Episode 274: Truth in Fiction: How to Write and Develop Believable Characters

Read Tim’s scene for this week.

Tim Grahl  00:00

Hello, and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. My name is Tim Grahl. I’m the CEO of Story Grid. And I’m also a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. I’m the host of the show. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He’s the creator and founder of Story Grid. And he’s a writer and editor with over 30 years of experience. Along with him is Leslie watts, editor in chief of Story Grid Publishing. And Danielle Kiowski, the Chief Academic Officer of Story Grid University. So last week, I was given the homework to continue working on my draft based on the short story I witnessed by Ed McBain so we’ve been working on this for a while now. And we rejiggered the way that we’re doing this to try to make it much easier for me to understand what they’re asking me to do, and get really, really specific with the next steps. So I was given the homework of working on the narrator on Watson in the character. So I was given the homework of focusing on the narrator, the character, Watson and my short story, and really nailing him and getting him right. So I get the feedback on that. And then we move on to looking at the protagonist. And what I like about this is a lot of what we talk about is what it means to tell the truth in a story. And how telling the truth in the correct way can make your protagonist make your characters believable, and how this can change based on your character, and the point of view and the narrator and all of these things and how they all work together. Now I’m writing fiction. So what is the truth? Right? And it’s really interesting to dive into this question and think about this question, and how this applies to how the reader is going to experience our characters. So it’s a really important episode, I think you’re going to enjoy it. So let’s jump in and get started.

Leslie Watts  01:53

So Tim, last week, we asked you to go back through your draft, which is an iteration of the pattern from eyewitness Ed McBain story, and we wanted you to look at it through the lens of the narrative device, which is it’s set up like a police report. And so the goal was to, to do revisions to your draft and, and stay within that within the confines of that, but review it by looking at it through that lens. So the first thing we want to know is how that went for you. What was your experience of doing it? Did you have any challenges? Or did some you know, was there anything that you felt like I had an insight about this? So how was that process for you?

Tim Grahl  02:48

Well, the thing I think that helped the most was when one of you said that. So one, there’s several things. So the first was that this isn’t about this can’t be about Watson. It needs so any like agent qualifications about him is unnecessary, because that wouldn’t go in, because that doesn’t matter. So that was super helpful. And then the part about just like building the case for why he would leave. At the end. I think something about that of like, it started making me wonder if there could be a almost like a green level of the controlling idea. Because that helps me start looking at it through that lens. So that was really helpful. I felt like those two things alone. And then And then we talked some about how like, setting it up. I think I talked through this right at the end last week where I was like, you know, he Watson was probably like, oh, shit, now I’ve got to deal with this, right? Because he doesn’t want to have to confront this. And now he’s gonna have to confront it. But he’s got to confront in this way where he can’t get he can’t pull himself under the bus while he’s trying to throw somebody else under the bus. And so I kind of had this picture of him going home and like sitting at the table drinking, his wife asked him what’s wrong, he tells her what’s wrong. And she’s like, you know how to do this, like just write the report. But do it in a way where it leaves you fine. And you just leave it really clear what actually happened. And he’s like, alright, yeah, I can do that. And so that I tried to keep that in my mind as I went through it. And you know, the other thing I realized is like I think I wasn’t giving myself permission to The left because it was supposed to be a police report, I didn’t give myself permission to let the guy writing the police report, lie by omission. You know, so when you started saying like, he wouldn’t describe the guy this way, he described the guy this way. I was like, well, but he does look that way. You know, it’s like, well, but if he’s trying to make a point, that’s not what he would put in there, even if that was the quote, truth, because he’s trying to get at this other level of truth. And that doesn’t help me get there. And so the it’s kind of, in the past when I, you know, a scene we worked on before we were doing this on the podcast, I talked about how like, the I was having, I was struggling with a third person omniscient, because I kept seeing it as like God, and God doesn’t. God’s not a, you know, a really a complex being, you know, like I had trouble like, forming a strong opinion, because I saw it as this kind of like, floating embodiment of somebody who doesn’t care is third person omniscient. And so like having that person have an opinion, this felt similar. Or I’m like, Oh, I can take this cop who’s writing a police report, which is supposed to be just the facts. But yet he can manipulate the facts to get to a point, that’s actually allowed. And honestly, that’s probably what they do, right. And so. So that’s kind of where I landed. And so and then I tried to be really careful, I literally made a copy of the scene. I’m like, I’m not rewriting the scene, I’m editing the scene that I’ve already written. Because Sean said, He will not look at it, if I rewrite it from the ground up. So I tried to do that, you know, when I get into these spaces, I’m never really sure how well it went. But I at least felt like I knew what to do. And I made significant changes to it based on what I just said,

Leslie Watts  06:59

that’s great. I want to just highlight a couple of things that I noticed from what you just said, is that you are developing an understanding of the story yourself about what’s happened, you know, what’s really happened? Right? So you’ve got this raw material, this idea of, oh, you know, what if Watson went home and talked to his wife, right, so you’re building this idea of the the narrative device, that is personal to you, you understand it, but those details are not going to go in the story. And then from there, what you’re working on is that everything you include every so you have you have a broader understanding than everything you do include the context details, the events, the internality, what their perceptions is about Sam and Sam’s problem. And then I think the next step that we might want to look at, and we’ll look at what’s going on in in the manuscript today, but but then the next level would be everything, the average, excuse me, everything that avatars does do, everything they do is, is filtered through the lens of their essential tactic, their option, their object of desire, so what they want, and then their, their essential tactic, which is the way that they’re trying to enact that in the, in the context. So. So I think that’s great, because what, what what you’re describing and what we’re seeing, seeing in the manuscript is that you’re, you’re moving through that understanding of what really happened, the whole reality. And then what am I presenting in this story? Because all of that is included in there, through the through influencing what you’re showing. So that’s great. So So then how about we look at the some of the items that we’re finding in the, you know, in the manuscript itself, and the story itself based on the edits that that you made? So, Danielle, do you have some thoughts about things that you’ve observed and that kind

Danielle Kiowski  09:32

of thing? Yes, they do have Gods thanks, Leslie. I wanted to start out by talking about this idea of focusing on the narrative device and the changes between last week’s manuscript in this week’s manuscript, and I think that you did a great job about thinking about, as you talked about what is supporting the fact that he runs out so we can think about that as the de facto The story is that he ran out of the police station. So we’re building a case for that, as you said. And I’m, I think it was good to take that process and put it in a document and just edit it from there. But what I noticed as I’m going through it is that reality changed a lot. So it wasn’t just that you, you change the qualifications. But you know, Randall acts differently, Randall is presenting differently. And so that’s fine at this stage. And I think that you did really good updates to the scene in the narrative device capacity. But what I’d like to encourage you to do, is to think about not just how to lie by omission, or not just how to change the fundamental qualities of the binding to support the facts. But if you have this idea of like, this is what reality is, think about. As a primary strategy, instead of changing the facts, how can you spin the facts as the author? Because what I’m thinking about there is that say that your original idea we’re Randall comes in and he’s rocking. I mean, the rocking is really interesting, because it shows that he has been deeply traumatized by what happened. So in this version, he seems not so traumatized. And I think we’ll get into further, like more about, as Leslie sort of previewed, Randles essential tactic, what’s going on with him, but just his presentation is now much cleaner, much more put together. And so we talked about that last time that he might try to clean himself up, he might try to present the best version of himself that he can. But I think that we lose something really powerful when he’s not going through a breakdown because of what he saw. So So I think it just went a little too far that direction. So that’s what I’m, what I’m saying is like, if the fact is that he is he is rocking back and forth, if the fact is that he doesn’t have the resources to clean himself up, how does Watson spin that to make it support his version of events and think about it like this. So the context has changed in your story from 1950s. City. Even if it didn’t, this would still apply. But there are going to be multiple versions of this. So the facts need to line up with, with the other people Wilson and Dawson, right, they’re going to also have their version of events. And so say that Randall comes in and he looks a certain way, you can’t. And they’re also going to be, you know, security cameras, things like that. So you can’t change the basic facts. But what you can do is influence Sam’s interpretation of them through the verbs that you use through the nouns that use through the things that you choose to emphasize. And that’s why I think it’s a better exercise to do that kind of thing than to change the fundamental facts, because it’s going to be it’s going to allow you to preserve the power of that breakdown, as well as do something that is, I think, a better skill building exercise for you as an author. I mean, it is your reality, and you can make it what you want. But I think it’s a, it’s more helpful for your skill as a writer to spin rather than to change the underlying facts. So those are my overall thoughts on the changes between last week and this week, I

Shawn Coyne  13:40

just like to pile on there. And in a way that is first encouraging, in that the work that you did here is is much more in tune with the narrative device. So you did make a major leap forward in presenting the story in the form of a police report. So you need to understand that you really move the ball forward on that domain. So that’s really important. And guess what, that was our primary ask of you. We wanted you to really focus on narrative device. So yes, good job. That’s good, because we gave you one thing and you accomplished it. So what Danielle and Leslie are now saying is that nice job on that. Here’s the next thing to consider. The next thing to consider. And I would agree with both Lesley and Danielle on this run, is that what we talked about at Story Grid is the difference between enlivening language and Beats and things and inputs and depleting Okay, so let me try I can’t give an overview, a very global understanding of what enlivening versus depleting really means. enlivening means that it’s complex. The descriptors, what we call agent qualifications or agency qualifications or arena. qualifications. Those are just descriptions of the the presencing of the avatars, that would be an agent qualification, like, he was tall, dark and handsome, whatever, right? It’s not very good. But that’s a qualification of a physical presence. Agency qualifications are more about the modalities in which he seemed very angry. So the way in which someone is applying their choice portfolio or acting is a qualification of their agency. He hurriedly ran to the coffee shop, okay, and then an arena qualification would be something like the room was very, very cold. So that would be a descriptor of the arena, the context, the descriptor of the agent is a descriptor of a subject of content in that context. And the modality in which that agent is behaving would be a descriptor of their agency. Alright, so I just needed to sort of lay that out there so that people can understand our terminology when we say like agent qualifications, etc. Okay, so let’s go back to enlivening and depleting. What enlivening means is that the descriptors, the agent qualifications, the arena qualifications, and the agency qualifications are complex. Which means that there’s a little bit of one and a little bit of the other, there’s a little bit of chaos, and there’s a little bit of order, it’s not overly ordered, or overly chaotic. So your your earlier draft, Randall was overly chaotic. So it didn’t seem like he was it seemed like he was not in his right mind. Right. So that’s depleting to Sam. So when Sam reads that, it seems not real. It seems artificial. Because life is complex. And when we describe one thing as all one thing and none of the other, it’s artificial, it doesn’t seem right. Because even in chaos, there is fundamental fractal order. And in order, there’s chaos, complexity is this balance between the two. So when we hit the right descriptors, and we went and went live in SAM, we used language that has this balance of chaos and order within it. So your your initial description of Randall is really important. And it needs to be enlivening and complex, why he’s our protagonist. Okay, so one of the ways you can accomplish this in a, in a very sort of metaphorical bridging way, is to use phrases that negate positivity or positive negation. Alright, so what does that mean? There’s a really what, you know, my favorite one of my favorite songwriters is Kris Kristofferson, right? So he’s a master of this sort of negation of positive or a positive of negation in single phraseology. So one of his famous songs is called Sunday Morning Coming Down, and he describes going to his closet to find his cleanest, dirty shirt. So he’s looking for the most ordered of the chaos. And he’s going to present himself as best as he can, in the most ordered way. However, he’s fundamentally in a chaotic realm, but he can order himself. That’s why the protagonist of that song speaks to us, because we all have these moments of finding our cleanest dirty shirt. Right. Another phrase he uses are friendly shadows. So shadows are usually a little creepy, and they’re amorphous. How can they be friendly? Is it possible for a shadow to be friendly? Yeah, I think it is. Right. So that’s a means of adding complexity and order and chaos in a single qualification that bang, Sam goes, that’s cool. That’s complex. That’s interesting. Tell me more. But if you say I’m a bum, and I’ll always be a bomb, and I never gonna make it, and I’m a loser over and over and over again, it’s not interesting. So when, let’s say we first meet Sylvester Stallone and Rocky, he’s a bum. But he’s interesting. He wears a pretty interesting outfit. He does have it apartment, he is rather ordered, he can win a prize fight. He’s right. So he’s, he’s a bomb, but he’s not a bomb. Right? So these are the positive negative, things positive negative being. Chaos doesn’t mean negative and order doesn’t mean positive. It’s just, it’s, it’s the playing of the metaphor. So the way I picture Randall is he’s the sort of person who has to do something very important. Not just for himself, but for the network of society. And he doesn’t want to be taken on seriously. So a very observant person, like Watson would be able to say, here’s how this person presented himself, he had on his cleanest dirty shirt. He combed his hair as best as he could, with some grease. Right? He’s doing things that are ordering his chaos, but sometimes the chaos pops up. So then he clamps it down. Right? So when Danielle is talking about the descriptors of him rocking, that’s kind of intriguing, it’s chaotic, if he can somehow clamp that down and stop himself. If you like, people who have, you know, sort of tics, they do this, and they’ll go, just give me a minute. Right? And, and you do and you go, okay, cool. And then the, or if, if somebody has a stuttering problem, you give them the moment to to order the disorder, that they are behaving, right. So that’s called being you know, empathetic, because we all do that. So that’s complex. Now, depleting means they’re all order all chaos. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t want to have avatars in your story that aren’t depleting, Dawson’s depleting. That guy’s all order, get that guy out of my breezeway. I I’m typing my reports. I don’t like his stink, that’s depleting. And so Sam looks at that guy go. There’s something off about that guy. Right? I don’t like him. He’s a little bit off. I’ve got to keep my eye on him. I’ve got to mark that guy as an error message in my mind, because he’s not right. People are not right. They’re bullshitting you when they are presenting themselves as perfectly ordered, or perfectly chaotic. We know we’re being played. Because it’s artificial. It’s not real. No one is perfectly put together. So Gordon Gekko in Wall Street is a perfectly ordered being. And we go through that guy’s there’s something not right about him. Right. And then you also have like, Oh, I just don’t know anything. Oh, you’re so smart, those kinds of people. And they present as I am so chaotic. And please be my savior. They’re bullshitting you. Because they’re presenting an artificial reality. Because reality is complex. So enlivening is complex depleting is too ordered or too chaotic. And so this is the the way the storyteller can get Sam interested. So you don’t want to fire too many error messages to Sam, because then she has to track too many error messages in the story. Now, I’m not saying you’re doing that. I’m not saying that at all. I’m just trying to give a global generalized understanding of the theoretic of complexity, order and chaos and how they work as constructs to think about when you We’re doing descriptors and descriptors are the agent qualification agency qualifications and arena qualifications. So arenas are over always complex. Right? If the arena is overly ordered, it’s usually about a descriptor of that person who is in charge of that arena. Right? So, anyway, I just I wanted to give this blue global stuff to ground, the green stuff when we talk about some of your word choices and how, why we’re saying, you need to add or subtract here or think about this, because, as Danielle was talking about, storytellers are not they are making reasons why their presentation is justified. Right? So there are reasons why we’re justifying the arc of the story. So what what ideally Watson wants to do in this police report is to give the reasons why it’s justified to point the finger at the lieutenant as the killer. So all of his movements, and all of his descriptors in that are going to be directed towards that goal state, to give the reasons why it’s justified to point the finger at the lieutenant as the killer in order to increase the probability of justice. That’s a crime story. And Randall isn’t negotiating that same world. Randall is coming into the police department, because he has reasons why that justify his coming there and putting his vulnerability at stake. And this, this goes to what we talked about in the last session about, you know, his cognitive dissonance versus his well being he has to make it’s a double factor problem for him, is justice more important than his well being? Is Justice more important than his cognitive consonance? Meaning, his integrated sense of self. And when we’re living with a lie in our minds, it drives us nuts. We want to get rid of it, because it hurts us. It messes with our ability to make sense of the world. Because what we’re what we know to be true in our minds is not at it’s not matching our, our actualized behavior. And so when we have that performative contradiction, when what we think does not match what we do, that is not, this is platonic, right? So Plato says, We desire that our actuality and our internality are in sync, are coherent, or integrated, are moving in the direction in which we find best. And so when we’re playing these covert games, where we’re acting one way and thinking another, it’s very expensive to our being, because it drains us of energy, keeping all that crap in our minds. It’s like a little kid holding a secret about when they stole the candy. Oh, I found it on the ground, you know? And then it just torments them till they finally start crying. You go, what’s the matter? And they go, I actually stole a piece of candy, and you go, okay, and then you feel better now that you told us? Yes, I do. Well, you still have to go back to the store and explain yourself. But that’s a good start, right? That’s cognitive consonance. And we feel okay. When we have that. We want to reduce our cognitive dissonance, so that we can have cognitive consonants, which only means what we’re doing is what we’re thinking and what we’re thinking is what we’re doing. And the world is embracing us in that, that that true and beautiful actuality of being. So let me turn it back to Danielle or Lesley to start getting down to probably Danielle to get down into the green zone, and take a look at at how you will have executed the narrative device. And if we can make any suggestions about how Watson would present it using these agent agency and arena qualifications.

Danielle Kiowski  29:45

Yeah, I think ultimately what we want to do is, as you said, Shawn, get to this complex description. But I think that there are I think there are deeper problems to address before we get to that point. And so the way that I’m looking at the the progression of what happened is that when last week, you didn’t really connect to the police report, there was a lot of noise in the signal. So we weren’t really sure what was reality, what wasn’t reality. And now you fixed that. So it’s coming through as a clear signal. But as part of that, what when you said, Okay, Watson’s going to be going to be presenting this kind of stuff gonna be emphasizing this kind of stuff, the clear signal that’s coming through now, I think, is not what it needs to be when we get to Randall and so. So I think that, although we want to get to this complex description, the complex description needs to come out of a deeper understanding of what’s going on with Randall. So the way I like to think about it is that through other tools, so through active buildup, Beats, reactive breakdown Beats through a central tactics, these are the, the methodologies through which we build up what I like to call an energetic Foundation. And then the binding just expresses that, that energetic Foundation. And so, so that’s why I like to fix that first. Because if we fix binding first, then we might cover up cracks in the foundation that are going to come up later, and then your house is going to fall down. So we want instead to make sure that your house is solid. And so what I’m seeing when I see this description of Randall, so he’s got his clean shirt, he shaved, you know, what I’m seeing is this is a put together guy. And as I said, that takes away that power of like when he’s rocking, he’s going through a breakdown. And I don’t just see it in the beginning there, then I see it flow through. So one of the things that we talked about last time, and we started talking about this, and then and then came to understand that the narrative device was creating a lot of noise. We started talking about that trope, where he’s supposed to overshare. Right. And so I saw that you made a lot of changes to that trope. And so what I’d love to do is just hear a little bit about what your thought is, on what Randall is oversharing how he’s complicit in the corruption, because that’s going to help us get to what are the elements of order and chaos that are happening with Randall, and then how we need to how we need to present them, we’ll come out of that naturally, I think, but we need to figure out what they are before we can figure out how we’re going to talk about them. So when he over shares, like what is what happened? What’s his official script about what happened? And then when does he slip? When he’s talking to Watson?

Tim Grahl  32:44

Yeah, I mean, I still struggled with this part. A lot of just because the way that there’s a couple things here. So one is just as you were some one of you was talking a couple minutes ago, it started dropping into place, I feel like for the first time, you know, because we I kind of felt like I understood what Watson did in the time between when this happened, and when the report was written. And so just a few minutes ago, when one of us was talking, I started thinking, Well what happened to Randall between when he saw the murder it when he came in to report it. And I started thinking like, he was probably somewhere telling himself a story about fuck them. They’re cops, they don’t care anything about me anyway, I’m not going in, this isn’t my responsibility, all the things we do to try not to do the thing that we know we have to do. And then finally reaching this place where it’s like, I have to go in and do this. And then he starts thinking through what’s my story going to be? And how do I need to do this, so they’ll actually listen to me. But it’s not going to be fully there because he’s not in a position to actually like, you know, as a upper middle class, white male, I can show up somewhere presentable in a way that people will take me seriously because I have the means to do that. He does not have the means to do that. So he’s only going to be able to get about halfway there. So then I was like, okay, so then I can understand that anyway. So the way that I was trying to think about this particular situation is what would make him feel the most guilty about what happened. And I think what would make him feel responsible is if after the killer leaves, the COP is still alive. And he knows it, and he just leaves and lets him die. Or leaves just runs because he’s scared or whatever. And now, when he finds out that the cop did die, he feels responsible, even though he didn’t do it. But now, so the official story can’t be that I could have saved I could possibly have saved him. So I was kinda all over the place with it, as I was trying to write this, because then I was thinking, Well, maybe he robbed him, you know. And that’s where, like, at that point, and what I wrote, it’s like, Hey, is wallet and badger missing? Do you know anything about that? And he’s like, you know, I forgot how I put it here.

Danielle Kiowski  35:41

The killer must have taken them. Yeah, that moment, because I thought that might have been where you thought it was oversharing. Or like getting caught or almost getting caught. And the reason that I noted that moment is that it’s another instance of Randall being to put together so if he’s, if he’s almost caught in something, he needs to have a breakdown, right, and the breakdowns are expressions of things going wrong for him. So that’s what I meant about, you change the description in the beginning. So now he’s pretty put together and then all through the scene, he’s more put together. And I wanted to highlight this because I think this is a really common thing that writers do is that they’ll have their protagonists be too integrated from the beginning. And so you really need to allow them room for transformation by breaking them. So having them have these deep wounds, having them have problems having them have things they need to overcome, that’s going to give them that room to change throughout the story. And this trope is really critical for that. So if we look at what happens to Struthers. So capelli says, Why didn’t you come to the police at once? And Struthers says I ellipsis. I guess I was scared, Mister, I still am, you’ve got to promise me I won’t get into any trouble. I’m a married man. And I got two kids, I can’t afford to. And so you see how he’s changing the subject. Immediately. He’s trying to play the sympathy card. He’s saying it’s not just me, it’s my kids, you need to look at my kids don’t look at me. So he’s trying to do whatever he can to get sympathy from capelli at that point. And so it sounds like when we read this trope with Randall, that Randall is always on script, he’s got an answer for everything. And so that’s what I mean by we need to break him. And that goes into his essential tactic, which is right at the red level. So what I’m doing here is I’m taking the green level and saying, okay, things aren’t breaking down the way they should be, right? Well, first we have we have the blue level of binding and we’re saying okay, Randall, to ordered, right to put together, then we’re looking at like, okay, green level, he’s not breaking down the way he needs to, he’s not fulfilling the tropes that he needs to because at the point, he doesn’t break down, the tropes not turning, we’re not getting actual shift of value in that trope in the way that we need to. And what this is showing us is that there are underlying problems with the avatar development. Now when there are underlying problems with the avatar development that gets at that red issue. And that’s what Leslie was bringing up at the beginning about we need to understand the essential tactics of these avatars. So Leslie, do you have thoughts on how to address the essential tactics and get at what’s really going on with random?

Leslie Watts  38:36

I have Yes, I have some thoughts. So if we go to the, the 624 that we did for four eyewitness and we look at what the what’s the central tactic of Struthers. He’s measuring trustworthiness. Right. So so that’s his process is he’s trying to figure out, right, because he goes, he goes in saying, I want to talk to the captain. And because he thinks that’s how he can achieve his objective desire. So when he can’t talk to the captain, and capelli kind of gives him in a way out of that, right? He’s still got to assess is this guy okay? Can I tell my whole story to him? And it’s in that assessment that he gets kind of he he goes off track, right? He gets that he’s telling his story, and capelli wants him to tell his story. Right. So capellini is doing what he needs to do. Because he’s he wants him to tell so he and test his credibility. So, because capelli is helping him a Ha ha, he’s just you know, doing the nodding thing. He’s right. He’s encouraging him saying very little. That’s when Struthers over shares. Right. So, in, in your story, do you think that Randles essential tactic is the same? Is he trying to assess the trustworthy Ness? You know, Can I Can I drop this? Can I relieve myself of my guilty feelings by dropping this truth here so I can leave and feel okay. But it’s I’ve got to be able to trust who I’m leaving it with that it’s not going to come back to me. So for Randall, is that the same? Is it a little different? This

Tim Grahl  41:05

part every time? I feel fuzzy about even looking at eyewitness. So I don’t know. I mean, I want it to be, but I feel like when I, when I’m writing this, I, he’s just he wants somebody to take the story. And he feels like asking for somebody higher up, we’ll get him more respect. But when he doesn’t get that he settles for this person in front of him.

Leslie Watts  41:37

Okay, so then, as he still has to test, right, because this is a which side? Are you on scene? So he’s got to test that. But can you see how if you’re engaged in, you’re engaged in your test. And the person that you’re talking to is passing your test, and you’re just kind of getting comfortable in your narrative, then novelty pops up? Right, then he asks you a question that you don’t have the answer to. That, that’s where you can you get tripped up into revealing more than you anticipate. So there’s what you’re what you’re doing that’s that on the surface, and then above the surface is how you’re trying to achieve your goal. So that right, that’s our essential tactic.

Tim Grahl  42:35

I’ve so I feel like what I was when I was trying to make that leap was when Watson makes the case for why he can’t get the lieutenant right now. It’s like, look, it’s both our heads if I go get him right now. And here’s all the reasons why that you can understand. Right? He’s busy, he’s running around, we’ve got tons of leads that have gone nowhere. So if I bring him another one, we’re both getting fucked in this process. So if you want me to do this, I’m willing, but you got to give me something first. And I feel like that’s, I think that’s how I mean, I’d have to go back and read I witness again, I’ve been trying to avoid, I’ve been looking at the tropes more than the line by line, so I don’t do a straight copy. But I feel like that’s when it happens. And I witness to when. So correct me if I’m wrong, but when capelli makes this case of like, here’s why. I gotta hear it first. And so after that is when they both are kind of like I feel like if I’m remembering it, right, capelli is like, here’s all the reasons why I can’t get the lieutenant Struthers asked for like, at least give me something let’s not do it out here. Right. Let’s go to your office. And I was like, sure that we can do that. And so then at least there was this like, well, I got something I wanted. So he ends up back in his office, and then that’s when he feels comfortable and starts telling the story.

Leslie Watts  44:09

Okay, so let me let me come at this from a different direction and show you a place where I think you did this really, really well. So when you’ve got this, the exchange between Watson and Dawson in the beginning, and Dawson’s basically saying, this guy, he’s just seeking attention like all these guys do. Right? So, Watson being the integrated agent that he is right here, that’s something he’s putting in his head. Okay, I got a test for this. So what does he do? The first thing he does is he offers him a $10 bill and says, Hey, man, if you want to go get some, if you want to go get something to drink, you can do that. You still go That time, right? So that’s a way of testing Randles motivation. He’s doing something that he looks like it has a different intention. But what he’s really doing is testing is this guy here to waste our time? Or his he interested in? You know, does he have something we can use? So that’s a place where you, you executed that beautifully. So Sam or you know, or us as readers, we get that, implicitly. He’s tested him and Randall has passed the test. So when then when we go to that moment when he, when Randall, let me see. I’ve kind of stuck in the details again. There, Danielle or Shawn, do you? Do you know where you get where I’m going with this and can maybe pick up the baton?

Shawn Coyne  46:07

Yeah, I think what you what you hit on was the problem space. So the problem space is not clear for Randall. Up, right. So the problem space is about justice. Randall knows that he’s going into a hornet’s nest, and that he is making himself extraordinarily vulnerable for being taken in Think about it. Here. He’s going into the police station and say, hey, here I am a disorganized homeless person who witnessed the murder of one of your friends. What is the first thing that the police are going to do? Here’s our killer. What do killers do? They go back to the scene of the crime, because they actually kind of enjoy watching people watching themselves get away with it. This is like a, you know, this is a trope of all detectives in real life, right? It’s like, oh, they can’t resist going back to the scene of the crime. So Randall knows this. He’s not dumb. So what is tormenting Randall must be so strong for him to come to do that. Secondly, of course, he’s going to go to the very top of the police department, because he doesn’t believe he thinks, you know, just reasonably that the the person who’s not on the street all the time, the supervisor of all the beat cops, is going to give him a fair shake than the beat cops who see him all the time like Dawson. Right? So he doesn’t want to talk to Dawson, because Dawson has already judged him to be guilty. This guy, this guy, Watson, he doesn’t know very well, but he’s certainly not Dawson’s boss. So he’s got to really test Watson to make sure that he’s different than Dawson. Right. And so the problem space, he’s terrified of talking to someone who is not the supervisor, because he could get arrested and thrown in for the murder. They can easily pin this on him. He already admitted to being at the scene of the crime. He said he witnessed it. Hey, we all know this crazy guy. Look at him. He’s he’s all disheveled. He’s rocking back and forth. He’s obviously guilty for killing the guy. Right? So Randall, that’s why he’s really working hard to put on a very strong exterior. Because if he shows this, this chaotic vulnerability, he could be thrown in jail and be committed, you know, he could be thrown in for the murder. So this goes now let me decide step backwards. And when you said that you didn’t have a clear story for Randall before he got to the station. That’s clear to in the iteration that you put forward. Right? You did have a clear story for Watson. That’s why the police report is the signals coming through Randles is still fuzzy. So the I love the idea of Randall, sort of stealing the stuff. I also love the idea of the guy actually being alive after Randall left. So, you know, here’s just a thought that came to me as you were talking, which I so what if Randall sees this murder? And he notices and he believes that the COP is dead? And he says to himself, what’s going to harm me taking the money and his badge? No, he’s dead. Now it doesn’t matter. So he goes over, he takes the ball and the badge. And as he’s unpinning, the badge, the cop starts to gurgle, and show that he’s alive. And it terrifies Randall. So he picks up any runs like a bat out of hell out of that area. And then he’s, he’s like, Oh, what am I gonna do? What am I going to do, and he doesn’t go to the police. And then he sees the paper the next morning that the cop died. And he thought that maybe the cop would, would survive because he was alive when he left him. And now he realizes he should call the ambulance. And it’s tormenting him. And it’s not right. And not only that, he stole the money. And oh, my gosh, that’s too much for me to handle, is it worth me, maybe going to jail and being accused of the murder, that’s a chance I have to take, because what I did, is really bad. It’s one thing to take somebody’s money, who’s dead. It’s another thing to rob someone when they’re alive, and then run away and then have them die afterwards. And in fact, he committed a felony murder, because he stole and then the guy died. So that’s actually close to it’s you, he could be convicted for that. So what happens in felony murder is if you are robbing somebody in doing a crime, and then they end up dead. Even if it isn’t your own fault, you get thrown in the clink for murder. So he is actually guilty of felony murder. And so that’s why he’s going to be very careful. And when he slips, it could be his ass. And when Watson lets him leave, then it’s an even bigger deal, because Watson has made the judgment that he is not the killer. He was a victim of circumstance. And I’m not going to be pursuing that. That avenue of thought. It’s just, that’s sort of what came to me. And now you see the escalation of stakes. And it’s all locked into the problem space of justice, and corruption. And so Randalls totally locked into it now, as are Dawson, who’s a force of corruption. Watson, who’s a complex figure who’s doing his best to balance it. And then the lieutenant, who’s the darkest force of them all. So now you’re getting, you’re getting, you know, closer to understanding. So that now, as Danielle was absolutely right, let’s not fix the green until we consider the red. And so then, when she asked for Lesley to chime in, then Lesley, it was like, here’s the problem, that the essential tactics messed up. And the essential tactic has to be within the problem space. And so the tactic now works. I wanted to get the trust of a good cop, not a bad cop. I need to find a trustworthy, good cop in this steaming mess of corruption that we call the police department here and now. So that’s Randles essential tactic. And once he finds the good cop, he will then tell them, I will, I will be the witness and I will identify the killer until he does. No way because he could give me he could be thrown in the clinker.

Tim Grahl  53:49

Yeah, I love that. Well, because it also sets up Watson as a form of corruption too, because letting Rando get away is breaking the law to one thing that I think would be helpful for me, could you point out in eyewitness, where Struthers is testing capelli. I have the the beat map up here. So just tell me which beat and then I can I’ll link to this in the show notes too.

Danielle Kiowski  54:21

Okay. So there are a couple of instances, I think. And I’ll just look at one at a time and we can kind of talk through them. The first one is actually one that you brought up, Tim about when they’re first meeting in the precinct. And strether says, Well, do we have to talk here? So the way that that well, let’s? Let’s back up a little bit there, I think, because one of the things that we talked about as we’re going through is that trust worthiness and sensing trustworthiness is a multi sensory activity. So some of the These things we’re not seeing because we’re looking through capellini eyes rather than Struthers eyes. And that’s just you know how these things are happening. So some of the testing happens implicitly, before we see explicit testing, because Struthers is looking at the way that capelli looks at him and all of those things. So those those are implying. But where I’m seeing the explicit testing start to come through is when he says, Well, do we have to talk here? And so the reason that that is testing is that he’s asking for something. So already there in this negotiation, and capelli has said, Look, this is what I want from you. I want evidence, I want you to give me a reason to trust you that you saw the murderer or the mugging at this point. And Struthers says, Give me something first. And so you can think about this as like kind of like an anti right like these are we’re putting in a little bit just to show that we’re both in this together. And so if if Watson’s time and attention is currency, this is something that we say a lot, right is that attention is a moral act. And not Watson sorry, capelli. If capelli is attention, and time is a currency because the entire precinct is taken up with looking for the lieutenant’s wife’s murder. Then even his taking him into his office is a vote of confidence. And so Struthers is asking for something of value to show that that capelli is in the game. Not all the way in. He’s not saying pushing all your chips, but it’s an ante just to show that he’s in the bet. Vegas this is I don’t have the numbers on me. But Struthers says it’s Struthers looked around him suspiciously. Right. So suspiciously right there in the binding. That’s about testing trust. Well, do we have to talk here? And then Okay, so the output of beat a team is where Struthers is testing.

Leslie Watts  57:25

Right? And that that’s in trope three, which is negotiating terms, right. So that like that when you’re negotiating terms, you are both trying to get what you want, but also judging and testing the other person. And then in trope for when, you know, similarly, which is I think that was the part that I was talking about earlier is that that’s delivering the script. So he starts as Struthers starts telling his story, he starting with details that are less problematic. And then and capelli doesn’t freak out about it. capelli is just like, Okay, go on. All right, you know, like all that affirmative kind of stuff. And that’s when Struthers has something tips for Struthers in his mind, he’s become comfortable. It’s almost

Tim Grahl  58:27

like he’s so relieved to have somebody that like now that he trusts he just kind of like Oh, thank God and then he trips because capelli isn’t trustworthy to a certain extent because he has a different goal than Struthers does. Right? So same thing with mine, where he’s just going to be random is just going to be so relieved that he has a cop that’s actually listening to him actually taking his story actually trying to help them that then he’s going to trip over it. Because Watson isn’t in it for the same reasons. Okay, so I feel this is super helpful. I feel really good about this. How would you sum up? Like, because last time, we talked about a lot of different stuff, and it really nailed that narrative devices, like all these things, you’re going to change they’re kind of about the narrative device. So the things we’ve talked about here are, one is I think it’s super helpful that I’m getting clear on what Randall did before he saw the murder, or before he came into the precinct between when he saw the murder and came into the precinct. What actually went down with the murder and his involvement, and then making sure I don’t change the facts. I spin the facts, which I agree when you said that if like this is a good skill for you to build. I liked that because that’s also that’s how we always talk about like, right Why writing memoir is so hard because you have to, you actually have to tell the truth, but you have to spin it to fit. You have to edit it to fit your what you’re trying to say. And then that Randall has to say I do a good job of Watson testing Randall, but I don’t have Randall test Watson, he gets something in return as well. So that’s what I’m hearing that I need to work on this week. How would you kind of sum that up? What would you? What is that, that I’ve got to make the change?

Leslie Watts  1:00:36

So if the way I’m thinking about it is kind of the way I talked about it at the very beginning, is that understanding the raw material, right? Like what actually happened? What’s the truth? So you got a big component of that. But you’ve got some other pieces to fill in. And then there’s the so that’s kind of about the the context level, like context, the broader context of the story. So then at the red level, it’s about that, how are you spinning those facts? Right, and that, so that’s a narrative device, because I’m having I’m trying to help Sam solve a problem, how do I spin what actually happened in the broader context of the story, to illuminate Sam’s problem, and then down at the green level, it’s that essential tactic, and in that one trope that we’re really talking about? What happens is, and you pointed this out, he gets what he wants, right? So we’re pursuing art, we’re using our essential tactic to try to get what we want. He wants to unburden himself. And so when he has that willing listener, that’s when it turns and the question makes him vulnerable. So so it’s really making going through it, I think that’s at the trope level, looking at the central tactic, and the micro strategy, and then how that fails. Or you know, the outcome, he could get what he wants, and that’s a problem, or it could fail. And that’s a problem. So really looking at it at that level, I think is where you fix that item within the act of buildup leading to break down.

Danielle Kiowski  1:02:29

Yeah, and those breakdowns are going to be critical, because you don’t really have them right now. And I wonder if there’s a way into it, just going through like the way that you went through last time, sentence by sentence and you said, Okay, does this fit the narrative device or not? What I’m thinking a tactical way to do this might be is just go through and everything associated with Randall, say, after you do the work of coming up with what Randall is all about, when you see Randles outputs, when you see descriptions of Randall, anything about Randall, does this align with my conception of who Randall is as an avatar? And then try not to change the other people so much like change them if you need to, to get continuity, but try and leave Watson alone. Try to leave Dawson alone and Wilson alone at the stage and only change what’s going on with Randall too, to align with your new understanding of him. Because in my mind that like if we narrow it down to you’re changing one variable, that variable is Randall in this go around, and then we’ll, you know, one thing at a

Tim Grahl  1:03:36

time, I won’t I won’t be done after that.

Danielle Kiowski  1:03:40

I hate to break it to him.

Shawn Coyne  1:03:43

Yeah, I don’t have anything to add. I think that’s exactly right. It’s It’s, uh, the narrative devices is signaling better. But the protagonist is still a little fuzzy. And so that’s what you’re going to focus on and Daniel, with the breakdowns hit the place where those are, are not working because you don’t have any and then Lesley’s central tactic tells you how to do those breakdowns. The breakdowns are going to come when the trustworthiness is broken. Or he gets he believes that he’s trustworthy, and then he slips because he’s been he doesn’t recognize that Watson still a cop. He’s not your friend. He’s there to covertly get you to give up information. But But the beautiful thing of this story is that Watson is a good cop. And that he is trustworthy. But this moment of crisis will say A, oh my god, he just gave a bad cop ammunition to throw him in jail. What’s going to happen next? And then we see that Watson, together Watson and Randall increase the probability of justice, because they are both essentially good people who want justice served. And they’re also very good at the hierarchy of justice. Should Randall go to prison for felony murder? No, that’s not a just solution to this problem. The lieutenant should go to jail for the rest of his life, let’s increase the probability of that happening and decrease the probability of an innocent man who was in a bad place at a bad time, under extraordinary, extraordinary stresses, making a really bad choice that could destroy his life. We’re gonna let that one go, because he had the courage to come in here. And accidentally tell me that that’s what’s happened. That’s, that’s, that’s the makings of a very beautiful story. So this is all very technical. But when it comes down to it, this is our goal state, right? We are we are trying to empathize with Randall, we are trying to empathize with Watson, we are trying to understand the behavior of Dawson and the lieutenant. And so that’s what you’ve been doing. You’ve bridged the theoretical, I gotta pick my genre, and my bah, bah, bah, bah, bah. And you’re moving that into your experiential and thinking about what it would be like to be Watson, what it would be like to be Dawson, what it’d be like to be Randall and what it would be like to be the lieutenant, and then you’re mapping, and then you’re executing. And your execution is a little fuzzy at some points right now. But that’s why you have editors who can help you clarify. Right. And now, all of that stuff that you know, now the pieces of the puzzle are in your mind, you know, now you know, all the backstory, here’s what happened, there was a cop who was doing something and another cop found him killed him for some reason, Randall stumbled upon it took the money, baba, baba, bah. So all that is in your mind. And now you can execute that from a different different point of view, with the narrative device coming from Watson. But if you don’t map all of that stuff in your mind, and it’s fuzzy, it’s too general. And it doesn’t lock for Sam. So over these past weeks, that’s what we’ve been working on is to teach you how to map your personal experience of what it’s like to be Tim, on to these avatars that are part of you. They didn’t come out of Lesley or Danielle or I, they came out of Tim, these people named Watson, Randall Dawson, and Lieutenant those are Tim’s so you are the one who is who has to map put the territory onto the map of those constructs. Again, I speak abstractly. But anyway, that here’s let me just review what you’re supposed to do. Keep your eye on Randall and do everything in your power not to change any of the other avatars in the scene. They are all generally in pretty good shape. So just focus on Randall, focus on his essential tactic, which is to test this police department to find himself a good cop that he can tell the real story to. And then the breakdown of when he slips, because his script is running too quickly. And he runs out of rope. And then he gets asked a question and he autonomically gives the truth. And he stumbles upon himself. And now it’s interesting now it’s like, oh, boy. Oh boy, what’s going on now?

Danielle Kiowski  1:09:26

Okay. Something that we’ve been struggling with over the past few weeks is that you did not connect to these avatars and didn’t didn’t have a way into the controlling idea. And so we’ve been talking a little bit about when you did the scene from a wizard of Earth see that it was you connected with it, but in an opposite way. So it was a little bit easier for us to find a way in because we just had to flip it. And that when we did the scene from beat the Reaper, it was very close to what you wanted to explore and I just wanted to note that what I thought was really cool is I feel like this week you really found a way into the problem space with the idea of, of Randall leaving officer barns to die. And and what occurred to me was when we asked you to pick a masterwork scene yourself, you pick the scene from if we were villains, and that’s the same kind of problem space, right? And so it’s not, it’s not like that is the same as the ED McBain theme. But what you’re saying is, Oh, here’s another problem that gripped me when I saw it, I’m really interested in exploring that kind of a dynamic. And it is somehow portable into this other instance. So it’s like, if you imagine those kids on that dock that’s your backstory. It’s a little different. You know, it’s it’s wherever Randalls campus, and it’s like, it’s different. But you’re telling that story that was really gripping to you, at a different point in time. This is when they’re, when they’re talking to the police, or if they had decided to come forward. This is what it’s like. And so it’s in a problem space that you’ve already shown an affinity for, and that when you have the agency to choose something, that’s what you chose. And so I think it’s cool that those two things are coming together at this point.

Tim Grahl  1:11:30

Thanks for listening to this episode of The Story Grid Podcast. As always, you can go to story grid.com. To see everything that we’re doing at Story Grid, sign up for the newsletter, so you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid Universe. If you want to check out the show notes, the transcript and the downloads for this episode, or any past episodes of the podcast, you can do that as story grid.com/podcast. If you’re interested in seeing all the other resources we have available, we’re putting out daily videos, among other things, you can go to story grid.com/resources. Also, we have several books available through our publishing house to help you on your journey. As a writer, we have masterwork guides, we have smaller books that really point individual topics. For instance, if you’re interested in these ideas around point of view, we have a book point of view. So you can go to story grid.com/books And check out those as well. Now, as always, if you want to support the show, there’s two things that you can do that really make a big difference. So the first is telling another writer about the show, get them listening, send them all the way back to Episode One and having them start working through it. ton of great content here. I think this is episode 274. So we got lots of stuff out there for you. Along with that if you want to help spread the word, you can go to Apple podcasts and leave us a rating and review. Thanks as always for being a part of our community here at Story Grid, and we’ll 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.