Episode 253: Narrative Device – The 3 Questions to Nail the Point of View of Your Story


Danielle Kiowski, Shawn Coyne, Tim Grahl, Leslie Watts

Tim Grahl  00:00

Hello and welcome to the story grid podcast. This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host, Tim Grahl, and I am a writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. With me is Shawn Coyne. He’s the founder and creator of the story grid. Danielle Koski is the chief academic officer. And Lesley Watts is Our Story grid publishing Editor in Chief. In this week, Leslie is going to be taking the wheel and walking us through a narrative device. So Leslie, I’m going to let you get started here.

Leslie Watts  00:36

Okay, great. So we’re going to talk about the narrative device for our the pattern that we’re using to help you write your next short story. And that’s eyewitness from Ed McBain, which is a great story. And I highly recommend that you grab the the anthology that that’s included in. So just a little bit about narrative device. Before we dive into the questions, the narrative devices, part of our 624 analysis, that gives you six levels of analysis of a story or scene. And also and with 24 questions. And it’s all about really incorporating the ideas of story as communication, especially when we’re down at the narrative device level. So the story is a signal of the controlling idea of the story. That’s the message that the that the writer wants to send wants to share with their mass audience. And we deliver that through our what we’re calling our pop, that’s our proposition of possibility. And that constrains a creates generates the problem space for the story. So at a more practical level, this, we talk about this in terms of the narrative device, and how you’re actually delivering the story to, to your reader. So I want to talk just a little bit about the problem that this helps you solve and why this is important. Because we have to decide what scenes what tropes, what beats, what sentences, what words to include in a story. So we might say, if we were being a smart alec, we want, we might say, well just put in what’s relevant? Well, how do I tell what’s relevant? Now genre gives you the first big level of what’s relevant. But if we only use that, then where we’re not, then all the all of genre stories would be really similar. So there are genre conventions and obligatory moments, and those are absolutely necessary in your story. But they’re not sufficient to tell what we call a coherent story. One that is delivering your message in a way that the reader receives in an implicit way. So the the cool thing about about this, the narrative devices, you get a very specific target a very specific relevance filter. And everything within our 624 analysis builds on another. So we talked about the the pop. Last time, we originally called it the what if and then gained some great refinement, which I’m really excited about. And the pop is what leads right into narrative device. So just to go over our pop from, that’s our proposition of possibility. And for this, for this story, it’s when corruption is endemic in the police department is being a witness worse than being a victim. So that’s where we’re gonna start. And then that takes us into our narrative device, which is the author who is telling the story to a single audience member to help them solve a problem. And so what this is like, it’s like, imagine that the author and the SAM single audience member are sitting in a coffee shop, having coffee, and Sam says, author, I’ve got a problem. And then the author spins out a story that illuminates the problem. They don’t give them advice and say, Oh, this is what you should do, Sam, they say, let me tell you this story. And the thing I want to say about that is that focusing on Sam and focusing on Sam’s problem is going to solve so many problems. I won’t go into all of them here. I could talk your ear off about them, but, but it’s really focusing on the on Sam, because the mass audience that you want to talk to gives you no relevance filter really. Okay. So we’re going to get to this practical level. And I’m going to bring Tim in. And and have you identify in this story and I witness when you were doing the analysis? Who did you? Who did you identify it as the author?

Tim Grahl  05:46

I identified it as a seasoned detective. I felt like you could see this in the valence language, he referred to people as taxpayers. That was kind of the first one that tipped me off is. And so the way that the story was told, it felt like a detective, a seasoned detective, who had a lot of experience was telling the story.

Leslie Watts  06:09

Yeah, yeah, I think that’s, that is perfect. Because we’re looking at the when we’re we want to figure out who the author is, we’re looking at the context of the story, and trying to figure out, like, who has access to that kind of information. And, and the would share things in that in in the way that they’re shared in the story. So if we think about the detective, we want to kind of get a little bit more generalized. Can you think of a role that, that the detective is playing in their relationship with their single audience member?

Tim Grahl  06:50

Well, if I go up to like, the blue level, where I’m thinking through, you know, the archetypes that show up in Hero’s Journey 2.0, the first one that comes to mind is a mentor.

Leslie Watts  07:04

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. He’s serving as a mentor to someone, right? We haven’t gotten to Sam yet the single audience member and we’ll do that. So the mentor is always a good place to start for this relationship by sort of, by definition, because the author is trying to help Sam with a problem. They are mentoring. Right. And one of the things that we discovered in in looking at this particular story is that it would it feels like, we can get a little bit more specific and say, this is actually a Threshold Guardian. And part of what we, why we think that is that the story is really about presenting the lay of the land, right? As somebody like you said somebody, a seasoned detective, somebody with experience, who is who’s kind of who’s showing more than telling about this context, and about the specific problem. So that’s just a way to get a little bit more specific. So yeah, so Shawn, or Danielle, do you have anything that you want to add to this about talking about the author and in this role that they’re playing?

Danielle Kiowski  08:27

So the thought that I had is, is just I wanted to talk a little bit about why we go up to these more abstract levels, because I think it’s really important that we do and it’s important to, in order to execute that abstraction correctly to understand why we’re doing it. So the ultimate goal here is for you, Tim, to write an iteration of the story. And the iteration of the story doesn’t necessarily needs to take place in a 1950s urban police station. And so what we want to do is strip away as much as we can, from the detail of the particular content context, or the particular manifestation of the way that these roles play out. So that we can get down to the energetic essence of what’s going on. And what that’s going to allow you to do is have a lot more free rein in determining what your story is actually going to look like. So we want to take it up to an abstract level, and get to the archetypes to show which which kind of roles are at the heart of this. So if you are starting out using this analysis, and it’s hard to abstract or you don’t know exactly what the categories are, you can stay kind of close to the bottom and you can iterate in a more green space where you’re writing a very close copy of the story. And this is going to give you experience and it’s going to give you a good perspective on how to use these beat level tools and that’s totally fine. But as you grow in your analytical capacity, you grow as a writer, you can start to move up and broaden the broaden your understanding of how the pattern embedded in this particular story can be applied to other patterns. And so, so as you get more familiar with these tools, and more fluid within the realm of stories to which you can apply them will grow with your understanding. And so, so I just want to talk about that. Because if it’s hard to abstract, it’s totally okay to stay at that level for the beginning, and then just expand your understanding over time.

Tim Grahl  10:41

Well in if, if we’re using the because right now, we’re using these tools to evaluate a masterwork to create a framework or something for me to write my own scene. But if I was just using these tools to basically prep to write my own book, even if it wasn’t on a masterwork, it would probably be good to hit all of the levels and get extremely specific about who the author is all the way down to a seasoned detective. You know, I do this, when I think about from a marketing standpoint, you know, trying to get, like, the ideal reader for my book right now, I always tell people to get really, really specific, I want to know how many kids they are, what gender they are, how old they are, where they live, how often they shop, how many books they read. And so in this case, if if I was getting really if I was wanting to write a story based specifically on these things, I would probably even get more specific about how old is this detective? How long has he been a detective? Why isn’t he moved up in the ranks? You know, get really, really specific. So I know who’s telling the story is that, how would I get over to me doing, like filling this out? For what I’m going to write? Would you want me to get that specific?

Danielle Kiowski  12:03

Yes, and all of the other levels of abstraction to so you should get really specific. But that doesn’t absolve you from knowing that he’s functioning as a Threshold Guardian at that point, too. And the reason for that is that a masterwork, if you’re trying to execute a masterwork, you need to be really firing on all cylinders. And the cylinders are the blue beyond the surface, the red above the surface and the green on the surface. So getting super, super specific, is blowing out that green level. But you don’t want to get unbalanced. So you also need to know, what does it mean for this person to function as a Threshold Guardian? And what does that mean for them to have whatever? Read? level? We haven’t talked about that yet. But what does that look like at all levels and get when you talk about specificity, it’s it gravitates more toward green, but specificity can happen at any level, I think the way we think about specifics, we tend to gravitate toward gravitate toward green because it’s concrete details. But we really need to, to flesh out and understand each of these three levels, so that we can execute the three Trinity planes of perception when we’re writing on the page. And so as Leslie was talking about the 620, for each layer builds on the last. So when we think about genre, and this is the the body of work, that’s in story grid already, is about understanding genre at all three levels, understanding what are the universal patterns of that genre, understanding what the what the avatars go through the kind of frames that they need to break the kind of information processing systems that they have in those kinds of genres, and then the actual on the page execution in the conventions and obligatory moments of genre. So you need to have a really solid grasp of all three Trinity planes of perception at those upper levels. And in the pop, we’ve started formalizing that as well. Moving down to the narrative device, now you need to have a really robust understanding of all three Trinity planes of perception. And that, that robustness is going to flow down through the levels so that once you get it on the page, you are able to execute all three levels.

Tim Grahl  14:22

As you were talking, and I was thinking through these different levels, and then thinking through the abstract of the mentor or the Threshold Guardian. Why would this be? So the way I understand a mentor? Is that a mentor? Honestly, I don’t know what I would define what definition I would give to a mentor, verse a threshold gardening, because when you started using both of those and like, well, what’s the difference? Like why? What’s the difference? What role are they playing? And why does Why is it a threshold guarding over a mentor and how is that going to affect the story?

Shawn Coyne  15:00

Well, let let me address cuz I love the blue, I live in the blue. So let me let me address the difference between a mentor and a Threshold Guardian. So I’m a mentor is more of a sort of transformational figure that is an enabler or disabler of transformation in the protagonist. So when we’re talking about mentors, we’re talking about people like Gandalf, in The Hobbit, we’re talking about Mr. Miyagi, in karate kick, Karate Kid. So the that kind of mentor figure is a certain kind of mentor. And this isn’t going to surprise anybody. But there’s a trinity of flavoring of mentors, right? So, so the mentor is about the, in facilitating transformation by the protagonist. So they wish to transform the protagonist in one of sort of three ways, which I can get into in a second. The difference between a mentor and a Threshold Guardian is a Threshold Guardian is the gatekeeper. So the gatekeeper is more about protecting or being the overseer of a particular system. So that’s their primary function is to oversee a system and to enable people coming into the system to conform to that system such that they can differentiate in a way that is advantageous to the system. That’s not that’s all very abstract, but it makes sense when you think about. So there was this place in the 1970s, called Studio 54. And it was this big disco. And they had a Threshold Guardian at the front entrance of Studio 54. So what people would do is they would line up in front of the club, and there was this sort of body guard standing there, like surveying the crowd, to make sure that the people that he led in to studio 54, were the right kind of people, right. So they would add to the system in a way that was wonderful. And they would conform to what was going on in there. But they would also differentiate in a unique way that would add more energy to the system. So they didn’t want a bunch of Wall Street traders just taking over Studio 54. And everybody being in suits drinking Heineken, right. So that’s what the Threshold Guardian did. And the owners of the club said, We want really unique people. So they would let in Bianca Jagger, and then they would let in, you know, a bunch of dancers from the village who were just wearing like G strings for fun. And they would let in all kinds of different people. So the mix inside the studio 54 was really cool. And it made all of this energy possible. So that’s what a threshold guardians primary worry about is, how do we protect the system such that it remains functional. So the person who’s outside of the gates, and has the potential of going into the system and the bouncers about the letter men, the bouncer usually says something like, Hey, behave yourself in there, or have a lot of fun, but don’t, you know, don’t go up into the balcony, or whatever it is, right? So the Threshold Guardian is really about protecting the interiority of the system that they are a part of, right? Whereas a mentor is more about worrying about that person going into the club. And the mentor would say something like, you know, you should go, you should go to that club tonight and have some experiences so that maybe you can change your your point of view about different people from different parts of the city, that might be a good thing to do. So the mentor is trying to cultivate the transformation of a particular avatar so that they can have a new frame of the world. They’re trying to get them to break frame. So the primary interest in the mentor is the the avatar. Now, when we’re talking about this is tricky in narrative device, but it makes sense when we’re talking about a protagonist by association, Sam, our single audience member that Lesley has been perfectly talking about. Sam sees the world through the eyes of that protagonist in In that particular scene, right, because remember, Sam can’t communicate with the author, Sam can’t enter this magical world. So Sam has to put on the glasses of one of the avatars, so that she can take it in. And the way it works is that Sam sees the world through the lens of the protagonist of the scene. So it’s a really nice trick that if you concentrate on Sam, you’ll be able to see how she’s seeing the world based upon what the protagonist of the scene is going through. So this is one of the reasons this is how you can figure out who the author is and who Sam is. So the difference in the Threshold Guardian, and the mentor is exactly where they’re putting their primary attention. The mentor cares about the development and transformation of the Avatar. Whereas the Threshold Guardian cares about keeping things in balance in the entire system, such that it doesn’t go out of whack. So the reason why we’re saying that the author here is a threshold garden, and not a mentor, is that it appears to us that capelli I think his name is who is the is the narrator. He is a detective. And he’s trying to give some advice to facilitate some understanding in SAM, by telling Sam, about the way things work inside this world, as opposed to trying to get Sam to transform into a different kind of worldview. He’s trying to get them to integrate into to conform into the system, and also to differentiate as one who holds justice in a very high regard. So it’s a very tricky thing that’s going on here. That’s that’s brilliantly realized in this story. Do you have any more questions about the differences between the archetype of mentor versus the archetype of Threshold Guardian?

Tim Grahl  22:30

Yeah, one is specific to the scene and one isn’t. So it almost sounds like the Threshold Guardian. So let me try to repeat this. So the Threshold Guardian cares about protecting the system. The mentor cares about the avatar, self actualizing or the the person, in this case the SAM. Okay, but So, if, alright, so if I was the boil, the focus is either the system or the SAM, if it’s a mentor, the focus is the SAM. If it’s a Threshold Guardian, the focus is protecting the system. So but I just one thing popped in my head is your talk describing the Threshold Guardian. And when you’re describing the bouncer at the, at the door of studio 54, so they’re in charge of managing the order in chaos that’s allowed into the system, right? So because you need a little bit of chaos, you need a little bit of order. And so it sounds like the Threshold Guardian has their own kind of role here of how much do they trust order? And how much do they trust chaos?

Shawn Coyne  23:49

Well, well stated. And let me talk about that for a second. Because that’s really a great question. You nailed it. So there are three kinds of threshold guardians, right? Because why we have three sort of different kinds of systems, right? So we have what we call the the luminary Threshold Guardian, and the luminary Threshold Guardian is all about the order. So they are protecting the tight order of the system. And so that system is by definition, overly ordered. The emphasis is on order in that system. So you have a luminary Threshold Guardian, who, who gives the rules states the rules to the avatar protagonist and by association, Sam, so they would be saying things like, don’t wear a hat inside the room. Make sure that you use the right fork when you eat dinner. Make sure that you clean up your desk before you leave for work. So they’ve got a full full list of all the order that the the avatar and by association Sam have to abide by. So these these luminary threshold, guardians are giving very, very strong orders. It’s a command control kind of directive. So that’s one kind. There’s another kind of Threshold Guardian. And it’s sort of like, you know, they are shadow threshold guardians and shadow threshold guardians, they’re really about making sure that there’s lots of chaos in the system. So there there is this feeling like in the 1960s, and transformational moments, an advert in the advertising business, for example. And there was so much command control and advertising in the 1950s. Then in the 1960s, there was a sort of like a pendulum swing. And people in advertising stopped wearing suits, and they started wearing Paisley shirts and getting high at work, and drinking too much. And it was always about, you know, let’s just chill out. And the beautiful idea of this advertising campaign will come to us. So there was a lot of chaos that was cultivated in those advertising agencies back then, because they believe that there is an emergent property of wonderful newness that will emerge from chaos, and to a certain degree there is, but they would overemphasize that. So the shadow luminary, the shadow threshold, Guardian, will be telling the avatar and by association, Sam, hey, when you get in there, do whatever you want, man, whatever feels good. Right? So there, there’s they’re basically saying, There are no rules here. You just be yourself and do your thing. And so that’s another kind of Threshold Guardian. The third kind is a complex sovereign Threshold Guardian. And what the Sovereign Threshold Guardian does, is they give the full picture. It’s a little chaotic in here, because you’d never know what the lieutenant’s gonna say, however, you do have to get your reports in by five o’clock. So they’re explaining both order and chaos in the system, to the avatar and to by association, Sam, so the sovereign Threshold Guardian is more of an enabler to get the avatar or Sam to understand how to how to navigate the system. Whereas the the luminary threshold guardians are trying to command and control. And the other one is to just open up the chaos within that, that avatar so that they become part of this chaotic potentiality soup. And they will be able to somehow emerge, newness and brand brand new novelty from that chaos. So if you had to describe this particular Threshold Guardian in this story, what kind of Threshold Guardian would capelli be in this story, do you think, is the luminary is the sovereign? Or is he shadow?

Tim Grahl  28:34

Well, he’s definitely not shadow, because he’s, he obviously highly respects the order that is in the system. But the fact that he’s choosing to tell, because I’m thinking through, I mean, we’re still on the verge, the first of the three questions in the narrative device, who’s the author, and so I think all of this starts to play in. But the SAM, the single audience member came with a problem. And capelli has been a detective for a very long time. So he could tell one of many, many, many stories. So he chose a story that has some chaos in it, which is, you know, the chaos of the lieutenant is the person that committed this crime. So, um, so I would say that He’s sovereign, because he obviously he respects the order of what he does as a detective. And yet he’s choosing to tell a story that shows the chaos in the system as well. So that whoever he’s helping, which we’ll get to next, understands both sides of the equation.

Shawn Coyne  29:49

Very good. Leslie, I’ll let you take over now.

Leslie Watts  29:53

Yes, um, so that’s wonderful. I think that. The only other thing we want to be thinking about in this in the context of the author is, is what I call the as if so this is like, what is it? Like? What is this? So this we have this sovereign Threshold Guardian, who’s an old detective. And he’s telling the story, as if, in you know, is he telling it at the, at the bar over drinks? Is he telling it? Are they having coffee in the morning? In what context Do you think this might be happening get that we can get just a little bit more specific about the way that he is he would be delivering this.

Tim Grahl  30:52

I feel like it’s an off the books conversation. So I don’t feel like it’s in any kind of this isn’t an interview process. This isn’t in A any kind of formal arrangement is the way I get this. Again, because he’s telling a story that casts his department in a bad light, it doesn’t feel like anything he would want to go on the record with, right, because this would, this isn’t a flattering tale. So this feels more like, I don’t know if it would be a coffee shop. But I don’t think that particularly matters, but it feels more like they’re meeting up to have a conversation where he can kind of shoot straight with him before the SAM actually gets involved in being a detective, or something like that. So it feels it feels. I think that’s the context is. So it could be at a coffee shop. It could be they just, you know, meet somewhere to go for a walk in a quiet place where nobody’s gonna overhear them. But it’s like, hey, and before you, you know, let me let me shoot straight with you here about what you’re about to get involved in

Leslie Watts  32:17

trying to think through or right, I have a slightly different take on it. And I’m trying to think about where that well, let me just say what my take is and then we can play with it. So to me, it feels like a report, because it’s just the facts. Right? There’s some there’s some additional stories story stuff in that’s more than what you would have in in a in a report specifically. But why it feels like a report to me is based on where it’s cut. Like where the author where the author starts, the author starts when he sees Struthers, and it ends when Struthers walks out the door. And so I’m thinking about why would he cut it that way? Oh, because he’s just this is what I observed. Right? So I think that’s why I’m thinking about it that way. And that when, again, it’s just the facts. It’s only there aren’t a lot of details. We don’t get the you know, we don’t get a lot of the details about the place and the situation. And, you know, I’m I’m there and I see this guy and and that so does that. Does that make sense? Or does that?

Tim Grahl  33:54

Well, I mean, maybe this is worth going into the next question, because then my question is well of report to who? Right? That’s what I need to know. I feel like who’s he giving this report to?

Leslie Watts  34:10

Okay, yeah, so let’s actually get let’s move down into the single audience member. And then and we can kind of circle back to this because I think that’s a great question. So if we’re talking about the single audience member, this is the person to whom the author’s speaking and telling this story. So who do you who have you identified from the context

Tim Grahl  34:35

I originally put, when I first did all of this originally put a younger, less experienced detective. And when we were prepping to when I was prepping for this particular week, I was like, well, maybe I should. Let me revisit this. Because last week, I was I was wrong about who the protagonist was. And so thinking through while the protagonist in this particular story is Mr. Struthers the witness. You know, would that make my single Audience Member different? And then even thinking of it as writing a report that starts to make me feel like I think what I struggle with with the report is why he’s telling this story. Like, is he trying, if I, if I locked myself into, okay, it’s a report. Okay, well, why would he give this particular report? Is it like to internal affairs, or whatever the equivalent is in this day and age of exactly what happened. And so he can back away slowly having given just the facts. Because there’s a reason he’s telling the story that’s more about the witness than himself. And there’s a reason he, if it’s a report that he would basically write this down, because that’s dangerous. So So originally, I was thinking, Okay, this is like a younger, less experienced detective, maybe smite just coming into the department, and he’s wanting to give him a lay of the land. I also wondered if it was like a detective that’s dealing with a witness, and he’s trying to figure out how hard he should push the witness to tell the story. Because I was going to actually get you to repeat the conclusion of the pop. Because I remember having it in there, but I don’t remember exactly what you said. But um, you know, I’m just, when I’m thinking about why that’s why I like the idea of a detective, helping a younger detective understand what their role is, and what it means to put a witness in danger. Because I don’t think it necessarily has to be a corrupt. If we’re abstracting out, it doesn’t have to be a corrupt police department. It could be to me the the biggest thing is, you’re asking, Where does the witness have responsibility? When is it worth the witness risking themselves? For Justice? And to me, that’s a really good conversation to have with a newer detective that just wants to solve cases. So that’s, I don’t know. I’ve kind of tied myself up again, I think,

Leslie Watts  37:58

Oh, well, I I’m hearing really good stuff. So. So let me let’s start with the pop. So the pop is when corruption is endemic, in the police department, or we could we could even say in the context when corruption is endemic, is being a witness worse than being a victim. So that’s our pop. And so when we, we’ve got this sovereign Threshold Guardian, as an old detective, or at least, let’s say experienced, he doesn’t necessarily need to be old. So and he’s in this role of Threshold Guardian, of trying to show he’s tried to maintain order and chaos in the system. Right. So and his goal is to, but his goal is also to enable Sam by telling the story, so we have the operative, because Sam comes, is in the same position as the protagonist. But that doesn’t always mean that it’s, it’s an on the surface kind of position, like, I would say here, that the operative aspect of Struthers as protagonist is that he is a witness, he has witnessed injustice. And that is that’s the, the piece that we’re really getting at because it’s like, it is, as you say, it’s like this. Where’s my responsibility? If I witness something, if I witness injustice, if it’s going to get me in trouble if it’s going to get me killed? Right and so it, it pops that that it brings a survival risk into the question about justice and injustice. And so we have, it can be someone with information Whether they are a police officer or or a, you know, a member of the public who pays their taxes. So the if we’re looking at it the things that that, if that I was thinking about in terms of a report is, if, and I and I think about this from some of my experience in in law is that when you want to give someone a warning, or you want to say something, but maintain what we would call plausible deniability, then you might refer them to a case. Or you might say, look in this place, or you might just like, here’s this report I wrote, I’m gonna go get a, I’m gonna go get a cup of coffee. I’m just leaving this here. Right. And so in that kind of, and again, this is a simulation I’m running, we want to check it against the words, we want to check it against the the, the pattern that’s unfolding, but it feels, it feels that feels accurate to me. But I want to ask you now, how does that feel? Does that fit? Does that seem authentic? As you think about the story?

Tim Grahl  41:21

Does what in particular sound authentic? When I think about the story,

Leslie Watts  41:25

the idea that some that this could be a report that someone you know, that the the seasoned tech detective leaves for the, for the young detective, or the young police officer to kind of send a signal without saying, This is what you should do?

Tim Grahl  41:49

Yeah, I like that. I like that. It’s almost like, now what I’m picturing is a a young detective comes into a more seasoned detective, not an older detective and more seasoned detectives office sits down, kind of lays out this problem he’s having. And instead of answering, he goes to the filing cabinet flips through and pulls this old report out, and just slides it across the desk to him. Does that kind of what you’re thinking?

Leslie Watts  42:22

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Right. Because it again, it’s in part because of the way that the author has started. And ended this this story, right, we can imagine what happened before. Right. And we can imagine what might have happened afterward. But the author chose to cut it here. It’s like, this is what I saw.

Tim Grahl  42:51

You’re the author, the author doesn’t draw a conclusion. Right.

Leslie Watts  42:58

Right now, you know, capelli, probably did. But we don’t get it in this story. Because in part of that, is you wouldn’t get that in a report. He’s not, he shouldn’t be speculating on whether his and it would be dangerous to do that, given that the lieutenant is his boss. And in so so as, as a mechanism to maintain the flow of chaos and order in the system. It’s this, how do I communicate with this young officer? So that, that the young officer, officer Sam, doesn’t mess up the system? But also, you know, like, maybe Sam’s a decent, decent sort, and I want to, you know, help out the the young people. So it’s kind of it’s, it’s that sovereign action of seeing to the context, including the people within it. Does that make sense?

Tim Grahl  44:09

Yeah, yeah, I like that.

Leslie Watts  44:11

Cool. Cool. Do you have anything to add? Danielle? Yeah,

Danielle Kiowski  44:16

I wanted to build on something that you just said to him about the author not drawing a conclusion. Because I think this is a really important feature as we look at the abstraction of who the author is. So what does that require? The audience member to do when the author doesn’t draw conclusion?

Tim Grahl  44:36

Well, it forces the audience member to fill in the gap and draw a conclusion. I mean, you can’t help but draw a conclusion.

Danielle Kiowski  44:45

Right. Right. And so, so that will give the audience member the agency of coming up with what the evaluation is right. And this is one of the key differences. is between a Threshold Guardian and a mentor. Because a mentor is offering a lesson, and a Threshold Guardian is offering a test. So if a single audience member is tasked with coming up with the, the evaluation, this gives the Threshold Guardian author a mechanism by which they can gauge whether this person belongs in the context or not.

Shawn Coyne  45:24

I think that’s a really good distinction. And the more specific you are, when you’re generating the story, what while the Threshold Guardian in this case facilitates insight in the insam. And by association, us, the readers that in a in mass. The The trick here is that this is someone who’s having difficulty navigating a system, Sam, and the loop and capelli is not telling them how to do it. They’re giving them a test to see if they will, Oh, I see, you just write down the facts that clearly enable the facilitation of the insight that justice is at, at risk here through this report, so the test is, will you be able to write reports like this, Sam, if you are, you’re gonna do fine here. If you can’t, you’re gonna have trouble. But I can’t tell you how to write the report. I can show you how I write the report. But it’s now up to you, sir. Or madam, to write your reports in the future such that they conform to this way we keep things balanced here, so that witnesses don’t become victims, we can limit the the badness that has happened in a crime. And we can push up the justice to higher and higher levels, such that justice can happen, as opposed to injustice, just cycling through it. So that’s a really good point. Now, obviously, the differences between mentor and Threshold Guardian, in this circumstance, they’re, they’re a little bit more fee, right? Because you can look at it and you can go well, this guy really is looking out for Sam, and he’s giving him this report. And that’s mentoring. And you could go Yeah, but it’s also you got to think about a season detective. They don’t have the time to facilitate insights by individual new recruits all the time, right? So they have a system as a Threshold Guardian, to flesh out those who can’t do the report the right way. So that’s why I come down on the side of Threshold Guardian, instead of pure, nice mentor guy. capelli has seen a million of these, Sam’s come through his office before, and either going to seek a swim here, kid, you know, that’s kind of the way here’s how you do a report.

Tim Grahl  48:36

Well, it made me think, as you were just talking made me think about what he’s communicating here too. It’s kind of like when I when I first graduated college, and I had my first job and I was all excited and and there was I got a way the role in the role I was in I basically found out the company was doing some kind of underhanded things to not have to pay licensing fees for some software. And so I marched into my boss’s office, and I’m like, This is wrong, we need to be doing this. And this is this and he’s like, Okay, we’ll do some research and come back and tell me how much it’s gonna be. And he just kept like, giving me more stuff to do. And it just never got paid, because that was the system I was working in, which is we still software here. And so I feel like by him doing this, it’s like I could see a new young detective is like, I will stand on the side of justice no matter what. And it’s like, well, it’s a little more nuanced than that fella, you know. So by telling this particular story or giving him this particular story, it’s showing, you know, there’s some nuance here. Right. So, the Capella did not say this was wrong, what happened to this person, because then he would be flushed out of the system, he could none of the other cops, he would never be able to work in that system again. But at the same time, he didn’t, he didn’t hide it, either. So there’s a way of threading the needle, that is something you’re going to have to learn. And this, we talked about this on a, you know, in previous weeks about the importance of when you’re a detective, you have to move up the ranks. It’s not about justice and injustice, it’s about justice and injustice in the context of your superiors, and, and the overall system. And so yeah, I just that was what came to mind was that when I was like, you know, this is unjust, you know, me marching into my boss’s office where like, now I would, you know, handle it completely different. And understanding, a more nuanced way of probably getting what I want, instead of just like, This is wrong, everybody understands this is wrong, we have to do what’s right.

Leslie Watts  51:09

Yeah, yeah. And I think that’s a beautiful statement of the of the problem, too. So, which, of course, is the third part of the narrative device, we’ve got the author, we’ve got our single audience member, and then we have a problem. So the end, the problem drops down from the pop the proposition of possibility that created the problem space. And so Sam’s problem is related to that. So what would you say is Sam’s problem here?

Tim Grahl  51:44

Well, what I wrote down was, I put three questions. How hard should I push on a witness to tell me what they saw his justice for the crime, the witnesses responsibility? Is it worth risking the witness’s well being? And looking at that, I think that so this is a I don’t think this is a brand new detective, I don’t think they just got their stripes. But it is a young detective. It’s one that has never, has never realized, you know, cuz a lot of times, when Candace and I, my wife and I are talking about our, our son, so I have a 16 year old and 13 year old, we often talk about how they don’t have context, yet to see things the way that we do they have to get, you know, as you get older, you get more and more context to understand why 99.9% of things are in the gray area. And so, um, so I think you would have a detective who is saying, Well, you know, a witness has got to tell their story. And so he’s always trying to get the witness to tell the story. And this is the first time he’s come up against understanding that if the witness tells their story, they’ll probably become a victim, or they have a high likelihood of becoming a victim. And now they’re awake at three o’clock in the morning, unable to sleep trying to figure out what to do. And so I think, yeah, it comes back. I’d like that’s why I had you repeat that? What fell out of the pop? Because I think that is the question of, I don’t know what to do with this witness.

Leslie Watts  53:29

Yeah, so I think that, that that’s great, and that you’re looking at it from the pop. And in the statement we came up with is just a little bit more specific. I think it’s we focused on the signal, and how do you signal injustice without becoming a target? And and you can say, see that that how that’s connected to what Struthers as the as the protagonist is, is dealing with, right? He’s in it, he’s the witness. So he’s the one holding the information. And, and what’s great about that is that it gives both that that a young officer would be both in the position of perhaps witnessing a problem, but also encouraging someone else to put themselves in a in a dangerous position by telling what they know. But but this one because we’re really focusing in on the witness, and it’s it’s almost like you know, how do you send up a flare without having that flare fall down, back down on you? And so were one of the things I was thinking about is that from the from the pop we Get this very specific problem, and it comes down, it’s refined through each level of the narrative device, right? So it’s, we get the context, which gives us a general problem space we move into. And also, the author gives us like this, the possible problems that this author could give, could tell a story about that, that would lead to insight. And then it’s further narrowed by Sam. Sam has a particular a specific audience member who, and that’s so the problem becomes further narrowed by the kinds of problems that that that that person might encounter that might that person might, in fact, need help with. And then we further like, what’s this problem, this specific problem that Sam is facing now? And, and we get, again, we get all those details from the pop. And so it’s really it’s really, it’s a wonderful tool. So, Danielle, do you have any further thoughts on the problem?

Danielle Kiowski  56:16

Yeah, I, I’d like to talk about this a little bit in detail in terms of how it works in the story as a whole. So I think what you said about taking what’s in the pop, and refining it is really important. And of course, we focus on the SAM, which we talked about about this before, in terms of how we at the beginning of this this episode about focusing on the SAM as the relevance filter, and making sure that the entire story aligns with this. But what I wanted to point out is how to take this up a little bit. So when we have this problem statement, how do you signal injustice without becoming a target? What’s interesting here is that it applies more broadly in the story than just to Struthers, right? And the problem sometimes we talk about the problem space. And that’s because with a story, we’re exploring the problem space to give Sam an answer. And not an answer, but to give Sam and an opportunity to expand her agency as to how to answer that problem. So the key to problems is they they need to be context specific. They need to in terms of the the answer might change depending on the context you’re in. And we call these double difficulty problems because they have competing priorities that they need to balance based on the broader context of the problem. And so what we do when we’re writing stories is we present a context and then explore the problem space within that context, to allow Sam to simulate if I’m in a context, similar to this, what might the outcome be? If I come down on the side of the double difficulty problem. And when I say explore the problem space, what that means is that the cast of avatars in the story are all addressing the same central thematic problem. So So where I want to go with this is that the narrative device in this particular story is a little bit different from the way we might default to creating a narrative device. So So what are what are the the unique things about this situation not unique because this happens in a in a broader range of stories, but we have an author. And we have a narrator who is not the same as the protagonist, right? We have capelli, who’s telling a story about the protagonist Struthers. So this is an observational story. We have then an audience member, a young officer who is also not like the witness who’s the protagonist. And so the reason that this is the reason that this works is that the problem space applies to all of these different avatars that applies to Struthers and applies to Cavalli and it applies to the simulated new officer. And you know, in this case, you have the idea of witnessing as something that is passed on from person to person and so this problem is passed on in and by coming into contact with and witnessing the problem. Each avatar in turn becomes a witness And then it’s about how are they going to deal with that? So the answer to the problem for capelli at the end of the story he’s a witness to. And his answer is to write this report. And so when you have all of these avatars that are addressing the same problem space, you can have these. You can have different narrative devices that focus on different avatars that are affected by that same problem, and not have them be sort of carbon copies. So we might say, in in a default mode, we might say, Okay, I’m going to have the story, I’m going to have it told by a witness who goes into a police department, he’s going to be the protagonist. And he’s telling it to his friends that he knows from his neighborhood who also witnessed a crime, and would be going in. And so this is I think that would be sort of the default, because you’re aligning the protagonist and the author very closely, then you have the audience member as a younger version of the author, and you have them sharing this problem. And it would be feasible to tell the story in that way. But you can get this more this different lens, this different look at it, which then speaks to the way that the problem is endemic in the system in a way that the other sort of more, more default telling would not. And what that does for you is it allows you as, as the writer, you can think about what kind of markets Am I looking to to address right? The Ed McBain was writing for people who liked crime fiction. And so they’re used to seeing police procedurals and things like that. So he’s innovating within the police procedural, by presenting the story that’s really about the witness and about what the witness is experiencing, versus what the police officer is experiencing as a procedural matter. It’s about it’s about the police officer, or the detective as witness. And so it’s this beautiful twist on it that’s enabled by the problem space, if you can think about the problem, primarily through Sam. But then also think about what are the what’s the cast of avatars? And like, how are they dealing with that problem in their own way, you can start to expand your understanding of the problem and apply it to the story in those unique and innovative ways.

Tim Grahl  1:02:25

Yeah, it threw me a little bit that our single audience member was so different from the protagonist. That’s why when I went back through the narrative device questions I was questioning like, Okay, I originally wrote down a younger, less experienced detective, but that was when I thought the protagonist was a detective. But then I’m like, what? It doesn’t make sense that they would be telling the story to a witness. This is like the last thing you would want to tell the witness. Right? And so. So, yeah, that that did throw me but then thinking about it, from the perspective you just talked about was really helpful to understand why those two why the protagonist in the Sam can be very different because it’s the the problem space that we’re really focused on.

Shawn Coyne  1:03:19

The witnessing function itself is very much aligned with attention and consciousness itself. So when Danielle was saying that this is a, this is a multi dimensional problem space, she wasn’t kidding, because capelli let’s just start at the bottom like, you know, we talk about our green, our red and our blue zones. So the green is what’s happening on the surface in a story. So the witness on the surface is Struthers, he’s witnessed a crime and he’s come in to report the crime. Okay, cool. Now what about the read now we have an observer of the witness. So we have a witness of the witness in the eyes of capelli. So capelli is sort of processing the information coming from the witness Struthers. So capelli is now acting in the redzone. And he’s facing the same problem as Struthers. How is he going to be able to signal injustice up the chain of command, pass on the witness function to someone else? So that there’s a possibility of justice without propagating more injustice. He doesn’t want Struthers to get hurt or to have his family hurt and compel he certainly doesn’t want to get hurt or have his family hurt. And by association, Sam is the blue because Sam is all of us were the universal human being who witnesses things all The time we don’t know how to raise our hand and say that’s not right without becoming a target ourselves. So you’ve got three witnesses here, you’ve got a green witness and Struthers, a red witness and capelli, and a blue witness in SAM. And guess what that does those all three align on the problem space, which is how do I signal injustice without becoming a target, such that this story becomes a universal pattern. This is a pattern everyone has to face all the time. And it’s this nice little story in a, you know, a collection of stories written by somebody in the 1950s. And it’s so well done, that it aligns all three of those, and then it becomes a masterwork story that we can all learn. So witnessing as a functionality means that you are changing an interaction, you’re changing the world when you witness it, and how you pass on the second and third and fourth order effects of that witnessing, you have to take responsibility for. And so it’s very difficult. Do you put yourself and your family at risk by coming forward? Or do you allow and if you do that, then you can pass on more injustice, you just witnessed it, you had nothing to do with the crime, and you could end up getting hurt. That’s not cool. So this is a very, very tricky problem. Talk about a double difficulty problem. Right? This is a best bad choice. If I do this, this bad thing can happen. If I don’t do this, this other bad thing can happen. Which of the bad do I choose? This is not a single answer solution space. This is context dependent. And in this case, this is a solution to that problem, where capelli goes, here’s how you do it, you pass on the witness function up above you you send in the report, and then the bosses have to deal with it. Because that’s why they get paid the big bucks.

Tim Grahl  1:07:21

Okay, so we’ve gone through now the three parts of the narrative device, the author, the single audience member, and the problem. And I just want to come back to this question, right. So in the previous two weeks, we went over the really kind of down on the ground in the story of like, what’s the genre of this story? You know, we went through all the five leaves of the genre, Clover, then we looked at the context and the protagonist and the inciting incident in the gold state. And now we’re kind of popping out of that. And we’re looking at, okay, well, who’s telling the story? Who are they telling the story to? And what’s the problem they’re trying to solve? So as a writer, why is this helpful for me, when it comes to writing my story to be thinking at this higher level part, right? So my knee jerk is to always kind of, you know, who are my avatars? What are they doing? What do they want all of that kind of stuff. But now we’re, we’re coming up above, and we’re thinking about, well, who’s telling this story? And who are they telling it to? And so what does that get me as a writer as far as being able to write my story?

Leslie Watts  1:08:42

So I think this goes back to what I was talking about earlier, in terms of what’s relevant. And that and I remember back when we were first, you were first thinking about the burn line. And and then in the first incubator, when we reviewed that first draft, that the goal state for you as the artist was to write a sequel to, to the threshing. And so that that gives you some constraints, because you already have a world you already have certain characters or avatars. And you have, you know, there’s there are some constraints there. But then, what do you do next? What What should that story be about? What how do you decide, you know, is this scene relevant? Is this scene relevant? Right, there’s the, the scope of what’s relevant is so much wider when we don’t consider bringing it down to a specific audience member. And when and the beauty of the 624 analysis is that we could Create that relevance filter from the top, what’s the story about? What, uh, you know, what’s, what are the types of problems that I want to explore? And then and then brings it down to this one? Sam, single audience member with a problem. And because we’re being very specific about it at a each level, where we’re really we’re, you know, it’s specific right? And what is it specific to it’s specific to this one person so that I can look at should I describe the the, the context in great detail, you know, so when I’m generating the the story, and it’s like in this story, all we need to know is where it’s at. We’re not, we don’t need to look at the furniture, we don’t need to look at the lighting, we don’t need to know what it’s like. Now, if we were telling the story in the context, it would be weird, but if we’re telling the same kind of story in the context of a crime scene, right, and we were looking at a different question about I don’t know what but but if we were, you know, you take it out of that context, you take it out of this Sam who’s trying to figure out how to raise the alarm without getting hurt, then that it loosens up those constraints. And you, you can’t, it’s fuzzier and vaguer, and you don’t know what kind of Valence to, to give the language and, and all of that. So at every level, this is helping you determine how to make the decisions that you need to make to write the story.

Shawn Coyne  1:11:59

Yeah, I would, I would just second the global answer that that Leslie begin this session with the one she just gave. This is a relevance realization filtering system that starts at a very, very broad open apej. A picture of focus, right? So we’ve got this big circle. And this big circle is what we call genre. And we go, oh, this is great. It’s like, a mile long, a mile wide and a mile tall. And that big box is our, our playspace. Oh, geez, that’s gonna be hard to fill in. Can we constrain it a little bit more, and then we get it down to 100 yards by 100 yards by 100 yards with our pop, right? Because it takes that big concept of crime story down to, you know, a really tight proposition, a possibility premise, right. So our pop premise focuses in and it becomes a strange attractor, to a big mass of Sam’s. And that big massive Sam’s is called a crime story. group of people who love crime stories, which is just so amorphous, we can’t really do much with that. And then we take the pop, and then we swing it on down to the narrative device, which is what we talked about today. And now we have a real sense of who is speaking to who, what the problem space is specifically, and it’s constrained down to, and now, now we’ve taken that 100 yards by 100 yards down to 10 yards by 10 yards. And by the time we get all the way down to the green, this, we’re going to know what to do because what’s relevant is all the irrelevancy is starting to filter away, it’s starting to fall away. So that’s the 624. It’s a big filtering mechanism, so that you can laser focus your attention on creating the relevant scenes, not the irrelevant ones. And if you’re ever in doubt, you just go, what is wonder what Sam thinks about this scene? Does this have anything to do with Sam’s problem? No, oh, cool. I’m going to get rid of it. Or I’m going to change it so that it does. So just back to what Lizzie said. 624 is a filtering system that tells you what’s relevant to put on the page and what’s not. And you know what that means? Your write less garbage that you have to throw away later. So you’re not writing 50,000 words and having a net of 5000 words. Instead, you’re writing 10,000 words and having a net of 5000. So you’re reducing your problems face as an author. Really, you’re really making it more much more efficient and much more functional. You have a functionality that’s now built into the system and a tool to bring in the focus, you’re able to dial in the tool so that you can get the laser going, instead of just spotlight. I hope I get something right here. So I hope, I hope it’s starting to come into focus. So the blue is your big big dials. Your red are dialing it in, in higher resolution. And when you get down to the green, you’re doing really cool kind of microscopic tweaks from b2b trope to trope scene to scene sequence to sequence act to act, beginning middle end and then global. So it’s all a reductive process.


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.

First Time Writer

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.