Episode 252: The “What If” for Your Story


Danielle Kiowski, Shawn Coyne, Tim Grahl, Leslie Watts

Tim Grahl  00:01

Hello, and welcome back to the story grid podcast. Now, last week, we started the process of working through the 624 framework that we have your story grid, looking at a particular short story. And we’re going to continue that. So last week, we talked about the five genre leaf clover. And this week, we’re going to dive into the what if scenario, and back again with me are Shawn Coyne, the founder of story grid, Leslie watts, the editor in chief of story grid publishing, and Danielle Koski, the chief academic officer for story grid University. And then I’m here, of course, Tim Grahl, the publisher at story grid. But also, when we’re on this podcast, I’m just a writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. So Shawn, I’m going to let you jump in and start talking us through the what if scenario,

Shawn Coyne  00:59

great. Okay, so um, before I get into what if I just want to go back to our core principles here are top down levels of analysis. So we have, we have three dimensionalities, three fields, three planes of space that we talked about in story, we have what we call the beyond the surface realm, which is what we designate as blue. And that’s kind of my specialty. And then we have the above the surface realm, which is sort of, we call that the red zone. And that’s Leslie’s specialty. And then we have on the surface green, which is the the literal movement of the story on the page, and that’s Danielle’s specialty. So we’ve got the blue, the red and the green, and I’m going to finish up on the blue side, for our six categories. So each each of those dimensions have two categories of story grid tools that we use to enable us to get very high resolution understanding of the structural functional organization of a particular story. So last week, we talked about or so we have the five genre leaf analysis. That’s the top one. And then what we’re going to talk about today is what we call the What If analysis. So I’m going to start with and what we’re analyzing today, and this is an assignment that we gave to him is a short story by Ed mcbaine, entitled eyewitness. So anyone out there in the audience, I highly recommend this story. It’s very, very solid, very entertaining, and it’s very informative. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to go through the What If analysis for I witnessed by Ed McBain, and we’re going to begin, this is what we call the beyond the surface meta tool number two. And the first question we’re going to ask is, what is the context? Now context is the whole system setting for the scene. And what that means is what is the general gestalt of the world in which the story is set. And that means that the players inside this world are operating within this system. So I’m going to throw it to Tim here and ask him what he believes the context of the eyewitness short story is.

Tim Grahl  03:39

So the context is a police station after a murder. And I didn’t go too deep into that, because as we talked about last week, we’re dealing in realism. And so I don’t have to once all that, that’s pretty much all I have to say. And if anybody’s ever seen an episode of Law and Order, they know exactly what I’m talking about. But then the even deeper context was, this isn’t just any murder. It’s the murder of the lieutenant’s wife. And then one of the things we’ve talked about before is the context is either going to be a stranger comes to town, or a fish out of water situation. And maybe I’ll let you talk a little bit more about what that is. But I chose a stranger comes to town because the protagonist is at home in this environment, and everything is working exactly how he is accustomed until a witness comes forward who’s unwilling to talk and that alone is strange, because,

Shawn Coyne  04:41

okay, I’m going to have to stop you there. stop you there. Okay. Okay, we’re going to get into the protagonist in the next question. And this is going to be fun, because you’ll just see. So let’s, let’s stick back with context. And I’m going to ask Danielle, if you have any other additional things that you think about when you think about the context, and specifically towards this particular short story.

Danielle Kiowski  05:12

Yeah, thanks, Shawn. I do I do have some thoughts on this. Because, um, you know, one of the things that you said, Tim is, is about this is realism. So it’s just a very simple statement. And I think that even in realism, we need to go a little bit further with our explanation of the context. And the way that I think about it, is that with fantasy, you’re building from the ground up. So this is like an additive process. But with realism, it’s about a subtractive process or a focus process. And it’s still the same amount of work. So I think this is a really common misconception is that fantasy takes more work on the world building side to build up everything that’s going on. But in, I think, really, realism takes just as much work, it’s just the opposite process. So it’s whittling down what we’re looking at, which is to get at that, um, that as creators, we still need to do a lot of work determining what that realism looks like. And that’s in terms of in terms of the the dynamics of the system, in terms of what kinds of things are possible, what sort of cause and effect exists in the system? So, I think that it is important to know that, you know, it’s in this police station, it’s after a murder in maybe the mid century, like 1950s. And is it in an urban environment? Or like more of a rural environment? What would you say? Oh,

Tim Grahl  06:39

definitely more of an urban environment?

Danielle Kiowski  06:42

Yeah, yeah, I think we’re getting that big city kind of feel from it. And then I think also thinking about to find a way into how the cause and effect and how the dynamics work, thinking about what kinds of things can help people survive, thrive or derive? So that’s, you know, find life find power find meaning? Those kinds of things can help us to kind of crack the dynamics of the world. So how would you describe the hierarchy of the police department? Like what kinds of things can get you ahead in the police department?

Tim Grahl  07:16

solving cases and making your superiors happy?

Danielle Kiowski  07:21

Okay, right. Right. So making your superiors happy is key there, because that’s the key feature when we have gatekeepers like that. That’s a key feature of a power dominance hierarchy. Right. So, you know, is, is solving this case going to make the lieutenant happy?

Tim Grahl  07:39

Yes. Well, I mean, it depends on how we’re asking, right? Because, you know, spoiler alert, the lieutenant is the one that did the murder. So at the beginning of the story, yes. But by the end of the story, you realize, no, actually, he won’t be happy. If you solve the murder

Danielle Kiowski  08:02

in the context of the hierarchy. What I mean is that serving truth won’t get you ahead, serving like the, the merit based solving the actual crime, right? It you have to solve it in the way that is amenable to your superiors.

Tim Grahl  08:20

Right. So even the fact that he didn’t want to take the witness to the lieutenant was, even though that would be the easiest way to serve the truth. He was still trying. He was walking this line of trying to get to the truth while still serving the power dominance hierarchy. So what you’re saying,

Danielle Kiowski  08:39

yeah, so part of it is focusing on the characteristics of that hierarchy in terms of like, it’s very, it’s very strict. It’s maybe like a military structure. The lieutenant oversees the detectives are kind of in the middle of the hierarchy. They’re above the uniformed officers, but they’re below the lieutenant. So they have pressure up, they have pressure down. And they are they’re caught in this kind of web of these power dominance relationships. And then, in terms of cause and effect, I would also focus on that there’s the possibility that comes with like you said, the lieutenant is the one who committed the murder. So there’s this possibility of corruption and tyranny going on. And so this is not a this is not a a well maintained like rule following police department. So a lot of police procedurals, that you’ll watch the, they have this ethic, they have a code that they’re upholding. And so this is a different kind of world. So even if you’re creating two different police departments, if you have the possibility of corruption in the widespread expectation of that corruption, or of crime going on within the department, it’s a very different world and different world building process than if you’re building a fundamentally ethical and fundamentally Rule abiding department. Yeah. And so, so yeah. So that’s those are my thoughts on the world building.

Shawn Coyne  10:06

Those are fantastic. And I would like to add just a small bit about this, this notion of system. So there are two kinds of systems there are closed systems, which means that the the wall around the system is impenetrable. So those are very closed systems and nothing can come in and nothing can get out. Right. So sort of like the old Soviet Union was sort of trying to be a closed system. And what what natural life is about our open systems. So the police department as a system in the 1950s is an open system, as is it today. And so each system has what’s called sort of their steady state equilibrium. And it doesn’t mean that they are the same and that they’re perfectly attuned. But there’s sort of a steady state based upon the parts within the system. So when Danielle was discussing the the power hierarchy in this system, she was sussing out what the global sort of state of the system it is. So this system is a little bit chaotic, right? Because tyrannies mean that there’s sort of this? What’s the word? A Cavalier use of power depending upon who is in the power position? So if the lieutenant says, Yeah, we’re gonna let that go. If you know what’s good for you, you’re gonna let it go as a detective or a plainclothes person, right? So this is what mcbaine does extraordinarily well. And this is a very short story. And yet here we are pulling all of these threads out of this world based upon the language that’s actually on the page. So he’s, he’s really defined that. And that’s what the context is, is this this system itself? And now we’re going to come to the next question, which should be really interesting to go through. And I’m going to ask us, Lesley to talk about this after I just go over the the, the generalities about it. Alright, so the context is, is the system itself and the system is not content? Right? So context is sort of like if you had a big bag, let’s say you’re going trick or treating at Halloween. And you take a big Well, when I was a kid, you bring a laundry, you know, like a pillow sack, right? So the pillow sack would represent sort of the context from which I would add content into that bag. And so I would add my peanut butter cups, I’d add my apples and all those things that I would get at at Halloween, and then I would dump it out on the floor and sorted after words, right? So the content is the candy inside of the bag. And the bag is the context. What’s really kind of cool is that the bag of the universe is constantly expanding. So it’s like having this big, you know, pillow sack that’s never stopping expanding and, and the content, we are part of the content that’s in that bag. So when we’re talking about a story, that the question was, the context is want to answer what are the qualities of that of that pillow sack? Right, like, what’s the, what’s the power structure of the pillow sack? How does cause and effect happen there? What are the norms codes and laws that that, that make that sack work? Right? And now when we’re coming to question two, we’re starting to get down into what’s inside that pillow sack. And that’s called content. And so the content are the objects and subjects that are inside the context. And, you know, this is a little theoretical, but it’s not that difficult to understand. So Now question number two, we’re starting to get to the nub and saying, who in this sack is the protagonist, and the protagonist is a figure in the story who was going to to change and they are going to be responsible for the change of value in in the unit of story itself. So well, what can we ask about the protagonist? Well, the protagonist is either what is often described as a fish out of water. So if I’m a, let’s say, I’m a saltwater fish, and I swim in the ocean, right? And so Somebody takes a net and they, they grab me out of the ocean, and they take me to this lake where I live, you know, right on the lake that’s freshwater, and they throw me into that lake, it’s gonna be a pretty shocking experience for me. Right? So that is a protagonist can be one of those fishes out of water that go into a brand new context. So they go from Lesley’s pillow sack from Halloween to mind. So it’s a different transfer from one context to another context. So that’s fish out of water. I like to use saltwater fish comes into a freshwater pond or something like that. Right. So that’s a way of looking at the protagonist. Is that what this protagonist is? Or is the protagonist, a defender of the pond? So let’s say the fish in my pond see me coming in. And I’m a saltwater fish. And they’re like, what’s with the saltwater fish? This is our pond. So what what those fish represent is and a single one of them would be a protagonist. They’re defending the pond. And they’re saying to me as the saltwater fish, hey, this is freshwater. You got to play by our rules here. Right? Because this isn’t the ocean anymore, Mr. saltwater fish. This is a pond man. And you’ve got to live by the pond way. Right. So that’s the defender of the pond is protagonist is another option. So this is a great way this is a nice your Ristic to think about who the protagonist is, generally. And generally, you’re going to find in units of story, you’re going to have fishes out of war, and you’re going to have defenders of the pond all over the place. And the trick is to figure out which one of the IS is the where is the value shifting in the scene? And who shifts that value? And who, who faces a crisis? And who makes a climactic decision. So I don’t mean to take the wind out of your sails. But let me ask Tim first and then I’ll ask Leslie, her opinion. So Tim, who do you think the protagonist of this scene is?

Tim Grahl  17:21

This was? It’s one of those again, I feel like it’s like last week when we talked about the crime story, where I kind of had my gut reaction and then talk myself out of it, then talk myself back into it. So the three main characters are detective capelli, his partner, McGruder, and then the witness Mr. Struthers. And so I immediately was like, Okay, it’s a crime story. He’s trying to get to justice. It’s detective capelli. But then one of the things that we’ve talked about is that in a the best way or a shorthand way to find the protagonist is to find who is the first output or so basically, we had we talked about input and output. And the first output her is not detective capelli. It’s his partner McGruder, because capelli starts by asking him a question and McGruder response. So he outputs and so I was like, Well, maybe it’s McGruder, but then that doesn’t make sense as you read the story because he’s not in the story and he and Detective capelli again, quickly becomes the output or in the same thing happens when he approaches the witness Mr. Struthers is Mr. Struthers starts by being the output or because detective capelli asked him a question but then it quickly switches again to where detective capacities output. And so I came back to it’s detective capelli is is the protagonist of the scene. And then to answer the the stranger comes to town or fish out of water question is I have a stranger comes to town. Because capelli is at home in this environment. He’s in the police department. He knows McGruder he’s dealing with a crime he does that every single day. None of that is new but what’s new is a person shows up as a witness right so they came Mr. Struthers comes to the police department as a witness and then refuses to give his story and that’s a strange thing. And so I picked a strange thing a stranger comes to town or strange thing comes to town because a witness shows up that knocks detective Capello ease world out of balance.

Leslie Watts  19:58

Just Just for the record I thought that it was capelli. At first to that was in and I was firmly committed to that in our discussions. And but but when we started talking about the value and which value shifts and who’s, who owns the climax, or who owns the crisis and the climax, then I was kind of shifting around to to Struthers. And I think that would be that would probably be a useful way to kind of look at it is that if we think about what’s the what’s the change the the biggest change that happens from the beginning to the end for you?

Tim Grahl  20:51

Yeah. So this is one of the things I struggled with because part of me was thinking well, Mr. Struthers, the witness is the one that changes his mind. He goes from not telling the story to telling the story. But then when I start thinking through so many, when I start, I didn’t go actually reference them. So maybe I would change my mind if I referenced them. But when I think about, you know, the crime I’ve read, you know, sure, I’ve read all the Sherlock Holmes for some reason, that’s the only ones that are coming to mind. But other you know, movies, it’s like the the detective is not the one that changes from scene to scene, he tends to get somebody else to give him what he wants. And so when I we, we’re going to get to this and in a future week, but when we’re looking at the five commandments analysis it was interesting because I did feel a little bit like I had a force it over to Detective capelli.

Leslie Watts  22:00

Right there, there’s a little bit of Yeah, contortion. It felt like for me too, when I was trying when I was working to, to put capelli in that spot. And so so if we’re, let’s like, let’s play the game of let’s assume that Struthers is the is the protagonist here. And that? And if we assume that he’s the eyewitness, what would you say? Is he a fish out of water? Or is he a defender of the pond?

Tim Grahl  22:36

He’d be fish out of water.

Leslie Watts  22:38

Right? Right. So as a fish out of water, he’s you know, if we were telling it from appellees point of view, which is a weird thing to say, because it is capelli his point of view, we’ll get to that with a narrative path. But but with if, if we wanted capelli to be the protagonist, he would be the defender of the pond, right. So when we’re looking at Struthers as the as the protagonist, we want to say, Well, what decision does he make? And in this, what crisis does he face?

Tim Grahl  23:20

Whether or not to tell his story? To detective capelli?

Leslie Watts  23:27

Right, right. So, okay, so then if we flip it, and let’s look at capelli what decision what crisis does capelli face?

Tim Grahl  23:38

Well, the one I put down was whether or not to keep pushing the witness or go get the lieutenant.

Leslie Watts  23:46

Okay. And does that when he makes that choice? Does that shift the value? Does that cause the change in the in the scene?

Tim Grahl  23:59

Well, I’ve now I feel like I’m trying to I feel like I’m in that position where I know the answer to the test. So I it’s hard for me to argue against what I feel like you is the right answer to the test. But the the thing that I was thinking was there’s a point where okay, this is the point I thought of that change the value when capelli says to Struthers the witness. Are you familiar with the case at all, sir? And it’s this moment where detective capelli switches from just kind of going through his normal actions to get a witness to talk to now being vulnerable and like sharing with them, basically, why he doesn’t want to go get the lieutenant. So I felt like when we’re looking at Progressive complications that build towards a turning point, you know, all of The progression progressive complications before the turning point are protagonists doing everything they normally do to overcome to rebalance their world. And so as I read it, it was like, he was just asking all the kind of normal questions telling him, you know, threatening that, you know, he’s withholding evidence and threatening this and then saying this, and then finally he’s like, okay, look, here’s why I can’t. And so he switched tactics at that point. And to me, was more vulnerable with the witness than he normally wants to be or has to be to get the witness to talk. And so that was the point where I felt like he changed. He, that’s where I felt like it turned was when he hit this wall of like, Okay, do I go get the lieutenant? Or do I go to this place with this witness? I normally don’t go. Even as I say that, it feels soft. But I was also answering the five commandments questions after I’d already decided who the protagonist was. So

Leslie Watts  26:07

yeah, and they’re all there. They all build on one another. They’re all connected and, and that so? Okay, so and again, like I was right there with you when I was going through it. So So we’re, we’re on the same team.

Danielle Kiowski  26:25

So okay, so how does

Leslie Watts  26:27

the how does the scene resolve what’s the end?

Tim Grahl  26:30

Like what I have is that miss the resolution is Mr. Struthers tells what he sold to the detective to Detective capelli which again, is not the most exciting part of the scene.

Leslie Watts  26:45

Okay, so So what if we look at what’s most exciting? What’s the thing the big thing that happens? At you know, later on,

Tim Grahl  26:57

it’s when the lieutenant comes in. And immediately Mr. Struthers basically makes an excuse and runs out as soon as he sees the lieutenant.

Leslie Watts  27:09

Right. Okay. So if we were if we’re looking at it from Struthers point of view, we’re gonna let’s assume he’s the protagonist for a moment, then what is that moment to him in terms of five commandments when the lieutenant walks in?

Tim Grahl  27:25

Well, I want to say it’s the resolution because we see the result of the decision he made, because he’s already made the decision to to tell his story.

Leslie Watts  27:39

Right. And that, and then the lieutenant walks in.

Tim Grahl  27:45

And he runs I mean, is it to stay or to run? Are we talking about like, that’s the turning point that pushes into the crisis?

Leslie Watts  27:52

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Does that make sense?

Tim Grahl  27:55

Hmm. I feel like his crisis was whether or not to tell the story to Struthers. That’s, that’s what I’m feeling like is that that’s because that’s the point where he makes a decision. And then he’s able and then everything kind of happens as a result of that decision. Because if he had kept his mouth shut, and not told Struthers as soon as the lieutenant walked in. Well, as soon as the lieutenant had walked in, he still would have gotten up and left. I’ve really tied myself up in a knot here.

Leslie Watts  28:43

Okay, yeah. I mean, it’s there’s so much it’s it’s a short scene, but there’s a lot going on. And so. So he’s he does start telling. He does start telling capelli about the about what he saw. And so we’re so at that point, we would say, like in terms of the value kind of on the very on the surface, we’re shifting toward justice a little bit, because the facts are coming out because He’s agreeing to do that. So he’s on that path, but then the lieutenant walks in.

Tim Grahl  29:26

So that’s the point where it shifts from, we’re on the road to justice, and now we’re going to injustice.

Leslie Watts  29:33

Right, right. Does that. Does that make sense?

Tim Grahl  29:37

Yeah. So the whole question of the scene is the whole value of the scene because it’s a crime story is justice or injustice. So from the beginning, we are steadily moving towards justice. And it’s the point where he sees the lieutenant that it that it switches and it goes down into injustice because there’s no He’s going to share what he saw.

Leslie Watts  30:03

Right? And there’s nothing really for capelli to do, right that that the decisions that capelli makes are kind of affording Struthers in moving that but Struthers is the ultimate decider in this scene.

Tim Grahl  30:22

So can we back up for a second? So this could easily be a scene in a not a crime novel? Right? So this is maybe the last time we see Mr. Struthers, right? If he runs out and he refuses and capelli, I could I could spin up a story where capelli has to prove that it’s the lieutenant some other way. Right? So when I look at that novel, Detective capelli would be the protagonist. Even though in this scene, he’s not the protagonist. Is that like a thing?

Leslie Watts  31:11

I? It’s certainly it certainly could be.

Tim Grahl  31:15

Or that’s my question is like, that’s what I think got me. So tied up is if I’m thinking about this whole story outside of this, the witness is never the protagonist of a crime story. Or I’m sure that there probably is, but I think that’s what got me so tied up with this, because I want I’m so used to in a crime and the crime stories I love whether it’s the TV shows like monk, or whether it’s the the novels, like the Sherlock Holmes, the detective is the protagonist. But I guess, in the individual scenes, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. And again, we’re looking at this of who is the one that makes the decision to turn the value.

Shawn Coyne  32:06

Right. So again, I’d like to jump in there. Just to address Tim’s insight about about this, this is a short story. It’s not a novel. However, your point that a novel written by if, in the first person, by a detective or a crime, Soller can have individual scenes where the protagonist is someone other than the first person narrator. And why would you want to do that? Well, what it does is it enables the audience, the single audience member, to experience the world outside of the frame of the first person narrator. So what it enables them to do is to see a much larger landscape to understand the context from which these events are occurring than just one single point of view. Because we all know, a single point of view is very limiting in your ability to get the full picture, right. So whenever someone says something to us, we always sort of do that thing where we take it for a grain of salt, you know, take it with a grain of salt, right? Because we’re, we’re not fully sure that we understand the full picture. So if like, your friend goes out on a date with someone, and you go, Ah, how did it go on the date? And they say, Oh, terrible, they just, they thought I was terrible. And they didn’t want anything more to do with me, too. We go, that doesn’t seem quite right, because you’re kind of an interesting person. And then if we talk to the other person on the date, he or she might say, Hey, I thought they were really cool. It’s just that, you know, they really love show tunes, and I’m not into them. And I could just see that would never work out for us. Right? So then you would get a fuller picture, because you would get both points of view. Right. And that’s how you do it. And a novel is by manipulating the protagonist. So Struthers is the protagonist, he is the star of this short story. And capelli is playing another role that we’ll talk about for another day, right? But you do need to really clearly delineate this and I do want to do one more thing, and correct. Something that you said earlier, you said the first output or is always the protagonist and you you came to the conclusion that the first output or in the story was capelli. However, it wasn’t the first couple of sentences of the story read as follows. He had seen a murder, and the site had sunken into the brown pits that were his eyes. Bah bah bah, he sat now with his hand hat in his hands, his fingers nervously exploring the narrow brim. Okay, so Struthers gets an input, he sees a murder. And then he outputs a behavior, which is to arrive at the police station. And then capelli is narrating how that he’s telling the audience. We’ll get into how he’s telling later. But he’s telling the audience who who is the output or someone this happened to them. And then they made the following decision to come see us. This fish from from the ocean, decided to make a trip into our pond. After he ran into somebody in the ocean that bothered him, the fish decided to get in a net and come into our pond. So that saltwater fish made a choice, he outputted a behavior. He’s the first output based upon something that that happened to him, something incited right, the saltwater fish to call on the phone someone with a net so that that person could look into it and take them I’m really beating this metaphor to death. But you see what I’m saying? So actually, Struthers is the first output or, and it’s tricky because we often think of the output or in terms of dialogue, as opposed to in terms of input and output beats. And there is a means by which the the narrator can do inputs and outputs that don’t require dialogue.

Danielle Kiowski  37:00

Yeah, I just wanted to add to the the ways that we can look at the protagonist, because I think I think this is a really important topic. And people have different heuristics that they use for identifying the protagonist that range from the not very useful, like who do I care most about, which depends on you know, the, everything emotional that you’re bringing to the story, to like, who has the most at stake and all of these things. But when we’re talking about this, we’re talking about these really clear mechanical ways of looking at who the protagonist is. And it goes all the way up to the top of story. Why are we telling a story? We’re telling a story to evaluate an action. So that’s prescriptive or cautionary. Now, in this in this value space, is it good or bad to do this action. And so the protagonist is the one doing the action that’s evaluated. So that’s why we’re focusing on the climactic action, like when Leslie talks about the five commandments, because we need that that protagonist action to be the one evaluated. And so that is the most important action. And, you know, Shawn, when you talk about the first output, or we’re talking about this very, this very on the surface, very green thing. And Leslie, when you talk about value shift, we’re talking about a red thing. I just wanted to offer more of this blue thing, which is, we know this is a crime story. So we know it has an inciting crime, right. And the inciting crime is right the the murder of the lieutenant’s wife. So another way we can look at it is at the at the five commandments level, which we’ll get to the five commandments in future weeks more in depth, but the inciting incident is the input. And inputs need to be targeted. So another question you can ask yourself is, who is responsible for responding to that inciting incident? And so, in this case, Struthers is the witness, right? So he’s, he’s the first. He’s directly burdened by having witnessed it. So he’s responsible for taking the output. So I wanted to talk about Sherlock Holmes a little bit, because Sherlock Holmes is not directly responsible for these right. But what happens is that Sherlock Holmes gets these cases after other stories have happened and people have failed. So in the Hound of the Baskervilles, Dr. Mortimer is the one who’s first responsible. He’s called he does the investigation. And it’s only after he’s concluded his investigation and it doesn’t sit well with him. He comes to Sherlock Holmes because it’s you can think about the crime happening. And then there are the concentric rings of who needs to deal with it. Based on interior rings failing. It’s also like, you know, appeals like the next highest court, they only get it if the lower courts have failed. So you think about these rings of responsibility for dealing with the inciting incident. Everyone closer to the crime has to have failed before Sherlock Holmes will get it. That’s why he gets only like the most interesting cases. This is why Dr. House gets the most interesting cases because they’ve already been to the emergency room. Are there exceptions like when he’s working in the clinic, of course, but, but it’s about who’s directly responsible. And so then it’s like, to what point are they responsible? So the inciting incident asked this question, and in some of what you were saying, you were talking about, you know, does he tell capelli or not? What would happen? After he told capelli say that the lieutenant didn’t walk in? At what point would Struthers and his his involvement in this crime? Do

Tim Grahl  40:45

you think if if the lieutenant didn’t walk in?

Danielle Kiowski  40:49

Yes, say that or say that the lieutenant didn’t do it? When would when would Struthers stop being involved with this crime?

Tim Grahl  40:57

Well, if the lieutenant didn’t do so if somebody else did it, is that what you’re asking? Yes. So I would say either after he gave his Well, I don’t know. It’s is it after he gave a statement? Is it after he identified the witness? Is it after he? Like testified in court? I don’t even know if I’m asking the right questions. But

Danielle Kiowski  41:23

yeah, I would say all of those things. So So what’s great that you identify there’s there’s a sequence of responsibility. But the end of the line is when he testifies in court. So I think this inciting incident brings up is he going to testify in court, that is the extent of his responsibility. So if you are writing a longer form story, that is, that’s the global level, right? That’s the extent of his responsibility with it anything before that is more of like a scene level or a trope level. And because this is all in one scene, this needs to answer the question, is he going to testify or not? And it does. So if he just tells his story to capelli. And then Capella is like, Okay, I’m going to go get the lieutenant. That’s not. That’s not a short story, because it doesn’t resolve the responsibility that’s relevant to the inciting incident. So that’s, and that’s the distinction between a scene that’s part of a longer form, and a self contained short story.

Shawn Coyne  42:28

Well done. Well, so it resolves that global value. That’s why crime is about justice. And so what happens at the end of this short story, but injustice prevails, so it shifts the global value of crime from justice, we might get justice to No. Whereas if it stopped before the end of the line, it would have probably ended on a different value, which is not the global value, which is okay. But it would have to be part of a larger story. So well, well done on that explanation, Danielle, that’s, I hope everyone is is really taking that to heart, because that’s the difference between when you’re done with your story and when you’re not done with your story. So with that, let’s move on to question number three. And this is going to be pretty easy, I hope since we’ve been really sinking our teeth into the story at this level. Question number three is what is inciting the protagonist and the fish out of water is incited to enter a different context pond, that’s a way to identify the inciting incident. While the defender of the pond of the context pond is incited to get the intruder to conform to their world. So we’re talking about Struthers as the protagonist here. So what’s inciting Struthers to enter the police station? to

Tim Grahl  44:06

seeing the murder? Yeah, the murder the so this happens off the page.

Shawn Coyne  44:12

It does. It’s reported in collapsed action by the first person narration. So it was a good choice because he could have started the story while he’s witnessing the crime. But he didn’t want to do that. He wanted to do a really nice, tight short story. This is probably published in one of the mystery magazines in the 1950s one of the crime magazines. Alright, so we’ve and I think Leslie and Danielle agree with that assessment. The murder is the inciting incident. Question number four. What is the protagonist? Goals states? I’ve got a typo on the slide. But what is the protagonist goal state, what result is the protagonist wish to attain by the end of the scene? So what does Struthers want? At the end of the scene?

Tim Grahl  45:12

He wants to give his statement without putting himself in danger.

Shawn Coyne  45:18

Yeah. Nice. I’d agree with that.

Tim Grahl  45:22

I took what I had written down was wrong, because I had the wrong protagonists. With that on the fly.

Shawn Coyne  45:28

See? Yeah, well, you’re, you’re picking it up quick. So the last thing that we want to do is sort of pull all this together into into a simple WHAT IF statement. And the way we do that is we talk about we talk about it as a what if, and we want to embed the global genre of crime in that what if, and what the what if does generally, is it boils down a big, big story or a smaller short story to its its essence, such that it will become an attractor, to people who like that kind of story. So what if a Detroit cop goes to Beverly Hills to solve his best friend’s murder? That’s sort of the what if of Beverly Hills Cop. And then you cast Eddie Murphy as the Detroit cop, and it becomes a comedic take on the police, procedural of a fish out of water solving a crime. So for this story, what if blank results in blank is a good way to sort of frame the what if kind of setup so this is, this is the kind of thing that you have fun with? And you you this is what marketing copy is all about? How can you use? How can you boil down a really cool long story or short story into Minimum Viable language that will serve as an attractor, to a particular genre audience? So I’m gonna, I’m gonna ask you, Tim, if you’ve thought about this, and so what if blank results in blank?

Tim Grahl  47:40

Oh, geez. I’m thinking, see if I can talk my way through this. So what’s interesting about this is that there’s a witness that wants to tell his story. And basically, weave shows up to tell you so volunteers to tell his story, but then refuses to tell his story. So what if a witness to a murder? What if a witness to a murder result in refusing to give the statement? No, that’s not good. I’m just thinking, what’s interesting here is that somebody saw murder, there’s a witness to a murder. And he wants to tell what happened. But he won’t. Because he’s afraid I don’t know something around that. You would think I would be able to do this with my years in marketing?

Shawn Coyne  48:45

Well, it takes a while. Right. So you’re definitely in the right neighborhood?

Tim Grahl  48:51

Well, because we want to focus on What’s strange about the story, right? It’s not just that there is a murder. It’s not just if we’re thinking about a Hollywood pitch type scenario. What’s interesting is not that there was a murder, because that’s an every crime story like this. It’s not that there’s a witness. One thing that’s interesting is that it’s the lieutenant that did the murder, but we probably don’t want to give that away in the what if scenario. So what’s interesting at the beginning, is that there’s a witness. Right? Because this isn’t like, they felt like they know that he saw it. Right. So they tracked him down and they want to hear a story. The guy showed up at the police station to give his story, but then he won’t give his story. Like that is the interesting part of this.

Danielle Kiowski  49:51

Yeah, one thing that occurs to me is because you’re talking about 10 years experience in marketing and That would be? Well, let me ask you this is, is there a positive ending or a negative ending? Negative? Okay, so I think maybe that’s the disconnect between applying marketing tactics to that, because you’re when you’re marketing something, you want to show why it’s good. And this is the opposite. So if you, if you thought about this as like a rival product, why does this thing fail? So like, what are the negative? The negatives to it? Like? What causes the situation to be a failure in terms of justice?

Tim Grahl  50:39

So then I’m going in the direction of something like what if a witness to a crime volunteers his story? And then recants?

Leslie Watts  50:54

Um, what I’m wondering is if focusing on the results in the what if statement is the right direction? Because we’re the way we’ve talked about the what if in the past is all it’s also it’s what goes on the movie poster, if we’re talking about a movie, and you don’t want to give away that there’s a greater injustice. So it’s more about how are we setting up? Inevitably, but surprisingly, the ultimate result? So it’s the right it’s the twist in the setup. That is,

Tim Grahl  51:34

see, I want to know ask it, like why, like, why would a witness Why would a volunteer witness refuse to tell his story?

Shawn Coyne  51:42

Yeah, sir. Like those those old 1970s. Tonight on Mannix, what happens when a mild manner bowling alley, proprietor meets that incarnation of evil. It’s sort of like that it is set up. You don’t want to give it away. There’s a lot of constraint on the what if scenario, right? You can go very broadly. So you could talk about the the archetypical values at stake? What, what if pursuing justice, results in more in more in just injustice? Something like that is a little bit too vague. But it’s sort of a means by which the reason why we like to do this is because it really gives us a sense of how attractive is this idea itself? And it doesn’t mean that you have to perfectly nail the marketing, right? So I get the movie poster concept. It’s it’s really good. But it’s also this doesn’t have to be shared. This is more of the the technique of a story creator. And so one another thing that came to me is, you know, what, if the protectors are the killers, you know, what, what, what do you do in that? So what what is the thing that is driving this story? What do you do when those who are supposed to protect you turn out bit to be the ones that will destroy you?

Tim Grahl  53:34

Well, but then why are we calling this the What If analysis, if we’re asking questions about content context, protagonist, inciting incident and goal state? If we’re not you didn’t use any of that or very little of that in the what if scenario you just laid out? The what if scenario is trying to like encapsulate those four pieces into one sentence. Right? That’s correct. So that’s why I’m thinking it’s something like what if the what if a witness wants to tell his story? That’s his goal state right. So that now we’ve got the protagonist in the goal state? What if the witness wants to tell his story? In the insight, what if the witness wants to report the murder he saw? Or, or wants to turn in the killer? But can’t or Yeah, but can’t what if? Because then that’s the context. The context is he is somebody that is afraid that he’s going to get murdered himself. Right. That’s part of the context. So what if the protagonist so what if the witness was wants to turn in a murder. But can’t feel like that’s closer.

Danielle Kiowski  55:08

Why I think that the mechanism for why he can’t is an important part of the context. And while we don’t know at the beginning that the protectors are the killers, we do know that he doesn’t feel safely protected by the police. We know that there’s corruption, he says that there that there are leaks in this department. So they are not creating an effective bulwark for him. And so I think incorporating a flavor of that would be important because we want to walk the line between, like the one that you’re talking about Tim is very, very specific. And so we want it to be specific to the story, but still abstract enough so that it applies to a single audience member, as well as to the protagonist. And so we’re not telling a story in this and we’ll get into the single audience leader, but it’s like, it needs to be abstract enough so that it’s not just within the realms of the realm of what’s on the page. It needs to be portable outside of this context to like a broader lesson about human experience. But we don’t want to do too broad, so we have to walk that line.

Tim Grahl  56:23

Okay, so are we making a green, red or blue? What’s the goal? Right? Okay. And mine was to green.

Shawn Coyne  56:33

Yes. And mine was to blue. And there there are little tricks to do this is to, to frame the what if, as a second person, what if you witnessed a murder and couldn’t identify the killer?

Tim Grahl  56:55

What what would make if you witness a murder, what would make you because you can right? He can so could is the wrong would? So if you witness a murder, what would keep you from reporting it? That’s a horrible way to put it. But like if we’re just doing this internally, and but we’re trying to keep with red it would be something like

Shawn Coyne  57:22

well, you want you want to really go to the to the end of the line on the stakes for for Struthers. So what if you witness a murder and it results in everyone you care about dying? What if you report a murder? What if your report of murder resulted in the death of the ones you loved? Something like that, because that that is the extenuating circumstances here. If he does report on the lieutenant Lieutenant is going to get vengeance. He knows who he is. He knows where his family is. So it’s not just it’s it’s expanding the death toll. When is an unjust single murder better than a just multiple murder? I mean, we’re getting a little hinky here. But the whole point is to to really try and encapsulate the the four things that we answered here, right context content, inciting incident and goal states in minimum viable language that becomes a strange attractor, to fans of that particular realm of story. So we definitely want to talk about justice here. It doesn’t mean that we have to have the word justice in there, but it has to be in the crime justice domain. And we do want to talk about inform informing on someone witnessing the witnessing function of evil, resulting in more evil. Like you can’t stop when when witnessing evil. What if witnessing evil results in them getting away with it or more evil than the original evil? That’s kind of the what the problem is.

Tim Grahl  59:16

I mean, is it also about like, what is this witness’s responsibility? I think this I actually think this story ask a bigger question about what it cuz I even put this in answer to one of the other 624 questions even with the detective I came at it from the the angle of the detective but like is it always the witness responsibility to report the crime, even if it puts himself in danger? Like that’s the question. I think it ask is like I don’t think it’s his I don’t think it’s Mr. Struthers responsibility to solve the corruption in the police department. He was just walking home one night. So does witnessing a murder? What if you know, does witnessing a murder? Make it your responsibility to solve the crime? Yeah, it’s good. I think that’s more of what if we’re looking at it from the protagonists. goal state is he wants to do what’s right. But not at the result? Not at all cost. Right. He’s not, you know, James Bond here, you know, where he will give his life for country. You know, he, he’s like, I will, like, interrupt my day for this. But I’m not going to put my life or my family’s life on the line for this. So I think it’s like, you know, what, if? I don’t even know if, you know, I think the question we’re asking on the read level is who’s, what is a witness’s responsibility? And reporting in and witnessing a crime? That’s what’s interesting about this is because I think you read this, and you get to the end. And you’re like, and you ask that question is like the reader, what would I do? And I would do exactly what he did is I would get up and I would leave, and I would never answer my phone again. All of

Shawn Coyne  1:01:35

that is true. And I think that that speaks to the construction of a controlling idea. But this is the strange attractor honey, to to get to an audience. So what if a witness becomes a victim? How soon does a witness become like, what? How does witnessing become victimhood? Something of that? Like, what if a witness transforms into a victim? In a single

Tim Grahl  1:02:15

moment? Yeah, we’ve

Danielle Kiowski  1:02:17

talked other times about it being when, right, because it’s context dependent. So it’s like, when does when does the victim become or the witness become the victim?

Shawn Coyne  1:02:25

Yeah. When does the witness become a victim?

Tim Grahl  1:02:30

I like that.

Shawn Coyne  1:02:35

It’s a it’s certainly open enough to attract a large field of people interested in crime. And it does deliver an answer. When does a witness become a victim? And we all have an it’s also a fundamental question, what is the responsibility of witnessing a crime? You because it was an accident, it’s a coincidental event that you witness a crime. So why is it your responsibility? Because there’s very real possibility that you as a witness will become a victim in the system in which crimes are investigated. So when when does a witness become a victim? Could be the the what if scenario?

Tim Grahl  1:03:35

Okay, so we’re going to stop there. Thanks so much for listening to the story grid, podcast or watching if you’re watching on YouTube, we have started the YouTube channel. So you can go into YouTube and we’re under the handle story grid. And you can find links to all the show notes. You can find the transcript for this episode. All of that is at story grid comm slash podcast. So make sure you subscribe to us on YouTube, subscribe to us and Apple podcast or Google Play or Spotify or anywhere that you get your podcast and we will see you next week. Thank you


The Book

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.

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Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.


Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.