Episode 269: Two Factor Problems: The Must-Have for Writing Captivating Stories


Hello, and welcome to this 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, and he’s an editor and writer with over 30 years of experience. Along with him is Leslie watts, the editor in chief of Story Grid Publishing, and Danielle Kiowski, the Chief Academic Officer at Story Grid University. In this episode, we continue the 624 analysis of my short story. So this was really good for me because I picked up where we left off last week with Leslie and I continue to fill out the 620 for myself looking at all the different ways that I diverge from the masterwork scene we’ve been working on I witnessed by Ed McBain, it was really informative for me. And in this episode, I got a lot of insights into understanding how that one little thing of not changing the protagonist affects the entire story. So it was really helpful for me to work through it, I’m really excited for you to listen to it as well. Now, before we jump in, I want to remind you that we’re hosting the narrative path workshop this coming November in Nashville, Tennessee. So if you’re interested in that whole part of the 624, where we look at point of view, narrative device and pop, this is something that as you’ve seen, really, really helps when it comes to planning out your own work and writing your own stories. We’re doing a full workshop on that, this coming November. To learn more about that, go to story grid.com And click training at the top and there’s more information there. Okay, that’s it. Let’s go ahead and jump in and get started. Okay, so let’s start with who we are and why we’re here.


We’ve got Tim who’s working on an execution of a masterwork short story being inspired by the short story I witnessed by Ed McBain. So Tim is our writer here. And then we have three editors, we’ve got myself who’s representing the blue zone of the big archetypical, macro patterns of intelligibility of all stories of all time. And then we’ve got Lesley in the red zone. And Lesley is working at the level of information processing and making sure that the information and the energy is transferred to Sam, our single audience member with coherence such that Sam can piece together the energy and the information to create the meaning for herself. And the ultimate goal of Sam is to solve a particular problem for Sam, which is a double factor problem


when to prioritize one sort of virtue space over another to be very abstract and blue about it. But that’s what a double factor problem is. When is it appropriate to emphasize one virtue over another? When is my well being not as important as the well being of all, something like that? Lastly, we have Danielle, who’s our green zone master, and she is responsible for analyzing the actual words on the page. So Danielle is sort of our quantum mechanical physicist who looks at the actuality of words on the page in syntactical order, such that that energy and information is clear.


And specific to Sam, our single AUDIENCE MEMBER So again, all three of us the blue, the red, and the green, we work together and all editors have all three of those sorts of levels within themselves. And it’s it’s important to know which level you’re talking about and when you’re talking about it. Okay, so we have Ed McBain short story, eyewitness. We’ve laborious laborious ly gone through all three of those levels on multiple levels in our 624 analysis, which is a Story Grid tool and technique. And Tim then use that analysis to create his own short story. And what he did with that short story is that he changed the time period and the context of the story. So we change ed McBain 1950s, New York City urban zone into the 2022 urban zone of Nashville, Tennessee. So he tweaked the time more than he did the context. But there are there are changes in the context nevertheless. So two of the variables have changed. And the last variable that Tim changed was the controlling idea. And the controlling idea that he changed is very, very interesting and hot. It’s a hot salient topic for Tim, which is great when you’re a writer because then when you’re dealing with a controlling idea that has very meaning


For to you, it’s much easier to solve problems. So the fact that Tim was able to change three variables from the eyewitness story by Ed McBain the time signature,


the context and the controlling idea is terrific, because that will increase the probability that Tim’s short story is sufficiently different from Ed McBain short story to make it in original creation that Tim can claim as his own. That does not mean that Tim will not tell people that he was inspired by Ed McBain, right. So we don’t want to copy and plagiarize. great works of art, we want to be inspired by them. So one of the things we’ve discovered in this podcast is the means by which we we can convert, copying to inspiration is by changing variables. And three variables that Tim has changed are the controlling idea, that’s a Blue Zone.


The context, which is very much the green zone, and see the time period, I guess, would be somewhere in the red zone. I’m not I’m not quite sure on that I’m just playing around with it. But I do think that the means by which we can be inspired by a story without copying and plagiarizing. It requires that we change three variables at the very minimum. And those variables would have to be sort of in those dimensionalities of space and time and controlling idea. So the space is the context, the time is the time.


And the


the controlling idea is, you know the gestalt of the entire story. So that’s the blue zone. Okay, so with that what we’re doing now is we’re walking through the differences between Tim short story and Ed McBain short story and we’re finding the error messages where Tim has gone off the path of the ED McBain protocol, such that his short story isn’t a short story. Tim’s short story is not a short story right now. So we want to convert Tim’s really nicely done scene into a short story that has a beginning middle and an end. And it has a closed loop that is reminiscent and inspired by eyewitness. So the means by which we’re doing that is we’re finding the error messages meaning the places where Tim died diverged from Ed McBain protocol. And we’re going to make a list of them. And then Tim is going to go back and revise his scene and go back and fix those divergent places such that hopefully, he will then make a convergence story that is a whole in and of itself. So last week, what we found was the first error message. And that first error message was that Tim never pushed the protagonist from the detective who he calls Watson into the victim, who is a person named Randall. So what we ended up where we last left off, was Lesley was walking us through the 624 to find more errors messages, that tension should concentrate on when he does his revision. And I believe we’re somewhere at the the proposition of possibility, which is our pop statement, which is right in that sort of liminal place between the blue and the red. So let me unless anyone has any corrections to that recap.


Let me turn it right over to Lesley and she can start walking us through again, the proposition of possibility and with with the goal state of finding additional things that Tim will have to fix in his next draft. Okay, great. So in the proposition of possibility or the pop, we start with what is the context of the whole system setting. And we’ve identified that in in eyewitness as the criminal justice system circa 1950. Big City, we have the the highly tightly ordered structure of the police department with where there are definitely people at the top and people at the bottom. And there’s discretion that leads to the possibility of corruption and tyranny. And so those are all vital aspects of the context in the ED McBain story. So Tim, why don’t you talk us through the


Uh, the differences in your story where you found where you took Ed McBain formula and and adjusted it. Yeah, so some we’ve already addressed, and


but I’ll just kind of go over them in my own words. So yeah, the first one would be the context. So we’re in the proposition of possibility. So the context


it’s 2022, in Nashville, Tennessee instead of night just 1950 and kind of a vague big city.


And the, the way I wrote this, so the way it was an eyewitness, it was discretion within hierarchy.


So the possibility of corruption and tyranny, retribution and vengeance is widespread. And what we talked about some last week is it’s not really widespread in this particular hierarchy. It’s actually pointed at just the captain. So he’s corrupt and has hidden criminal activity, and he uses his place in the hierarchy to hide that criminal activity.


Do you feel like that’s worded correctly, that feels accurate? Now, what I want to make sure we understand is how this changes the context for your story, because that corruption is part of the double factor problem, that that all the avatars within the system have to deal with, have to reckon with so


one thing we want to think about is the corruption is part of the reason why Struthers is so afraid to come forward, and why he insists on talking only to Lieutenant Anderson. So we want to think about it in your story. How does if if corruption is not endemic? Why does Randall fear coming forward? And how is that affecting everybody in the in the context? Well, should should this be tied to the controlling idea? Like should I be thinking about it through that lens?


Well, so then I guess, I guess maybe I’m wrong.




the corruption from the point of if I gotta use these words correctly, so if I’m looking at it through the lens of the controlling idea that corruption is widespread, because the reason the witness is afraid to come forward is because he knows he’s not gonna People like him are not treated well. So it’s not corruption in the way that we think of normal police corruption, but it is a corruption from the standpoint of Randall of, I’m not, I’m not going to be treated well in this context, right. So there’s a bias in the system against people like Randall that makes him afraid to come forward and share what he knows. Does that sound accurate? Yeah. Okay, great. And I think that, that is a good, that’s a good substitution for what Ed McBain is doing with the corruption in the system. So we want to make sure that we’re seeing that in, of course, in Watson, we want to make sure we’re seeing that in the actions of the captain in your story. And we want to make sure that also we’re seeing that in the


in the action of


Dawson, who is the other officer who’s present in the in the scene. So that would be something that you would add to a little you know, a checklist for that for making sure that your context. And everybody’s all of the avatars are dealing with that double factor problem, that there’s a bias and how are they responding to the bias against people like Randall? Yeah, I think it is there are a lot of it’s there, but probably on a rewrite, I could make it pump it up a little bit. Yeah. And since that’s part of what we’re, I’m assuming that’s part of what we’re going to illuminate for Sam, we definitely want to make sure that every beat is kind of is signaling that sending that signal. So that would be yes, definitely something we want to double check. Sean and Daniel, do you have anything you want to add to that? I just I just have one quick little thing. And it’s just an observation. So my observation is that Tim said


that there’s only corruption by one figure in the entire story, and that’s the captain. So it wasn’t until you were able to get him to see


that the whole soup had more corruption, much more corruption embedded inside of it than he was initially taking into account. So now Tim made what we call a transparency to opacity shift. And now he’s identifying Oh, oh, yeah, right. So bias is a corruption of the system because it is not treating people with the equanimity that they deserve, you know, ideally, right. So, obviously, we all operate on biases. But that transparency to opacity shift now is going to be an enabler for Tim, to go back to his story and find those places where he actually did put in the corruption and demonstrate the bias and really hone them in so that they’re very, very tight and specific. They’re pretty good right now. I mean, I had no problem picking that up. And I don’t think YouTube did either. But now Tim is going to see that his unconscious bias sort of that he’s now put, put his finger on it. And so what you just did was really cool, is because you enabled Tim, to see something in his story that he hadn’t seen before that was actually already in there. And so now, that’s not a problem. And he has artfully


put in the corruption that’s necessary for this kind of story. Unconsciously, which is really cool. Yeah, I wanted to jump off of that too, and talk about this as a general principle for masterwork study and iteration. And it’s something that we do in the guild, too, which is that when you’re working within a genre, it can seem really limiting to it to feel like you have to have the same controlling idea or the same shift. And I think that what you just did in that conversation is to look at what is the flavor of the Revelation? So if we say Not that it’s finding out the corruption goes higher than you would think in the police department. But if we abstract that more, and we say, what is it


that is preventing the police in this system or whatever law it they’re policing both systems, but if we had a different system, we would think a different system, what’s preventing them from fulfilling their role in the best way possible. And so then, that’s the revelation is that that limitation goes higher. So that’s something that you can do when you’re studying masterworks is look at the flavor of the value shift, and get a completely different way of expressing that genre that still works with the masterwork pattern, because it’s still working on that same spectrum of value. Great. Okay, so then we move on to who is the protagonist, and is the protagonist a fish out of water or defender of the pond? As we’ve talked about, Struthers is the protagonist of eyewitness, he’s a fish out of water. And so he must either conform to the norms of the context, or differentiate. And we also talked briefly last time about how about how it is in your story currently. So can you talk us through that? Just what we found and, and how it’s different? Yeah, so in mind, the protagonist is the detective. So Watson, in this case, and instead of a fish out of water, he’s an indigenous member of the pond protecting his pond from both


the corruption of the captain and the unknown entity of the witness. Okay, so we and we talked about how that that does shift things, right, because strether is in is in a very different position from what Watson in terms of the story. So that’s something that is we would say,


well, we would want to, you know, ask the question, is this a problem for iterating? The pattern or is it not? So if you think about the problem faced by Watson, and the problem faced by Struthers, do you think can we abstract it to a point where they have the same problem? Or is it? Is it too different that we actually can’t get the we can’t actually iterate the pattern?


Yeah, I feel like


Watson cannot stand in the gap to show us what it feels like to be under this kind of corruption. And so I do think it has to be from Randles point of view. If we’re trying to get Sam to understand what it’s like to live with this kind of corruption than I


I think the protagonist has to be living under that kind of corruption. Right? I think that


Sam has to be in the same position as the protagonist, and that that’s part of they can’t have the same. It’s not the same problem space. If the if they’re not coming at it from the same direction,


you know, into or out of the pond. So yeah, I think that’s, that’s definitely something we want to add to the error message list. But it is an interesting one. It’s an interesting variation. If you weren’t looking to iterate this pattern. That’s an interesting variation that you could explore. So yes, we have the inciting incident in ED McBain is witnessing a murder. And so what is inciting the in the protagonist here? So I actually realized I have two different answers on this. So because we’re, we have, well, this always be the same as the five commandments inciting incident, it should be. Okay. So I have here the captain commits the murder. But then I lower down I have an unknown witness arrives at the precinct claiming to have information on the murder. So I feel like it’s probably in this particular scene.


And what incites the protagonist? Well, so I think what has me going back and forth is what is inciting the protagonist. So in this particular scene, it’s the


the witness showing up. But in a larger context, it’s the fact that there was a murder. So in some of this is a bit kind of moot because we’re going to change the protagonist back to Brandl. And so whatever is inciting my current protagonists doesn’t actually matter when I cut when I get back to the rewrite.


Well, I feel like his goal state is to. So this is where when I started thinking through it, and maybe we can get into that further down, but I realized, like,


actually, oh,


lower down, I start thinking through like he could have


Watson could have gotten the same information by just showing a picture of the captain


to the witness, right, putting out 10 pictures, and one of them’s a captain, the guy pointed out, he’s like, that’s great. Now, he knows for sure. But there’s something he was getting out of letting making sure the captain knows that. I know that he’s the murderer. Right. So that’s at the end of the scene, what he was actually trying to get out of it was not just him getting


confirmation that the captain was the murderer. He wanted to do it in a way where the captain knows that he knows but he can’t do it. The captain can’t come at him about it yet. So


which just makes it you know, again, looking at the


the, the controlling idea here just makes it even worse, what he did, but


but so I feel like the goal state I have here he wants to expose the captain’s criminal activity while protecting himself from retribution in the process. But as I answered the rest of the questions, I think that is true. But the other goal state, there’s more to it, and I think it is he wants to expose the captain, while also letting the captain know what he knows. Right because that is different from the masterwork seen from my witnesses like


capelli he’s not trying to put himself in an awkward position.


You know, we’re in my scene is he’s purposely doing this to put himself in the situation. Okay. So when we’re talking about the protagonist goal state in the in the pop,


when does that goal state arise? Or we might say from where does that goal state arise? Well, I


mean, it arises from the inciting incident doesn’t it from? Right. Yeah. So from the inciting incident. So when the so when you’re looking at how to solve this, or just identifying it, we look at, there’s a murder committed.


And then what does what does the protagonist want?


from that? So we don’t


correct me if I’m wrong. Watson doesn’t know that it’s the captain until we’re beyond the inciting incident.


So his desire to expose the criminal the captain’s criminal activity isn’t arising until after after that, is that correct? Well, what did we identify as the inciting incident of this? Is it the witness showing up? Or is it the murder happening? Well, let’s see. So what, what, as written, you have the witness showing up? So when the witness shows up, I think the goal state is, can I use this guy to expose the captain?


Because what we talked about before is at the beginning of this scene, Watson already suspects the captain.


He already thinks it’s him. So what he’s doing is using Randall to prove that he’s right. Okay.


Okay, so when he’s, so he just want he wants to use Randall to expose the captain. Yeah. So again, thinking if this is where I’d like kind of feel this, like


expanding and contracting constantly, because it’s like, well,


this is sits in a bigger story. But we’re also going to pull it back down into this, but in the way it sits in the bigger story, how I would assume is at this point at the beginning of this scene,


Watson’s really frustrated because he knows at his core that it’s the captain, but he has no proof. And he’s kind of just stuck in this feeling of I know it was him, but I can’t prove it. And I have no way to I don’t even know where to go next. And then this guy drops in, that gives him exactly what he needs.




so to me, the


the eyewitness walking in,


is the inciting incident. And which then, reinvigorates the goal state of like, oh, I can use this guy to prove that I’m right. To prove that cat, the captain is the


so I think the goal state is to expose the captain’s criminal activity.


Okay, so that’s as it’s that says it’s written now.


You’ll need to readjust that when you change the protagonist, the way you wrote the scene,


is to get power over the Captain, it’s not to expose the captain. Because if you just wanted to expose the captain, he would have done a lineup and done it in public. And that’s that would have resulted in justice being mended, right. So justice would have prevailed if he did it in public. However, he did not do it in public. So we don’t know whether justice will actually be served at the end of your scene. But what we do know is that Watson is playing some kind of covert game in which he is now in a position of power over the most powerful figure in the police department. And so that raises the intrigue and Sam to think, wonder what Watson’s game is, maybe Watson wants to get away with stealing all the money from all the drug dealers in Nashville, and he needs the captain to turn a blind eye. So he’s got this dark information, right. So so that’s why your short story isn’t while you’re seeing is not a short story, because it does not resolve the value at the end of the day. We do not feel confident that that that justice is closer to or further away from




Can I ask a question about this? So


right? So I’m looking at this if I look at eyewitness, and we had kept capelli, if say I rewrote that scene, and capelli was the protagonist, it would probably again feel like it was in a bigger story. It was one scene and a bigger story is the reason why it felt wrapped up is because because


Struthers the witness was the protagonist. This was his full story. In this greater context, we didn’t see him before, and we’re never going to see him again. It was this one little bit. And so the that because the protagonist, I think I’m just real finally understanding what you’ve been telling me for, you know, 20 weeks, but I think that’s the I think that help of thinking through like, Oh,


we don’t have to see Struthers, again to understand everything about Struthers and because he was the protagonist, that’s why this this short story felt wrapped up. Where he’s resolved. Yeah, okay. He’s resolved. In your mind. It’s a resolution. It’s a loop that has been closed. And now Struthers, you you know, you don’t need to know anything more about Struthers. So it’s a closed loop. So


that’s exactly right. That’s you’re looking at it in terms of like a dynamical system. And that’s really smart. So the protagonist, you need to close the loop on the protagonist to to, to resolve a story. So if if it was just capelli, then yeah, we would want we need more information about capelli to see what’s going to happen to Cavalli.


So if capelli wins in the end, then it’s resolved. If he loses in the end, then it’s resolved. But at least there’s a level of resolution and in a crime story, that resolution and the protagonist,


the resolution of the value in the resolution of the protagonist or a simultaneous wrap tying up of loose ends, if you will, so that we feel whole, at the end of end, if we don’t feel whole, like we did with eyewitness, we go back and we go, I should feel whole something’s not quite right. Oh, I get it now. So it’s a it’s a little easter egg in the story. Sorry. I’ll stop there. But you’re right. Yes. Yeah, I also wanted to talk a little bit about something, something about switching out the protagonist, which is that


I think it’s absolutely right, that the inciting incident would change if you switched out the protagonist, because the witness walking in knocks, Watson’s life, out of balance, witnessing the crime knocks Randles life out of balance. So that’s one consideration. But I think, as we’re thinking about the implications of switching out the protagonist, we also need to think about


what it means that they coexist, and we’re talking about the context. So I think this is the right place to do it, that they coexist in the system. And we have a worldview revelation story. So one of the things that makes eyewitness work is that the detective and the witness and Sam all undergo the same revelation. And so that’s something that we need to be thinking about as we develop the context is what what’s the revelation space that all three of those avatars or all two of those avatars plus Sam, are going to undergo in order to actualize the controlling idea of your story.


So it’s not just a matter of shifting and keeping everything the same. It’s like everything needs to coalesce into this harmonious exploration of this revelation space. Okay, so


do you have any other questions about the pop? No, no, I think that’s good. Okay, so then we move on to the narrative device and we have for Ed McBain we start with who’s the author? We have a sovereign Threshold Guardian detective who’s explaining the system as if in a report.


And so do you have any differences


with respect to that? No. I mean, we identified a couple of places where I broke out of that, but we would that they were pretty small and that is what I’m still trying to do. And so as I would say, like, No, I think that’s the same right so last time when we talked about this, Danielle identified that there was too much bye


Finding or too much evaluative


text within it to have it fulfill they as if so it’s not, it’s not fully creating the effect of the narrative device. So the interesting thing is that on first read, it really worked, the prose was engaging or is engaging. So we don’t really notice it. It’s only when we kind of get into these deeper levels of analysis that it jumps out at us. But the thing that the story doesn’t have, because of that is that sort of mind leap or that sensation of space that we get when we read eyewitness and then get to the end and have that moment that Shawn was talking about, just a moment ago, about when we’re like, wait, what, and then we go back to the top and then we get it. So it doesn’t have that effect. And that’s part of what makes the story of masterwork. So we really want to tightly constrain around that narrative device in order to accomplish that effect. So them we after the author, we have the single Audience Member Ed McBain is a young officer, someone who has information that could bring someone to justice and they need to get that information up the chain with plausible deniability to try to protect themselves. So when we do you have any differences?


In your story, yes, I feel like it’s still a young officer. But instead of


what you just read, I What I wrote is someone who wants to seek justice at the expense of hurting and endangering people in the process and needs to learn that the ends do not justify the means. Okay, so what we have with the, with eyewitness where the protagonist is Struthers, then we have Sam, who is also in the witnessing function, and also in the role of victim. Right? Because it’s like because of what they know, they are


in potential danger. Whereas it sounds like what you’re saying is that what Watson is a potential perpetrator. Does that sound accurate? Watson in your story,


as protagonist, because Sam is kind of in the protagonists position. So Watson is a potential perpetrator. And it sounds like you’re saying that your SAM is as well. Yeah. And I wondered this. Because, again, you know, this is reflecting what’s currently written. But I’m also wondering if this will, will stay the same on my rewrite? Because


I think so in I witness, the young officer is trying to figure out what to do.


And I think


it’s interesting. So in mine, I think what Leslie was getting at is absolutely on on point when she asked you about, is Sam, a potential perpetrator? Or is Sam a potential victim? If Sam is a potential perpetrator, then your protagonist as perpetrator is on point. So then it becomes a cautionary tale of or not about.


It’s a story about a perpetrator, teaching someone not to be a perpetrator or how to be a perpetrator and get away with it.


Whereas the McBain story was about a victim protagonist. Therefore, Sam was a victim, a potential victim. So Sam is the young officer with information that could damage her reputation if she gives it away without protecting herself.


Just as Struthers was so know if, if you change the protagonist, the central protagonist of your story to a victim, Sam is a victim to no matter what. You cannot play this game. Where Sam is it playing a different role than the protagonist does because Sam sees the world as the protagonist does. So they have to align. The protagonist and Sam half have to be playing either the role of victim perpetrator or


or savior or seller out or whatever the third, the third in the triangle, right? So in an interaction you have someone who’s, you know, the antagonist to the protagonist, and then you have the witness to that interaction. And that witness can either be


an interventionist or a non interventionist. I don’t want to get too deep here. But


But Leslie’s point was, if you have a protagonist who’s a perpetrator, Sam is a potential perpetrator, too. If you have a protagonist who’s a victim, then Sam is a potential victim, too. And that’s how you keep that channel.


It’s like tuning like, if you’re playing country in western music, Sam has to love country and western music, so that when you play the country in western music, Sam gets it.


That’s probably a strange analogy, but that’s information theory, channeling stuff. I just have one question on this. And I’m sure it’s one of those where, like, I’m sure I’m wrong, but I, I need a little clarity on it. So I think the way I was thinking of this was, if I’m me as the author, right, so let’s say like, okay, so I have, you know, my 16 year old, and I see him making a series of decisions that’s going to lead to his downfall. And so I tell him a story about somebody.


Or it could lead to the downfall of himself, but other people around him, right. So I tell him a story about


somebody who is on the receiving end of these kinds of decisions. Right? So like, I think about let’s turn this around, let’s say I’m being a bad father, right. But I think I’m doing it right. In the way I’m doing it right is just like disciplining my child constantly, right? In though somebody comes along and tells me a story from the from the in the protagonist is a child who had a over disciplinary father. Like that. That’s telling it to a perpetrator, but it’s trying to get the perpetrator to see it from the point of view of a victim. So can the that’s how I was thinking of this is like the SAM is the perpetrator. And the author is telling a story from the protagonist viewpoint of victim to try to get that perpetrator to change. Yes, you’re going down, you’re going down a metaphysical wormhole. Okay. And it’s, it’s tricky, because once you start doing that, then you’re mixing up your channels. Okay, right. So the channel that you just talked about, was a blue channel. And so the blue channel is about


an argument that the artist is making to Sam’s in general or Sam specifically.


But the nobody wants to listen to an argument. So what you do is you drop down into this red level, where you have a narrative device. And that narrative device is a sub component of you as an artist. So you put on a me space of like being a cop. I’m going to play the role of a cop named Watson.




Because that’s what Ed McBain has done, right? And then admin, then you have to parse out how that red communication channel works. And make sure eventually, that it does conform to the to the blue zone and the green zone itself. But what you just did there is is often what people do, is they trick themselves by going up to a different level of analysis. And then they get all confused, because everyone has victims within themselves. Everyone is a perpetrator. No one is just one thing.


So your son, let’s see, you could be he could be like, it’s like what Fred Rogers always say, remember, you were once a child to


write. So Fred Rogers was trying to get people to start looking through the lens of the wonder of a child


so that they could see the world through a child’s eyes, such that they would think twice about how they behave in front of children.


Right, because you don’t want to break them.


magical spell of childhood by giving them a bunch of propositions from an adult, because they it’s not cool. It’s they can’t handle it. So that’s what he meant by that. So we all, even even Tim right now has little Tim inside of him.


Right. And so you as author can talk to little Tim, who was probably a victim and a perpetrator and all kinds of things. So, but when you’re talking about the red zone, and this is, this is why Lesley is reading, leading this charge. Leslie’s got to make sure that these things are aligned, that your protagonist is speaking to the role of Sam and that they are, they are convergent. So your protagonist, if the protagonist is a perpetrator, then the author is looking at Sam as a perpetrator, too. And it’s probably a cautionary tale, unless it’s an evil author.


Evil meaning trying to get people to want to add them or get into that. But, but if it’s a victim victim deal, then it’s a, here’s, here’s how to navigate the situation. So you don’t get victim that you don’t become a victim. And then the other one would be, here’s a way to navigate your situation so that you don’t become a perpetrator.


So it’s this really kind of cool, covert narrative mission that shows instead of telling instead of saying, don’t be a perpetrator, okay, I won’t do that. But sometimes you have to be a perpetrator, if someone is hurting somebody else, and you have to intervene. And so you have to go no, no, no, no, you’re going to stop that right now. So you’re antagonizing someone who’s antagonizing somebody else. So all in all this means to say is that whenever you get stuck, and you start toggling into different zones, and you start thinking about these, these hyperfast, actuals, or these, these counterfactuals, at different levels, just go way way, what am I, I’m looking at the red zone right now, because I’m talking about narrative device. And in the red zone, if my protagonist is a perpetrator, Sam’s got to be a perpetrator. And leave it at that. Because you can check your controlling idea later, to see if it’s, if it’s working, right, this, you know, to, to bring back something that Daniel, Daniel said earlier about the nature of the Revelation, and we think about the effect of the, of the communication. If, if Sam has the problem, that she may become a perpetrator? Is it better for her to see the


to see the victim going through her trials?


Where she might still hold on to the bias that she has against that victim? Or is it better for her to see a potential perpetrator


change her mind or not, and then see the result of that. Right, so she changes her mind, and it’s prescriptive. And if there’s a positive ending, then that’s better for Sam, because Sam sees that arc puts herself in that perpetrator shoes, and says, Oh, whoa, I that’s who I want to be, I want to change my mind. Or when it’s cautionary, oh, I don’t want to be that person. So that’s, it’s just a more effective way to communicate to Sam about the problem. And that creates also the relevance filter for what you’re adding in the story. So this is our this is kind of our global communication model. But then that that bubbles down or filters down to all the things that Danielle talks about, with the specific word choice, what where we’re directing Sam’s attention, and that sort of thing. So that’s why this is so important to get lined up. Yeah, thanks for bringing up the revelation space again, because I think


we need to be very clear, as you’ve both talked about Leslie and Shawn at the red level, and make sure that we pick a consistent narrative device. And then what we get through the combination of the pop context and the execution is that we get Tim exactly what you’re talking about, which is that flip flop of Revelation. So we’re building this system that is flawed in some way. So in eyewitness, it’s corruption in your story. It’s the endemic bias. And when you have a revelation about a flawed system, what you do is that you the revelation works for both sides of the coin. So the witnesses in the revelation of the flaw


On system, they are the victims. Rather,


the victims gain empowerment by a revelation of the true nature of their adversary. And they learn about what is victimizing them. And in so doing, they gain agency to deal with that victimization. And the perpetrators, who may be ignorant of a lot of their perpetration, by learning about the flawed system, they learn what they are complicit in, and how to confront their role in it. And so in something like eyewitness, so that’s more of the blue level of the context, right. And then when you have the execution,


and eyewitness, you have capelli, who is complicit, he’s trying, but he’s complicit if he follows the orders of his captain. And then you have, so he’s both a victim and a perpetrator. Right. And then you have Struthers, who is a victim overtly. And then as we talked about, through careful reading, we find out that he too, was a perpetrator, and that he’s involved in this corruption, and he’s having the affair with the lieutenant’s wife. So taken together, that’s where you get that flip flop. But the key to getting Sam to


really identify with it, I think, is that you have to meet Sam where she is. So like, that’s what Leslie’s talking about, about, you want to


show the role that she thinks she’s in. So everybody’s both. But to get Sam to identify with a protagonist, you have to choose a protagonist that Sam thinks she is right now. And then you can play that game of doing that double revelation. And then she realizes, Oh, I am both just like everyone else’s both. But you can’t have that blue green revelation if you don’t have specificity at the read and specificity in the way that enables that empathy. So then thinking through the fact that, right, so one is we’ve identified what I wrote, and now we’re talking about how it needs to be rewritten. And so this is a couple of thing. So one is I need to have a victim, which then starts me down this path of well,


the moral of the story then is going to be


this is why you should not go forward, if you are this type of person, because this is how you will be treated.




and then and then also in this is where like talking about it so many times, I start to get mixed up in my head, because then when we were first talking about this, and we weren’t going to have me rewrite it with Randall as the protagonists, were saying, oh, Randall needs to be just a pure victim in this he can’t have any kind of perpetration, because in the larger context of what this story would be, we need somebody to be an innocent. And so but and now we have to go back on that because since he’s the protagonist, he’s going to have to be both perpetrator and victim.


Even though he’s playing the role of victim that will he’ll have to be both. Right. Yeah. The answer to that question is you have to delineate his goal state as opposed to just turning in some information.


Right, because Struthers goal state was to turn in information without suffering any consequences.


So because the consequences of his actions were probably contributed, if not incited the death of that woman


he was having an affair with the lieutenant’s wife and McBain story, the lieutenant found out about it lieutenant, freaked out in a rage of of passion killed the woman, as as Struthers was on his way to have a rendezvous with her. And then the lieutenant ran away after the panic, found Struthers and then left Struthers because


he did not want to get caught.


Anyway, so Randall needs to have some secret randos coming into that police department and what his goal state is,


is to


get the captain


in trouble, but not suffering


any consequences himself. So there’s a there’s a phrase of like the magical sort of victim. Right? So the magical victim is someone who never who’s just an innocent. Who, who who gets harmed, just by happened


stance. And yeah, that’s that’s sort of a convention of particular stories in long form, that usually the better storytellers somehow use as as resolution to show that they’re not as innocent as they seem to be. A lot of the great crime writers do that. So that’s what you have to do in your story. Randall is not as magically wonderful and incredible and victimized as anyone might think.




it’s not as simple to say that, that some people are just always innocent, and that the bias against them is completely




Right, so their bias has happened because patterns of behavior emerge that become patterns. It doesn’t mean that you can paint, paint everyone with the same brush, but no one as we’ve already established here is purely perpetrator or purely victim. So that’s why you have to as as Danielle was saying, you’ve got to do the flip flop of you know, the bottom line is you need a better goal skate state a more clear goal state of what Randles really after in order for you to execute the McBain model. So in McBain story, is the real reason that


Struthers is there is because he feels guilty that he’s the one that caused the death of the lieutenant’s wife, not necessarily. I wouldn’t say he’s carrying a burden that he needs to relieve himself of.


And that is


it’s not necessarily because he thinks he caused it or he contributed in some way.


It would, you know, we would look at that in the in the crisis matrix, I think in the above the surface


level of the crisis matrix is where we would kind of look at what he’s what he’s trying to do for himself by showing up.




yeah, so I wouldn’t say necessarily. So at this stage, are we trying to decide what


what all of those things are for the protagonists now, like?


Why? Because as I’m looking through the rest of the 624, like, do we need to keep going through all of these, I feel like we’ve identified and just basically keep hammering on the same problem, which is the I switch the protagonist, which changed everything. Like so many of the things we’ve said, that changed their downstream of the fact that I changed the idea of change the protagonist to the witness.


When you change the protagonist, you changed Sam. So it’s important that’s that was the importance of this episode, is the revelation, that it’s not a simple thing, oh, I just tweaked that and everything else would be fine. These have second, third, fourth order effects. So when you do switch out the protagonist, then wow, you have to reconfigure the gold state, you have to reconfigure what Sam’s all about. So this meticulous, irritating process of going through each of these levels, proves fruitful When you face your rewrite. because it enables you to see the full complexity of one factor


of switching out.


So I can’t really even answer the question like,


Are we cool now? Can you just go and do the rewrite? Because I, I really didn’t even know perfectly in my own mind without this episode, that the protagonists role and Sam’s role have to align.


Because, you know, I’m like anybody else? I would equivocate and go up to the blue and go, Well, what about the covert nature of the blah, blah, blah, and no, no, if we stick here, then we can we can.


We can align that controlling idea up there. And also when you said, Well, I’ll obviously the controlling ideas that




the the bottom line here is never give information if you’re Randall and that’s, that doesn’t sound like a good


A resolution, it doesn’t sound true. Because never is an answer to a single factor problem.


What it depends? Is the answer to a double factor problem. When these circumstances arise, then you do or you don’t.


So, single factor solutions as a resolution to a story don’t work. And they bump people out. And they’re boring. And people go, Oh, man, I just invested all that time to find out that, no, you should never, you know, buy pizza on Tuesday, you know, at Mario’s. So one of the things that we’re doing is we’re looking at different aspects. And we’re looking at all the ways that the that choosing a protagonist that’s not directly aligned, will we’ll cause issues with the actual line by line writing, you know, once we finally get to the, to the tropes, so it, it probably does feel like we’re beating you over the head with Tim. Did you know you pick the wrong protagonist? But But what we’re what we’re trying to get at is, though, yeah, all those different aspects, right? Because the, you know, once we drop down into Sam’s problem, for example, we have the same issue. It’s about avoiding harm, which was Struthers


go of, you know,


exposing an injustice while avoiding harm. Whereas in your story, it’s more exposing justice while avoiding inflicting harm. So there’s a different source of the harm that we’re that we’re working with in your story. And so, you know, again, it’s, we’re Yeah, we are talking about the same kind of thing. But it’s, it’s a different aspect that will that will impact things down the down the line. Yeah, I don’t feel this has been fascinating to me, because I don’t, I don’t feel like we’re beating it to death. What it is, is like, when we first looked at it, we’re like, well, you change the protagonist, but you know, let’s select a small thing. And then like, as we’ve like, peeled it back, it’s like, oh, that like, has that roots down, and starts corroding everything else. And so.


And so what I’m wondering at this point is like, what I’m kind of feeling and this is what I want you guys to tell me whether or not to do is like, why don’t you let me go try, right? Because this is what we’re finding is like, it’s really, it’s always better to have something to talk about and talk about an abstract. And it is extremely clear to me why the protagonist can’t be Watson, why it has to be Randall, I don’t have all the things figured out. But I kind of want to give it a shot. And then I think that will expose some of these other things where at this point, it’s like, to me, that’s such a gaping hole problem in the story right now. I feel like well, let me let me fix that. Let me try, let me just attempt to fix that.


And then we can, you know, talk about the other things that come out around that. But at this point, that’s all I see.


And so I wonder if I can just try to fix it, rewrite it from that point of, you know, switching the protagonists, and then see where we land after that. So I would recommend, I think that is a good plan, I would recommend planning it, you know, like taking the 624 and really going through it and saying, oh, okay, I have to change the protagonist. Now, let me change, let me see how that affects the inciting incident. Let me see how that affects the, the protagonist school, and, and then keep going back, you know, moving up and down kind of in that process. So that, you know, so that you’re aligning it that way, and then write it not that you would you want to like spend hours and hours and hours on it, just you know, like kind of work in the way you would normally but plan that. So that then when you that will or you will have integrated a lot of that. So that when you sit down and write because you don’t want to be you don’t want to be


overly thinking about all those things, you know, in a sort of pedantic kind of way when you’re writing, you want to have that you want to integrate and then go sit down and write and then and that way, what comes out won’t feel like you’ve been


Put in a straitjacket, or that’s the theory anyway. Yeah, I would agree, I think


I think you’ve poked out


a very opaque salient feature that you’re really, really tangling with, and to add anything else. And what we found is that this is sort of like with those invisible fear guerrillas that I talked about, they get larger and larger and larger, but the, the source is the source. And so they asked actualization of the problem is getting more juicy. And you’re seeing how it’s having multiple levels of effect. So if we add additional things of micro stuff, we already kind of did. And that’s fine. When we said you know, you want to work on not doing so much qualification in the language because you want to conform to the ED McBain sort of telling procedural procedural telling of a story as opposed to over over qualified showing.


So I think I think you have a really good idea here, Tim, and I would encourage you to try this. And


you know, the worst thing that happens is, we tell you didn’t do it, right.


Well, I want to just make sure we don’t slip into the problem we ran into a few weeks ago, which is, let’s keep talking about it. That way. We don’t waste your writing time.


You know, sounded rather just like, well, let me just write it. I know, I think I know enough to at least make the protagonist the witness, I’ll probably still like, mess up the SAM or whatever. But it’s like at least we’ll be able to say okay, yes, the witness is the protagonist. Now let’s look at how you could have done that better. Because now it’s so it just it is, it’s been funny to me how like,


when we first looked at were like, Well, you didn’t switch the protagonist. But this is really great and did it a day. And now like, as we’ve gone back, we’re like, oh, this basically just ripped out the soul of the story. Like, if we’re trying to look at it through the masterwork lens. And this should be a iteration of the masterwork I basically just like gutted that master work, because like just by switching the protagonist,


not to say that, again, I couldn’t expand what I wrote into blah, blah, blah, but like looking at it, just through the lens of I was supposed to iterate on the master work. It was all I’m like, Well, all I did was, you know, not switch the protagonist. And then I basically do the same thing. And it’s like, not even close.


Because of all of that downstream effect. I just, I’ve really, I mean, this has been fascinating to me.


And yeah, that that idea that the Sam has to be in the same role as the protagonist


is really, really good, too. And I think I think I know I’m gonna do it. But let me write it down. Before we talk about it. I had one other thought, I’m just kind of dropping a footnote here.


We chose this story for you. And you. And it’s a fabulous story. And you might not have chosen this as as a master work. If you are going you know, if you are I’m going to find a masterwork, a story that really means something to me and there and use it as my model. And this goes to what Shawn you talk about all the time is fine, that story, where you could wave a magic wand and put your you would put your name on it instead of the the author who actually wrote it. And that is, because there there are aspects of that story that are speaking to you in a way that you can’t, you don’t necessarily know explicitly, but you know, implicitly. And so when we. So you would probably choose a story where the detective is the protagonist, and that’s, that’s fine. That’s great. In fact, that’s wonderful that we’ve kind of uncovered that. But it does go to the importance of finding a masterwork and finding that one, not the one that you think, Oh, this is a very popular story that will sell a million copies. And that’s great. I want to go ahead and use that as my model. You know, it’s really important to pick a masterwork that’s exploring the kinds of questions that you want to explore with your stories, because that will, then more of it will line up with what you’re actually wanting to write. Thanks for listening to this episode of The Story Grid Podcast. For everything Story Grid related, make sure you go to story grid.com and sign up for the newsletter. You can also follow us and subscribe


On Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, where we put out daily videos to help you with your writing. As I mentioned at the beginning, we’re hosting the narrative path workshop. There’s only a few spots left for that. Make sure you go to story grid.com/training To find out more about that. If you’d like to support the show, you can do that by going to Apple podcasts and leaving a rating and review. Make sure you tell your author friends about the show as well. But either way, thanks so much for being a listener, and we’ll see you next week.


The Book

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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.