Editor Roundtable: The Queen

Download the Math of Storytelling Infographic

Oops! Initially we uploaded the unedited tracks of this episode today. If you’re among the early birds who heard our bare-naked version, you now understand how much work Anne puts in making us sound great—one of the many reasons we appreciate her so much. The polished version is now available. Thanks for listening, subscribing, and for your patience as we worked things out today.

This week, Valerie pitched The Queen as a great example of the narrative drive form of Dramatic Irony. This 2006 British historical drama based on events surrounding the death of Princess Diana was directed by Stephen Frears from a screenplay by Peter Morgan.



The Story

Genre: Global Internal Worldview > Revelation, with secondary External Society

Value shift: ignorance masked as wisdom > ignorance > cognitive dissonance > wisdom

This is such a subtle and complex story that although I had an instinctive response to what the global and secondary genres were, I decided to analyze the 15 core scenes to confirm my hunch. The analysis is just below the three act summary.

  • Beginning Hook – When Princess Diana dies in a car accident, the Queen must decide whether to make the funeral public or private. She decides to keep it a private family affair, respecting the Spencer’s wishes and informs Prime Minister Tony Blair that she will not be making a public statement.
  • Middle Build – When the Queen finds out that one-in-four want to abolish the monarchy, the Queen must decide whether she’ll continue to hold the traditional line, as Philip and her mother advise, or take a more modern approach as Tony Blair advises. She follows Blair’s advice and returns to London to carry out his suggestions.
  • Ending Payoff – When Prime Minister Blair uses an overly familiar approach with the Queen, she must decide whether to allow the informal behaviour or return to her previously stoic demeanour. Now that she understands that the world has changed and “one must modernize” she meets the PM halfway; she invites him for a walk and confides in him to an extent, but she reminds him that it’s her role to advise, not his.
15 Core Scene Analysis

BH: ignorance masked as wisdom

  • Inciting Incident: Diana has been in a car accident in Paris, and is in intensive care.
  • Turning Point Progressive Complication: Diana dies.
  • Crisis: Will the Queen decide to make the funeral public or private?
  • Climax: The Queen considers the death a private matter, and chooses to respect the wishes of the Spencer family for a private funeral.
  • Resolution: The Queen continues to bring as little public attention as possible to Diana’s death.

MB: ignorance masked as wisdom > ignorance > cognitive dissonance

  • Inciting Incident: Without consulting the Queen, Palace officials, along with representatives from the Spencer family, agree to have a public funeral (which will include celebrities).
  • Turning Point Progressive Complication: Blair informs Queen of poll results (showing her unpopularity) and suggests a new course of action. Lord Chamberlain and Robert Fellowes agree with Blain. (recognition that there’s been a shift in values – cognitive dissonance)
  • Crisis: Will the Queen “stick to her guns” and “re-assert her authority” as Philip and the Queen Mum advised, or take Tony Blair’s advice and change her approach? (choice between tradition and modernization)
  • Climax: Queen decides to take Blair’s advice.
  • Resolution: Queen (and royal family) returns to London and carries out the suggestions of Tony Blair. At Diana’s funeral the eulogy receives standing ovation.

EP: cognitive dissonance > wisdom

  • Inciting Incident: Tony Blair arrives at the palace for regular meeting with the Queen.
  • Turning Point Progressive Complication: Blair uses a tone of familiarity with Queen.
  • Crisis: Does she respond with familiarity, or remain stoic.
  • Climax: She meets him halfway.  She’s not quite familiar, but is less chilly than at their first visit.
  • Resolution: The Queen extends the olive branch by inviting Tony Blair to walk with her. She explains her position to Blair and admits that she can see the world has changed and “one must modernize.”

The Principle – Valerie

Yes, well … a funny thing happened on my way to understanding narrative drive. While The Queen clearly operates in dramatic irony, it’s such a subtle and layered narrative that it’s maybe not the best example for teaching purposes. Then again, maybe it’s an excellent example precisely for that reason.

I struggled to find a story that operated globally in dramatic irony and I thought that a historical drama might fit the bill. But of course, with any historical story, the degree of dramatic irony depends entirely on the viewer’s experience. If it’s about an obscure or lesser known bit of history, the bulk of the audience may well experience it as mystery or suspense. For example, before watching The Imitation Game, I knew very little about the Enigma and nothing whatsoever about Alan Turing.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m assuming that we all know about the public relations nightmare the monarchy faced following Princess Diana’s death. While we know what happened, we don’t know how or why it happened.  We’re asking ourselves:

  • What was the Queen thinking during this time?
  • How did she come to make the decisions she made?
  • What happened to make her change her mind?

Dramatic irony, as I’ve explained in past episodes, is when the audience knows more than the protagonist. Robert McKee says dramatic irony evokes a feeling of dread in the audience and for it to work, the story needs an empathetic protagonist.

The example I’ve always used is this: if we know the protagonist is walking into danger, and we care about her, we’ll dread the pain or danger that we know she’s about to face. However, Anne pointed out that when she read A Little Princess, the dramatic irony (knowing that Sara’s saviour was looking for her) created a sense of hope and urgency, and I can see where she’s coming from. So perhaps a better way to look at dramatic irony would be this:

When we know more than the protagonist we empathize with, we experience a feeling of anticipation about what’s to come; either that something bad will happen or that something good won’t happen.

Ok, so what about The Queen?

As I said, it’s a tricky one to analyze with respect to narrative drive because the roles of hero, victim and villain keep shifting between Prime Minister Tony Blair, Princess Diana and the Queen herself. Narrative drive is woven into the fabric of story and interacts with every other aspect of story including character roles.

In a story where we have a clear victim who we know is walking into danger, the effect of dramatic irony is easier to see. When we see Diana and Dodi get into that car, and the photographers start to give chase, our hearts sink. It really is a feeling of dread.

But what happens when the roles ebb and flow between three separate characters?

The Queen is introduced as a completely unrelatable and unempathetic character. How many of us pose in luxurious clothing and jewelry to have our portrait painted? In fact, the conversation she has with the artist is designed to set her apart from the viewer. When she expresses that she wishes she could experience “the sheer joy of being impartial” the artists replies, “you won’t catch me feeling sorry for you. You might not be allowed to vote ma’am, but it is your government”.

Is it possible to portray a Monarch is an empathetic way? Yes, absolutely. We saw that in The King’s Speech where Bertie was made an underdog. In The Crown, Queen Elizabeth is portrayed as a lamb to slaughter and is far more empathetic than she is in this film. One question I’m asking myself (and I don’t have an answer yet), is whether the choice of genre also helps create an empathetic character. Performance stories, for instance, have a framework where the protagonist is up against a much more powerful foe.

Whatever Princess Diana was, or wasn’t, she certainly didn’t have more power than The Queen of England. I think that’s why this story isn’t really about power. Instead, it’s about the Queen’s lack of understanding that times had changed. Diana seemed to know that, and therefore can be seen as having more wisdom in this area, but certainly not more power.

What then are we to make of the Queen? For me, the amount of empathy I had for her shifted depending on which role the character was fulfilling. This story certainly gives insight into her thought process (or what the writers guess might have been her thought process) and it offers another point of view on the events that unfolded. When the Queen is being criticized by the people and is the victim, I’m on her side.

If the Spencers expressly wished to have a private funeral, we applaud the Queen for respecting that and for not making a circus of the whole thing.

When the public and Tony Blair are shocked that there isn’t a flag flying half mast over Buckingham Palace, we’re initially shocked too. We’re wondering how she could possibly be so cold. But then, in a fabulous cookout scene that is a prime example of how to use exposition, we learn that the Royal Standard flies on the mast for one reason only; to denote the presence of the Monarch. It didn’t fly half-mast when King George VI died, and it won’t fly half-mast when the Queen dies.

When people wonder why she hasn’t made a public statement, or shown a public display of emotion, we’re reminded that as Monarch, part of her role is to provide a steady and calm sense of leadership in times of trouble. That’s what she’d always done, even during World War II, and what her subjects had always drawn strength from. A leader doesn’t have the luxury of freaking out or falling apart under pressure; that only heightens public anxiety.

At these moments, I’m asking myself how her critics could possibly expect her to behave otherwise.

At other times, when Diana is shown as the victim and the Queen the villain, our protagonist is at best, a doddering old woman who’s out of touch with reality. The chasm between her and the viewer widens and she becomes less empathetic.

A great example of this is the parallel between the way the establishment treated Diana, and the way they treated the stag. In an interview with Charlie Rose, neither Helen Mirren nor Stephen Frears would explain what that stag bit was all about. They said it was up to the audience to draw from it what they will.

Since they’ve given me liberty to interpret, here’s how I see it. The royal family are hunters. They stalk and torment innocent, beautiful creatures; both the stag and Diana were their victims. However, we see little remorse from the Queen with respect to Diana—although she does admit to having some part in it because both she and Philip signed off on the marriage. When she sheds a tear, it’s not clear if she’s mourning the loss of a former daughter-in-law, or reacting to the stress from the public relations fiasco. When the stag is killed, she stops everything to go see the body, however, Diana’s corpse had been alone at the Palace. Add to this the general sense that the Queen relates better to animals than people (she’s great with the dogs and horses, but not much of a warm or loving mother), and we start to wonder what kind of cold-hearted automaton is on the throne.

While the Queen and Diana each play the victim and the villain, Tony Blair also shifts roles. At various points he’s either the mentor, hero or villain.

So back to the question I set out to answer: what happens to narrative drive when the roles of hero, victim and villain shift around? Well, I think it serves to destablise the viewer or reader. We’re constantly asking which character is in the right and who we should be rooting.

I’ve talked before about writers who sustain narrative drive by answering questions in a way that raises more questions. Well, I think that’s what’s going on in The Queen.

This kind of narrative doesn’t tell the audience what to think. It presents various points of view and lets the audience draw its own conclusion. It doesn’t fully answer every one of our questions. In fact, it leaves us with more questions—deeper questions—than we had when we started out.

Other Perspectives

Leslie – Worldview and Society Conventions

I’m studying conventions this season, and I was pleased to see how the conventions of Worldview and Society genres support the elements of the other genre.

Worldview Conventions

Type of Protagonist: In a Worldview Revelation Story, we have a sophisticated protagonist with a strong will who lacks a critical piece of information they need to make a wise decision. They experience cognitive dissonance when what happens in the world doesn’t align with what

Strong Mentor Figure: Tony Blair, the new PM of the UK. Not a conventional mentor since he is much younger and more inexperienced than the Queen (she makes sure he’s aware of this in their first meeting after the election, that he is her tenth PM, that her first was Churchill). But who can mentor the Queen? Understanding the purpose the mentor serves in a Worldview story sheds light on this: someone who is in a better position to see and understand the circumstances better than the protagonist. In this case it is Blair, with his establishment upbringing and education, but modernist leanings can bridge the gap, make suggestions and ease the Queen toward the revelation.

Shapeshifters: Someone who says one thing and does another. Disconnect allows the protagonist to see Diana, as presented in the story, was different before the media than she was at home. PC & sec’y make use of the tabloids, even as they criticize them to get a picture of the flag of his private residence is flying at half-mast. Statement of gratitude to the crowds from PC and the boys, something heartfelt. If what PM says is true that “no one would wear it, no one wants it” referring to a republic without the monarchy, then the public, too, is saying they think the monarchy is despicable, but they love them anyway. But perhaps this indicates that TB himself is a shapeshifter calling for radical change but wanting to slow it down once it begins happening.

Big Social Problem: This provides a context in which the protagonist can see they lack vital information to make a wise decision. In the big picture of big social problems, the one we have here seems like small potatoes, but in a rapidly changing world, the British people need someone to look to, to provide leadership, and the Queen has fulfilled part of the role in the past. We learn that the British people need different things from the Queen than they did in earlier times, and we wonder whether she will be able to step up to the challenge.  

A Clear Point of No Return: Moment when the protagonist knows they can never go back to the way things were. When the Queen hears the poll results, she can no longer deny that she is out of step with her people. She now knows it, and must decide what to about it.

Win-but-lose/lose-but win ending: All change, even when it’s for the better, represents a loss. The Queen loses the way she used to relate to her people and her belief that she knows the British people better than anyone. But she gains a new understanding of her people, and presumably that would help a character like hers make wiser decisions, by taking their new needs into account in the future.

Society Conventions

Really interesting because the Queen advises the government, but doesn’t actually have a say in the laws, etc. So the power people are asking her to share is the role the royal family plays in their lives. Will the Queen adjust her approach, or cling to the old ways of doing things.

One central character with ensemble cast: The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen Mother, Prince Charles, the staff.  Each has a different reaction to and acceptance of the revelation that the Royal Family is out of touch with the British people.

Big Canvas (internal or external): Internal is how the Queen deals with what her role is in relation to the British people; externally, we are looking at how Britain, an old nation steeped in tradition deals with a rapidly changing world.

Clear Revolutionary Point of No Return: Blair shares poll data that indicates that most people think the Royal Family handled Diana’s death poorly, and that a not insignificant number of people would do away with the monarchy.

The Vanquished Are Doomed to Exile: If the Queen cannot learn to share power (respond to current events in a more modern way), then it’s possible the British public might decide they don’t really need the monarchy.

The Power Divide between those in power and the underrepresented class is large: The Queen has great wealth and autonomy when it comes to how she responds, but her vulnerability and strength is that she cares what the   

Win-but-lose/Lose-but win Ending: The Queen gives up some power (or the illusion of power), but she gains and the people of Britain gain in her willingness to share power.

Kim – Worldview Global Internal Genre

Hooray for a Global Internal Genre! Especially a Global Worldview-Revelation Story. I love Global Revelation stories and am always looking for more examples.

This is an Interesting case study because the majority of worldview revelation stories I’ve come across in the past operated on suspense where we knew the same amount of  information as protagonist. However as Valerie has shown this operates on dramatic irony. This seems to fly in the face of how an audience typically experiences a revelation story, where the author withholds of essential factual information from the protagonist and in most cases the audience as well. Think of all the other examples we’ve mentioned before: The Sixth Sense, Arrival, Shutter Island, Oedipus. We didn’t know the truth / the twist until the protagonist did.

So what happens when the audience already has the factual information that the protagonist is missing? How does that change the way the story is told and the way the should Life values are established and shown throughout? Another fascinating aspect of worldview revelation stories and global internal Genres in general are their dependence on the external genre life values.


Friedman’s Framework

  • Protagonist




    • The Queen
  • Beginning
    • Character—strong will and motives to duty, to serve
    • Thought—sophisticated/expert of history of UK out of touch with present needs
    • Fortune—well she’s the Queen, for 50 years
  • End
    • Character—unchanged
    • Thought—recognizes she is out of touch and that there has been some shift in values in society
    • Fortune—unchanged
  • How do we feel about this change?
    • Relieved
  • Genre
    • Worldview-Revelation
  • Cause & Effect statement
    • General: When a protagonist, with well-developed will but lacking in essential facts, experiences doubt about their circumstances which leads to a revelation of a shocking truth, they can make wise and appropriate decisions.
    • When the longest reigning monarch who does not recognize her modern people want/need her to be publicly engaged in grief, she dismisses the claim as hysteria, But when she learns her inaction directly puts the crown at risk, she realizes it’s not hysteria it’s a shift in values and heeds the modern advice.

Life Values spectrum / range / specific definitions / gradations

  • Wisdom as knowledge applied with appropriate action hereafter
  • Wisdom as knowledge applied with appropriate action in the moment
  • Knowledge with Clarity
  • Knowledge with Cognitive Dissonance
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Acknowledged Ignorance
  • Ignorance
  • Ignorance Masked as Knowledge

The Queen is told directly what she needs to do numerous times but fails to recognize it as sound advice because she is operating from a traditional perspective. So we have several additional gradations of life values within knowledge before achieving true wisdom.

There are some additional conventions I’d identified for Revelation

  • Protagonist is an expert in their field.
  • A clear goal or want that they are actively pursuing that involves solving some kind of mystery. This is how I’d previously identified it because all the examples I’d looked at had this piece. In this case it seems everyone else is trying to determine the best course of action and the Queen is oblivious.
  • Clues that tip them off that something is not quite right. These are the opposite of red herrings because these clues point to the truth but the protagonist dismisses them or just doesn’t fully pursue.
  • The Truth is directly revelation to the protagonist in major way.

Here is a  Nerdy Spreadsheet with my observations.


Establish the protagonist as an expert and in power. This comes in first scenes with painter (it is your government) and Tony Blair (you are my 10th Prime Minister).

Establish Society values: ruling class vs underclass and the external life values of power and impotence. Queen is woken each morning, directed by schedule and duty. Diana’s actions directly impact the royal family. It’s interesting the tension between power / autonomy and duty / service.


Clues the Queen is oblivious to:

  • All these other public leaders are giving accounts about her but the Queen scarcely notices! Instead they talk about a big stag on the estate.
  • Police commissioner is asking for condolence book for growing crowds / flowers blocking the main gate.
  • Not to mention when she is blatantly advised to take specific actions, and as Valerie mentioned, it makes sense why she doesn’t understand the advice because it’s so contrary to her experience and expertise.

Most negative moment of Ignorance Masked as Knowledge: “Their grief? I doubt there is anyone who knows the British people more than I do, Mr. Blair. Nor who has great faith in their wisdom and judgment. And it is my belief that they will at any moment reject this, this mood which is being stirred up by the press, in favor of a period of restrained grief and sober private mourning. That’s the way we do things in this country. Quiety, with dignity. That’s what the rest of the world has always admired us for.”

Robin Janvrin calls Prime Minister back to explain the Queen’s perspective: “She just won’t have seen anything like this since the abdication. And I cannot emphasize enough what effect that had on her, unexpectedly becoming King as good as killed her father. I’m afraid she’s in a state of shock. The public reaction has thrown her.”

I interpret the Stag differently. It seems to highlight parallels between her father and Diana — all victims of being in the public eye. And I believe her tears are for them both, remembering her father and Diana, and herself and her grandchildren.


I mentioned that we feel relief that the Queen realizes what she needs to do and then does it. But for me the genuine relief doesn’t really come until the end because although the Queen cognitively knows the truth and takes appropriate action which is wisdom, she is still very much in cognitive dissonance throughout. Factual knowledge vs personal understanding based on values.

Part of what we experience with this film is strange math. As can see above, Valerie has identified the Ending Payoff as the final scenes with the Queen and Tony Blair, where the Queen finally shifts to true understanding. Her need to understand the factual knowledge and know how to apply it is for more than that single week / event. It is a shift in values, as she says.

Queen shows her True Wisdom the final scene with Mr. Blair: “Nowadays people want glamour and tears, the grand performance. I’m very good at that. I never have been. I prefer to keep my feelings to myself. And foolishly I thought that’s what the people wanted from their queen, not to make a fuss, nor wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve. That’s how I was brought up. It’s all I’ve ever known.”

Blair: “But you were so young when you became queen.”

Queen: “Well, yes. Yes, a girl. But I can see that the world has changed. And one must, modernize.”

In addition to the long middle build, the All is Lost moment and Dark Night of the Soul are not obvious. Perhaps academically we can point to them but when it comes to a visceral punch in the guts moment that we are used to, it feels like it’s missing. Ironically, this is similar to the observation I made about The Spy Who Dumped Me, a story that could not be more different from The Queen. But in the case of The Queen, the subtle and nuanced life value shifts, including a subtle all is lost and dark night of the soul, do seem to align with the point of the story: that the Queen has been taught to live by a different set of values, more subdued about emotions. Duty first, self second.

Other Genres

  • External – Society
  • Tony Blair – Worldview-Maturation/Affective re: The Queen
    • Black and white view of modernism vs traditionalism, the role of the monarchy
    • Goal to modernize
    • Comes to recognize Queen and her role in new ways, finds her sympathetic and fascinating, admires her
    • Supports her and defends her to his advisors
Big Meta Why

We all get it wrong sometimes. We act in good faith based on what we know and the expertise of our experience and understanding, and still get it wrong. Experts in their field get it wrong. It’s what we do when we realize the truth, and the truth of our error, that really matters. Global Revelation stories give us a chance to watch others do this work, they become a simulation with varying outcomes we can observe, some prescriptive, some cautionary. They seem to say, do the best with what you at this moment but understand that new information may enter at any time. This information may knock the wind out of you initially but then as you come to acknowledge and understand it, the new truth, you have the opportunity to assimilate it with wisdom or disregard it. Take heed when you make this choice.

I know for me personally, as someone who is always seeking truth and wanting to refresh my model of understanding, revelation stories are extremely satisfying. For me it’s more important to be aligned with accurate truth than always right.

Anne – Narrative Devices for Novelists

This story uses several narrative devices that are relevant to novelists. I’m going to look at three of them in particular: setups and payoffs through symbolism, epistolary devices, and clones.

Brian McDonald, the author of Invisible Ink–one of my favorite books on writing–calls certain secondary characters in a story “clones.”

McDonald writes, “A clone in story terms is a tool for showing, not telling. Clones are characters in your story that represent what could, should, or might happen to the protagonist if he or she takes a particular path.”

These clone characters don’t just serve to fill out the scene or give the protagonist someone to talk to. In The Queen, the secondary characters may have historical actuality, but all of them–Prince Charles, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, the secretary, Tony Blair’s wife and his chief of staff–are clones for the controlling idea.

That idea is crystal clear: when a proud tradition collides with modernity, both sides will have to change. In Story Grid terminology for a Worldview plot, the controlling idea of this film goes something like this:

Wisdom and meaning prevail when the powerful upholder of a long tradition and the powerful champion of modernity, can move beyond their clash to find some common ground for the good of the nation.

This idea is repeated over and over in the story, via clone characters.

The clone characters ranged firmly on the side of tradition are Prince Philip and the Queen Mother, who urge the queen to take the most conservative, traditional stance, to let the people’s fervor die down, to do nothing that could conceivably tarnish the proud thousand-year tradition of the British throne. They want her to disregard the will of the people, indicating that it’s vulgar and common.

Across the divide, openly ranged against tradition and in favor of change and modernity–even to the point of abolishing the monarchy and joking about getting rid of the queen–are Tony Blair’s wife Cherie, and his speechwriter Alastair.

Representing the middle ground that the two main characters must find, we have the Queen’s secretary, Robin, and Prince Charles. Both are willing to preserve what the monarchy stands for while they are also both open to some change.

  • Charles crosses to the middle of the divide when he insists on flying to Paris to accompany Diana’s body home, though it’s against protocol. His action begins to make the Queen reconsider her strict stance.
  • Robin, the Queen’s secretary, makes one secret phone call to Tony Blair, right at the midpoint, and explains the Queen’s private beliefs, reminding Blair of her unique personal background. As a result, Blair begins to change his mind about her. A few scenes later, he takes the information to heart and gets angry with his staff for their disrespectful attitudes towards the Royal Family.

Next, we have setups and payoffs of symbolism.

The story opens on the Queen posing for an oil portrait. All the pomp, ceremony and tradition of the monarchy are represented by her elaborate regalia, and by the fact that it’s an oil painting rather than a photograph. She speaks to the artist almost casually, but he’s the outsider, perhaps the common man, looking at the Queen, sort of the same way we are in the audience.

The portrait in the opening scene is paid off in the closing scene, as the Queen and Tony Blair have their first real, normal conversation. They’re walking along a hallway lined with statues and portraits of past dignitaries. They pause before a nude statue of a woman just as the queen admits that it was hard to take the throne at such a young age. She is baring her soul–as much as she ever will.

Another powerful symbol is the stag. No animal could more clearly symbolize the royal right of European kings and queens, with all the ancient customs around stag hunting. At least from the Queen’s POV, these are proud and honorable traditions.

We first hear of the stag from Prince Philip, who thinks nothing of taking his bereaved grandsons out to kill it for sport, as a way of taking their minds off their mother’s gruesome death in a car wreck.

We meet the stag ourselves in an extraordinary scene where Queen Elizabeth is alone in the Scottish highlands. The stag approaches and she admires its beauty, then shoos it away as she hears hunters approaching. It goes off and she’s happy to have helped save its life.

In this scene, the stag becomes a kind of clone for the Queen–the part of her that loves the wild hills and the beauty of her country, more than the part of her that inherits a thousand unbroken years of royal stag-killing tradition.

The setup of the stag is sadly paid off when the Queen learns that an investment banker–avatar of the nasty, modern world–paid to shoot it. He didn’t kill it, but only cruelly wounded it, so that gamekeepers had to go after it and put it out of its misery.

We see the Queen run her hand over the bullet hole in the dead animal’s neck, and she begins to realize that the monarchy, too, has been wounded, partly by Princess Diana’s own behavior before her death, but now also by the way the Royal Family is responding to the tragedy. The Queen wants the monarchy to survive, not to be put out of its misery. She’s stronger than that.

Finally we have the narrative device of epistolary exposition. This movie makes full use of news footage, some genuine historical film from the period, and some re-created. Via news reports, we get explanations of Tony Blair’s election, an interpretation of the Royal Family’s actions, a clear picture of Princess Diana herself, and an understanding of the massive outpouring of love and grief by the people of Great Britain.

I can’t say for sure, but even a viewer too young to remember Diana would probably be able to understand the impact her death had on the world, because the epistolary device is so well deployed here.

Clone characters are standard in great fiction. They provide intellectual ideas and repeat the theme of the story in an emotional form that’s easy for the reader to internalize, creating empathy and sympathy,

Visual symbolism, like the portrait and the other works of art in Buckingham Palace, and like the stag, easily translate to the written word. If I’m doing my job as a novelist, you the reader won’t feel at all hit over the head with these symbolic elements. They’ll feel organic to the scenes they’re in, and will provide richness and depth and resonance to the reader at a subconscious level.

And finally, there’s nothing easier or more accessible to the reader than familiar epistolary devices like news reports, letters, transcripts, and text messages. They deliver exposition in a digestible, natural-feeling form when no character on the page could realistically be talking about the subject.

All these devices are readily adaptable to the written word , and I encourage writers to take a close look at this film and appreciate how well all of them are used throughout.

Listener Question

To wind up the episode, we take questions from our listeners. This week’s question comes to us from “Dave In Van,” who left us a comment on our Live From Nashville episode a few weeks ago:

Trying to get the sense of a contemporary fiction reader. From this podcast I’m getting: a university educated female of means whose primary narrative/story sense/taste comes from film. Does that sound about right?

Jarie – Interesting question, and not one we’ve ever looked into, so Anne and I did a little research into American readers from Marketing Charts.

Americans read more nonfiction than fiction. In terms of the men versus women, 68 percent of men and 77 percent of women say they’ve read at least one book in the past year. The younger you are, the more you read with 80 percent of 18-29 year olds reading, while only 67 percent of 65+ crowd picking up a book in the last year.

People with college degrees definitely read more than people without–the difference there is 86 percent to 62 percent. Means or income is less relevant, but the ability to buy books certainly comes into the picture. 65% of people living near or below the poverty line read books, compared with 81 percent of the upper middle and upper income brackets.

I had trouble finding demographics on genre specific breakdowns but did find a Quartz article on Romance novels, which had a couple of reference links that I could follow.

Romance/Erotica is the biggest selling (in terms of dollars) genre of all the genre’s with $1.44 B in annual sales out of $2.6 B in total book sales US. If you look at total unit sales (not sales dollars), then the breakdown is Children’s General Fiction, Children’s Science Fiction/Fantasy/Magic, Children’s Social Situations/Family/Health, Adult General Fiction, Adult Romance, and Adult Suspense/Thrillers. Those are based on Nielsen BookScan data.

According to Query Tracker, the types of Genres that are requested the most from agents include: Young Adult, Fantasy, Literary Fiction, Children’s, Science Fiction, Thrillers/Suspense, Middle Grade, Romance, Historical, and Women’s Fiction.

I bring up the agent requests because that’s usually a leading indicator of what’s up and coming and what’s in demand since a shortage of titles in those areas will garner a higher cover price. That higher cover price will make more money for the agene since they get a percentage.

Getting back to your assumption about the fiction reader as  a university educated female of means whose primary narrative/story sense/taste comes from film. Based on my research, I’d say you’re wrong. The world of writing and fiction in particular, has a diverse set of readers that is genre dependent. 

If you have a question about any story principle, you can ask it on Twitter @storygridRT, or better still, by clicking here and leaving us a voice message.

Join us next time for our final episode of season 4. Kim will finish her study of Global Internal Genre stories by examining the 2018 drama Puzzle. Why not give it a look during the week, and follow along with us?

Your Roundtable Story Grid Editors are Jarie Bolander, Valerie Francis, Anne Hawley, Kim Kessler, and Leslie Watts.

Download the Math of Storytelling Infographic

Share this Article:

🟢 Twitter🔵 Facebook🔴 Pinterest


Sign up below and we'll immediately send you a coupon code to get any Story Grid title - print, ebook or audiobook - for free.

(Browse all the Story Grid titles)


Leslie Watts

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 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.