Editor’s View vs Writer’s View

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Brokeback Mountain on the New Yorker website

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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.

[00:00:00] AH: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Masterwork Experiment. My name is Anne Hawley, and I’m an experienced novelist trying to ground my craft more solidly in Story Grid methodology. So, I’ve agreed to be the lab rat in the Masterwork Experiment, which Shawn Coyne is conducting as a test of his latest writing and editing methods.

Shawn is the creator of the Story Grid Method. He’s the author of the book, The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know, and he’s in and it’s her with many years’ experience in the big New York publishing houses. In the Masterwork Experiment, Shawn and I analyze the brilliant short novella; Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, with an eye to understanding what it’s made of right down to the beat level. Then my job will be to write a novella of my own using exactly the same beats and structure but with a different setting, style and voice. 

Last week, we started into the beats of Brokeback Mountain and I got kind of carried away at the micro level. So, this week we just keep going and get to about the midpoint of the story. I was afraid that I was looking at things wrong, too abstractly, too minutely. So, Shawn, identifies my approach as the writer’s view, while the way he looks at a story is from the editor’s view. He gives me a great epigrammatic piece of advice worthy of embroidering on a pillow or maybe tattooing on my arm. 

It’s another fun episode. So, put on your white coat and safety goggles and step into the laboratory for episode five of the Masterwork Experiment. 


[00:01:31] SC: Let’s just take a step back and try and ground ourselves of what we’re trying to do, okay? 

[00:01:38] AH: Okay. 

[00:01:39] SC: The whole concept of this experiment is to deconstruct and breakdown Brokeback Mountain into its constituent beats and then to take those beats and use them to inspire your writing a brand-new story. However, following these very, very specific beats and adapting them to the time period and characters that you wish to create yourself. 

So, the process that we’re in right now is we’re in the middle of breaking down the beat by beats of the beginning hook of Brokeback Mountain, and we’ll probably finish that today. Then we’re going to do the middle building and then the ending pay off. Then once we have this document for you to work from, then you can begin your work, which is to use these beats as inspirations for creating an original story. I think that sums it up, right? 

[00:02:42] AH: It sums it up very clearly and it doesn’t hurt to have gone over that a few times for my sake and everybody else’s. 

[00:02:48] SC: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Once you get in to the analytical process, you can quickly lose the forest for the trees. 

[00:02:55] AH: Yes, and that raises a question that I do want to bring up today, which is I think that’s exactly what I’m doing, losing side of the forest for the trees. I think you kind of have to get down to that level at some point and then kind of keep coming back up, kind of triangulating and then going back down in to the line-by-line. 

But here’s a question that I have for you. Last time, when you look to the prologue and you saw that is basically a beat and I had it divided into – What? 8 beats, I think micro-beats. 

[00:03:22] SC: Right. 

[00:03:22] AH: There’s a style of thinking here that I just want to talk about a little bit, because I don’t think I’m the only one who does this. When I’m analyzing a story, even though I’ve read it and I know it very well, I’m looking at this prologue and I’m trying very hard to eliminate what I know about the story and just analyze it as if I’m reading it for the first time. What can I glean from this? 

When you analyzed it, it was definitely coming from, “I’ve read the whole story. I know it well. I can see in this prologue beat everything being set up that I already know is going to pay off in the story.”

[00:03:58] SC: Yes. Yes. 

[00:04:00] AH: It’s two very like diagonally opposite ways of thinking about it, and I’m analyzing, I’m thinking, “Okay. I need to find things in here that I can re-create in my historical period.” So that’s why I was looking at that really micro-level. 

[00:04:16] SC: Right. 

[00:04:16] AH: But have an idea that that’s not how you want me to be looking at it. I’m mining this thing for parts that I think I can use as opposed to mining it for the parts that are there and then using them. 

[00:04:28] SC: I think both ways work. Your way, I think, is far more high-resolution, and that makes sense to me, because you are the one who’s going to have to execute. 

[00:04:45] AH: Okay. 

[00:04:46] SC: Now, my broader sort of definitions of beats, and you’re doing sort of micro-beads, are more about taking apart the engine of the car after the master mechanic has built it, and I’m separating it into the carburetor and the pistons, and you’re separating it into the literal nuts and bolts that build up into the carburetor. 

Now, I think if I were in your shoes, the higher resolution would be more useful to me for the following reason. When you were talking about adapting the story for a different time period with a different setting and a different social structure, one of the challenges for you is to create this very specific story in another time period. 

So, the higher resolution is going to help you do that easier than the way I’m doing it. The reason being is that you’re pulling out abstractions, abstract notions of micro-beats line-by-law, and abstractions are for more easy to adapt when they are high-resolution in terms of switching a time period. 

So, I know that that’s a big mouthful of what I just said, but I think the abstract notions from line-by-line are easier to adapt then say do a prologue that’s portrait of the protagonist as a young man, or your person, right?

So, believe it or not, that’s even a little bit vague when you say give me a portrait of the protagonist as a young man in a prologue of 300 words. You could sort of be fitsing and fuddling with that notion for quite some time. But if you do it the way that you created these micro-beats, then you say, “Well, my first sentence is going to be waking up, and then I’m going to move into starting his day.” So, it’s very, very specific, and I think it’s going to work far better for you using your analysis than my analysis, which is all about checking if something’s working, right? 

So my editor hat is all about, “All right. Let me take a look at the engine here. There’s sort of a strange sound that happens every fourth piston explosion. So let me see if I can take apart the main features of the engine and see if I can pinpoint where that strange sound is coming from,” or the way we’re doing this masterwork, “How can I take apart the parts and see how she constructed this very, very finely detailed watch,” and then hand over the pieces to you and say, “Okay, instead of using gold, I want you to use platinum.” So I’m talking in metaphor and analogy here, but the bottom line is that I don’t believe that what you were doing is all that different from what I am doing, except you are doing it from the point of view of the writer and I’m doing it from the point of view of an editor. 

[00:08:06] AH: Good! So, we’re in our correct roles. 

[00:08:09] SC: Yeah. 

[00:08:10] AH: Good! That sets my mind at rest, because I’ve been really struggling with, “Am I doing this right? Am I on the right track here?” 

[00:08:17] SC: Yeah. You’re not only doing it right. You’re bringing up the game to an even better level that will be even more instructive to people who listen than what I originally conceived. So, kudos to you for doing that. 

So, should we pick up where we left off last time?

[00:08:36] AH: Yes. We left off last time, we finished with scene three, which was the two characters switching jobs up on the mountain. That was scene three, and we said we would start again with scene four. 

[00:08:48] SC: Right. Why don’t you go through it since your stuff is so much finely detailed than mine?

[00:08:54] AH: All right. Well, scene four is 385 words. I think of it as mostly a transitional scene, and it’s broken into three – I broke it into three beats, instead of nine. The first one I identified as, “How was your day, honey?” In scene three, we had where Jack comes back to the camp from his night up on the mountain, and I call that a honey I’m home beat. So, this one opens with in a similar scene of Ennis this time coming back now that they’ve changed jobs. Coming back in the morning and sort of how was your day honey is how I identified this scene. He talks about what he did up there in the mountains. Shot a coyote, etc. 

Then that’s followed by a beat of bathing. It’s a bathing scene. I added a note there, because Ennis is going to wash everything I can reach, he says. Pulling off his boots and jeans, no drawers, no socks (Jack noticed). So I call that a sneaking a peak beat, which is very common in love stories. 

[00:10:00] SC: Yes. Absolutely. 

[00:10:03] AH: We see it all the time, a little, whether it’s like actual nakedness or just an ankle in the regency or something like that. Then the following beat is a conversation around the campfire. There’re a couple of these, and this one escalates their knowledge of each other, their friendship. It’s quite long. It goes on for couple hundred words, this beat. It establishes the historical setting. It makes one historical reference that if you want it to look it up, it would place it clearly in the summer of 1963 about a submarine accident that actually happened. 

Ennis going back up on to the mountain after their evening together where he has to spend the night, and he felt – What does it say here? Riding against the wind back to the sheep in the treacherous drunken light,” because, of course, he’s drunk. Thought he’d never had such a good time. Felt he could paw the white out of the moon, which expresses something that – I don’t know how to put words to what that expresses me, but you know exactly what he’s feeling. 

[00:11:04] SC: Exactly. Yeah, he’s got the world on the string. 

[00:11:07] AH: Yup, exhilarated. 

[00:11:09] SC: Yeah. I absolutely agree with all that, and I think it’s a beautiful five or six sentences there that does all the things that you say it does, which establishes really, really clearly the time period, etc. But it also – Before they have sex, there’s a real bond intimacy here that she puts in prior to the sex, which I think is really critical in this story, because then the sex doesn’t become the big sort of critical, intimate scene. So it’s almost in a way – I don’t know if this is the right way to put it. It’s sort of devaluing the physical action and raising the intimate knowledge of two people who see the world better together than singly, which is a really great thing. 

[00:12:09] AH: I wondered whether this scene was more the first intimate contact scene than the following one where they actually have sex. I don’t think so. I think real intimacy starts after that, but I didn’t view the actual sex scene as particularly intimate. 

[00:12:23] SC: No. No. It’s very sort of –

[00:12:26] AH: Businesslike. Yeah. 

[00:12:28] SC: Yeah. It’s just silly. It’s kind of funny. It’s comic. It’s comedic. 

[00:12:33] AH: It is. It is kind of thing. Yeah. So, should we go on to scene five where that happens?

[00:12:38] SC: Yeah, let’s do it. 

[00:12:40] AH: Okay. Scene five, 428 words. I identify overall as first sexual contact, but not intimate contact. The first beat kind of sets the scene. There’s a transition. It starts out with the phrase, “The summer went on.” So another sort of masterful way of saying time is passing. 

So, what’s about to follow is established as not having happened like immediately. Time has passed. Their friendship intimacy has grown, right. The next beat is getting drunk together or drunk singing, because they do sing or drunk behavior, right. It’s a scene of a couple of guys being drunk. I did some research on drunk scenes and I found endless variety of drunk scenes, and they have a lot in common, which is basically alcohol removes inhibitions. You can show your true self a little more when you had a few. 

[00:13:30] SC: Yes.

[00:13:31] AH: So there they are, singing, water walking Jesus and strawberry roan and planned the broken harmonica and setting off distant coyote yips. I love that. Singing so loud the coyotes are crying. Followed by a beat that I call too drunk to drive, even though they’re not driving. Ennis is so drunk. He’s dizzy drunk on all fours. He’s like, “Oh, god! He’s going to get on my horse and I’m going to ride back up there.” Then a little short beat that I identified as give me your keys and spend the night. 

[00:14:05] SC: Yes, absolutely. That’s a great way of putting it. 

[00:14:09] AH: Then followed by the classic trope. I even put a link to it on TV Tropes. There is only one bed. They have forced to share a bed, right?

[00:14:20] SC: Yeah. 

[00:14:20] AH: And this is where they have sex for the first time, and it’s – She gets a surprising amount of sexual detail into this very, very short sex scene. It’s a great example of how to write a sex scene that doesn’t bore you to death with whose hand went where kind of thing. So, it’s a good scene.

[00:14:38] SC: Yes.

[00:14:39] AH: Then this scene resolves with the morning-after hangover. 

[00:14:43] SC: Yup. Yeah, it’s such a really wonderful progression that accomplishes quite a bit in 428 words. Really, really great stuff, and I absolutely agree about the actual sex in it, because they’re both in character during the sex act too, because Ennis is like – Once he decides he’s going to do something, he doesn’t, right? Jack is more of the sort of take it a little baby step at a time and then Ennis just was like, “Nope! Yeah, we’re going to get this done now,” which is really, really, it’s in character. It’s comedic and it’s perfectly done.

Let’s keep burrowing along here. We’re now into scene six.

[00:15:28] AH: Just one more note on scene five. The overall scene qualifies also as kind of caught in bad weather or bad weather forces a change or forces intimacy. So, the bad weather plays a role. It’s freezing cold.

[00:15:41] SC: Right. 

[00:15:41] AH: And I’m noting that, because I think I’m going to use that too. All right. So, scene six, 294 words; trouble on the job. The first beat in this scene is denial or pretending it didn’t happen. Kind of denial. He wakes up and he goes, “Did that really happen?” 

Then there’s a change to a beat that I’m being called little did they know. Unsuspected danger, they’re busted and they don’t know it. Because this is when Joe Aguirre is watching them through binoculars, and this is the genius of using this godlike omniscient point of view. Because the narrator can just say, “What they didn’t know was –” That Joe Aguirre was standing off in the trees with binoculars. Watching them rolling around in the hay and having a good time during the day and not doing their jobs. 

[00:16:29] SC: Yeah. I love it too, because it’s a great technique and one that also reminded me of this in the Great Gatsby and the eyes of JT Eichelberger, the optometrist that looks over the wasteland between New York City and Oyster Bay.

Fitzgerald uses that metaphor of the eyes watching over the proceedings, and Joe Aguirre, as sort of the next level up in sort of this social circle world with his binoculars checking on his employees, making sure they’re not stealing, that sort of thing. It’s the eyes of society observing, and it’s a great way of creating suspense in the story. 

One of the difficult things is to really make it believable that Ennis would not succumb to his true love with Jack. So, this little moment here is a great way of explaining exactly why he does not do that. It’s shortly after they each tell each other they’re not queer. It’s really well done, and I love the binoculars, and I love Joe Aguirre, and I love the fact that they do not “suffer the consequences of their love”, but Jack ends up paying the ultimate price later on. 

[00:17:57] AH: Right, and Joe Aguirre is not really the antagonist. I mean, he represents the antagonistic force in the story, which I think is nice, neat, put that into one person. 

[00:18:09] SC: Yeah, it’s great, and it’s like a little time bomb. This is when the clock starts. They’re living in this extraordinary world. They get to set their own rules. They are in charge, but not really, because there are the eyes of society that are watching from afar. So, it starts the clock of, “Oh, boy! Now they’re in for it,” and that clock doesn’t stop until the end of the story. So, this is a great example of a set up. Whenever I say to a writer, “You’re not placing your setups well,” so your payoffs come as deus ex machine, because there’s no set up for the payoff. So what she did here was set up the payoff at the very end of the story, and we’re in scene six of 17 scenes. So, we’re about a third of the way through, and she’s setting up the very painful ending of this story so that it doesn’t seem like it came out of nowhere. She’s placing this set up hint. There’s some trouble going to happen. This is not going to end well, which is a perfect place to put it. 

[00:19:15] AH: I also like that with her style of making time pass in just a few words. This beat opens with, “There were only the two of them on the mountain flying in the euphoric bitter air,” etc. it gives a sense that they have had maybe – We don’t know. Maybe a couple of weeks, maybe a short period of time, but some period of time. Joe Aguirre isn’t spying on them the next day after the first time they have sex. They’ve had a chance to become intimate. To start loosening up and having fun morning, noon and night kind of thing. So she gives you that feeling of, “We’ve given them something and we’re going to take it away.” 

[00:19:52] SC: Yup. Yup. 

[00:19:54] AH: It’s beautiful. 

[00:19:55] SC: Amazing. 

[00:19:55] AH: So, the next beat in the scene is we see them disregarding their duty because of their love for their sex life together. Ennis starts spending the whole night in the main camp and just kind of ignoring the sheep until a hailstorm comes and causes a lot of damage that he should have been there to help stave off, right? 

So, following that, the resolution is they pay the price of their carelessness. There’s a disaster on the job. The two herds of sheep get mixed up, because Ennis has not been doing his job and a sense of, “We’re in trouble now.” 

[00:20:26] SC: Yes. Yes, well done. It’s a progressive complication, where not to get too wonky about it, but the hierarchy of values that they both had prior to falling in love was doing the job well so that they can get another job, right? The way it works in this time period is that you only got your next job if you did your prior job well. Somebody would ask your former employer, “Is this guy reliable?” If they’re like, “Well, not really. They did it by the letter of agreement, but I wouldn’t hire them again.” 

So, that was sort of their main priority. Get enough work so I don’t starve to death. Then they fall in love, and what comes to the top of the hierarchy now is spend as much time with this other person as much as possible over neglect your job. So, the love value moved from sort of, seriously, just like punching the checklist, like Ennis is going to marry Alma, but it was just what he was supposed to do at the time. 

Now, that love value has superseded the bottom floor of Maslow’s hierarchy, which is where it should be after you have enough food. That’s kind of where you should be going. Then, of course, now they’re paying the price for switching that hierarchy. You got to keep your mind on the job, etc. 

[00:21:54] AH: So, moving on to scene seven, which is 402 words. I sort or titled this the job ends and they part. So, the first beat is whether alters their plans. Bad weather changes things. This is the coincidental inciting incident. 

[00:22:13] SC: Yes. 

[00:22:13] AH: They have to end the job early, because one storm is coming in and another storm is coming in behind it. So they have to leave the mountain earlier than they thought. When they get down to the office in Signal, Wyoming, I have a beat where they are busted. Joe Aguirre pays them, but he notices that some of those sheep were never in my herd to start with, and he thinks ranch stiffs never did much of a job. He’s not happy. This is giving them a C, maybe C- on their work. So it’s not a success.

Followed by the very important awkward goodbye, failure to express themselves or their desire or their love. They split apart and it’s a longish scene, there’s quite a bit of conversation in it where they talk about – Mumble about why they – Maybe I’ll come back. Nothing is coming out of their hearts. They’re just kind of breaking it away from each other. They don’t know how to be close when they’re in the town, right? 

Followed by the final beat of the scene, I think, is that he is literally sick from love. He’s lovesick. They part, and Ennis is nauseated. He’s so heartsick that he wants to throw up. 

[00:23:24] SC: Yeah. She has this throwaway sentence. Not throw away. Very, very, perfectly put in, that Ennis had punched Jack on the last day in the jaw and it still blue from the punch. This is sort of the way we behave when we can’t put our mind to what’s really going on is our emotional systems causes us to do things that seem ridiculous. Why would he punch the guy that he loves? But he was just so frustrated and he couldn’t express himself, that that’s the only way he could separate himself from Jack, was to literally hurt him. So, hopefully Jack would be so angry at Ennis that that would be the end of it. 

It’s a really brilliant way of describing difficulty for a lot of men, specifically, I think. It’s probably sexist to say who – 

[00:24:21] AH: No. I think you’re on safe ground there.

[00:24:23] SC: Yeah. I mean, a lot of men, they haven’t been encouraged to even think about their emotional feelings. So, when things get antsy, they immediately go to anger. So, that’s a really great way of showing that. Jack, he’s a guy too, right? So, Jack doesn’t really – He sort of gets it. He kind of understands why he punched him, and they never talk about it. But it’s sort of like friends who go to a bar and get into a fight and then the next day they go fishing together. It’s just the way some men hold the relationships. 

[00:25:01] AH: I liked that beat too or that moment too, because from the narrative drive perspective, it creates a mystery. Both of them kind of probably know at some level why Ennis hit Jack, but we’re not clear on it and it doesn’t become clear for about half the story. They don’t talk about it again. So, you wonder. It’s in the back of your mind and it isn’t till the very end that that fully pays off with the blood on the shirts. So, talk about setups and payoffs. Great stuff. 

[00:25:30] SC: Yeah, another one. Another one. 

[00:25:33] AH: That’s the end of the beginning hook. The lovers have parted, sadly, and we move into the middle build. 

[00:25:40] SC: So, if we were to sort of put the polarity shift valence on the beginning of this story up until this point, we would begin sort of in a nebulously negative world, and then it had moved to the positive of these two guys meeting and falling in love. Now we’re transitioning into the middle build and we’re hitting the dip. We’re hitting the negative, where now they must part. Also, she’s again effortlessly abided by one of the obligatory scenes in love story is the lovers part, right?

So, yeah, here we go. It’s the lovers part scene, and now we transition into the middle build, and it’s all seemingly effortlessly done. Our valences are moving. Things are very, very dark for both of these guys at this point, which is really, really cool. Why don’t we just keep going since we’re on a roll here? 

[00:26:41] AH: We’re on a roll. Okay. Well, scene eight begins the middle build. It’s 280 words by my count, and it’s partly transitional. The first beat of it is describing Ennis’s new life, which I think of it as transitional, because it feels like she’s just covering some territory here. There’s a lot of information in it. We get all the way from he marries, she gets pregnant. He takes a few jobs. A daughter is born, Alma junior, and they move a couple of times and wind up in the town of Riverton, which is like urban life for somebody like Ennis, because his wife can’t stand to live on Lonesome Ranches anymore. So that’s sort of the transition. Time has passed. We get a very clear sense of they come down from the mountain in November. He has her pregnant by January. The daughter is born. We get a feeling maybe about a year has passed, or a little bit more than a year. It’s pretty clear. It’s very clever the way she gets all that time clarity in there. 

[00:27:39] SC: Yes, 280 words. Yeah. I think they actually have two kids. So, it’s about three years. The second girl was born and Alma wanted to stay in town. 

[00:27:50] AH: Right. Yes, because the second girl has asthma problem. So she wants to be near to the doctors. Then the second beat of this sort of scene, I called it, “Don’t tie me down,” because she’s asking him to move into town and he doesn’t really want to, but he decides as long as we’re just renting a place, I can move again any time. It’s a clear sense of, “I don’t want to be really tied down to this marriage.”

[00:28:15] SC: Yeah, I would agree with that. 

[00:28:17] AH: Anything else you want to add about this little scenelit?

[00:28:21] SC: The details of sort of a business relationship more than a love relationship. So, he does what’s necessary. She does what’s necessary. They have their two kids. He needs to, for some reason, be the final decision-maker about whether or not they buy a house in town. It’s very much a business relationship here. 

Again, she’s been able to sum up three years passing in 280 words in a very easy to understand highlights. The other thing is the way she does this, it’s worth pointing out, is it’s not all just sort of third person omniscient exposition. She drops in dialogue. We’re flying above the world of Ennis and Alma, and then every now and then we drop down, hear a few words, and then we fly up again. It’s like in a Christmas Carol, when Ebenezer screws, sort of flies down into a scene and then he flies up with the angels, and that’s what she’s doing this way so that we actually get people talking to each other. They’re the ones who state the active moments of their lives. “No more damn Lonesome Ranches for us,” she said. “Let’s get a place here in town.” 

[00:29:43] AH: I view dialogue as a form of action. It’s very mild form of action, but people are doing something. They are talking to each other. 

[00:29:50] SC: Oh yeah! Yeah, there’s a whole long book to be written about dialogue. But it’s action. It’s verbal action. 

[00:30:00] AH: That analogy with Christmas Carol is really useful. That’s a valuable concept for me. Thank you. That’s a good one. 

[00:30:05] SC: Oh, good. 

[00:30:07] AH: Scene 9 is a little bit longer, 690 words, and this is the lovers reunite. Jack and Ennis get back together. It’s comprised of another transitional beat. Basically, just the fourth summer since Brokeback Mountain came on. She’s passing time again. Then this inciting incident of Ennis got a general delivery letter from Jack Twist. 

Then the next beat is what’s in that letter, and I just call that an epistolary beat, because it’s actually a postcard. We get the actual content of the letter. In that postcard, they agree that Jack’s going to come up. They’re going to get back together. 

Then the next scene, which I think I’ve seen in a whole lot of stories; nerves before the big date; pacing around before the prom. He’s dressed in his best shirt. He’s getting up, sitting down, looking out the window, watching for the arrival of his lover. For the Roundtable Podcast the other day, we watched sense and sensibility, and there is the exact same scene in sense and sensibility. 

[00:31:07] SC: Which point is it?

[00:31:09] AH: Well, the younger sister, Marianne, getting up and look running to the window, and every time she hears a carriage arrives, like, “Is he here? Is he here?” It’s the same scene. It’s really fun to see that it’s the same scene. 

This one differs a little bit, because of course, his wife is sitting there and saying, “Well, let’s all go out to dinner at the restaurant,” and Ennis desperately trying to think of ways to exclude Alma from the proceedings. 

[00:31:35] SC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it’s great. 

[00:31:39] AH: The next beat is lovers reunite. I mean, it is a clear cut, really good lovers reunite scene that the movie did great justice to. 

[00:31:47] SC: Yes. 

[00:31:48] AH: Because Jack arrives. They have this just massive kissing clinch that, of course, followed by the beat of busted. Again, they have another busted little do they know moment, which echoes exactly Aguirre looking at them through the binoculars. Alma comes out the door and sees them and they don’t notice that she has seen that they’re standing there making out under the stairs. So they don’t know their busted. 

[00:32:11] SC: Yes. Yeah, that’s important to, because that’s a really, really important choice that she’s made, because what it tells the reader in subtext, these two are magnet and steel. They should be together, and when they’re together, the rest the world falls apart. So they don’t even consider that other people could be looking at them. That’s how strong their love is, because when you read this, you just be like, “I can’t believe they’re making out on the porch. What are they doing? They’re going to get caught.” So it adds suspense too. Then when they do get caught, now we know that Alma knows, now we know when is she going to confront him. It’s another set up that will pay off later. That’s how you create narrative drive, because now the reader is thinking, “Okay. These guys are back together again. That’s cool. But why am I going to care?” 

Then the minutes that they get back together, then she drops in the setup of Alma now knows. So that creates a question in the readers mind, “What’s going to happen next? How is Alma going to use that information and change the dynamic between her and Ennis? Because he’s just explained to her that he is the head of the household and they’re not going to buy a house in town. 

One of the difficult things when you have these moments in love stories where there’s sex or intimacy, physical intimacy, is not to gild the lily on the sex stuff, because then it becomes basically pornography. So, you need to sort of surround those sexual moments with intrigue from third-party characters, and what one of the best ways to do it is to have the secret lovers be discovered by third parties. So, this is a perfect example of that. She did the same thing with Joe Aguirre, which is a larger sort of professional society. Eyes are on them. Now, the female gaze is on them, and that’s a whole other dynamic too. He’s committed to Alma as husband-and-wife. Wow! Her entire world has just – She’s just fallen through the ice. Her life is now completely changed by this moment. These two guys are so in love that they don’t even consider the consequences that they’re hurting other people based upon their inability to accept the truth of themselves. So, they’re not coming together and having their own ranch and starting their own life and accepting that they love one another is hurting other people. 

Ennis has two children. Jack’s going to have children, and poor Alma built a life believing that this man was going to be committed to her. Now, “Oh my gosh! Everything that I thought was true is false. This guy is betraying me.” It’s a great, great moment. 

[00:35:36] AH: Yeah, in like 10 words. 

[00:35:37] SC: Yeah. Wow! 

[00:35:38] AH: I mean like 10 words. I wanted to point out, there’s a movie by Todd Haynes called Far From Heaven that came out – I don’t know. Back a ways, and there is the exact same scene occurs in that movie where the wife – It’s set in the 1960s, and the wife, played by Julianne Moore, comes upon her husband and another guy making out just exactly like that. She’s looking through the door and there they are. They’re sitting on the couch in her home. 

Like Alma, I think set in this same period, she doesn’t really understand what she’s seeing. I mean, she’s shocked. It’s shocking, but she doesn’t have enough sophistication in the times to know what that means exactly. 

[00:36:18] SC: Well, yes, and it’s perfectly in keeping with the time period, because a woman, married woman back in 1963 to a cowboy, you have very limited options. She can’s like just freak out and divorce this guy. She’s got to plan her – 

[00:36:39] AH: Her exit, and it takes years. 

[00:36:42] SC: Yeah. She’s got to really think through this stuff. She’s like, “Okay. I can’t let him know that I know, because then he’ll leave me and I’ve got two kids. I’ve got to take care of the kids until I can figure out how to fix this thing.” 

[00:36:59] AH: So she pretends not to know up front. She just pretends not to know. Then there’s the awkward meeting between the spouse and the lover. 

[00:37:07] SC: Yes. 

[00:37:08] AH: The next beat. He introduces them to each other and all he is aware of is Jack’s physical presence, and followed by a beat which I’m calling lies and excuses, or he makes the irresistible, but wrong choice, or bad choice, less moral choice I guess you could say. Lies to her and says, “We haven’t seen you we seen each other in four years,” as if it were a reason. Love that. 

She pretends to accede to that, “Sure enough,” she says, but she’d seen what she’d seen. What I love in this beat is behind her in the room, lightning lit the window like a white sheet waving. It’s like she’s already surrendering. They have this sort of “normal conversation” about their kids and their wives an all these, and then they would run out as fast as they can to be with each other. 

[00:37:59] SC: Yeah. That’s a really great – Yeah, I didn’t notice that white sheet waving. You’re right. She just surrendered. 

[00:38:05] AH: See? I’m starting to see these things. I’m learning. That’s takes us – We’re getting close to the midpoint of the story here. Maybe we can pick up there next time with scene 10? 

[00:38:18] SC: Yeah, that sounds good. 

[00:38:19] AH: Okay.Great. So, what do you want me to do for next week besides continue with the micro-beads?

[00:38:26] SC: We’re on scene 10 now. So, it probably will take us two more episodes to get through the rest of the thing. Then what we’ll do is you’ll write a couple of scenes or however much you feel comfortable sharing. Then you’ll share it with me and then we’ll walk through, like, “Okay. So here’s this beat. This is how I did it. Here’s this beat. This is how I did it.” Then I’ll just offer whatever I think in that moment about the work. 

So, we’ve just an episode – What? Five? 

[00:38:57] AH: This is five. 

[00:38:58] SC: Five. So at the end of episode seven, we’ll have done the entire thing. So, episode 8 could be about the beginning hook. Episode 8 would be the middle build, and episode 10 would be the ending payoff. When I say that, those are the things that if you could prepare those for me to read before the show, then we can go over it. 

[00:39:21] AH: Okay. Now, when you say prepare those for you to read, do you want drafts of scenes or just rough outline? How far do you want me to be by the end of our 10 episodes? Finished draft? What should I be aiming at?

[00:39:35] SC: Yeah. I think what we should have is you should have a finished draft, but you shouldn’t have had to revise anything, right? So, at the end of the experiment, we’ll have a draft of the story and then we’ll end it. Then offline, you and I will go back and forth on it until we’re happy with it. Then I’ll figure out when to publish it. Then, we’ll publish it. 

[00:40:02] AH: Okay, great. For purposes of the podcast for the listening audience who wants to learn something, I’m thinking – I’ve already written three scenes. Just so you know, and there are mistakes. There are missing beets and that sort of thing. I think it’s probably best for me just to kind of leave them that way so we can talk about – Like have a discussion of how I could fit a beat in or kind of brainstorm some stuff. Is that a worthwhile use of our time or should I try harder to fit absolutely every beat in? I don’t know. It seems like it would leave more to talk about if I just give you what I’ve got. That’s my best guess, and talk about filling in the beats.

[00:40:36] SC: Yeah. We may decide to shit-can some beats. So, just go with your gut on this first draft. Then if I think you’re missing something and that we can add one of the beats that you skipped, then we’ll go over that. Just be inspired as supposed to being literally crazed about making sure you get everything perfect. 

[00:40:58] AH: I’m going to embroider that on a pillow or something. That’s really good. That’s really good. 

I have started sort of a crosswalk document just for myself. I’ll show it to you. It’s basically my text on the right and the original text on the left and kind of broken out into beats to see did I hit the beats? 

[00:41:20] SC: Oh, that’s cool. 

[00:41:21] AH: I can’t really –I wish I could share it, but it’s copyright material. So I don’t feel like I can. Any thoughts on how best to kind of put that out there so people can follow without me actually like scraping copyright text and throwing it on the internet?

[00:41:35] SC: That’s a good question, because we’re going to face this when we do masterwork guides two things that are copyrighted. So, the easiest way to do it would be to just literally list the words that you’re talking about. So, it’s a word count from word 220 to 36, right? So, people could actually take that information and apply it to their Kindle or whatever in such a way that they would be able to reproduce the thing that you’re using without actually doing it. 

[00:42:08] AH: Maybe sort of beat one starts with these three words and ends with these three words. Just kind of markers. I think you’re allowed to cite three words in little bits I think will probably be safe. 

[00:42:18] SC: Yeah. 

[00:42:18] AH: Okay. All right. Well, I’ll take that approach then and keep building that crosswalk, because it’s interesting to me, and I think it’d be a really useful document for people. 

[00:42:26] SC: Oh, totally would, and it also – I think what the whole experiment is going to do for people is to give them license to examine really great works as they’re building their own without feeling like, “Oh, I’m just totally ripping off Annie Proulx here.” 

It’s important that people understand that it’s absolutely fair. You’re absolutely allowed to do that. There’s no reason not to do it, because why not look at how they built a Mercedes-Benz if you want to build a car? It’s just crazy not to. That’s what I love about this whole podcast idea, is that it’s going to give people license to be like, “You know what? I’m just cannot look at Harry Potter and I’m going to do what Anne did.” 

I mean, a lot of books that are very successful did that. The whole thing with the guy who does the Greek stuff, Rick Riordan’s books. 

[00:43:21] AH: Oh, right! Yes, uses Greek mythology. 

[00:43:23] SC: Yeah, but they’re exactly pretty much the same as Harry Potter. 

[00:43:28] AH: Yeah, and a smart guy. Not that idea.

[00:43:31] SC: Yeah, not at all. 

[00:43:32] AH: If you’re going to follow somebody, follow somebody successful. 

[00:43:34] SC: Exactly. 

[00:43:35] AH: All right. Well, I have my marching orders, and I will be back next week with micro-beads starting with scene nine, and I’ll start kind of working on some scenes in the back of my mind. 

[00:43:47] SC: Good. 

[00:43:47] AH: Right. All right. Thank you, Shawn. 


[00:43:49] AH: Well, that’s a wrap for episode five of the Masterwork Experiment. You’ll find links to my fools cap and scenes spreadsheet in progress in the show notes. I’m also posting the crosswalk document I mentioned with the beats from Brokeback Mountain on one side and their counterparts in my Regency era story on the other. As usual, we include a link to the New Yorker edition of Brokeback Mountain so that you can easily read it and follow along, which we sincerely hope you’ll do. 

For everything Story Grid related, visit storygrid.com. Be sure to pick up a copy of the book, The Story Grid, and sign up for the newsletter to get a weekly notice of all the wonderful things that we are always building on in the Story Grid universe. If you’d like to learn more about me and my work, you’ll find me at annehawley.net, where I’m writing about the process of working with Shawn and the challenges of writing to specifications set by someone else. I’ve posted a couple of my trial scenes there too. So, check that out on my blog. You can also join me on the Editor Roundtable Podcast where I team up with four others story grid certified editors to analyze the structure of a movie or a novel every week. 

To support the show, tell other authors about us or leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcast or Stitcher. It really does help new listeners find us. Join us again next week when Shawn and I finish our beat-by-beat analysis of Brokeback Mountain. 

Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.


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Valerie Francis

Valerie Francis is a Certified Story Grid Editor and best-selling author of both women’s and children’s fiction. As a writer, she understands what it feels like to struggle with a manuscript that doesn’t work and has spent many late nights rewriting drafts in frustration. That all changed in January 2015 when she discovered The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know (then in blog form). Since then, she has been studying and applying Shawn Coyne’s methodology and knows from experience how well his technique works. In fact, that’s why she became a Certified Story Grid Editor—to help fellow writers learn to apply these editing principles and ultimately become better storytellers.
Her specialties include: love stories, thrillers, horror stories (especially gothic literature and stories with supernatural elements), mysteries and crime fiction, women’s fiction and middle grade stories. She works with novelists, screenwriters and playwrights.
Valerie co-hosted the Story Grid Editor Roundtable podcast where each week she, and four of her fellow Certified Story Grid Editors, studied how the Story Grid principles apply to film.
Valerie also co-hosted the Story Grid Writers’ Room podcast, and now hosts UP (the Un-Podcast) which focuses on applying the Story Grid method to prose, and helping writers put story theory into practice.