Editor Roundtable: Season 4 Teaser Trailer

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Here’s a preview of the winning hand of stories the Roundtablers are getting ready to bring you in Season 4. Join us for Episode 0, where Anne, Kim, Valerie, Jarie and Leslie each reveal their first movie of the season and talk about why they chose it, and how they hope studying it will help them in their own writing.


In our third season, we examined a range of story principles—narrative drive, symbolism, the Virgin’s Promise structure, internal genres, adapting a true life story, progressive complications, framing stories, emotional stakes—by looking at some of our favorite movies.

In the process, we each discovered an area of special interest. So for Season 4, we’ll each be choosing a single story principle that we want to study for our own writing projects. The plan is to pitch three movies apiece that we think embody the story principle we want to study. Over the course of 15 episodes, we expect to become real experts, and we hope you’ll come along too!


For Season Four, Episode one, I’ve pitched Cloud Atlas, by Lana and Lilly Wachowski. It’s based on one of my favorite novels, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, published in 2004.

The story principle I want to study this season is complex nonlinear structure. You might recall that I’m the meanie who made the team analyze both Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation and Christopher Nolan’s Inception in Season Three. I’m going to continue to challenge myself and them with similar brain teasers in Season 4.

Why is that? Not just because I like tormenting my fellow Roundtablers. Cloud Atlas is the model I’m using to structure my own novel, and it’s way more masterful and tricky than I was capable of emulating a year and a half ago.

But 40 weekly in-depth story analysis sessions with my great Roundtable team, and a year of working with clients on their many stories, I feel ready to try again.

Cloud Atlas embodies two narrative devices that I want to use, and use well, in my own current novel: a nested, nonlinear story structure, and separate story threads that weave together in the end. How do the masters decide where to start and stop each thread? How do they keep mystery from becoming confusion? How much do they conceal, and why? How much do they reveal, and when?

If I can figure that out, my novel might have a chance. Its working title is Stereogram and it has a global genre of Society, subgenre woman-vs-patriarchy. It’s a true miniplot, with five or six separate but interwoven character stories. It’s also historical, set around 1905 here in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, but with slightly more magic.

So my hope is that joining the four fine analytical minds of the Editor Roundtable in analyzing Cloud Atlas — plus my two other movies over the course of the season— will help me see a path to completing my own novel.

So: Jarie, Kim, Leslie and Valerie: I’m counting on you, my friends!


Genre conventions are the characters, settings, and means of turning the plot that set up reader expectations and are paid off by the obligatory scenes. Think of them as the conditions or ingredients required to create a specific cause and effect pattern for the genre. Now you can find a list of the basic action conventions in the show notes for Wonder Woman and Jack the Giant Slayer. So why am I digging deeper into this topic?

Shawn has identified four subgenres within Action—Adventure, Duel, Epic, and Clock—and each subgenre has four plots. The subgenres and plots come with additional conventions that are important to telling those stories but don’t appear in the current official Story Grid cheat sheets.

My goal this season is to begin identifying those extra conventions, but I also want to better understand conventions so I can innovate and meet reader expectations in my own action story.

For episode 2, I’ve pitched Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and directed by Gore Verbinski. It’s based not on a novel, but the Disney theme park attraction. The genre is Action-Duel with a Hunted plot.

I chose to start my exploration with Pirates of the Caribbean because my work in progress is also a nautical story (a category with its own conventions) and because the Hunted Plot contains some particularly distinct and interesting conventions. My other two pitches this season will be stories from two of the other Action subgenres.

Along the way, I’ll talk about how to identify and analyze conventions in a Masterwork—no matter the genre and call out the conventions in the films chosen by my fellow Roundtable editors.

I’m really looking forward to season 4 and sharing my discoveries about action conventions. Pirates of the Caribbean will be featured in episode 2, and we’ll post it on January 16. See you then!


Dialogue can make or break a novel, play, or movie. It’s the glue that holds the story together and is the Yin to Narratives Yang. Without crisp, realistic, and meaningful dialogue, the story will fall flat. I’m going to explore the best ways to write dialogue that is driven by the set and setting of the story.

In Dialogue, McKee gives the reasons why great dialogue is essential to a great story:

No matter how lavish a play’s production, how vivid a novel’s descriptions, how lush a film’s photography, character talk shapes the deepest complexities, ironies, and innerness of story. Without expressive dialogue, events lack depth, characters lose dimension, and story flattens. More than any other technique of characterization (gender, age, dress, class, casting), dialogue has the power to pull a story up through life’s multi-layered strata, thus lifting a merely complicated telling into the full array of complexity.

Dialogue is an essential element of all stories and needs to be crafted in a way to move the story forward in combo with narrative drive. Studying great dialogue will help writers write better dialogue. It’s the same reason we study the masterworks — we want to study how master storytellers do it.

My first movie will be The Shawshank Redemption, posting on January 30. It’s an excellent example of how the set and setting of a story drives the dialogue. There are so many wonderful moments in it that show and tell what the characters are going through in spectacular detail.


In Season 4 I’m going to continue my study of narrative drive.

As a quick refresher, narrative drive is all about how much information the audience has with respect to the characters. Who knows what? How much do we, as writers, reveal? How do we parcel out that information, when and why?

Some of you already know that I’m a writer as well as an editor; in fact, I’m primarily a writer. So naturally, this question of what keeps a reader turning pages, fascinates me.

Now, of course, there isn’t just one thing that grabs and holds a reader’s attention, but I’m convinced that narrative drive is a key factor. No matter which genre you write in, or whether your global content genre is external or internal, understanding narrative drive is essential.

For example, I write women’s fiction, so when that includes a love story, holding the reader’s attention can be a challenge. The genre has been well covered, and most modern love stories have a happy ending. If the reader knows the ending, how else can I create curiosity?

I’m branching out now into thrillers and my current work-in-progress poses a particular challenge with respect to narrative drive.

Thrillers require suspense. In other words, the audience and the characters have to have the same amount of information.

But the topic I’ve chosen puts me smack dab into dramatic irony; my readers are going to have WAY more information than my characters even before they crack the cover.

This is a problem.

I have some ideas about how to handle it, but if there’s one thing that my time with Story Grid has taught me, it’s study masterworks!

When we looked at Get Out in Season 3, I learned that writers can use more than one form of narrative drive to propel a story forward. That said, I’ve tried to choose films that rely heavily on one form over the other two. My hope is that by isolating them (as best we can anyway) we can do a deep dive into this principle of storytelling, and get a really good look at what each of these things are and how they work.

I’m also writing a 3-part series on the Fundamental Fridays blog about narrative drive, so keep an eye out for that.

For this podcast though, the first thing I’m going to look at is Mystery — this is when the characters have more information than the audience. To study it, I’ve chosen the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express. Who better to learn mystery from, than the Queen of Mystery herself, Agatha Christie!

I’ve also chosen films for suspense and dramatic irony, but I’m not going to tell you what they are. Mystery requires that I (as the protagonist of this story) have more information than you (as the audience).

Whether you realize it or not, your curiosity has been piqued. You’re wondering what the other two movies are? You want to know which stories are excellent examples of suspense and dramatic irony.

Murder on the Orient Express is Episode 3 of Season 4, and it will air on January 23. I’ll see you then!


I came into the Story Grid as a writer first and so for Season 4, I’m continuing my in-depth study of Global Internal Genre stories, specifically the kinds of stories I want to tell as a writer.

Internal Genres remain the squishy un-pin-downable topic for a lot of writers in the Story Grid Universe, and so whether or not you seek to tell Global Internal Genre stories, studying them at a deep level (by getting as specific as possible) will help you execute them at any level.

The first Global Internal Genre story I will have us look at is The Fundamentals of Caring.

The Fundamentals of Caring is a 2016 comedy-drama film (something I am pretty sure is code for humorous global internal genre) written and directed by Rob Burnett, based on the 2012 novel The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison and stars Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, and Selena Gomez. It premiered at Sundance before airing as a Netflix Original film.

The story is about Ben, a writer who’s stopped writing due to a personal tragedy, and Trevor, an 18-year-old who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Ben takes a new job as Trevor’s in-home caregiver, something that proves to be a challenge and growth point for them both. This story definitely ticks the boxes for me and the kind of stories I write: humorous, heartfelt, a prescriptive tale that delivers a redemptive perspective on pain.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

This season, along with Friedman’s Framework, there are four areas I am specifically analyzing for:

1) How the life values are established in the BH (status quo) and how they are demonstrated to change over the story spine. I’m looking for specific elements, actions, dialogue that transmit the life value–something tangible I can point to and model after.

2) Which External Genres are used and how many? Does the story have one strong external genre that acts like a copilot, multiple interwoven external genres that act like subplots, or something else? Also, are there any recurring patterns or strong pairings we can identify?

3) What is my overall feeling of emotional satisfaction at the ending, and why? Would I change anything in the story to change or strengthen the audience’s emotional experience?

4) And finally, as with all stories, I want to step back to the meta-meta-meta story and ask myself what this story means, for me and the world. What is the theme / controlling idea that transcends genre to just being human?

This is my favorite thing about Story–the transformative power of witnessing a specific character in a specific situation experiencing a specific change that then yields this specific pattern of universal meaning. Meaning that I can interpret and take with me to apply to my real world. For me, as a writer/reader/editor/human, this is what storytelling is all about.

So glad to have you with us on this journey. Stay tuned for Season 4–The Fundamentals of Caring will air as episode five in early February. It’s going to be great.

Join Us!

So there you have it. Fifteen episodes, diving deep into five story principles:

  • Nonlinear story structure
  • Conventions of the Action subgenres
  • How set and setting drive dialogue
  • The three forms of narrative drive
  • Stories with a global internal genre

Watch for a couple more bite-size episodes during our holiday hiatus. We’ll see you on January 9 for the premiere of Season 4.

FOR SHOW NOTES ONLY: Your Roundtable Story Grid Editors are Jarie Bolander, Valerie Francis, Anne Hawley, Kim Kessler, and Leslie Watts.



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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.
Story Grid 101: The Five First Principles of the Story Grid Methodology
by Shawn Coyne
What are the first principles in writing a story that works? At Story Grid, it’s easy to get distracted by the tools, spreadsheets, commandments, macro lense, micro lense, and on and on. However, all of this eventually comes back to five first principles. In Story Grid 101, Story Grid founder Shawn Coyne distills 30 years... Read more »
Paperback: $19.99
Ebook: $0
Audiobook: $14.99
Author Leslie Watts


Lewis Faulkner says:

Great summary, Leslie! I just wanted to throw something out there for your consideration.

I haven’t listened to all the Editor Roundtables yet, so you may have covered it long ago. I think I would have a heart attack if either the Shawn/Tim podcast or the Editor’s podcast spend some time on two issues that I think I understand and am applying in my own writing, but I literally never hear it on the podcasts. in my opinion, this is a major factor in fiction structure.

1) The 5 principles of story telling. I think I can find them in my own work. But most of the time, all 5 are not in one chapter of my novel. I have them listed on my chart 1-2-3-4 (then cont.). Or, 1,2,3 (cont.). Then the next two chapters later, we come back to that part of the plot and there they are, right at the top of the new chapter (5 from the last chapter (or) 4 and 5 from the last chapter. This seems to happen because before the Climax appears always seems like the place where you want to stop to keep the reader reading! How normal or unusual is this type thing? No on ever addresses it.

2) Everything in the novel can’t be a scene. If there are 3 paragraphs where you have to let the protagonist cool down from a big event/scene and explain what he/she is feeling/processing that big event, and how that thinking/planning sets up to go into the next scene, other gurus like Kim Weiland and Jack Bickman go into detail on this gap between scenes (sometimes James Lee Burke gives that in-between processing an entire chapter (which those gurus call a “sequel” or some other word I can’t remember). Granted in 2018-19 this might be where you would loose a reader, so I try to make them very short. It’s kind of the frog-DNA that links the scenes. (Sorry, I didn’t mean to go on this long).

It’s your show. But I wonder if other listeners’ ears would perk up at topics like that, the same as mine would.

Either way, keep up the good work!!!!!



If I understand you correctly, Lewis, it sounds like you’re describing concurrent stories, intercut to produce narrative drive. I see it used all the time in series television, where, say, the two main characters split up to pursue different aspects of the same case. As one reaches some kind of turning point, we cut to the other, and back and forth till the case is resolved.

An interesting question, then, is to slice the story apart and reassemble it, following Character A’s story from inciting incident to resolution, then following Character B’s story the same way. Ideally both will contain at least a nod to the five commandments.

But how does this pair of scenes differ from the one where they’re intercut into what feels like a single scene?

I’ve never done the exercise in any methodical way, but my guess is that the intercutting itself creates a form of narrative drive that the story threads themselves wouldn’t have. We, the audience, know something from each scene that the character in the other scene doesn’t know. That creates what Shawn terms dramatic irony (and what Hitchcock defined as suspense).

Bear in mind, by the way, that chapters and scenes aren’t the same thing. Scenes are more of an organic, natural form. Chapters are entirely artificial, a device of the printed book. You can end a chapter on a crisis (a cliffhanger) in order to keep the reader turning pages.

As to not everything in a novel being a scene…well, yes and no. We’d be splitting hairs on the definition of terms here, but a whole lot of what appears in certain scenes can be either setup or resolution. This was a huge eye-opener for me in editor certification training. One great masterwork scene we analyzed was almost all setup, with the five commandments all coming in the last 75% of the actual words of the scene. Another was almost all resolution, with the other four commandments compressed into the first 25% of the words of the scene.

I think it’s Dwight Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer who coined the terms “scene and sequel” to cover the kind of thing you’re talking about. It’s a great book. I recommend it.

Lewis Faulkner says:

Thanks. I have read Swain!

Over the holidays, I read (at one sitting, it was so good) Steve’s No One Wants to Read Your Sh*t. Evidently I want to and did 🙂 I also got Shawn’s annotated Pride and Prejudice (I guess it should now be obvious that I am a super-story-geek nerd 🙂

You know you’re truly a nerd when you do the hours of actual writing at night after your boring day-job, and then spend your spare moments at work making cheat sheets and wondering if you are doing the storygrid right and tempting yourself into adding yet one more column on your spreadsheet 🙂 I basically read a really rough-draft scene at lunch, hand-writing in on the physical paper inciting incident, twist, circling character names, worrying the sh*t out of myself if I have the right terms for the value-shift, and then going back to my boring day-job– only to worry some more about the terms for the value shift.

Serious Nerds sometimes have the problem of having to turn off the story-nerd switch and do the actual writing itself. You sometimes have to say to yourself: all the storygrid stuff appears to be in there, but is this the place where someone would stop reading the actual words on the page anyway? Let’s try one more hand-crank on the ratchet and make it even worse.

In my previous comment, I think what I’m referring to (above) is more the artificial chapter split you talked . The other question involves a term that one of the big-guys use (and I looked it up to be sure; may have been Swain, actually) is what he calls an “internalization.” It’s like 2 characters tossing a ball back and forth (stimulus/response) as dialog, but then one of them stops and thinks about what the other one is doing in the novel. This could be real long (and probably boring) or short, which keeps from slowing the action down. I think this might get re-worked into boredom into ammunition (?) from McKee.

Also, in the Storygrid book, Shawn doesn’t have much on Resolution except at the total book level with Steve’s example (people like me wish he had made the book about twice as long). It may be that what Shawn refers to as resolution could be the character thinking about what happened in the big scene that just happened, and that just goes under the term resolution, or something. I am still working this out with Pride and Prejudice (which I have not finished–so Shawn got me to read the novel (and) to check out his notes, too!).

Anyway, thanks for your comments, and keep positive and upbeat on the podcast!


In our episode on Coco and the 15 Core Scenes (https://storygrid.com/editor-roundtable-coco/) , I took on the resolutions. You’re quite right: Shawn has very little to say about that fifth commandment, so I dug in a bit more, and though yes, it has some very specific, objective characteristics, I concluded that above all, it has to FEEL “resolve-y.”

“Exposition as ammunition” is McKee’s phrase. Sometimes the reader might need to know a character’s thoughts. It’s a strength the novel form has that can only be replicated in film by either the dreaded voiceover, or by really, really good acting. It’s true that internalization is the go-to of beginning writers, and is very easy to over-use, but it does have a place.

My own current position (and it’s always subject to change) is that readers need way less information than I think they need. It’s a constant struggle for me.

Anne says:

I agree with Lewis’s observations. Scene and Sequel seem to be able to manage pace better than the pure 5 commandments scene all stacked into one. There does seem to be a natural break that’s crying out when the crisis hits. The grappling process the character goes through would connect more with the reader. If it’s stuck right in the middle of a scene, it can slow the whole scene down. In fact, it’s come to a point where I wonder why Shawn has left sequel out all together. Even in Silence of the Lamb, Harris has the Scene and Sequel pattern. For example, a great Starling Sequel is Chapter 4 in SotL. Chapter 5 is Crawford’s Sequel. It helps the reader regroup and it helps the writer develop the goal for the next Scene. I’d love to hear more about all this, thanks!


Hey Anne. Anne here. 😀

I think we’ll have to tackle this question on the podcast. I need to study the SoTL scenes you refer to to be sure, but I suspect this is more a matter of definition of terms than actual differences in the way a story should be structured. The question is, does anything change in the “sequel” chapters?

Even Shawn agrees that one or two “neutral” or non-turning chapters are permissible in a novel. I’ve written them, and have even left them in after Storygridding the heck out of the manuscript. But by Story Grid terms, there’s no way that most readers would remain engaged if every second chapter or section was a no-change, no-turn resting place between “scenes.”

But if the chapter you’re referring to as sequel actually moves the character along their arc, then chances are the five commandments can be found in it.

Larry says:

Love the podcast and looking forward to the new season.

Here are some suggestions for you (not necessarily for the podcast):

Piers Anthony experiments with nonlinear structure in his _Chthon_ and _Phthor_. Spider Robinson alternates between two stories that come together in his _Mindkller_. Nested storytelling is something that is taught in NLP, but that’s a longer discussion (email me if you want).

If you haven’t chosen _Casablanca_ as one of your three, you might want to reconsider. There are six _Casablanca_ entries in AFI’s 100 most memorable lines. Elmore Leonard is known for his dialog, and there are several movie adaptations of his novels. _Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang also has excellent dialog. Even if you don’t choose these for your podcast, they’re worth studying.

You might want to look at Frederick Forsythe’s _The Day of the Jackal_ and Jack Higgins’s _The Eagle Has Landed_ as well as their movie adaptations. The former is about a plot to assassinate Charles DeGaulle, and the latter is a plot to assassinate Winston Churchill. In both cases the readers have WAY more information than the characters even before they crack the cover (or microwave the popcorn), since we know that historically neither assassination took place. Yet, both stories manage to maintain suspense.

Happy Holidays to all.


Wow, thank you, Larry. I studied NLP and hypnotherapy many years ago, and had forgotten (at least consciously) about the nested story technique. You’ve got me wondering whether that was the origin of my interest in the technique. I’ll hit you up by email for some references.


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