Episode 264: Story Tropes – Building Blocks of Scenes

Click here to view the full Trope breakdown for Eye Witness by Ed McBain.


Danielle Kiowski, Shawn Coyne, Tim Grahl, Leslie Watts

Tim Grahl  00:03

Hello and welcome to the story grid podcast. My name is Tim Grahl. I’m your host and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He’s the creator and founder of story grid. Along with him is Daniel Kiowski, the chief academic officer for Story Grid University, and Leslie Watts, the editor in chief of Story Grid publishing. In this episode, we dive into the tropes for Ed McBain story, eyewitness so we’ve been working through this, working through this short story, looking at it from lots of different angles. Last three weeks, we started looking at the beats. And now we’re diving into the tropes. And the tropes is this really helpful level of analysis that’s kind of not too deep, but not too macro. It’s kind of at this perfect level that will start enabling me to actually write my own scene. So it’s a really great episode, we’ve dive into what the first trope is, go through everything on that. And then we start talking about next steps. So I think you’re really going to enjoy it. So let’s jump in and get started.

Danielle Kiowski  01:11

Now that we’ve looked at beats and gone through all of the beats of iWitness, broken them out into input output, and then the type of beat it is and whether it’s enlivening or depleting, we’re going to take a look at how to actually use this information to iterate our own version of this masterwork pattern scenes. So Tim is going to be doing that in the coming weeks. And to do that, we want to take a step back from beats because while the beat information is extremely valuable, it doesn’t really give us a way to get words on the page, it’s just too much to think about for a writer who’s trying to approach a blank page, and turn that into a story of their own. So what we want to do is go up a level to tropes. Now this is the level that we skipped over before. Because tropes, as we talked about in a previous episode, are the bridge between the macro and the micro. So we need to know both sides in order to come together in the middle and create that trope layer. So to create our tropes, we’ll be looking at how to do that today, we start from the top down, and we have our essential tactic and then we can break that down into micro strategies that are expressed on the page. And then we marry that to the bottom up of what the beats of the trope actually look like. And we find that place in the middle, where both the top down and the bottom up are informing our analysis to get to that the sweet spot of the trope where we have something that’s informed by both macro and micro contains both macro and micro analysis, and can enable us to, to get those words on the page. Because tropes are just the right size, that we can hold them in our minds, we can understand how they’re going to function, and we can, we can process them in our working memory, so that we can figure out how to actually execute them on the page. So today, we’re going to be taking a look at how we did our analysis to come up with the tropes of eyewitness. And then we’re going to go through the tropes of eyewitness and talk about what each one looks like. And what is the essential features are that you’ll need Tim in the coming weeks to create an iteration of this pattern scene. So let’s get started by taking a look at our beat breakdown, and our beat map to try to find the ways in which this the story breaks down into beats. So we start with the input and the and the output. And as you can see, we just have beat after beat after beat. So how are we going to break this down? Well, the first thing that we do is we go to the beat map that we looked at before. So this is the graph that we talked about. And we have these lines that are indicating different levels of movement in the scene. So what we’re looking for is that we’re looking for any change in slope. So we’re looking for anywhere where the graph changes drastically. And there’s a lot of ups and downs. So this takes a little bit of practice to figure out where the changes are happening. But we can start to see some patterns jumping out right away. So the first thing that we say is, okay, there’s a little bit of a shift here and the blue level and the green level at five, what’s going on there. So then we can take that information, and we can pop over to the story. We start out with a description of Struthers he had seen a murder and the site had sunken into the brown pits that were his eyes tightened his mouth given him a tick over his cheekbones so we’re describing Struthers then we learned how he’s dressed. We’re just getting Shape of what these first five beats look like. So capelli asks McGruder a question McGruder says, Yeah, that’s him. And he saw the mugging. And then we learned that he says he saw it, but he won’t talk to any one but the lieutenant. And so capelli says none of us underlings will do. Now at this point, what we’re looking for now that we’re down to our breakpoint, when McGruder shrugs in in beat five. So we’re looking for when does capellini initial strategy here, and we’re looking at a strategy at a very small level, when does capelli shift tactics so we can look for when his his very micro tactic, we call them micro strategies when that micro strategy either breaks down or succeeds. And either of those outcomes is going to force him into a new one. So if it breaks down, then he learns that that doesn’t work. It fails, he has to move to the next one. Or it might succeed. And then he learns that his conception of what was going to get him the thing he wants doesn’t actually work. And he has to move on to the next one. So either way, we’re looking for when things start to break down. And so here we’re looking at his interaction with Magruder and they do start to break down here in trope five, Aaron beat five. So capelli has this breakdown where he, he says, Well, let me see what I can get out of him. But this is, as we talked about before, a very subtle breakdown, where they’re still acting within the rules of the game within the rules of the interaction, but they are getting in this contest to figure out who’s going to prove himself. So then, Magruder has a breakdown in turn. capelli has a breakdown in turn, and they’re still negotiating the same MicroStrategy is capelli going to go talk to Struthers or not. And finally in seven, we have Yeah, McGruder agrees and I left Magruder. So we have identified beats one through seven. So we started with that energetic shift around five and we said, When does this energetic shift around five really resolve itself into a switch to the next tactic, and that happens at the end of seven when capelli leaves Magruder and goes to talk to Struthers. So here this is an example of a success, where he leaves McGruder he, he’s done with that MicroStrategy that has succeeded. And now he moves on to the next one of talking to Struthers. So that gives us our, our marriage of our bottom up and our top down. And then we can go to the trope analysis. Now we’ve filled this in already. So we’ll just take a look at what that looks like. But this is how we analyze a trope. So the first thing we have is the trope number. So this is trope one because we’re starting right from the beginning. And then we have a title for it. Now we’ll talk about how to get to that title, as we go through the the essentials of the trope, but it’s going to be in this form where it’s a verb, and then a noun. We identify which beats we’re looking at. So you’re one through seven. And then here we’re talking about what’s who’s the protagonist of the beat. So this is a good habit to get into is identifying the protagonist of any unit of story. And that’s going to be the primary output or in the trope. So as we go through eyewitness, we’ll see that not every trope has the same protagonists, this isn’t true of all stories. Some stories have very consistent protagonists. But here we do shift around a little bit. So it’s good to take a look at that. Next we have the goal state and the essential tactic. Now, as we go through the troops, you can see troop two, starting here at the bottom, we have the same goal state and essential tactic throughout. So the goal state and essential tactic here are to remind us of that top down component of the troop. So they’re going to remain consistent throughout the scene. Because the protagonist is going to have the same goal state the same essential tactic throughout the scene and just express it in different ways. So we’re going to take a look at that as we go through. And then we break down that essential tactic here of measuring trustworthiness, right. So the goal state is share the information without suffering the consequences. That’s what both of them want to do. They want to get to a shared state of information. And the essential tactic for both of them is measuring trustworthiness. So when they measure trustworthiness, we need to look at how that breaks down into a micro strategy. And that is the expression of the essential tactic that’s on the page that’s happening consistently within this small a grouping of beats. So what characterizes them in terms of the, the type of action that the protagonist of the trope is taking. And we’ve called this one sizing up the team. So this is the same format as an essential tactic. So we have a verb that’s going to be their, their tactic, their action that applies to a, a noun. And that’s going to be the object that is associated with their objective desire. So here measuring trustworthiness is what the overall essential tactic is, they want to get to an understanding of trustworthiness. So they’re measuring it. And then by sizing up the team, that’s a flavor of measuring that they’re applying to the team. In this case, capellini, is applying it to McGruder because he wants to understand the trustworthiness of the team. So that’s what’s going on generally, in this trope. And then we note the outcome, which is that capelli succeeds in getting recruiters conditional buy in for capelli to represent the team. So he succeeds in at least getting the team on his side. And he has some information about where McGruder stands on this potential witness. So that’s going to give us our that gives us our landscape of the the way in which the essential tactic is expressed here. And we have these first three components as a top down macro analysis, and then the outcome as a micro analysis component that’s taking the bottom up, and really bringing the two halves together into this expression of what’s going on in the truth. So this is the first layer, the foundation of how we look at a trope. And that’s through that lens of the essential tactic and its micro and macro expression.

Tim Grahl  11:58

I have a question. Yeah. So we have the protagonist of this trope is capelli. But it seems like the goal and essential tactic and even the MicroStrategy we’re not looking at them through the tropes protagonist, are we looking at them through the scenes protagonists, which would be Struthers.

Danielle Kiowski  12:21

We’re looking at them through the trope protagonist. But in this case, both of them have aligned goals and essential tactics. And you’ll often find that when you are exploring a problem space in a scene, that the avatars have the same goal state, and they might have different methodologies. But they’ll have parallel goal states and in in often, often in, in many cases, parallel essential tactics. So that’s what we see with Struthers and capelli, is that they’re really aligned, they’re after the same thing. And what we’re exploring is, where’s the right place to draw the line in the sand, when it comes to the expression of that goal state and the expression of that essential tactic. So we have multiple avatars going in the same direction so that we can explore the problem space of how one addresses this sort of problem. This is really common in stories in general. And when we look archetypically, at the, the actors in a story, when we look at the protagonist, and we look at at the will antagonism is is just someone who provides input to the protagonist. But if we look at it, like a hero and an antihero, if we look at a luminary and a shadow, what we see is that when we have someone who is someone who ends up acting heroically, they just have a different line than someone who acts answer heroically so the anti heroic figure will double down. And the heroic figure will, we’ll draw that line and say, I don’t go beyond this point, they’ll respect the double factor nature of the problem, and not try to force it into a single factor problem. And, and so the heroic figure finds a balance between the luminary and the shadow, whereas the anti heroic figure will go all the way in on either luminary or shadow agency and ended up with the ultimate expression of this double down. single minded focus on one aspect. And so they’re pursuing the same thing they’re pursuing the same object of desire, that’s what gets you conflict is that the different avatars want the same thing, and they can’t both get it or they they can’t both get it in the way that they want to get it. And so the story is about negotiating what the best way to achieve this essential tactic and pursue that object of desire is

Tim Grahl  14:45

so when you have the goal is share the information without suffering the consequences. Now that you’ve talked about it that way I can. Okay, so capelli actually wants that for Struthers as well. So you And then the essential tactic here is measuring trustworthiness, which they’re both doing to each other. And then the MicroStrategy. Site, sizing up the team. Yeah, that’s capelli. He’s point of view. Yeah. So he’s when you say the team, you just talking specifically about McGruder?

Danielle Kiowski  15:20

Yes. Yes. So we want to use some abstract terminology here. One point I want to make before we go on is that it’s not just that that capelli wants for Struthers that he can share the information. But But sharing is a communal verb, it’s not just a just an outward projection. So it’s not telling the information. It’s sharing the information. So capelli wants to share in the information, in the same way that Struthers wants to project share the information. So as we’re looking I mean, this is, this is not our first draft of the labels of for these tropes. And so the goal for creating trope analysis is to find words that really allow you to think about the nature of the trope and the nature of the scene from all of these different perspectives. So yeah, then when we get down to the MicroStrategy, it is about, it’s from the perspective of the protagonist of the trope. And as we name it, we don’t want to say like, sizing up his partner on the police force. Because having a more abstract, a more abstract label on this trope is going to allow you to do more with it. So to look at that we can look at what do we actually do with these tropes? Well, what we do is that we say, I’m going to build a library of troops. So I really like the the compact nature of this template, because when you finish with the trope template, like we’re going to do today, we’re going to fill in these trope templates. I like to think of them as little recipe cards, you have recipe cards that you can pull out and you can say, all right, if I need somebody to size up the team, this is what that looks like. You might have different iterations of that, that you discover across stories. But you have this idea. And you say, Okay, I’m continuing with the recipe card analogy. Maybe I pull out my recipe for brussel sprouts, right? And I say, Okay, this goes well, with this meal, I have like this meal plan. Well, that’s what the goal and the essential tactic are saying, when you’re when you’re cooking a meal that you need to share the information without suffering the consequences by measuring trustworthiness, a potential dish within that meal is that you can size up the team. So I have this way of getting to measuring trustworthiness. I put that in my pocket, or in my recipe box and go on. And by the time that we’re done with this, we’re going to have seven recipe cards that we can use to measure trustworthiness. Well, maybe as I look through other masterworks, or as I do a lot of self reflection and think how would I act in this situation? I do brainstorming I think what did Struthers and capelli not do that I can think of that maybe someone would have done? I can add cards to my recipe box. I can ask other people, I can say, Tim, what do you think, what would you have done that capellini? Didn’t do? It’s really important to get these different perspectives, you start building up these cards. Why do you want these cards? Well, if I’m a writer, when I come to the page, all I have really is is my perspective by default. So I think this is really common that we’ll see with writers where they they’ll sit down to write, and they end up writing lots of versions of themselves. And so their avatars will look very much the same. And of course, when we write avatars, we’re limited by what we can project. But the more perspectives that we can take in the more perspectives that we can integrate into the way that we see the world, the broader the range of expression that we have, for how we can have our avatars act. And a trope library is a great way to do this. So you add to your recipe cards, and then you can sit down to meet the page. And you say, Okay, I need someone who’s going to measure trustworthiness. And you go to your, your trope library, and you pull out your cards, and you say, what are all of the things that this person could do? And maybe you wouldn’t have thought about sizing up the team? Maybe you’re someone who always acts alone. So you say, Well, you know, my avatar is going to be closed off from the world and it’s going to be looking at trustworthiness from behind a wall. And then you say, oh, but capelli I remember him. And he had friends, right he to a certain extent. We’ll see how that goes. But he hadn’t McGruder, right so he’s gonna size him up. And so now you start to get a little bit more freedom and you think well, I No, I don’t need them to be a, you know, a lone worker like me, I can instead have people who are on teams and you start to get a fuller range of what patterns of human behavior are possible. And then you can also get, even if you don’t use that you have an an understanding of the full spectrum. So that when you cut it down, and you look at the ones you’re actually going to use, you understand what you’re saying about the avatar by not having them use the other ones. So by intentionally building up this library of tropes that connect to different goals, states and different essential tactics, what you’re doing is you’re building your understanding of human nature. And you’re building it intentionally in a way that goes beyond your own limited perspective, that will start to eliminate your blind spots, and start to give you a really powerful toolbox to create avatars that are different from each other that are varied, that express a lot of what it means to be human. And that’s why I say collaboration, asking other people reading a variety of masterworks, all of these are really important because the more narrow your focus and how you’re creating these, the more similar the avatars and their strategies will be. And so the more variety you can get in adding to your trip library is really, that’s the best way to do things. So to take it back to your question, we say, the team instead of McGruder, so that we can have this, this more abstract, like universal pattern type of description of what’s going on, so that when we see something else, we can more easily connect it to, to the scene. So if we see someone sizing up the team, but it’s like a brother, or it’s, you know, potentially a mentor that they want to see if that person is on their side, but it’s someone who’s on the team, we can say, Okay, this has a similar movement to this trope that we saw. And I witnessed,

Shawn Coyne  21:56

let me just pop in for our quick cognitive science sort of drop in here. So one of the things that we’ve discovered in cognitive science, and I’m using that as a blanket term is that in order to generate an insight, meaning to solve a particular problem, we need multiple perspectives. So the way stories provide that is through the swapping out a protagonist through tropes, so that we can look at a problem from multiple points of view, that enables us to see an insight. So an insight would be sort of like the nine dot problem. And this is the classic, you know, Insight problem, where, you know, there are nine dots, and you have to have a continuous four lines to connect all the dots. So everybody can look kind of look this up on Google. But the only way to solve that problem is to break the frame of your particular boxed in perspective. And so you need a new perspective in order to solve difficult two factor problems, of which the nine dot problem is. So the way this is patterned in story is through the use of protagonists, because remember, our single audience member sees the story through the eyes of the output author, which is what we call the protagonist. So we have a movement of protagonists from capelli to Struthers, which enables Sam to see and ultimately the Anderson the killer. So So Sam gets to see three different perspectives of this problem, which is, Who can I trust? And when should I trust them? Which is a very difficult double factor problem, because what it depends upon this, the context and the time. So that’s just the, you know, the bridge to cognitive science that maps and is convergent with story grid, methodology and theory.

Danielle Kiowski  24:18

After we figured out what are our micro strategy and our outcome, are we name the trope based after based on the micro strategy, so the micro strategy of the name of the trope are going to be the same. And that’s going to allow you to keep track of the progression of micro strategies throughout the story or the scene. The next thing that we do, so we look at what the the shifts are at all of the Trinity planes of perception to make sure that each trope is moving at all three levels. And all that means is that there is movement, both at the green level so on On the surface excitement at the red level that the avatars are progressing and the way that they see the world, the way that they process the world. And then at the blue level, the way that they relate to archetypes and universal patterns of behavior. So again, I want to stress as we go through this, this is not our first draft, especially in the shifts here. What’s a really interesting exercise in going through this is that we can look at the beginnings and ending states of these tropes. And the shifts help us to connect these tropes to each other. And so as we go through, we work back and forth as we go through the tropes to make sure that we have the right expression of the shifts that all of these levels so that they work together in a cohesive and coherent arc. Now I witnessed is a little bit different than some scenes, as we talked about, because it has shifts in the protagonist of the trope. So to look at this just a little bit, if we have a consistent protagonist from one trope to the next, what we do is that the ending state at all three levels for the trope is the beginning state of the next trope. So that helps us to make sure that they are moving in a realistic and consistent way. When we shift protagonists, we see that we’re shifting the the state, because we’re looking at it from a different perspective. So here, in the next trope, because we’re moving to Struthers as protagonist, we’re going to have a different beginning state than we had and state at the end of the last trope. But if Struthers is continuing as the protagonist, for example, in trope three, then what we’ll do is we’ll start out with the ending states that existed in trope two. So we can get into all of that. But it’s just important to note that these shifts are a great tool to provide consistency, and to make sure that the troops progress in a realistic way. So great exercise to do, when you’re done with your troops is just lay out, you know, homeostatic to opportunity to whatever comes next, and look at what the states look like, for one protagonist over the course of the scene. And if you see big shifts, make sure that they are justified by the by the size of the event going on. Another thing to look for is to make sure that they’re consistent in the kind of flavoring that they have regarding the global values that are in play. So if we’re looking at a story that’s about safety or something like that, then we have different kinds of safety, we have psychological safety, we have physical safety we have, we have access to food that starts to get into the survival realm. So when we’re dealing in the sort of life and death realm, what we might see as a general a gradual migration, or maybe a sharp migration over the course of the scene where the protagonist starts out worried about one type of safety and ends up on another one. And we want to make sure that we are staying aligned with the universal patterns, or not universal patterns of the global patterns of the story. And dealing with the right kinds of value shifts. So that’s another tool that we can use. Or another way that we can use the tool of these shifts is to make sure that we’re remaining consistent with how we want these tropes to function relating to the global story. So making sure that we’re not just checking off the box of dealing with life and death, but that we’re dealing with it in the right way to explore the problem space of our story. So to get these shifts, we look at the beginning state of the protagonist at the very beginning of the trope. And then we look at the ending state. So here for sizing up the team. We start out on the surface, and that’s the the material state of the protagonist. So anything that’s external, anything that’s affecting their material state of being in the world, we start out with homeostatic. And we call, we said this because these guys have worked together for a long time. capelli and McGruder are, they’ve been on the force. They know what things are about. They’ve they’re detectives, so they’ve been around to get promoted to that level. And it’s another day at the office, they know how to deal with this. But what arises, is this opportunity to break out of the usual pattern, and capellini is going to be able to perhaps prove himself in a different way than he has been able to before and perhaps improve his material situation at the precinct by becoming maybe the star of the precinct. Maybe he gets someone to talk who no one else could get to talk, and so he has this opportunity to improve his situation. So that’s the shift on the surface. Now above the surface, we’re looking at how the protagonist is processing information. And so we want to stay away here from as, as in all levels. When we talk about values, or shifts or anything like that, we want to stay away from emotions. So we want to focus on what the information processing of the agent is, what the level of agency is. So how much capacity do they have to act? And those are the kinds of things we want to focus on rather than their emotions, because emotions are good information, to get us to understand what their information processing is like, but they aren’t foolproof indicators. And so the same avatar could be expressing anger, for example, over very different levels of, of agency. So some people will get angry, if they have too much agency, why are you making me make this decision? And some people will get angry for having too little agency? Why don’t they ever get to choose anything, and some people will get angry over both. And so, you know, we might have expressed that same thing at different times in our lives, or maybe even in the same conversation if it’s a particularly bad day. But we want to, we want to keep in mind that those emotions are those transitory things that are expressions, you know, really coming from the chemical reactions that are going on in the body of our protagonist. And so far above the surface, we really want to focus on, going beyond that emotional layer that might be the most evident to us. And thinking about what does that really mean about how they’re processing information or about what their capacity for action is. And that’s how we find this shift. So here we go from curious to exploratory. And so this is about, about the capacity of the agent to go forward and explore. So he is able to move beyond his home base, and start to really start to really explore his context, he he feels secure enough to go out and take a risk. And so we’re seeing the progression of that risk, from curious, testing the water to see if there’s an opportunity to exploratory, really claiming that opportunity. And finally, we have beyond the surface. And this is the connection to the universal pattern that’s in play here. And so, what we focus on here, we focus on things like creation and destruction, the conformity or differentiation from collective cultural grammar, the adherence to different archetypes, connection, and isolation. These are just different, different options for the ways that we can look at this blue beyond the surface level. And here, what we’re looking at is, is the connection isolation realm, where we talk about whether this person is integrating into the hole and getting connected, whether they’re isolating that also has to do with conformity and differentiation, because this is this professional environment where they have a lot of shared rules. So we move from shared responsibility, where these people are in by these people, capelli McGruder, they are united in a partnership, to one where they disagree about the best way to do something. And Capella gets the buy in from his team member to go ahead and take sole responsibility. So he moves from this conformed individual who’s part of a group to a differentiated individual. Now, that’s a risky proposition. But it’s also a potentially an opportunity where he could get some recognition, he could get some benefit from that. And so he’s isolating and differentiating at the same time, and he does have buy in from his team member to do that. But they’re not moving together, they’re not moving forward as a team, he’s instead separating out from the team and acting on his own. So we have those shifts, and the most important thing at this level, so we talked about how to look at them over the course of the season, but within within the one trope. The most important thing is just to note that we are able to identify shifts at all three levels. If we can’t identify shifts at all three levels, the trope isn’t working correctly. So we need to make sure that the movements are such that they’re impacting all three levels of perception, all of our Trinity planes of perception, and that’s going to give us a trope that works a trope that is building a story that also works on all three Trinity plans. Then after we look at the shifts, then we get into the essential features now, as an on the surface primary thinker. This is really exciting for me because I really like to see how these tropes are, are really actuated and executed on the page. So the essential features are the place where we look at what is going on in the trope that achieves everything that we’ve looked at For, again, we try to be abstract. So you know, for a recipe, we don’t want to specify a brand of flour, we just want to know that we need flour. And so to do that, we can start by taking a look at what’s actually going on the actual event on the page. And then we can look at how to abstract that for in a way that will help us to achieve the same result outside of this specific context. So let’s take a look at one of them to think about how to do that. In this first trope, our first essential feature is introduced the avatar that represents the wave of the inciting incident with evaluation of their involvement with it and its effects. So what does that mean, in terms of eyewitness? Well, let’s take a look at what we’re describing there is he had seen a murder and the site had sunken into the brown pits that were his eyes, it had tightened the thin line of his mouth and given him a tick over his left cheekbone. Now, again, this trope analysis is not our first draft. So when we start out, we might say, introduce the scene protagonist or introduce the witness maybe and show the effects of the crime. So that’s a good start for what’s going on here. We meet Struthers we know he’s witnessed a murder, we know that it has affected him physically. But then we think well, how portable is this trope? into how many other contexts? Can we take this true? And so we start to think well, does it have to be a witness to a crime? Or could it be someone else? Could this trope function in a society story, an action story, a performance story, there are all of these different, different genres? We can think about? Can we make it portable to those genres who want this to be as portable as possible, so that it’s the most powerful tool that it can be once we put it into our toolbox? So what we think is, well, no, this doesn’t have to be a witness to a crime. This is someone who has information that they want to share an information can come in many varieties, it doesn’t have to be the details of a crime that someone’s witnessed. So we say okay, so we have someone who, who’s introduced. And we know that they are, they’re the protagonist of some kind of story, not necessarily a witness to a crime, but some kind of story. And we know that they have something to impart. Well, the next thing to think is what are the energetic signatures that that put the situation together. So that that make that makes Struthers act in the way that he acts archetypically. And so we’re taking that green, and we’re just trying to try to make it a little more blue, make it a little more read and start to get more of the abstract patterns of what’s going on, above and beyond the surface, to translate that into something that you could express on the surface in different ways. And so we talk about the nature of the inciting incident. So with the protagonist, especially as they’re acting in the beginning of the story, the inciting incident is really important. Well, it doesn’t have to be a crime. But it does have to be something that they can pass on information about. So that’s why we say that this is someone who has been hit by the wave of the inciting incident. So it’s not someone who is a primary participant in it, it’s not someone who walks into the police station, and, you know, has a has a visible wound. So they say, you know, look, I was attacked, it’s someone who is sharing information about something that they saw. And so they’re participating in the problem space in the correct way. So we have this wave avatar. And then evaluation of their involvement with it, and its effects starts to get at the, the essential tactic here. So everything is through this lens of measuring trustworthiness. And so when we start out by getting an evaluation of the protagonist involvement with the inciting incident and its effects, we start to already start to measure Sam starts to already already measure for herself. Whether this is an avatar that she’s going to trust or not, whether this is an avatar that her protagonist who is at this point capelli, should trust or not. And so we already start to get into this measuring space where we’re looking at trustworthiness. So we determine that this is the right level of obstruction, because it preserves the most important energetic features of the scene without getting too into the nitty gritty of like, what genre it is and things like that. If we went too much the other direction we could say, you know, in To reduce the avatar that will be the global protagonist. And that’s true. But it doesn’t give us enough detail to create something that’s really patterned after the scene. So what we’re looking as we’re looking for is that medium level where we have enough detail that we can create something that is energetically similar to the masterwork pattern scene that we’re looking at, but not so much detail that we’re creating a clone. And that’s something that is hard to do. It’s something that we have to really iterate on over time. And even as I said, I mean, we we did many drafts of, of this bullet point of each of these bullet points. And so what we’re looking for is, you know, what’s the right level, and we seek that over time. And as you and everyone out there listening as you do your trope analysis, you’re going to find what level works for you. And what makes the most useful trope that you can take from story to story. So you might start out more in your native mode of thinking, you might start out more green more read more blue, however you you tend to think. And then as you go to use those tropes, what you’re going to find is that you need to shift them in one direction or another, so that they end up the most useful that they can be.

Shawn Coyne  41:18

If I could just jump in there, I’ve got a really cool example of how this can be used in another genre. So this essential feature can actually be the starting off point for a novel. So introduce an avatar that represent represents the wave of the inciting incident with the evaluation of their involvement with it and its effects. Okay, that is a description of a novel by Ian McEwan called atonement, where the story is about a young girl who witnesses to people falling in love and having intercourse, and how that affects not only her life, but of those two lovers. So it’s a completely different situation. But this essential feature of this particular trope enabled Ian McEwan to build a beautiful story, a historical novel about World War One and class differences and society and love story, using this wave function witnessing idea as its core way into discussing these these universal patterns of human behavior. So, when Danielle talks about the portability of tropes, these these tropes when you have these recipe cards, they can be at any level. They can be very, very inspirational and aspirational for the writer to say to themselves, Oh, wow, what if I apply this idea to a completely different genre than crime story. So you would never make the connection between Ed McBain and Ian McEwan without having this technology available to you. And once you do, then you can you can build out all these beautiful, different perspectival ways that looking at these particular abstract patterns. So that as Danielle said earlier, you as the writer can express your avatars in ways that your particular perspective would not have enabled you to do by yourself. So that’s really the power of this toolbox. And yes, it’s very detailed. It’s very complicated. It’s extraordinarily hard. And as Daniel also said, this is not the first draft, Lesley and I and Danielle, put together this trope list over a period of several several hours. And we had hits and misses. And we’re the inventors of this, this actual technology. So don’t get frustrated. If you find that this is difficult work it is but it’s very rewarding. Because it can build out recipe cards of tropes that can help you on multiple kinds of stories.

Leslie Watts  44:28

Yeah, I want to build on that another aspect of this tool or a way of thinking about it. If you are if you’re engaged in as a as a trial lawyer, and you you go into trial and you’re trying to get information from a witness, the tendency is to focus on the questions that you want to ask. And that is I think of that as kind of the on the surface actions of the trial lawyer while they’re engaging in in court. So if they focus on the questions that they want to ask, then if there’s a problem, then they can be stuck. And so instead of focusing on the questions in your trial notebook, you don’t put the questions you put the information you need. So what am I trying to accomplish here? And to me, these tropes are doing exactly that. What do I need to accomplish in this little bit of text, this little part of the story, and as Daniel, Daniela often tells us, The, this is such a perfect size for for iteration, because it’s the, it’s a bridge between the five commandments of the entire scene down to the line by line writing, it’s very focused. So you can take a postage stamp, essentially size of story, and iterate it. And you know exactly what you need to do, what the elements you need to include in it, like your recipe card. And it’s one that you can, when you realize, oh, this on the surface aspect is not going to work or, oh, I need to innovate this on the surface, kind of the what I’m doing, you can drop back to this really focus on those tactics and strategies, and then enact from there, and that makes it so much easier to innovate, so that you’re not repeating the same stuff within your story, or the same kinds of activities that can’t same kinds of things that happen in your genre, you’re really making it fresh. So it these tropes are just amazing tools that accomplish a lot of things that as writers we really need to do.

Danielle Kiowski  46:55

Yeah, I love that point. And I also think that it works in the reverse, too, so. So I think it’s absolutely right to say you can take this same blue and red patterns and see how to express them in different greenways. And then also, if you are more of a green writer, and you tend to not imbue your actions that are happening on the surface, with you’re above the surface or beyond the surface, then by looking at it this way, it really forces you to think well, what are the different ways in which my green actions here my green events could impact the red and the blue levels. And so you can work from from either way, it’s an opponent process to just make sure that you have that full spectrum. And so, so yeah, I really love that idea of, of working from like, if you have a masterwork scene, you can look at how to iterate it in different ways from the green. And if you’re working from a draft that is to green to on the surface, then you can look at all of the different kinds of recipe cards that it might connect to. And you can start to build an effective, you can start to build effective avatar development and an effective arc to your story by building it up that way, as well. But this trip doesn’t just have one essential feature, right, it has three. So we want to go through the rest of those, and to understand really the full picture of what’s going on in this trope. So the second one is the trope protagonist and the team member, right, the one they’ve been sizing up, negotiate the strategy to the finite game, for responding to the arrival of the wave avatar, note the opposing worldviews of these avatars. So here, what we’re saying is that capelli, who’s the trope protagonist, he’s not our scene protagonists just of the trope, and our team member, that’s McGruder negotiate their strategy for responding to the arrival of the wave avatar, that means they’re figuring out who’s going to deal with him and how it’s important to note that this is a finite game. So we have different ways of addressing interactions within a story. There are finite games, and there are infinite games, a finite game is if I win, you lose. And if you win, I lose. And so it’s one person will get their way and the other won’t. And that is enabled by these in the opposing worldviews of these two avatars, which is really interesting to note because they are on the same team. So another thing that’s really common for writers to do is that we’ll have the sidekick avatar, and they’re just there to give someone given given avatar for a protagonist to talk to, but they’re very much just aligned with our protagonist. They have the same object of desire the same methodology, and it’s just, yes, what do I do now? And that’s a mistake. Because if you have an avatar in the story, you want them to be presenting another facet of that double factor problem, and you want them to be a potential source of conflict. So it’s not just a way to get words on the page by having someone to be someone for your project. agonist to give their their speeches to, but you want them to actually have an energetic presence in the story. So this is what’s going on here that McGruder might seem like a minor avatar in the course of the scene. But really he has this pivotal role of being this, this opposing force to capelli. And they’re figuring out how to deal with Struthers. So they are right there negotiating what their initial strategy is going to be. And who’s going to be the one who takes the lead on the interactions with with Struthers. Then finally we have the trope protagonist again capelli wins the opportunity to use their agency to respond to the wave avatar. So this is indicating that the the trope protagonist is the successful one here. The trope protagonist is able to size up the team and then also use his agency to bend the team to his will and get what he wants out of this trope. And what he wants is the opportunity to use his agency to go and talk to Struthers. So we’re going to have the, the trope protagonist move forward into the next trope with the scene protagonists. This is very important because if we hadn’t McGruder when, if he’s the one who goes over now, there’s a lot of shifting allegiance here. So Sam our single audience member has been empathizing with and acting in parallel with mentally capelli. And if Magruder wins and he’s gonna go talk to Struthers now she has to switch. So this is something where really it’s inevitable that capelli is going to go talk to Struthers because capelli is the one that has been acting as the protagonist. So having it be the other way would be too much of a switch up. But we want to make sure that we’re exiting this trope in the right way, so that we can finish with this micro strategy and move forward into the promised interaction with this wave avatar. But it’s important that we see this negotiation so that when we enter that interaction, we understand the motivations and the mindset of our antagonist who’s going to be compelling. So again, remember, we talked about before, the antagonist is just the one providing input, the one providing energetic transfer to which our protagonist must respond. It’s not the bad guy. So here, our antagonist is going to shift to capelli. And this is really interesting, because Sam has already had the opportunity to connect with capelli, she’s going to have the opportunity to connect with Struthers. And so through these multiple connections, she’s going to be asked to evaluate who has the best way of dealing with this double factor problem space, to whom should I give my allegiance and why. And she’s going to be negotiating a complex domain here at the same time that the avatars do. So that brings us through in detail, the end of our first trope, which again, is sizing up the team. And we have seven tropes in the story. And we’re going to share the document where we go through all of the troops in this detail, but we can take a look at the names of them. And because they’re named after the micro strategies, they’ll give us an effective look at what’s going on over the course of the story. So when we look at this trip list, we start out as we talked about with sizing up the team, then we shift into Struthers as both trope protagonist and scene protagonist, and he is fending off a threat. That’s capelli. Next, he’s negotiating the terms. So he’s figuring out whether he can trust capelli. Again, that’s the essential tactic through negotiating the terms of sharing information. Next, he’s delivering the script where he is, he’s telling capelli his story in the way that he has planned to do it. Next, He’s appealing to capelli sense of pity, to try and get get to be on the same team as capelli. Next, he’s realizing his existential threat. That’s when he sees the lieutenant walk in, and then he runs out. And then we’re left without a protagonist because he’s run out the door. So what do we do now? Well, this is where we have a really interesting shift, where we shift into testing loyalty. Well, who’s doing that? We find that Anderson, the global antagonist, and the global villain is testing the loyalty of capelli. So we have this really nice, just tie up from the beginning to the end, where we move from capellini sizing up the team, to now Anderson is sizing up the team but he’s doing it from this position of power, so he’s testing loyalty. So you can see the progression of the troops over the course of the scene. This gives us a really nice idea of what’s going on. And and we have the the goals, the micro strategies, the outcomes, the shifts, and the The essential features laid out in this document for each of those seven tropes to really give a full idea of what’s happening at each of the Trinity planes of perception over the course of this scene, which is also in this case, the global story, since we’re dealing with a short story.

Tim Grahl  55:15

Thanks for listening to this episode of The Story grid podcast. For everything story grid related check out story grid.com. If you want to check out the show notes, the transcript, any downloads for this episode, or any past episodes of the podcast, you can go to story grid.com/podcast. Also, if you haven’t noticed yet, we’ve started posting daily videos and content on all our social media platforms. So whether you like Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or YouTube, go there, subscribe to us. We’re gonna send great content to you every single day. Also, to make sure you don’t miss anything happening in the storyboard universe. You can go to story grid.com and sign up for the newsletter. But thanks for being here. Thanks for listening, and we will see you next week.


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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.