[0:00:00.1] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is a 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 Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.
In this episode, Shawn and I begin walking through the 15 scenes. It’s a homework he gave me a couple of episodes ago where he listed out the 15 scenes at every story, every book has to have, and so I went and did my homework and kind of listed out what I think is the scene for each of those. We start working through those looking at how they should work, if I pick the right scene, if I didn’t pick the right scene. So it’s a really good episode, especially if you’re evaluating your own novel of looking at your own 15 scene.
So let’s jump in and get started.
[0:00:57.4] TG: So Shawn, the last episode when we are talking about the threshing, we’re talking about how to step back into the novel and how I’m halfway through with the second draft, and that’s where I stopped to work on writing down a dream, and now that that’s finished, I’m back ready to work on the threshing again.
So we’ve talked about a bunch of stuff and one of the things you had me do was we talked about the 15 most important scenes that every novel has to have and we went through each of those, and then my homework was to go through each of those and basically map out what that’s going to be in my book. What those scenes are going to be in my book, and it was. It was really helpful for me to think back through this stuff because some of these – Well, most of these decisions we’ve already made, but I found like one issue and what we are planning on doing that I felt like needed to – Like a major point needed to be moved to a different section of the book.
So overall, I mean, they’re just kind of one line, here is what happens in each one, but I sent you those. Yes, so what do you think the best way to kind of work through these are?
[0:02:12.4] SC: I’ve been thinking about this, and one of the things that I’ve discovered when I’ve been working on the community, the 15 scene summer course, is the really important part of stepping back into a project is to sort of – It’s almost as if somebody in the middle of the night blindfolded you and took you in a car and then stuck you in the woods in some state, in some place that you don’t know where you are. You take your blindfold off and the first thing you have to really do is to get a very big picture of where you are generally in the woods, and it’s the same thing when you’re working on a big project like this, and especially a big novel.
Forgive me if I really start sort of climbing even further into the clouds so that we can see what forest are you in, and where are you in the forest and how are you going to navigate your way out of the forest.
So, generally, this is probably going to drive you crazy, but we should really do this again. What is the genre that you’ve chosen to write?
[0:03:36.0] TG: It’s action labyrinth.
[0:03:37.5] SC: Okay. It’s an actual labyrinth story. Now, when I was thinking through this stuff, I was saying to myself, “If somebody really forced me to think about what is the projection? What is the progression of an action story, how would I describe that? What I would say is an action story is about life and death, and that is the global value at stake, right?
So if it’s about life and death, there is going to be a hero, a victim and a villain, right? What the very first thing is, is that our hero or a group of victims is going to be threatened by a villain or adversary or antagonist. The beginning hook is really about establishing that the world is under threat by a villainist, malevolent force. So that’s sort of stage one, right? We have to establish in the minds of the audience and the reader that there is a world and it’s under threat. It’s about to unravel, and there is of force that is behind that unraveling. It threatens our protagonist and a group that is like-minded to our protagonist. So that would be sort of stage one stage.
Stage two would be an understanding of our protagonist and the people surrounding our protagonist that they’re under threat, right? They have to sort of identify who is threatening them and why. So that would be a sort of stage two. Then stage three would be, “Wow! We have to come up with a plan so that we don’t die, right? We have to figure out how to stop the malevolent force from destroying us.” And then the four stage is they put the plan into action and the result is either they survive and beats the adversarial or malevolent force or they don’t, and that’s sort of the fourth stage process of the progression of an action story. There is a threat. The people who are threatened understand that they are threatened and they search to find out who is the force behind the threat. They come up with the plan to beat that threat and then they put the plan into action and the result is either they survive or they don’t. That’s a pretty solid global stage process of an action story.
So if we understand that our global genre is action and labyrinth. So, action labyrinth basically means that our plot device, the labyrinth is the thing that is going to sort of give us the plot points of kind of the – A labyrinth means it’s going to take a while for our protagonist to really figure out who is behind the malevolence, right? So that’s kind of the central plot engine of an action labyrinth, is that we create suspense by making the identification of malevolence a difficult thing to understand.
Now, there’s another way of using a labyrinth story where we know immediately it’s almost like the evil genius locks the protagonist into a maze with all of these things popping out to kill them, and they have to navigate the gauntlet.
[0:07:55.8] TG: Like Saw.
[0:07:57.1] SC: Like Saw. What’s that?
[0:07:58.6] TG: Oh! It’s like this series of horror movies where the bad guy –
[0:08:04.1] SC: Oh, saw! Yeah. I’ve been dealing with the Martian and they talk about time in terms of sols, which is sol, and I thought, “Oh! There’s a movie called Sol?” Anyway –
[0:08:21.1] TG: That’s called shit out of luck.
[0:08:23.7] SC: That’s right. So I think the reason why I’m going through sort of like this very simple four-part sort of step-by-step action diagram is so that we can look at our beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff through the prism of we start here, we end here and then we transition here, and then we move that transition into here and then we transition. So the first part of the beginning hook is the threat. The transition into the middle build is moving closer to identifying the threat, and then the middle build is about finding out who’s behind it and then having an emergency situation where you have to immediately make a really fast plan, because the real energy is just discovering who’s behind this. Why do they want me? Why is my life being threatened? Then coming up with a plan to thwart the adversary and then putting that plan into action and then paying it off. Does that make sense?
[0:09:38.6] TG: Yeah, in theory. It’s a feels like one of those things where when you say to them like, “Yeah, I got it,” and then when I go to do it I’m like, “I don’t got it.” So that’s what it feels like. Yeah, it makes sense. I feel like I understand what you’re saying.
[0:09:50.1] SC: So the reason why I bring this up is that when we’re looking at our 15 scenes, remember what these 15 scenes are coming from? They’re coming from the three, right? At the very top of our pyramid of story is action story labyrinth, right? So that’s sort of the apex of our pyramid. Then we go down a little bit underground and we discover, “Well, for our action labyrinth story, we need three parts. We need a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning, we’ve got a hook. The middle, we have to build, and the end we have to pay off.” So we move from one to three, and then under each one of those three we have five more, and under those –
[0:10:38.0] TG: Right. Which are the five commandments.
[0:10:39.7] SC: That’s right. So those five commandments under each of those three make our 15 scenes. So when I say, “Tim, go on and figure out what your 15 scenes are,” we also have to go up before we can actually figure out what those 15 scenes are really about. So knowing when I said at the beginning of the episode here that when you go back to a project, it’s like being kidnapped in the middle of the night and put into some alien world and then you have to find your bearings. The way to take out your compass is to start at the top of your pyramid and go, “What forest am I in? Oh! The forest I’m in is called action labyrinth. Okay. So I know it’s sort of like if you were put in the Yosemite Park, right? You would say, “Oh, I’m in Yosemite Park.” So Yosemite Park is the equivalent of action labyrinth, or vice versa.
Then we want to say, “Okay. What part of the park am I in?” You say, “Well, there are three different parts of the park that I need to navigate. The first part I have to navigate is called the beginning hook.” “Okay, beginning hook. Now, what am I supposed to do in the beginning hook?” Well, in an action labyrinth story, the beginning hook is about threatening the life of our protagonists and other victims. So that’s really good information to know.
So why don’t we start with the first five scenes of the beginning hook and see if we’re accomplishing that goal. Are we establishing in the reader’s mind that our protagonist has been severely threatened to the point that her life is in danger? So let’s look at I’ve got your scenes right in front of me now, so let’s start with the global inciting incident of the beginning hook, which are the same thing. Now, what you’ve written here is Jesse is caught stealing credits and offered the position at the capital. So the inciting incident of this action labyrinth story, it begins with Jesse being caught, which is negative, right? So the initial idea is an negative. She is basically breaking the law and she is caught breaking the law.
[0:13:12.0] TG: Right. So these are the ones I’ve actually written. So this is actually the third scene of the book. I think it’s the third scene of the book. So the first two were kind of establishing the world. The first scene was her getting away with stealing. Then the third scene is the inciting incident where she gets caught and is basically offered the choice of go to the capital or be punished.
[0:13:38.7] SC: Okay, and the person who offers her this opportunity is who?
[0:13:43.9] TG: Is the mayor of New York, is Marcus, is who I have him –
[0:13:50.9] SC: Okay. So it’s Marcus. Now, Marcus, we don’t really understand his motives for offering her this opportunity, correct?
[0:14:02.2] TG: Well, so let me back up. So in the version I wrote, it was President Marcus. I just remember this. When what we decided before once we are into the middle build was that was actually going to be the mayor of New York, so lower down, who’s involved in the plot, because he’s the one that gets her into the capital. Then that way we could establish that even the people trying to help her are kind of untrustworthy. But in this scene, he’s a bad guy. He’s established as like the villain.
[0:14:38.5] SC: Okay, and the villain, he is the villain because he represents the tyranny of the society, correct?
[0:14:46.0] TG: Yeah, the government.
[0:14:48.0] SC: And she has established herself as being an outlaw that is undermining the authority of the society.
[0:14:59.2] TG: Correct.
[0:15:00.3] SC: Okay. So, remember what I said at the beginning, which was in an action story, the protagonist or the victims in general have to be threatened. Their lives have to be threatened in order for the audience to buy in to the action premise.
[0:15:22.1] TG: Yeah. So, as you said that, her life is not threatened as far she would die, but she is threatened that she would be shamed and that imply that that’s really bad.
[0:15:35.6] SC: Right.
[0:15:37.0] TG: So does it need to be turned up to where her actual life is being threatened or is it – To me, it’s almost like threatening to send somebody to my jail, like, “You’re not going to kill me, but my life is kind of over.”
[0:15:53.5] SC: Right. I think you’re on the right track. The reason why you’re on the right track is that you have decided to write a middle grade level thriller, right?
[0:16:08.4] TG: Well, I would say young adult. I think of middle grade as like 4th grade, 3rd grade I would say.
[0:16:14.1] SC: Okay, young adult. You’re right.
[0:16:16.7] TG: Okay.
[0:16:17.1] SC: So what we need is to sort of escalate up to life-and-death as supposed to open with life-and-death. So I think the threat of the shaming is on the money. The opening scene is, I think, works because there is so much suspense about what the society – How does it work? That to make the life-and-death states so blatant early on I think would be too much too soon.
So, again, these are the thought processes that you’re going to want to think about when you’re going back to a story and constantly rethinking this. When you’re writing, sometimes you fall down a rabbit hole and you lose the big picture. So I think right now the inciting incident works. The only question I have is, “Do we need to be blatantly obvious that the mayor is just a tool of a larger system?” I think maybe that is pretty clear because we haven’t really looked at the book in a while, but that’s a question to think about.
[0:17:30.3] TG: Well, it’s a change that I made a note as we are working through it, because it was somewhere in the middle – It’s funny, because I would guess our listeners probably remember this better than you and I do. But it was somewhere in the middle build that we had to kind of stop and reevaluate the fact that we are writing a labyrinth because, remember, we are having a lot of trouble kind of nailing down the villain, and then it was like I went back and story, did the spreadsheet on Diehard, which is the example you put in the book for a labyrinth plot, and that’s when I realized the villain doesn’t care about the protagonist until the protagonist becomes a problem inside of the labyrinth. Almost like a bug in the machine.
So what we needed was she needed to get to the capital without the president ever really knowing that she made it there, because she doesn’t matter until she’s a problem. So then the other side of that was we wanted to establish that this was an entire plot to overthrow the tyranny and involved in that plot is the mayor of New York. So he sent her there both to fulfill his duty for the tyranny and to make it look like he was doing his job, which was finding these people, but also putting somebody inside the labyrinth that they could then use to overthrow it. Because that’s what’s going to come out at the middle point of the middle build when she meets up with her brother, is realizing that this whole thing was staged to get her there, right?
So up until that point, she just wants to go home after talking with her brother. She makes the deal that she’ll stay to help them as long as they can go back home at the end, right? Because the first half of the middle build is the protagonist just trying to get things back to normal. The second half of the middle build is the protagonist making a deal to try to get both, right? “Okay, I’ll do my mission, but I’m also going to try to get my thing back.”
Then the ending payoff is when they finally decide to kill the dream of what they want for the greater good. So in the middle point is when she meets up with her brother and he lets her in on what’s really going on and she agrees to help them.
[0:20:03.2] SC: Great. Does he actually reveal that Marcus is actually on their side?
[0:20:09.7] TG: I don’t know. I can’t member.
[0:20:12.9] SC: Well, you should definitely do that, because that’s a revelation turning point that can really spin the book into overdrive. If you fail to actually have the brothers say, “Look. We don’t have much time. I’ve got to tell you the truth. Marcus set you up so that you could get here because we need your help.” It’s sort of the moment when in the Matrix when they’re like, “Neo, you are the one. You are the one who has to do this. You are the chosen one.” So that’s the chosen one moment for the middle of the middle build, which is when her brother says, “I don’t have much time. You are the one and we’re counting on you. We’ve put all of our chips on you, Jesse.”
So that revelation is really important, and so you’ll have to – I think right now, and I’m not – We haven’t looked at the actual scenes by scenes, but right now my gut is telling me that you have left some ambiguity with Marcus, because he’s kind of trying to charm her and use carrots and sticks to get her to go to the capital, and I think he sort of presents themselves as, “Hey, I’m just doing my job. It’s a difficult job, but I’m going to do my job.”
I think that’s a really nice way of leaving this ambiguity that, “Oh my gosh! That makes sense now. He doesn’t want to completely destroy Jesse’s confidence, but he needs to get her to the capital.” So the shaming takes her to a place of great distress, but it doesn’t completely break her. Anyway, I do think that is strong and you’re right about the choice not to have the president really care about Jesse until she becomes a problem in his plan.
[0:22:20.7] TG: Right, because remember in the first severing is when she burns down the tower.
[0:22:27.9] SC: Yes.
[0:22:29.0] TG: And that’s when he –
[0:22:31.0] SC: He’s like, “What the hell is this kid doing here?”
[0:22:33.6] TG: Right, and that’s when she gets pulled in to the meeting with him and he threatens her for the first time.
[0:22:40.0] SC: Okay. So let’s get back to the beginning hook. This is a really good thing to do. I’m just going to take a step back here and explain why we’re doing this, because what you want to do is like get back into the warm bath and sort of the warm bath of your creation by orienting yourself in the big picture. You can’t sort of let them use, do any work for you if the muse isn’t really sure what you’re asking.
So this is a way of getting establishing your global position in your story so that your muse can come back and start feeding you really great, interesting, innovative ideas. The thing that we just discovered, “Oh! Our turning point in our middle build, one of them is going to be a revelation turning point that, “Hey, Jesse, that guy who shaved your head and put that plug in the back of your head, he’s actually on our side.” So what that establishes to Jesse as a young person is people can present themselves as evil, and yet they are actually using dark methods for a greater good, or so they think. So it’s establishing the maturation plot of, “The world is not black-and-white, young lady. Those who seem against you are actually for you, and sometimes those who seem for you are against you.” So I think it’s working in terms of the internal maturation story too. Anyway, I think that’s good.
So that’s our inciting incident, is that our rebel gets caught and the crisis of that inciting incident scene is she has to make a choice. Do I go to the capital and do the bidding of the tyrannical patriarchy or do I continue to rebel? And she chooses to rebel which is within character. It’s what you would expect her to do because she is sort of a naïve child. So that’s good.
All right. So the next scene in your beginning hook is the turning point progressive complication of your beginning hook, and what do you think the scene is right now? What’s your answer to that.
[0:25:16.2] TG: I have it when 83 is punished for Jesse’s escape.
[0:25:20.0] SC: Okay. So let’s think about this. What is the turning point? The turning point is the moment in a story when right before when the value shift is threatened. So the value before the turning point is one way, and then the turning point is the moment when it is going to shift. So what is the value that we’re talking about, and is it shifting? What is the value at stake in the beginning hook and is it shifting?
[0:26:01.3] TG: So we’re talking about the entire beginning hook.
[0:26:04.9] SC: That’s correct. We’re not talking about specifically the scene yet, but let’s talk about the entire beginning hook. What is the value that shifts from the start of the beginning hook to the end of the beginning hook that will transition us into the middle build?
[0:26:21.5] TG: So I’m looking at it as like safe to unsafe, or home to homeless, because what she wants is to find a home, and so it’s threatened and taken away in the beginning, hook, or the inciting incident. Then throughout the rest of the beginning hook, she reestablishes her family inside of the numbered. Then it’s threatened again when they find out what’s really going on with her.
So I felt like 83 being – Because the whole thing is Jesse tries to escape. They have to go bring her back, but in the process they cause an uproar, which then gets them punished, and 83 takes the brunt of that punishment.
[0:27:16.0] SC: I think you’re on the money. I really do. I think safe to unsafe. Now, when you’re talking about the value shifts in the big three, chunks underneath the apex of the story, you have to remember that the value shifts that have to dominate in the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff have to be turning on the global value at stake in an action story, right? So the global value at stake in an action story is what?
[0:27:51.8] TG: Life to death.
[0:27:53.2] SC: Life and death, right? So at the beginning of the beginning hook, Jesse is rebellious and safe. She’s living outside the law among a group of rebel hackers who sort of are childishly naïvely undermining the tyranny. Okay, so she’s safe and she’s sort of playing around at the edges of society. So what we need to do at the end of the beginning hook is to really threaten her.
What’s really nice is that she moves from safe to unsafe. So she goes through the severing, and then she’s thrown in with the numbered, and then what happens? She actually starts to integrate into that society, right? She starts to become like one of the gang. Then once she starts feeling comfortable there, she’s ripped out again.
The turning point here is moving from, again, a place of safety home into threats and unsafe again, and it’s a progressive escalation of stakes. So at the beginning of the story, the stakes of getting caught aren’t that big. She’s never really been caught. Then it moves to, “Holy crap! This is really bad. Now, she’s part of the underclass.” But then she finds security in the underclass and then she’s ripped out again.
So I think that’s working. I think the turning point has to be when the moment when she discovers, “Oh, boy! I’m undermined again.” So what do you say? 83 is punished for Jesse’s escape. The turning point is when 83 is punished for Jesse’s escape. So that’s when 183 is not allowed to wear the protective gear and she gets terribly burned. Okay, that turn –
[0:29:58.0] TG: Okay, good. How it works is that happens and then when she comes back that night, the mayor comes back and then reveals that it was not only Jesse’s fault, but Jesse doesn’t even have to be there. Because all of them, it’s like revealing that – Again, going back to like using jail as an example. It’d be like revealing that the person next to you in jail can walk out whenever they want. It’s like, “You’re no longer one of us if you don’t actually have to be here.”
[0:30:32.1] SC: I think you’re right. It think that is the turning point when the real sense of threat arises when 83 is punished for Jesse, for Jesse’s behavior, and I think that threat is very good because it’s making Jesse understands, “Hey, we can hurt you, but what’s going to even hurt you more is when we hurt people that you care about.” So it escalates the threat to her because it’s saying, “Your behavior will have consequences for other people besides yourself.”
So I like that turning point because it’s innovative and it says it’s not a repeat of, “Oh! We already shaved your head and put a plug in your head, and now we’re going to slap you or whatever.” It’s not a repeat. Do you understand?
[0:31:30.2] TG: Yeah, and I feel like that because the whole thing is her want for the book is family. So when she was threatened at the beginning, she’s like, “No. I’m good. I’ll take the punishment.” But now somebody she cares about is threatened and hurt because of her, and then the – So I’ll just jump to the climax. So the whole idea here is that once they find out that she is not one of them, that she can leave anytime she wants, that’s when basically everybody else in the number drops her too.
So the climax, which is the question – No. The crisis, which is the question, which is what –
[0:32:18.1] SC: Your crisis is the question.
[0:32:19.3] TG: Right. The question is, “Okay. You’ve now really hurt somebody you cared about and everybody else that cares about you doesn’t want you anymore. Are you going to stay with them or are you just going to go? So are you going to stay and keep hurting these people or are you going to go?” Then climaxes is she decides to go to the capital.
Now, my question here is – So in my book, there is no climax scene. There is the crisis where that ends with the question of like basically what she’s going to do, and then the next scene is she’s on the plane descending into the capital.
[0:33:02.8] SC: Okay. Here’s what I say about that, and you’re right. It’s not on the page, right? You don’t write her sitting, noodling, thinking about, “Should I stay? Should I go? Let me pack my bags.” Why don’t you do that?
[0:33:18.4] TG: Well, I feel like it would just be shoe leather, like – Okay.
[0:33:24.5] SC: That’s right. You respect the reader to be able to make that scene themselves. So just because the scene isn’t literally on the page, that’s a real choice that you’re making as a writer is saying, “I know this scene exists in the ether, and my reader does too. So I’m going to assume and trust that I don’t have to put it on the page if it’s so clear that the reader will Intuit it anyway.”
We already know that Jesse cares about 83. We already know that she’s already suffered terrible consequences in the climactic scene of her crisis at the very start of the novel, is that she gets horribly abused. So it’s not necessary to have this climaxing on the page. I really truly believe that, but what is necessary is to know that it’s there even though it’s not on the page. That sounds like a real manipulation or like doublespeak, but it’s really not because you’ve made a very clear case for that scene, but you’ve decided not to actually write it.
[0:34:55.2] TG: Well, and that’s in so – I mean, I don’t think that – I think most people, if they’ve watched more than a handful of action movies, there’s been that moment where they want somebody to do something and it ends with them kind of looking at each other trying to decide what they’re going to do, and then next scene they’re on the plane or they’re on the bus or they’re in the car, like they’re on their way to the thing. I think that is because what would I put in that scene, like her packing her bags?
[0:35:24.5] SC: Yeah, it’s a troupe of the genre. It’s a little convention troupe of action stories, is that you push the hero to a crisis and then you skip the decision and you just have them acting after they’ve made the decision. So that’s a really good point, is to point out that this is almost a convention/trope of the genre that I haven’t even really written about before because I haven’t really gone through a 2-1/2 year process going over somebody’s novel micro by micro. But that’s a very good point.
Okay. And the resolution of the beginning hook is also a way in which we transition into the middle build. She’s literally moving out of New York, on a plane going into a brand-new magical world in which she has never been before.
[0:36:33.7] TG: Yeah, I think of this as the scene in the Lord of the Rings when – I’m thinking of the movie when he stops at the edge and he’s like, “I’ve never gone past this.” There’s this whole scene about him leaving The Shire and then entering the new world. That gets its own scene.
I mean, I do a couple of other things in the scene, but that’s what I’m thinking here, is like this is the transition. So it’s not like the next scene she’s just in the capital, which I call it something different, because I realized like using president and capital is very Hunger Games-ish. So it’s not like she’s just there. So there’s like this transition scene of her flying in and this is where she meets Az and a couple of other things happens. But that’s how I was looking at it, is like the transition into the new world.
[0:37:26.0] SC: That’s good. Before this thought leaves my head, an idea that just came to me about the titles of these people instead of mayor, president, capital, you might want to think about using a metaphor for food, because that is going to be a major thematic thing. Everybody’s hungry all the time. There’s really not that much food, and food is a precious commodity. Like you have, the threshing, it’s a metaphor for food production.
[0:38:03.3] TG: Right. Yeah. I could ramp it up a little more, but in the opening scene of the book when she’s escaping the building, the group of people she runs into are like these emaciated-like looking people that are obviously don’t have enough food. So, I mean, that’ll be something I think I’ll definitely – Now, that we figured that out, when we did that a couple of months ago about everything hinging on food, because one of the first thing she noticed in the capital is how everybody’s well fed and there’s just food available.
So I could even call that like the capital like a silo or – Yeah, I’ll think about that. That’s good. I like that. I like the way – Because I’ve been wanting to make sure that this is – I’m not using the same language as Hunger Games, although now it’s funny, it’s called Hunger Games, but is not really about being hungry. Anyway, yeah, okay .Yeah, I made a note of that.
[0:39:05.2] SC: Okay. So I think, generally, you’re beginning hook is quite sound. So let’s talk about – Let’s get into – I don’t think we’re going to get through all 15 of these today, but let’s get into the middle build. Now, the middle build is that big, fat, meaty monster that every writer spends a good 70% to 80% of their anxiety on, because it’s half of the book and you have to keep escalating and coming up with new progressive complications that maintain the pace of the narrative while also delaying the obvious until the last minute. So you have to make – You have to sort of thrust and parry the reader into different trials, which we spent a lot of time coming up with those three trials that she has to go through.
So let’s talk about the inciting incident of the middle build. What do you think it is and what’s the scene?
[0:40:12.0] TG: Yes. This was the only one of the 15 that I wasn’t sure on. So I went back-and-forth, I’m like, “Is the inciting incident when she’s first kind of revealed what the severings are and how it’s going to work?” Because there’s a couple scenes were like Az walks her around and then 61 walks around, because he ends up being there too. Then I was like, “Well, or is it the first severing?” Because that’s what really kind of kicks off everything in the middle build where like she first – It’s where her rebellion comes out again. It’s where she gets the attention of the president. It’s where like 61 loses his ship because she didn’t do what she was supposed to do. I felt like that – Now, as I say that, I’m feeling more like that’s what really insights the rest of the middle build. Everything up to there is just kind of getting us to the point that we could do that.
[0:41:14.1] SC: Yeah, I think I would buy that. The opening scenes of the middle build are really establishing this brand-new paradise of a world, which I think you might be able to tweak a little bit her fear of this place before she gets there and you could even have the numbered talk about how brutal, how competitive and how nasty – Because, if made you think about it, there’s a world of privilege that’s separated from everywhere else.
One of the ways that you protect your world of privilege is to say things like, “Oh! You wouldn’t want to come here. It’s crazy difficult.” Right? It’s like when people talk about their college days when they’re telling their kids about college. They say things like, “Oh! It’s so difficult in college that it’s just such a mind trap that you get so depressed and the competition is too much and all that stuff.”
So you build up a place that’s actually a lot of fun into a very challenging environment. So when I went to college, I was terrified of it. I thought, “Oh my gosh! Everybody’s going to be smarter than I am. I’m never going to make it there. I’m really going to have to put my nose to the grind stone.” Then when I got there it was like, “Oh my gosh! This is incredible. I don’t even have to go to class if I don’t want to. I can borrow somebody’s notes.” So I think that’s kind of a way of presenting a place that’s fantastical fun place. You make it seem very difficult to all the people who can’t go there.
So Jesse sort of has that impression that, “Oh, the capital or wherever you end up calling it is going to be a really strange, difficult world,” and then she gets there and she discovers, “Oh my gosh! This is beautiful. This is amazing. Look at all the food here. The sky, I can actually breathe air,” and then the inciting incident you want to have it be a negative, right? Because if that’s the positive introduction to the world, then, bang! All of a sudden it’s like, “Yeah. Yeah. This is all nice and everything. Now, go perform. Now you’ve got to – Oh by the way! You’ve got a win this thing.”
So that insights her in a way that is like, “Oh my gosh! Here I am threatened again, and this really is difficult.” It’s like taking your first test in college and understanding that, “Oh my gosh! It’s not multiple-choice. They’re asking me six questions and I have three hours to fill out a blue book just on six questions. Holy cow! I’ve never had to perform, write a really coherent essay in 45 minutes before, and now everybody’s writing furiously and I don’t know what the hell to do.” I think that is correct. I think that’s what really – Welcome to the world. This isn’t all roses and sunshine. Now, it’s time to step up.
So I think you’re right about that inciting incident for the middle build. Now, let’s get to the turning point progressive complication of the middle build is going to what’s the turning point going to do again, right? What does the turning point do? It presents the moment when the value is shifting, and because this is the middle build, we’re talking about the global value of an action story, which is what? Life-and-death, right?
So this turning point has to be even bigger than when 83 was burned over in the beginning hook. It has to move to her reaching a state of serious, serious insecurity and life threat. So what I see here is you’ve written she finds her brother in the grid during the second severing. I do think you’re right about that. I do think that is a very serious moment in the story because, as I recall, Jesse basically breaks down mentally.
[0:45:49.0] TG: That’s when she starts the second severing, and right away she’s caught and she’s like seconds away from being killed inside of the severing, because the other thing I established in the first severing is that if you die in the severing, you die in real life. So the second one, she’s like seconds away and she basically – Yeah, that’s when she just kind of breaks down and it’s like, “This is over.” She starts apologizing to everybody.
Oh! Because the other thing that’s been established is the president said that if she loses or does anything else, he’s going to punish all of her compatriots and Harry and 61. So she’s like reaching her breaking point because she’s going to die and then everybody she cares about is going to be hurt in the process, and then that’s when her brother sucks her out of there and saves her.
[0:46:51.3] SC: Okay. Yeah. I mean, the turning point then moves from serious death threat to a magical being comes and saves. Again, I’m going to agree with that. I think that’s pretty strong. Now, I think at this point we should probably wait until next week to finish this out, because I think we’re really going to get into the hairy weeds in these last eight scenes, and I have to confess my brain is starting to burn out here.
[0:47:30.1] TG: Okay. Well, we’ll stop here and we’ll just make this a two-parter and will pick this up next week and go through the rest of these.
[0:47:37.2] SC: Okay. Great.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:47:38.2] 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 newsletters so you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid universe. If you like to check out the show notes for this episode or any past episodes, all of that can be found at storygrid.com/podcast. If you’d like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @StoryGrid. Lastly, if you’d like to support the show, you can do that by telling another author about the show and by visiting us on Apple Podcast and leaving a rating and review.
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