Editor Roundtable: Story Grid Masterwork Experiment

Welcome to the Story Grid Masterwork Experiment!

In this ten-episode summer series, Shawn Coyne and author Anne Hawley are breaking a great masterwork down to the beat level to find out whether an experienced writer can create a new and original story from exactly the same building blocks.

In place of our usual Roundtable episode today, we’re sharing episode 1 of the Masterwork Experiment, which introduces the masterwork and lays out the experimental protocol. Will Anne write something new and fresh? Or will she wind up with a hackneyed copy of a beloved novella? Put on your lab coat and goggles, and join us in the story lab to find out.

Next week, we’ll return with our first episode of season 5 of the Story Grid Editor Roundtable Podcast, in which Anne and the other Roundtablers analyze the 1995 film adaptation of A Little Princess, based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

You can find show notes for the “Story Grid Masterwork Experiment” on the Story Grid Podcast page

Click here to access Anne’s Foolscap for Brokeback Mountain.

Click here to access Anne’s spreadsheet for Brokeback Mountain.

The original New Yorker publication of “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx can be found here

Close Range is an Annie Proulx story collection that contains a slightly extended version of Brokeback Mountain.

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. To find out more about Anne, visit her website.

About the Author

Leslie Watts is a certified Story Grid editor, writer, and podcaster. She’s been writing for as long as she can remember: from her sixth-grade magazine about cats to writing practice while drafting opinions for an appellate court judge. When the dust settled after her children were born, she launched www.Writership.com to help writers unearth the treasure in their manuscripts. She believes writers become better storytellers through practice, and that editors owe a duty of care to help writers with specific and supportive guidance to meet reader expectations and express their unique gifts in the world.
Comments (2)
Author Leslie Watts


Tom says:

This is a very cool idea (Shawn has many cool ideas). I think it will be quite helpful to those of us struggling with how to break down the elements of story in our own stories.

In the spreadsheet, I notice there is a little still photo from the Ang Lee movie adaptation. I could not help noticing that Jack wears a black hat and Ennis wears a white hat. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but do you suppose that this was done strategically by the director to slightly distinguish their different psychological makeups from each other?

I don’t believe Annie Proulx mentions this, but I would imagine it is a detail (in prose) that is better left to subtext and to the imagination of the reader than something to be pointed out consciously (yet fine to do in film).

I’d be interested to hear your thinking on this (and the thinking of Shawn and Anne)


I don’t think there is a single itty-bitty thing on the screen in any Ang Lee movie that’s accidental. It’s exactly the kind of choice a filmmaker has as a means of conveying what the novelist can do with words–and, in the case of Annie Proulx’s prose, with subtext. It’s hard to imagine a better director than Ang Lee to turn the kind of condensed, perfectly-wrought prose of Brokeback Mountain into a great film.


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