of my novel and this has just continued to be fascinating to me because everything that you see out there is all about writing your first draft and how to write your first draft but I’ve never really seen a methodical way to move from first draft to second draft and this thing we’ve been going over for the last six or eight weeks is nothing if it’s not methodical.

We’ve gone through, going scene by scene through the story grid’s spreadsheet and then doing a big to do list and brain storm then we did the fool’s cap global story grid where we put the entire novel on one sheet of paper and then we looked at the hero’s journey and walked through both the archetypes and the moments of the hero’s journey based on Volgner’s works.

Used that as a way to evaluate what I have in the book, what I’m missing, what needs to be turned up a little bit and then this, now we’re moving into a scene by scene external value. Can you talk, I tried to do the homework from last week and we’ll go over that but can you talk a little bit about what this is?

[0:02:22.7] SC: Sure, this is a way to evaluate each and every scene in your novel in terms of the global story value. Now, the global story value is based upon your chosen genres, right? It’s not like something you have to make up, it’s baked into each and every genre in storytelling.

Your genres are globally the thriller for the external and the coming of age maturation plot for the internal, right? From these two major poles, we can look at each and every scene that you’ve written and assign it a number. When I say assign it a number, what I mean is to evaluate each scene in terms of the other scenes in the entire story.

For example, the low point or the all is lost moment in your story would be the very lowest point on a graph on the story grid graph. Because you have now, say you had 150 scenes, now you don’t but let’s say you wrote the first half of War and Peace and it was 150 scenes.

What you would do is you would have 75 scenes that would probably be in the positive realm and 75 scenes that would be sort of in the negative realm. The lowest point would be a negative 75 and the highest point on the positive axes would be a positive 75.

Berceuse you wrote 60 scenes, what I suggested is that you look at each scene in your story and assign it a number relative to the other scenes in your story. Now, this is kind of a new innovation that I’m bringing to Story Grid. Lucky you, you get to be the Guinea pig for it.

The reason why I thought this would be a good innovation for the Story Grid, is that it reduces the subjectivity of the analysis. What I mean by that is the way I would – like when I went through Pride and Prejudice and when I went through The Silence of the Lambs, I sort of gave it not a subjective but a kind of not wishy washy but general sense on each scene where it would be in the spectrum of value.

You know, would it be a little bit higher than the previous scene, would it be a little bit lower, that sort of thing. Instead, what I think would be even more accurate and more helpful would be to evaluate it in terms of each scene in the story. You know, each of your scenes would have ideally the positive on one end would reflect the negative on another end.

So that you would have this sort of emotional irony going throughout your story. I know I’m speaking in really vague terms and I’m looking around my office now to find the story grid of the Silence of the Lambs, hold on a second.

My point is that each scene, what a great thing to do would be to evaluate each of your scenes so that you can distinguish one from the other, you can track how progressively it’s getting more tense or less tense or she’s approaching maturity or she’s getting away from maturity and the way to do that is to give each scene a number and then when you go to make your story grid, because all of your scenes will be given specific numbers, it would be very easy to plot those numbers on a graph right?

What I thought would be good to start here was to ask you to evaluate all 60 of your scenes and find the most positive moment when life, you know, the most positive element of the life value is present and the most negative level of the life value which would approach you know, damnation and also to look at the maturation plot, when is she at the lowest point, the furthest away from being capable of maturing, when does she sort of have a massive amount of cognitive dissonance to the point where she sort of freaks out and when does she reach maturity?

What is the highest level of that scene? Which scene is she the most mature. Do you have an answer for that?

[0:07:34.0] TG: Yeah, let’s start with the external life and death value. Because I feel like that’s the most straight forward. I put the negative 30 as when she dies at the end of the third severing, right before the ending payoff of the book and then I put the positive 30 is when she forces herself to wake up out of the grid and confront Randy. The third from last scene.

[0:08:07.4] SC: Okay, well let’s talk about it. The lowest point is when she is literally dead right?

[0:08:14.1] TG: Right. I have that marked, of the four scenes I had it marked, that one I marked first because I’m like, if it’s life and death, she was closest to death when she actually died.

[0:08:27.0] SC: okay, let me ask you this question now.

[0:08:29.8] TG: Okay.

[0:08:31.5] SC: Is there a moment in the story when she’s actually at a worst place than that? Meaning, where to die would be almost a mercy. Meaning, if she were to put herself, she would be damned if she does not make a specific kind of action, do you know what I’m saying?

[0:08:51.7] TG: No.

[0:08:51.8] SC: Okay. In Silence of the Lambs, at the end of the middle build, Clarice Starling has been shipped back to Quantico because they said “you’re off the case, go back to starling, we don’t want you here anymore,” it’s right after she has the final discussion with Hannibal Lector, just before Lector escapes the prison in Tennessee and so they send her back and she’s at sort of this very low point in her life because she has to make a very difficult choice.

The choice that she has to make is she knows that she has some level of gift that the other investigators don’t have. She knows that she can think in terms of what the victim has experienced as opposed to what everybody else does which is trying to look at the murders through the point of view of the killer.

She intuitively inside of herself knows that she should continue on her track investigating this murder. Not this murder but this kidnapping, there’s a woman’s life is at stake. She is being held captive by a madman in a pit where nobody knows where he is.

She, because she’s very intelligent puts together the clues that Hannibal Lector gives her and she intuitively thinks “what I should do is go investigate the very first victim of the killer” because she understands from Hannibal Lector because Lector says to her, “Buffalo Bill covets things.”

What do you do when you covet something is it’s constantly in your presence. Starling says to herself, “if Buffalo Bill started killing because he coveted something, I should go back to the very first victim because that very first victim was probably someone very close to him because he saw in her what he wanted.”

She puts together all these pieces in her mind and understands that she should go back to Ohio where the very first victim was killed because Buffalo Bill probably lives there because he coveted this young girl who was living close to him and she turns out to be right.

She begins to think in terms of who the victim is and why she is so special to the killer as opposed to the way everybody else is thinking which is from the point of view of the killer. Anyway, it’s at this moment when she realizes that she’s on to something. Now, her life is not in jeopardy but she faces an internal damnation of sorts because if she does not go on her instincts and if she does not do everything in her power to try and save this poor woman who has been held captive, she will never forgive herself.

She will feel damned. She reaches the point of damnation close to the edge of damnation at the end of the middle build and she has to make a choice. Do I stay here in Quantico and get everything that I ever wanted which is to be an FBI agent and respect from my family or do I put that at risk seriously at risk.

She’s going to get kicked out of the academy if they find out she did this in order to save another person. She makes the choice to go and do everything in her power to save the life of another person. It’s the moment when she faces the possibility of living damned, walking around for the rest of her life, this is why they call the novel the silence of the lambs because as a child, Clarise Starling heard lambs being slaughtered and she could hear them screaming and it tormented her, her entire life.

You know, thematically, she does not want to experience, she wants to silence those lambs, she wants to be heroic and the only way she’s going to be heroic is if she goes and makes the choice to put her, all of her material and personal stuff aside in order to save the woman in the layer of lair of the killer.

It’s at that moment when she faces damnation. That is a very critical part of the story and it’s I think it’s scene number 50 or 51 in the novel, it’s just at the end of the middle build. That’s the low point, the lowest point for the life value in Silence of the Lambs.

I’m going to go back to my question for you. Is there a moment in your novel where Jesse faces a similar choice?

[0:14:16.6] TG: There is the choice of whether or not she’s going to stand with Randy or fight against him.

[0:14:25.1] SC: That’s correct.

[0:14:27.2] TG: Okay.

[0:14:28.9] SC: That is facing, this is a really key point about the life value and it’s one that can be very confusing so I want to talk about it again. The life value, it’s very – it’s wonderful the way storytelling is because the life value seems very easy right? You’re either alive or you’re dead right?

[0:14:51.1] TG: Well that’s what I was thinking.

[0:14:52.7] SC: No, I mean it’s obvious, I go through the same thing every time I’m analyzing something and it makes me really have to think more clearly about what the life value means. Is it better? The concept is this. Damnation to be alive but to be internally damned so it’s almost as if putting somebody out of their misery would be a mercy and putting them out of their misery would mean that they die. So they wouldn’t have to walk around anymore tormenting themselves with all the horrible things that they did or did not do.

That is a damned life. It’s sort of somebody who does something really – this is the thing of redemption stories is it begins with the character who is living a damned life and redeems themselves and comes back. For Jesse, the lowest point on the life value, the negative 30 scene is the moment when she has to confront damnation and she, the scene after that is going to jump right? Because she’s going to make a choice from the lowest of the low on the life value to I’m going to be an altruistic and I’m going to sacrifice myself for the greater good.

I would say, the lowest point for you on your spreadsheet will be the moment when she faces that choice, now, here’s a note to think about, is it clear in your story that she’s facing that sort of choice or are we sort of noodling around to find that moment?

[0:16:44.1] TG: Yeah, it’s not clear.

[0:16:45.6] SC: Right, it’s not clear. This is a great moment right? This is one of the reasons why you want to do this kind of deep-thinking evaluation because what we’ve just discovered is you need to take a sledge hammer and really make it clear. I’m not saying like you have to literally have somebody say, “well, my choices are to help everybody else or to just be selfish.”

That’s not what I’m saying, it’s to think about how Thomas Harris handled the damnation point in his novel, when Starling faces damnation, she doesn’t literally sit around going, “my gosh, what am I going to do? Do I stay on the FBI or do I go try and save this woman?”

No. What Thomas Harris does is he has her dreaming, I believe he has her dream and the scene right before she goes to see Crawford and it’s in this dream that she remembers the horrific screams of the lambs and also of when she escapes and she leaves on the horse from her uncle’s Montana ranch.

She thinks about her past. Her past comes to haunt her in her dreams and it’s then that she decides she can’t sleep, she leaves her bed and she goes to the laundry room and she does laundry like we all do when we don’t want to deal with anything and we can’t think so we do like a really manual task because it frees up our mind.

She goes to do her laundry and she can see the tumbling you know and it makes this very kind of soothing noise and it’s at that moment that he cuts the scene and then the next scene is you know, she’s made her choice at that point. No, she goes to do her laundry because she’s packing her bag, she’s going, she’s leaving.

That’s a way of really clearly, I’m not saying, telling the reader, I’m saying, kind of showing the reader you know? Jesse, she could be, it’s like when those great westerns in the scene, every western has a showdown scene.

Gun fighters go and you know, what really terrific film makers and writers do is they let us into the world of the good guy before he has to go and you know, fire a gun and try and kill somebody else. We see him like cleaning off his boots and polishing his buckle and you know, doing kind of the manual – go ahead?

[0:19:34.3] TG: Goes and sees his girl for one more time.

[0:19:37.1] SC: Yes, yeah, takes care of – “if I don’t come out of it, this is what you need to do and don’t cry, this is something that has to be done and if I don’t do it, nobody will,” that kind of thing. You know, it’s kind of interesting because we skipped over some stuff at the very ending payoff so that you could kind of work out the logistics of how are you going to flesh it out.

This is a great note for you, oh wow, this could really sort of pump me into the ending payoff. If I can get Jesse to come to the realization that “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to basically do whatever’s possible, all the way to losing my own life, to stop my brother.” You know, she doesn’t literally have to say that but that would – then you’re like wow, then the reader’s going to be like,”Oh  my gosh, what she going to do? How is she going to figure this one out? She just came back to life.

How is this going to work out? How is this possible?” That will be your low point on the life value, that’s going to be your negative 30 on the life out. And your positive 30 is going to be where?

[0:21:00.6] TG: I have the positive 30, I got to get back to it, I was putting that note in my prints.

[0:21:06.7] SC: Okay, yeah, sure.

[0:21:09.0] TG: The positive 30 will be…

[0:21:11.8] SC: When she wins the hero at the mercy of the villains right?

[0:21:16.0] TG: Right, okay, that’s what I have here.

[0:21:18.4] SC: Okay, good. Because that…

[0:21:20.8] TG: I have it when she wakes up, she forces herself out and then beats randy, it’s the scene after the hero at the mercy of the villain right? When she comes out of that.

[0:21:35.7] SC: Yeah, you know, the hero of the mercy of the villain scene begins negatively and it ends positively right? The hero at the mercy of the villain scene will be dynamically the most positive one because she triumphs. The scene after that will probably be a little bit lower because it’s like, you know, when you stand up the plate in baseball and you hit a home run, it’s the moment of impact when you hit the ball that is the high point right?

That’s when you are fully in line with the universe. You know, use any analogy, I like sports because anybody who has hit a baseball solidly knows what I’m talking about or hitting a golf ball or writing a great sentence. You know you have that feeling, you’re at the moment of like complete karma, I mean, not karma, nirvana in the universe, you feel “oh wow” and then the minute you start running the first base is a let down.

I mean, you’re happy, it’s like when they ask guys who win the NBA championship or the Super Bowl, “how does it feel” and they always go, “Ah it’s unbelievable. It doesn’t feel like anything now at the moment when I won it was amazing and I can’t even explain what that felt like.

Right now it feels kind of like is this all there is because yeah, I’ve got some stupid trophy but the thing that was interesting and the reason why I play this game is for the moment I can’t describe. It’s the moment when I hit that incredible mystical spiritual cord. That’s when it was amazing, now, it’s not so amazing, answering questions about how I felt is not really that amazing.”

That’s the same thing in a story is that moment that she put – it’s like when they put the final dagger in Dracula you know? It’s like bang, the final force, that’s when everything’s cool. That will be your plus 30 is the hero at the mercy of the villain scene when she triumphs.

[0:23:58.7] TG: Okay. I had that marked.

[0:23:59.8] SC: Okay, great.

[0:24:02.8] TG: Looking at the internal value, this one I struggled with a bit for a couple of reasons. We’re moving from naivete masked as sophistication to naivete to uncertainty to maturity.

[0:24:18.7] SC: Yes.

[0:24:20.6] TG: If I look at my fool’s cap which I feel like it’s cheating but I looked at my fool’s cap and it starts double negative and then it’s just positive all the way to the end. I was looking and this is – when we did that on the fool’s cap, I had a lot of trouble because I couldn’t – I was having trouble differentiating between seeing it as the storyteller and seeing it as Jesse.

Part of me thinks the negative 30 should just be the first scene because that’s when she’s the most naïve but then, part of me, even what you’re talking about when we first started this episode is part of me thinks the negative 30 is in that second severing at the all is lost moment.

I put it as that, scene 31 right in the middle, the all is lost moment but I struggled between whether it should be scene one or scene 31.

[0:25:21.0] SC: Well that’s a really good question and it’s a really – this is why this is really important to think about because I’ll admit right now, I’m not always correct. My initial thinking is not always correct and I have to do what everybody else has to do, is to step back and isolate the question and really think it through.

For me, let’s really think it through, when is Jesse, when are any of us, the most naivete masked as sophistication? Okay, what does that mean? That means, when the person believes that they are smarter than everybody else, they’re sophisticated, they have a very – their worldview is universally sound and they have no hesitancy in making choices because they have a very strong world view, it’s like, people who have very intense world views that are intractable.

Usually religious zealots, anybody who is thoroughly committed to their world view and anybody who challenges it is the enemy. Okay, at the very beginning of this story, Jesse thinks that she understands the way the world is. She believes that she’s figured out a way around it. She’s a hacker.

Everybody else is mining and doing all this stuff that the faction tells them to do and she does that to a point but she sees how corrupt everything really is. She understands that because she’s capable of maneuvering in the virtual world in ways that nobody else can. She has a certain gift.

She believes that her world view is strong, is intractable, she’s got it figured out. Having that attitude is perfectly – that’s very strong but what’s even stronger than that? Any idea? Holding the attitude.

[0:27:47.2] TG: What do you mean?

[0:27:48.1] SC: Well, what’s even more a bigger expression of naivete masked as sophistication? Is it the character thinking that they are sophisticated when they’re really naïve or is it when they act when they’re sophisticated when they’re really naïve?

[0:28:09.3] TG: Yeah, I mean, I would say it’s when they’re faced with something that would expose their naivete and they still ignore it, my wife’s therapist calls it ripping off the denial blanket. When somebody tries to rip off the denial blanket and they just hold it on even tighter.

[0:28:31.4] SC: Right. I think it’s, I think you agree, it’s when we act from our intractable world view in a way that does not, that holds us back. I would say the negative 30 for her naivete spectrum is when she turns down the trip to the special school when she says “no, I’m not going to do that.”

That’s at the end – right now it’s at the end of scene one which you may or may not tweak with a prologue…

[0:29:08.1] TG: Yeah, it’s probably going to be scene two or three.

[0:29:11.1] SC: Okay.

[0:29:12.0] TG: Because we’re going to have the prologue but we’re probably going to also have a scene. The prologue and then the actual first scene will probably be some world establishment and then the second scene would be the one that is currently the first scene, a version of it.

[0:29:29.3] SC: Right. Okay. You would begin – that’s your negative 30 point and you are correct about the movement of the maturation plot, it moves from positive, from negative to positive globally throughout the story. It keeps getting a little bit more positive. Since you brought it up, before we get into the plus 30, now let’s do the plus 30 on the naivete skill because it’s pretty easy.

[0:30:00.7] TG: Yeah, it’s the last scene. So it’s when she goes back and she admits she doesn’t know what is going on or what to do next.

[0:30:07.1] SC: That’s correct and that is anybody who’s an adult can agree with. That is maturity when you say, “I really don’t know”. Now let’s talk about that moment when she freaks out. Where do you think that falls on the spectrum?

[0:30:26.1] TG: I feel like it’s actually in the positive because it’s when she finally is able the face the fact that she doesn’t know what to do. So up until that point, it might be the point where it flips, maybe it’s the positive one because it’s the point where it finally flips from naivety to uncertainty.

[0:30:50.9] SC: Yeah, I would even put it right on the axis itself, you know? It’s right that intersection moment when it’s like the Cougar Ross moment when we stopped bargaining and we’re over our depression and now we just face reality. We face up to it, we change our course of action. We’re open to suggestions as they say. So now you’ve established for the naivety maturation plot, your beginning, your middle and your ending right? So that would be zero. That scene would be the number zero or one.

[0:31:39.4] TG: I’d put zero/one.

[0:31:41.4] SC: Yeah.

[0:31:41.8] TG: Because if we do zero, it’s going to mess it up because –

[0:31:46.8] SC: Yeah, there goes our balance.

[0:31:49.1] TG: Well because then I’ll have 61 numbers with 60 scenes and I can’t handle that. So I’ll put zero/one.

[0:31:56.6] SC: I just had that moment of panic in my own head so thank you for saying that. Okay, so that’s pretty good. Now let’s go back to the life value. So we have our positive 30 when?

[0:32:12.0] TG: So I have the positive 30, it’s the third from the last scene. It’s the scene where she overcomes the villain.

[0:32:18.9] SC: Right.

[0:32:19.4] TG: And then the negative 30, so there is a point where she does make the decision. She confronts Randy and it’s like, “I know what’s going on and I’m going to fight you” but it is not well done like we talked about. So I went ahead and marked it as negative 30 but I’ll have to rewrite a couple of things to get it to work the right way, does that make sense?

[0:32:47.9] SC: Yeah, I think your negative 30 is the moment when she comes to the realization that she has to sacrifice herself for the greater good and what you just described is the scene where she confronts her brother and says I’m going to fight you, right?

[0:33:04.2] TG: Right because I don’t have the scene that I need, right.

[0:33:08.7] SC: The thing to remember is the obvious choice is always probably not the one you want to end up using and so what’s so great about the Silence of the Lambs is that – I don’t want to get too – Harris made the external low point meaning the life value. He dramatized that by having an internalized scene, do you follow what I’m saying?

[0:33:39.2] TG: Yeah with the dream.

[0:33:40.4] SC: Yeah, with the dream so that was an internal – he internalized the external and externalizes the internal. When you’re doing that scene with Jessie where she comes up to this problem. She understands, “If I do this it will be good for me and terrible for everybody else and I need to choose what’s good for everybody else at my own expense”. That scene may not be something where she’s having a conversation with anybody.

It could be the moment where she’s doing something, it’s expressed through a softer scene that doesn’t have a lot of guns and knives and action, you know what I’m saying?

[0:34:35.8] TG: Could I make it the scene where Leila reveals to her, the scene where she realizes that Randy is the bad guy.

[0:34:46.1] SC: I don’t know that you can because that is a very large beat in the story. It’s a large moment when we come to realize, “Oh my gosh Randy is the evil force behind this entire thing” we thought it was the mayor or whatever and now it’s Randy. So if you try and add any additional moment there, it will confuse the scene. So you need an entirely different scene where Jessie, it’s almost like she has to deal with it herself.

Or there is a moment in that great movie with the Deer Hunter, I don’t know if you saw that movie but it’s a story of these guys from Western Pennsylvania who worked in a steel mill. It’s during the Vietnam era and three of them were sent to Vietnam and they are all very rough and humble blue collar guys who have no fear of going to Vietnam. Flash forward, they go to Vietnam and it is horrifying. They all get captured by these Vietcong who made them play Russian roulette.

Sorry to spoil the story, they make them play Russian roulette and there comes a moment where they understand they’ve got to do something and they’ll just going to eventually die in this sort of prison. So one guy is facing the other guy and they’re both brothers, not literal brothers but they are brothers from Western Pennsylvania and one is played by Robert De Niro, one is played by Christopher Walken and De Niro says to the guy, “Put two bullets in there or three bullets”.

“We’ll play with three bullets and then he gets them out of the situation” flash forward, two years later, De Niro is back in Western Pennsylvania and Christopher Walken has stayed in Vietnam. He’s lost his mind, he’s become completely fragmental and he’s now making his life playing Russian roulette for money and they finally said to De Niro, “Hey you know Christopher Walken he hasn’t come home. What are we going to do?” and he’s like, “Dude I don’t want to go back to Vietnam. That is horrifying, what do you want me to do” and there is a couple of scenes were people aren’t saying anything to him directly.

But eventually, he reaches the point where he stops and he’s in the middle of something and he just goes, “Okay” oh I know where he is. He is out hunting deer, that’s why they called it Deer Hunter. He’s out hunting deer and he’s the best shot. He is the best deer hunter in Western Pennsylvania and he’s tracked down this deer. It’s just him and the deer and he’s got the gun raised and he’s looking through the scope and he sees the eye of the deer and he drops his gun and he says okay.

And then next scene is him going back to Vietnam to get his friend back and it’s that moment when we don’t really – when you are watching the movie you’re like, “Why doesn’t he kill the deer? Oh my gosh” and then all of sudden he goes back to get his friend. That’s his moment where he switches his point of view where he says, “I’ve got to stop thinking about myself. I have to go back and get my friend”.

[0:38:05.4] TG: Well in both of the ones you described of that and silence of the lambs, you don’t actually know that was the decision point to the next scene.

[0:38:15.2] SC: Right and often times when it’s really, really good storytelling, you don’t know it until you’ve read it four times or you see it in the movie four times and then somebody says to you, “I wonder when the time flies when the character realized that they had to go back to Vietnam” and you go, “Oh right it’s that moment when he doesn’t kill the deer. Oh it’s that moment when she’s in the laundry room and she’s cleaning her clothes because she is going to leave.”

And this is where you are firing on all cylinders as a writer, is when people don’t know, they can’t see the parts until they really think about it. So think about a scene for Jessie where she is and this is on a broader note, set up a scene. What Michael Cimino did in the Deer Hunter is he started the movie with these guys going on a deer hunt. Now of course Michael, Robert De Niro’s character, he gets the deer and everybody is happy and it’s great and it’s their usual deer hunt.

And so he sets up that moment, that critical moment at the beginning. The end of the middle build of the movie into the flashes into the ending payoff, he set it up in the beginning hook. So you might want to think about, is there something that I can bookend this moment for Jessie that I can stick in the beginning hook and then pay it off with the opposite decision in that critical shift from middle build to ending payoff. It could be she does something nice for her mother.

It is a matter of a routine or she has some sort of personal action that has meaning to her. That she stops doing and that’s a way of signaling subconsciously to your audience, “Oh she’s changed”. “Oh Robert De Niro’s changed. He is not killing the deer now, in fact he is going back to save a life not kill somebody”. He was a hard assed macho guy at the beginning and now he understands the value of life after he went through all these trauma.

Now he is going back to save life not to destroy it and maybe this is for Jessie. Now she understands what this is about. This isn’t about hacking the system. This is about destroying the system. This isn’t about being ironic and detached, this is about doing something for other people. There is a great line in one of my favorite movies and a novel called North Dallas 40. It is about football and the line is, “Seeing through the game is not the same as winning the game”.

What I think what the writer meant by that is understanding the way things work and laughing about it and enjoying your expertise outside of every other person is kind of cowardly. What you have to do is to see through the game and then try and change the game and that’s what Jessie has to do here.

[0:41:35.3] TG: Okay, well I was thinking even then – so one of the things in my notes is I need to make the ordinary world much more painful for the people that live in it. So I was thinking about, I’ve done some work with drug addicts and stuff and basically right now, it’s one of the things that I realized when I went back through it and it’s in my brainstorm notes is it’s not all that bad for the people in the normal world. So her saving them isn’t much of a saving.

So I was thinking of switching it over to where there’s these people that just hated so much but it’s like the alcoholic that hates alcohol but yeah, at the beginning she loves it because those are all the weak idiots that don’t know how to do anything and she’s the one that does and so at the beginning she loves the system or the grid and at the end, she destroys it.

[0:42:39.6] SC: That’s good and it could be even something fun where she and the rats or Balem, it’s like we talk every Wednesday at 3:00 right? And I talk with Steve every Tuesday at 3:00 and I’ve got a whole series of these things where I do have certain moments in my week that are plotted out and she might have some kind of fun deal with the rats that she does and she’s able to start doing that again when she gets in the – she can’t do it if she’s one of the numbered.

But when she gets back to the school, she can which she gets into the school. She can log in and go to some secret place. It’s almost like playing dungeons and dragons with your friends or whatever and maybe that is the moment when she realizes later on “I can’t do this anymore. This isn’t fun. “

[0:43:39.3] TG: Yeah, I was thinking the scene to establish the world will involve, I thought of this because I watched the second Guardians of the Galaxy and have you seen it yet?

[0:43:54.1] SC: No.

[0:43:55.0] TG: Okay, so Yondu or whatever, the blue guy that stole him in the beginning in the first movie, he talks about the reason he kept him was because he was small and could fit into tight places and was good for thieving and so the whole reason Balem likes Jessie is she’s really good for thieving. So I thought the establishment of the first of the world will be her, the rats and Balem helping her break into the place that she gets caught.

So that we’ll be able to see the city by doing that basing in New York City, we’ll be able to see a little bit of the city. They’ll have some conversations that will reveal some things and then it will swing into that scene that I have already written where she’s actually in the room and she gets caught but I thought in their interactions, it could be one of those buddy crime movies where they’ll joking around the whole time and so they could just talk about these idiots that are addicted to the system and doesn’t know how to break out of it and establish some of those things as well.

[0:45:09.3] SC: Yes, that’s a great idea. It also mirrors Oliver Twist, you know the pagan and the art fold dodger and these guys are swindlers that grew out on the street and pickpocket people and Oliver Twist he falls in with them. It’s also the false staff nest. Using pagan and false staff and Balem as the ring master, he’s also a trickster right? That’s a really good idea and also the other thing that is good to have in a story like this is having your lead character doing something on the sly.

They think they are getting away with it and they are goofing around because they think they’re smarter than everybody else and so maybe this is something that she does on the fly and this also works because you’ve already put Balem in there to help her solve the first sever. So you can have maybe 83 and “by the way, don’t think we don’t know about your little stump with Balem and the kids” you know? Like, “Yeah you’re not smarter than you think you are” and that could be it or not.

Or she comes to realize that doing that is worse than what the faction is doing to these people, using these people for amusement like she and her crew are doing is even worse than exploiting them, that’s kind of cool.

[0:46:48.4] TG: Well that’s where I was thinking that would give me a good kind of – well what you are talking about it put her in a situation where she would normally in the first scene of the book or the second scene of the book, she would have done it this way and now she’s going to save everybody so they can’t further exploit them.

[0:47:06.0] SC: Exactly. That’s a way. You know how I always say that a story has a surprising but inevitable conclusion. So if you established early on this sort of sensibility that she has and she’s smarter than everybody else, she’s sophisticated, she’s the best one, she’s even better than Balem and then at the critical moment of the story she says, “You know what? It’s not funny anymore. I’m not going to. I’m out of here. I can’t do it” and then when she confronts Randy later on, we know.

“Oh that’s the moment she changed. That’s the moment she’s like oh this is not cool, this is totally not cool anymore and I’m out and in fact, it’s so not cool I am going to do everything I can to stop the entire situation” and that’s a way of that being signaled to the reader by a setup and payoff. The setup is the early Kenzian World, fun and games, that’s all you know. You’re one of the family kind of stuff and then that’s also in Shakespeare, that’s Henry the Fourth, parts one and two.

Where he has this crew of guys that he hangs out and drinks with at a bar, false steps his buddies, this big loud coward and then the end of Henry the Fourth, he’s now king. He is king and false staffs in deep trouble. So that’s a really effective way of signaling to the audience, “Get ready this girl is now a woman. She’s taking no crap and all bets are off” it’s not going to be easy for her. She still has a big event but she is serious now. She’s mature and she even understands, “Hey you know what? Chances of me coming through this alive are pretty slim but I’m going to do it anyway”.

That is a really, really great idea to use that set up and pay off and to make it entertaining. Make the scene entertaining and have it have depth as well. So we really enjoy that opening scene because that is going to be your beginning hook. You’re going to have to have a really cool prologue that is really mysterious and cryptic. Not too long, maybe a thousand words and then you’re going to go right into the establishment of this strange dystopian ordinary world but with fun.

With levity so there is this really dark – you know there is nothing worse than somebody saying, “It was dark. It was so bad. Everything is horrible” who wants to read that book?

[0:49:56.5] TG: Yeah, there is a quote somewhere. I don’t know where I’ve heard this. It was like, “Make it hard or make it dark, make it awful and make it terrible and all these things but at some point tell a joke.” I don’t have any idea where I have heard that but it was about writing.

[0:50:15.1] SC: Yeah, that’s the way life is. In all the darkness it’s never always dark and it’s never always light. There’s always shades of grey and that’s what maturity is, understanding that it is never as bad as you think it is. It’s never that way. There is always fun stuff too. That’s why people don’t like that one note Charlie writing because it just gets so oppressive after a while you know those big sensitive dark novels about somebody’s mental breakdown.

You know there is only so much of that that you can read before you say, “Oh come on get off of it” there’s got to be something beyond. There is almost moments of beauty and interesting things in everyday life and what is a novel but artifice. It’s a way of tuning up real life into a believable fiction, a believable story that feels like real life but isn’t. It’s life at the extremes.

[0:51:18.4] TG: I found the quote. It’s Josh Sweden, he said, “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough but then for the love of God tell a joke” and he’s the best at that.

[0:51:27.3] SC: Yeah, he is.

[0:51:28.9] TG: Okay so at this point my homework is to go fill out the values, the value numbers for the rest of the scenes?

[0:51:38.7] SC: Yes and I think the way to do it is compare and contrast from scene to scene. So you would begin with your negative 30 and go on either side of that one scene and say, “Is this a 29 or this a 28? What is this?” in terms of you want to look at each scene in terms of the global. If you have to track between zero and 30, I’m sorry, one and 30 being the positive what number would you give it and you may find, you probably will find that a lot of your scenes are nines.

So your scene would be nine, nine, nine and then you had to say, “Oh then I’m not doing something to make and distinguish this scene a little bit better than the other one or a little bit worst, a lot worst”. So before you – I am not suggesting that you do any of that work by trying to fix anything but try and evaluate it and if you find that one scene, that a bunch of scenes seem to be the same number, give them the same number.

So you want to be able to objectively evaluate each scene in terms of your global world and give it, assign it a number between zero and 30 and it doesn’t mean you can’t use the same number over and over again. So if one scene is sort of in the same arena in terms of a global value from scene to scene, that’s not necessarily wrong. We aren’t going to know until we look at the graph, you know what I’m saying? Because sometimes a scene moves dramatically on one of the global values but not so dramatically on the other so somebody can escape death –

[0:53:43.3] TG: Should I try to do all of the internals first or evaluate each scene with both?

[0:53:51.8] SC: Start with the external first and really just look at it in terms of is she closer to the life on consciousness or death. Damnation in terms of your story, the damnation value is pretty much played out with her recognizing that she doesn’t do something. Everybody is going to stop her so it’s not horror. It has a lot of approach of damnation. So you have a lot of moments where in horror damnation is really on stage. It’s what Robert McGhee calls the negation of the negation.

Which is a complicated idea but not really. It just means the fate worse than death and if you want to evaluate your scenes say if she were to die in this moment would that be better than where she is now? So if somebody is being tortured and it’s excruciating and they are in horrible pain, to kill them is a mercy right?

[0:55:00.4] TG: Yes.

[0:55:01.7] SC: Right so if she’s being tortured then death would be better than what she is experiencing them out.

[0:55:07.9] TG: So she has gone below death.

[0:55:11.1] SC: Right.

[0:55:11.9] TG: Yeah but that seems different than what we talked about with because damnation and the whole like “if I don’t do this then everybody suffers and I’ve got to live like this” I guess it is the same.

[0:55:24.4] SC: It is the same. Once is a physical damnation and one is an intellectual or subconscious, more on unethical damnation.

[0:55:31.2] TG: Okay.

[0:55:32.7] SC: Yeah, I know it’s a lot of thinking but it’s really, really valuable. This is one of my pet peeves is when editors give notes like, “I just, you know, it didn’t have much oomph to it” or “it just didn’t feel that the stakes were high enough.” What they’re saying is what we’ve talking about. I wasn’t able to find moments where they’re approaching the fate worse than death. It didn’t seemed like as if they were confronting things that were really extraordinary.

That were going to change them to the point where their world is completely changed by the end of the story. So when you hear comments, just for anybody listening, if you hear people say anything, “I didn’t feel like the stakes were that high” or “Your character didn’t seem to ark” or “I don’t know. I just wasn’t really that into it” what they’re talking about is that you are not clearly hitting these moments that are speaking to your reader in a way that they say, “Oh my gosh that would be horrible, that would be worse than death.”

So when we’re looking at the life value in terms of life and consciousness, death and damnation, these are two parts that are positive and two major negatives, this will help you find those moments where you have to raise the stakes and that’s why we’re going to give numbers to the scenes to see how we track because you don’t want them operating at negative 30 from scene one to scene 60 because that’s unbelievable, right?

That’s not life. Art imitates life so life, you need a lot of variety, a lot of heartbeat kind of shift in the storytelling and the way you do that is by evaluating the global values at stake from scene to scene. Now I am going to say this again because this often gets really confusing to people, I am not talking about the shift, the valiant shifts in individual scenes. I am talking about looking at each scene and looking at it in terms of its global value not like it is sort of like from sick to healthy.

That might be an internal value shift in one of your scenes that is on the micro level. I am talking about the macro level. This is the global look at each scene in terms of the global values, does that make sense?

[0:58:15.9] TG: Got it. I mean like so many of these things it does until I go to actually do them.

[0:58:21.9] SC: Well it’s practice, you know? When you get stuck always walk back to the following questions: Where does this scene sit in terms of all the other ones in the life value? Is this higher on the life value than the last scene or lower on the life value of the last scene? And if I have to have to put a number of this, if this is number 30 what one would this be? And we’re going to do this a couple of times so that eventually you’re going to see a graph story grid of your draft.

And you’ll be able to go, “Oh I need to make a tweak of that so that it’s this and that” and then you’ll be able to go back to your micro notes and you’ll have all kinds of ideas at the ready to accomplish that.

[0:59:15.0] TG: Okay. I’ll get to work.


[0:59:17.7] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Story Grid Podcast. For everything Story Grid related, check out storygrid.com. Make sure you 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. 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 would like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @storygrid. 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 iTunes and leaving a rating and review.

Thanks for subscribing and being a part of our work here at Story Grid. We will see you next week.



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Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.


Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.