Fixing the Most Important Scene

[0:00:00.2] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid podcast. This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host, Tim Grahl, and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He is the creator of Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.


In this episode we start off talking a little bit about the book, Running Down a Dream and the fact that’s coming out soon. How I’m feeling about that. Then we dive into the progressive complication turning point of the middle build scene. I rewrote that based on what we talked about last week. And so Shawn and I go over that and start talking about what I did right and, of course, what I did wrong. So I think it’s a helpful episode. I think you’ll enjoy it as you’re trying to figure out how to turn your own book. So let’s jump in and get started.




[0:00:54.1] TG: Shawn, before we get into this scene from the threshing, I want to talk a little bit about Running Down a Dream coming out and I figured this will probably become a theme for the next few weeks as we’re just – Actually, it was today. I think today when we’re recording this, is the 11th. So it’s a month from today that the book comes out.


[0:01:17.8] SC: Yup.


[0:01:18.3] TG: So it’s just been interesting because Candice was asking me yesterday, like, “How are you feeling about it? How are you doing with it?” and I remember talking when I first started working with a lot of authors, I would always get confused, because when their book was about to come out they would have these like competing things where they wanted to be a bestseller or they wanted to sell a bunch of copies but they didn’t want any one person to actually read the book and review the book or like put a review on Amazon or any of those things. I really understand that of like I am both terrified that the book won’t do well and also terrified that the book will do well.


Yeah, so it’s just super interesting and thinking through, like trying to figure out how to promote it and how to get myself to promote this when I have those competing interests.


[0:02:15.8] SC: Well, the other thing that I’m sure is – And I’m sorry to dump another boatload of anxiety on you, but – I mean, the other thing, the other consideration that I’m sure is not too far from the back of your brain is, “Oh my gosh! I’m like the book launch guy. I’m the guy who teaches people how to launch their books to bestseller dome, and what if my book doesn’t reach bestseller dome?”


I mean, one of the things that I think about in terms of being the publisher of Black Irish Books is when Steve and I started Black Irish almost 10 years ago, I can’t believe it was that long ago, but at the very start what we said to each other is we’re not going to do anything that one of us doesn’t want to do. That was number one. It’s sort of like the rules of Fight Club. We kind of have the rules of Black Irish Books.


Rule number one was if one of us doesn’t want to do something, we’re not going to do it. So that was a really great role. The second rule is we never wanted to get to a place where we had to have employees, and that came from a very long story that I won’t get into, but it just meant that we wanted to do this just the two of us, and while we have Callie Ottinger, who’s an incredible publicist and marketing person and all of that, she’s a professional and she has her own business. So we just worked with her on a monthly basis and we pay a retainer and she’s great and we love it, and that works for her too because now she gets to do other things and she doesn’t have to worry about Black Irish. All right.


So the third thing was the problem of bestseller dome. So I said to Steve, “Look. We can’t start a publishing company with any intention of working our fingers to the bone trying to get New York Times bestsellers,” and he absolutely agreed about that. The reason why is this, is that the bestseller lists were sort of generated from the start to just get people interested in reading. They were really a marketing thing for newspapers to get people to be interested in reading their book reviews.


So the bestseller list was this candy that would tell the culture, “Oh! These are the books that have been selling the most this past week,” and it’s morphed into this very large, ugly monster, in my estimation, because the bestseller, it’s the anti-creative notion. It’s supporting a cultural value based upon things that can be gamed. So everybody wants to have a bestseller so that they can say, “I’m a best-selling writer. Meaning, people appreciate me and they value me and they value what I do.”


We all know – Well, I mean, your book is about running down a dream, it’s about how that can really spiral out of control. The desire to achieve something bigger than you are is a great desire, but when it gets mixed with this sort of desire for third-party validation, then it can really spiral out of control. I read something that Quincy Jones said a couple of months ago when he said, “When money starts being part of the production process for song in music, God walks out of the room,” and I thought that was the perfect expression of art, and Quincy Jones certainly knows just about everything there is to know about art.


But there is a guy who has been tremendously financially successful. He’s won Oscars. He’s done everything and he knows the second someone is starting to game the system in order to have a top number one song that he doesn’t really want to be a part of that anymore, because the creative notion and the creative spirit literally leaves the environment, because that’s not why it came in the first place.


So anyway, as a publisher, my goal is to give the book a chance, and I define chance as 10,000 people being who would be moderately interested in the title hearing about it, and that’s the job of the publisher. So if you can get 10,000 people who would be interested in the book to know about it and have an opportunity to buy the book within a year, that for me is the job of the publisher.


Through the work that you do, that is how Steve and I have built Black Irish Books, and what I mean by that is between stevenpress field.com and storygrid.com and now with booklaunch.com, from day one, we have enough people that are interested in your work that when we published the book they will know about it. As far as I’m concerned as the publisher, my job is done, right? I got to put a great cover on. I’ve got to make sure it looks like a real book. I want the copyediting to be great. I want the interior to be great, but I’m not going to drive myself nuts trying to get the New York Times to review your book, because that would be nice, but you didn’t write the book for a New York Times book review. You wrote the book over a period of years in order to create something that had meaning to you with the intention and hope that once you created your own meaning in the project that it would be meaningful to other people.


So you wrote it for yourself and then with the intention of other people reading your story and saying, “Wow! Tim’s story sounds just like what I’m going through. And, hey, he’s got all of these tools that will help me get through my travails.” So I absolutely understand the anxiety of – I mean, when I wrote the Story Grid I felt the same way. I’m like, “I really hope people engage with this thing, but I don’t want anybody to not like it,” but plenty of people don’t like it, and I have to be okay with that, and I am, because it’s okay. I don’t like certain things that other people think are great. It’s not a thing about me. I mean, intellectually, we can all – But it is a body blow. Every bad review I read about the things that I’ve done is a body blow, and to lie and say, “Oh! It doesn’t bother me. I’ve reached a higher plane.” That’s not true. It’s sort of like when your kid strikes out in baseball or your daughter makes a mistake at her recital or your son – These are the things that we have created and when they’re criticized it hurts, “Okay. Got it. That’s fine.” But I’m not going to debase the artwork by boiling it down to a log line that I could induce a reviewer at some newspaper to read and then perhaps maybe we could generate enough amazon.com interest to get it on the bestseller list.


[0:10:02.6] TG: Oh, man! That just gives me the hives. Yeah, it’s interesting you bring up about me being the book launch guy because – Well, that was with my first book. I was super nervous about that. With this one, I feel like I’ve run so many of these big – Like trying to hit the best-seller lists campaigns and they are so stressful. I blame my going baldness on these launches I’ve run, and it’s just like it’s just too much.


The other side that I’ve seen is so many authors kind of getting burnt out by doing these massive launches. My hope is to promote – One of the things that Dan Pink taught me early on was just like – He’s like, “When I come out with a book, that’s the next two years of my life.” He’s like, “I’m just going to keep promoting that for two years,” and that’s what I want to be able to do. I want to be able to promote this book for the next couple of years that every podcast or every speaking thing I do or whatever is about promoting Running Down a Dream, and if I’d kill myself in the first month, I’ll just be sick of it. I’ve seen so many authors run into that before.


Not to mention, I’m like moving, and it’s the summer and we’re doing stuff with Story Grid. I have like a business I run. So it’s like I’m going to just put it out the best I can and then just do a – My goal is two things a week. That’s what I always tell authors to do. That’s what I’m doing for myself. Because if I just do two things a week to promote the book, that’s 104 things a year. That’s going to have an impact.


Yes, it’s not going to hit the New York Times bestseller list, but that’s not what we’re going for. We’ve talked about this before, but it’s like – Well, our friend, Josh Kaufman, has sold hundreds and hundreds of thousands of copies of the Personal MBA and he has never hit the New York Times or Wall Street Journal bestseller list for that book, and yet there’s book after book after book that hit the New York Times bestseller list and go on to never sell more than another thousand copies of that book, and I would much rather be in the former than the latter.


So, yeah. Four weeks, it will be out and –


[0:12:24.2] SC: Well, the other thing you can do is when it doesn’t meet your expectations, all you have to do is blame your publisher.


[0:12:32.0] TG: See? Well, we’ve talked about this of like when I’m like talking about what we’re going to do and like how are we going to promote it. I was like – Because if you were like a normal publisher, I would be squeezing you dry of every dollar that you would ever give me to do anything. Where now it’s like, “Well, I like you guys. I don’t want to do that.”


[0:12:52.2] SC: Right. I didn’t lie to you. I said we’re going to do a nice cover and we’ll professionally copyedit it and the rest is up to you.


[0:13:03.8] TG: Yeah, but at least one – Probably two of my blurbs, people said yes because I was connected to Steve and Black Irish. That alone – There is a reason, because you guys are – I think this is a good conversation too of like I’ve self-published my first two books, which means every dollar that comes in I get to keep, all hundred pennies of that dollar. Now, with this book, every dollar that comes in, I got to give you 50 of those pennies, you and Steve. So I had to think about, “Well, what do you bring into the table that I can’t just do on my own so I get to keep all that money?”


I mean, the first and most important thing is having you as the editor because the book pre-Shawn would have been this kind of crappy collection of blog posts that I don’t think would’ve have much of an impact. Getting you as an editor is worth a huge amount, and then having a traditional publisher even though you’re not like big five traditional, but having a publisher still says something, and getting to be connected to Steve and the War of Art, having my cover match the cover of the War of Art and Turning Pro and do the work and all of that has this is really – I think it’s a big value. It’s not something I can just quantify easily.


Yeah, two of the blurbs I got at the bottom of the email I’ve put the blurb that Steve gave me, and one of them I know that’s what got his interest and eh agreed to do the blurb. So it’s like that kind of stuff, all of a sudden it raises like, “Tim’s this like internet marketing guy,” to “Oh! Steve is attached to this. Let me take a second look.”


So it’s exciting for me to have something I feel like this puts it on a new playing field for me, especially the habit be a part of the Black Iri – I mean, it’s not like you guys churn out a dozen books a month. You’re very, very picky about what you publish. So it’s exciting to be a part of it for me, and I think it’s well worth the amount, the split that we’re doing to get to be a part of Black Irish. So, anyway, thank you for letting me be a part of it.


[0:15:32.5] SC: Well, I mean – Again, our philosophy was always it’s a partnership between the author and the publisher, and so it was easy sort of financial decision to say it’s a 50-50 deal. So all of our revenue is just split 50-50 and that’s the way it’s always been and it’s the way it’ll continue to be, because unless we were doing extraordinary financial stuff at the very start of the project, like the big five does. They put up a lot of money and they do a lot of things that we would never do. They do print advertising, internet advertising, all that stuff.


The split has to be equitable and reasonable and it’s always been whenever I’ve done a business deal, I always say to myself, “Both people have to put skin in the game and both people have to be compensated in the terms in which they do it,” and you don’t enter into business with people who can do the exact same thing that you do, because then it doesn’t work very well because you’re both doing the same thing.


So Steve does a completely different thing than I do. He’s sort of like the right side of the brain and I’m the left side of the brain. So together we’re almost a full brain, but you don’t partner up with somebody who’s left side – And I think what’s funny, which is great, is that for Story Grid, you’re the left side of the brain and I’m the right side of the brain. So if you can find businesses and opportunities where you can do both sides of your brain in different ways, that’s a pretty cool combination to be able to be the big idea guy and then on another front be the nuts and bolts guy. It’s really worked out well for me and I didn’t know that’s what I was doing when I started these companies, but now that I look at it I go, “Wow! That’s absolutely true.” I serve as the guy who keeps the trains on time for Black Irish and I edit and I’m very meticulous about that stuff. Yeah, sure, I make mistakes. But in Story Grid I’m sort of the guy who’s required for the big idea thinking and to answer the big existential questions while you’re the one who handles all of the commerce and all the stuff that has to be done in order for the thing to even work.


And it’s nice now that you, for Running Down a Dream, you’re the right side and I’m left side. So if you can juggle it and let one guy take the reins of one side of the equation and the other guy take the reins and mix it up sometimes, then you don’t get bored and you’re not just cranking things out to meet some sort of strange financial revenue projection thing.


[0:18:36.8] TG: Okay. So let’s stop there, because we’ll continue to talk about that as we get closer. But I did do my homework. So last week we talked about – We finished going through the 15 scenes, 15 most important scenes, and what we decided was – So I’ve written the first seven of them, I think, already. No. The first six, because I had done the first five in the beginning hook, then the beginning hook of the middle build and then I was going to rewrite the turning point scene, the progress and complication turning point scene of the middle build. So I did that.


I had written it before but I changed out some things, made it a little longer and just changed a bunch of things based on what we talked about last week. So I sent you that along with the scene before that so you’d have a little context since it’s been a while. I felt as I was writing it, like I was turning over a cold engine just because I haven’t worked on this for so long and it felt very kind of herky-jerky. Instead of just writing the scene, I kept kind of going back and like expanding and contracting different pieces of it. I felt like the dialogue was so bad. That was probably what I changed the most on the version I sent you, because I started working on it right after we recorded last week and I didn’t get it to you till yesterday because I kept kind of churning on it. So I’m interested to hear your thoughts on it.


[0:20:10.1] SC: Well, the first thing I want to say is that just to sort of review why this is such a sort of a crucial scene in the story is that the scene prior to the turning point progressive complication of the middle build is when Jesse sort of falls into a very black hole of despair. It’s a moment that we can all relate to when the complexity of a problem overwhelms us and we just sort of quit and we give up and say, “We’re going to surrender to the darkness and we’re just going to crawl over here and ball ourselves up and take the consequences, whatever they come.” It’s sort of almost like a biological reaction that our brain does where it’s sort of tries to hide and not move. It’s like literally when you are the prey, you have the option of fighting or running away. But the first thing that happens is you freeze, and when you freeze, the purpose of freezing is so that the predator cannot see you and will not identify where you are and come destroy you.


So the fact that the previous scene is the moment when Jesse freezes before she tumbles down into the black hole. That’s a crucial scene, and I think you’ve built it to a place that it makes sense. She’s sort of been operating on her instinctual gifts that she hasn’t really understood that well about herself up until that point. It’s sort of like – I’m sorry to keep jumping around here, but it’s important to understand the thematic purpose of these scenes because you’re telling a universal story in a very specific way, but the universal themes have to be so crystal clear to the reader, because that’s what going to engage them and still want to know what’s going to happen next. Is she going to come through this horrific situation?


So the black hole moment when we hit a problem that is so complex that it feels like a big massive monster that we will never be able to defeat has cornered us. So our physical brain when that happens makes us freeze. You have the scene prior to this turning point progressive complication scene where she freezes, and I think it’s well done. I think you can tweak it even more to make it even more clear that this is the moment when she freezes.


Okay. So what happens after we freeze and tumble down the black hole is either we reboot ourselves and decide, “Well, I’m going to have to fight here because I I’m going to go down fighting rather than be just a little bunny that gets devoured,” or a divine sort of inspirational moment comes to us from kind of the right side of our brain. So it will basically direct us and inspire us to kick into our micro problem-solving part of our brain on the left side.


So when Jesse falls down the hole, Randy comes to rescue Jesse. Okay. So that’s the scene that you have written, and thematically in terms of the hero’s journey, this is the moment Joseph Campbell I believe describes as meeting the goddess. That’s literally what he’s talking about. The goddess, the muse, the inspiring force that comes to us in moments of pure panic, terror, we don’t know anything about the chaotic nature of the universe, and here we are, we’re in the middle of just a chaotic situation that we can’t even wrap our minds around. That’s when the muse comes and says, “Do this. Be the force, Luke.”


[0:24:50.4] TG: Is this when the fairy godmother shows up in Cinderella?


[0:24:53.5] SC: Exactly. It’s the moment when Linda, the Good Witch comes in the Wizard of Oz. It’s the moment when, in Pinocchio, when – I forget what the force is in that, but it’s a genie or it’s a fairy that comes to inspire Pinocchio. You look at any really big mythic story, and this is the moment. All right. Randy is the spirit of inspiration. So when she tumbles down into the hole and Randy comes to rescue her with a message, what I really liked about this new scene is that you sent her home. She goes back to the ideal of what she believed was comfort and safety, which is the way her home was when she was a little girl and she had a big brother looking after her. And that was a really, really great choice, because I think in the previous version of this scene, it was sort of this beautiful kind of library-esque kind of place that seemed a little amorphous and unspecific.


So moving her back home with the ratty old chairs in the living room and the perfectly clean counters in the kitchen and her brother showing up there, it felt right. When I read I’m like “Yes, that was the right choice, and it’s not – It’s something that the reader will say, “Oh, of course. Of course, that’s where he’s going to take her,” because we have to remember that Randy is two things, right? He’s the goddess, but he’s also want something from her, and we’re not really sure what his motivations are right now. So it’s kind of this very difficult situation when we start to – What’s the angle of this goddess? What’s the angle of this muse? And that’s really a good element in an action story, especially thriller-ish action story where the lead character becomes victim. Is she being manipulated by her brother? And you’re setting something up in the back of the mind of the reader in this moment.


So this scene has to really sort of deliver the map of the rest of the book, and I think it comes close, but it’s not quite there yet because the revelation of Randy being trapped inside of the grid is an important one, but something fell flat for me about it. I’m not saying that you did anything wrong. What I’m saying is that I think when you first started talking about the scene, when you said it was restarting a cold engine, I think that’s true, and we just need to sort of think this through a little bit more. Because if you can nail this scene to the point where when the reader reads this scene, they have a very strong emotional response, like, “Oh my gosh! Now I get it. Now I see what’s going on.” “Oh my gosh! This poor little girl has been sucked into this maelstrom of complexity that there’s no way she’s going to be able to get through this, and how dare this guy bring her into this world? But, boy! Imagine being that –”


So we want to have a real emotional payoff here. The potential is definitely in this scene, but I think we need to micromanage it to figure out maybe there’s a revelation, maybe there’s a character action that will turn the turning point even with greater emotional wallop.


[0:29:03.7] TG: Okay. So you feel like – So one is did I get the information across that I need to get across?


[0:29:11.0] SC: I think so. I mean, I think your point is – This is like the scene in the Matrix, when Neo goes to meets the Oracle, the goddess, and she’s making chocolate chip cookies or the oatmeal cookies and we’re expecting the Oracle to say to Neo, “You are the one. Go fight the bad guys. You’re going to win it all for us.” But what did she do? She goes, “You’re nice boy. I like you, but you’re not the one. Don’t worry, young man. You’re not the one.”


It was a brilliant choice by the Wachowskis to do that because we were expecting one thing and they gave us something else and we go, “Oh my gosh! Neo is not really the one. Oh! Wow! They’re really in trouble. I wondered when they’re gone to all figure out that Neo is not the one. Is he going to tell them that the Oracle said that? When is going to tell him that?”


The opportunity here could be something like that. The revelation or the character action on the part of Randy could be – We could be inspired by the choice in the matrix and may be the information is this. We’re living in the tyranny. I’m prisoner of a totalitarian ruler and we called you to the capital in order to destroy the tyranny. That is exactly the information that the reader needs, that Jesse is there for a purpose. There is a goal that must be clearly sort of laid out in this scene, and I think you did clearly lay it out. I’m just not sure that it’s done in a way that is shocking or – You know what I mean?


[0:31:19.6] TG: Yeah. I know. I agree. One of the things, and this is – We talked about a few weeks ago is how I wanted to bring – I felt like I learned how to write from a much more emotional place in Running Down a Dream and I want to bring that into the fiction and maybe it’s because I’m trying. But it’s like I don’t know how to do that when it’s not my story. You know what I mean? Because I’m sitting here thinking like what would it feel like? I really, at one point, closed my eyes. It was like, “Okay. What would it feel like to be separated from somebody I cared about for a long time and then I get to see them again?” How would I react? What would I say? What would I not say? What would I actually care about? And it felt like – I don’t know, when you’re talking to somebody and you feel like you should be emotional so you try to act like it?


So I just had trouble kind of infusing it with anything overly meaningful, I guess. I just felt forced. I think I’m struggling too with like I have the curse of knowledge. If I know that Randy’s up to something, but the reader doesn’t know that yet, Jesse doesn’t know that yet, but it’s almost like I won’t let Jesse commit because I know what’s in store for her. You know what I mean? I don’t know. So it was definitely a struggle.


[0:32:51.5] SC: Okay. Well, let’s talk about that global – I think that you really nailed sort of a global dilemma for the writer. So, essentially, what we need to do is to take the very abstract idea of being confronted with something that is beyond our real comprehension and how we would react in a micro way to that very – It’s almost miraculous. It is a miraculous event. I think maybe one of the clues is to think of, “We are used to dealing with miraculous events that are negative.” What I mean by that is the fact that we have a finite life on earth is a negative reality.


So when we learn that someone we love or care about is close to death, that is – I’m just going to use the word miraculous revelation to us. We know it’s coming in and yet it seems out of our capability of understanding. So what happens in those moments is that we don’t know really what we’re feeling or reacting to. It’s just sort of this cognitively dissonant global abstraction that is very difficult to manage.


So what we end up doing is saying things that we’ve heard other people say or re-creating stories that we’ve consumed. So, for example, if someone says, “I’ve got cancer. I’m not sure what to do.” Oftentimes people will say something, and I’m not criticizing them for this, they’ll say something like, “We’re going to beat this thing,” and because that’s what kind of what we – We’ve seen this thing on movies of the week and we’ve seen it in the movies and it’s a difficult thing to really understand, like, “Can we really be death? How do we accept death? What do we do? What do we say?” “Oh, man! I’m really sorry to hear that. Gees! What do you want from me?”


It’s sort of like when we have – When we’re confronted with something that we don’t can’t quite metabolize instantly, it’s like this big thing that we have no conception of. So this is the moment that Jesse is confronting, right? But it’s not a negative miraculous thing. It’s a positive miraculous thing. So she goes into this warp and she meets her brother who she’s basically had to expunge from her everyday life, and the longer somebody is out of our life, the further and further away they drift in our memory. We got to think that Randy is this idealized version of his person is the thing that is inside Jesse’s brain, not the reality of who Randy really was when they were growing up. Because who Randy really was was older brother who probably tormented her, stole her things, got her in trouble with her mom and dad, all those things that brothers do, but she only remembers how much she loved him and all the good stuff that he did for her.


So I think I’m just sort of trying – What would be the micro reaction of Jesse seeing her brother? Would it be, “Oh my gosh! It’s so amazing to see you,” or “I don’t get it. You’re dead. Where am I? Am I dead? Because there’s no way I could be talking to you because you’re dead and I don’t know what’s going on.” She just fell into a wormhole and she doesn’t really know herself physically.


All right. So that’s from the Jesse’s point of view, and I don’t have an answer to that other than it might be an interesting thing to think about what it would be like for her from that frame of reference. Now, for Randy, what’s Randy want? Randy wants freedom. That’s number one for Randy. Isn’t it? He wants to get –


[0:37:40.3] TG: I think number one is revenge.


[0:37:42.9] SC: No, because you can’t get revenge until you are out of the – You have to be able to control your own movements, right?


[0:37:56.0] TG: I guess my thinking is if he had to choose between freedom and revenge, he would choose revenge at this point.


[0:38:04.9] SC: Well, let’s think about revenge. Let’s think about that motivation. Okay. When we all think about getting revenge against people who have done us wrong, do we want to actually be there to witness their horror? Do we want to see them feel the pain that they inflicted on us with us sort of feeding off of the joy of being malevolent? You thought could beat me? Are you kidding me? Look at where you are now, buddy.


So we want to be present to witness the acts of our revenge so that we can actually feel powerful and get our egos in better shape when we see them. So if you look at it in terms of revenge is best served in person or to watch someone fall. Okay. So in order to get that ultimate satisfaction, you have to be present.


The other thing is we don’t want other people to do our revenge for us. We want to manipulate others so that, ultimately, the game of revenge we get to raise our hands and say, “I’m the winner.” So Randy, in order to get revenge, has to acquire freedom first. It’s like when you get lost in the woods, you’re not worried about where the water is or where the food is. The first thing you need to do is to orient yourself in the woods. Once you know where you are in the woods, your compass, then you go up the hierarchy of needs and you go, “Okay. I know where I am right now. So, now, if I can stick it out here then where can I get some water? I have to live here for seven days, I need water and food.”


So you move up your needs. So Randy’s primary need at this point is not the abstract revenge of overthrowing the tyranny. It’s, “I got a get out of here. I’m in jail. Once I’m out of jail, then I can get my revenge.” Right? Does that make sense? I think it does.


[0:40:28.7] TG: It does. I think, for me, when I think of freedom, that’s why I put the part in about them just escaping together and he’s like, “No! That’s not an option.” So, to me, it’s like I think – And this is my personality, which is my natural state is – They actually did this study a while back. I’ve heard it on several different like economics and social psychology podcasts and books where they like – They did a test that was basically like you can help yourself and then help somebody else, or you can hurt yourself while hurting somebody else, and most people will hurt themselves in order to hurt somebody else. They’re willing to take the hit in order to hurt somebody else. I’m like totally screwing up what really went on in that study. But that’s kind of my thinking here, is like there is an option here for him to try to escape and just escape and be back on his own. But there’s another option, which is I’m going to escape so that I can get my revenge and take this guy down.


I feel like – Well, so in the matrix, the kind of ending of the whole thing was that he was like there was always the one. They like rebooted this story over and over and over. It was just another system of control, but the difference about Neo was that he loved Trinity, like every other Neo loved humanity as a whole, not focused on one person. I feel like this kind of the opposite where it’s like he’s not trying to take Marcus down to free everybody. He’s trying to take Marcus down because he hates him for what he’s done to him. But he couches it because that’s not a noble goal. So he couches it and we’re going to take him down so that we can free everybody. That’s how he’s convincing Jesse to be a part of this thing. So I feel like that’s – So, he needs his freedom, but it’s a means to an end of taking Marcus down for what he’s done to him.


[0:42:55.2] SC: Yeah, I think that’s consistent and I think that works. I think the difficulty is to move from global thematic abstraction down the chain to the micro events that will build to that abstraction. So the global abstraction is Randy wants revenge against Marcus. Okay. So what are the stages by which – What are the sequences of events that will enable Randy to get revenge on Marcus? Sequence number one is; “I’ve got to get my sister to the capital. The only coder who’s as good as me is my sister because I watched her for the last four years or however long it was. I’ve seen what she does stealing credits. She’s gifted. So if I can get Jesse to the capital, then I can get Jesse to do this thing that will get me my freedom. Then once I’m free, I can destroy Marcus.” He is Randy, thinks he’s much better then Jesse at doing anything. He’s a big brother. She’s just the little – Yeah, she’s got some of my skill, but she’s no me, right?


So the sequence of events is get Jesse to the capital. Check. Got that. Now, get Jesse to get me out of here. That’s the sequence that he is going to want to accomplish in this scene. “Jesse, I don’t have much time. You got to get me out of here.” “I don’t how to get you out of here. I don’t even believe that you’re alive. What is this?” “Well, you have to get me out of here. I can do certain things, but I can’t do other things. This is what you have to do. Here are your micro tasks in order to get me free.”


I think that’s what this scene is about. It’s “Okay. Yes, I’m alive. I can’t get into it now. You’ve got to free me. There’s a problem here. We’re being overrun. Once I get out of the matrix here, once I get out of this grid, then I’m going to take care of this problem. The only thing that you have to do is get the key, which is in this labyrinth. Go get the key, bring me the key and then I can get out and then everything will be okay.”


So he has to sell her a bill of goods without saying, “Oh! Once I get out, then all hell is going to break loose,” but you do have to establish the global story here, which is this is bigger than you and I, Jesse, but it’s not your problem. The only reason why you are here is to get me out of here. Because once I’m out of here, then everything’s going to be okay.” Then a laser focus goes to Jesse of, “Must get Randy out of grid.” It’s not, “Must get Randy out of grid. Must win the threshing, then I –” Right? You want to micro so that the reader goes, “Yes! If she can get Randy out of the grid, then she can go home and everything will be fine. This guy is magical! Right? He pulled her out of the severing. He can do anything.”


Then the big turn is in the third severing, which she’s going to get the key to free Randy, she
“dies” and that negative will push us into the ending payoff, and I’m getting ahead of myself. I think the crucial information that must be related in this scene is, “You got to get me out of here.”


[0:47:09.1] TG: So then her MacGuffin that advances the plot for the rest of the middle build is basically trying to find and release Randy. Then I feel like she’ll fail in that process and it will come down to the only way to get him out is to win the threshing, and then she will get him out, but then it’s the negative side of that too.


So the point of this scene is to give the global story, but give her the next thing to do. Now, I’m just repeating what you just said. Yeah, get her laser focused on, “Okay. As soon as I get out or here, here’s what I’m doing next. I’m going to track down –” and then this is where she can bring her friends on board. We got to track him down. This is how we’re going to get out of here, and that sends her down the labyrinth hole of trying to figure out where he’s at.


[0:48:04.4] SC: Yes, and the last thing that is really important that I haven’t figured out yet is how do we make this revelation – Okay. So the scene is it begins, “What’s the value at stake in this scene?”


[0:48:20.6] TG: I don’t know. Maybe that’s one of my problems.


[0:48:27.6] SC: Because we need to turn the value in either a revelation that Randy tells Jesse or a character action.


[0:48:38.3] TG: I think the revelation should be – I think I should save the fact that he is probably within 500 feet of her at all times. That should be the revelation.


[0:48:53.3] SC: The inciting incident of this scene is that she moves from blackness, she falls into a wormhole that’s blocked. It’s literally like falling into the ocean, into the deepest part of the ocean and you’re just surrounded by water. You can breathe, but you don’t understand it. Then it morphs into the inciting incident of the scene, which is she’s back home. Then the turning point progress –


[0:49:25.5] TG: So it shouldn’t be like safe – I mean, I use this over and over, but like being back home with her brother makes her feel safe or makes her feel – Well, I mean, the whole thing is that what she wants is to be back home with her family. I mean, that’s why I decided to put it back home because it is a fake version of the thing she really wants.


[0:49:52.4] SC: No. You made the right choice with the home. The thing that I’m grappling with is we need to see what is her frame of reference in this situation and what does she confronts and what’s a surprising innovative turning point in the scene that will really propel us into the rest of the book? I don’t have the answer to that, and what my brain was searching for was –


[0:50:21.0] TG: What if I don’t make it –


[0:50:23.7] SC: Maybe it’s not Randy.


[0:50:25.1] TG: Or maybe –


[0:50:26.6] SC: It’s Randy, but in a guise of something else. I don’t know. All I’m saying is that this scene, you’ve got to think – The values going to be very clear. The value that’s turning on this is because it’s an action story, it has to be life-and-death. So Jesse in the wormhole has to be – If she stays in that wormhole too long, she will die. So you might even be able to go back and forth between Ernst and Alex monitoring her body and freaking out with her inside this wormhole.


[0:51:09.5] TG: So she escaped one danger.


[0:51:11.4] SC: It’s almost like she goes on the clock. Once you go into Randy’s lair, if you don’t get out, you become like Randy, and this is what happened to Randy. This is how they got Randy. He stayed too long in this fantasy world and now he can’t get out. So he can bring her into his fantasy world, but she has to get out in a very short amount of time. So it’s going to require him to tell her things very quickly and snap her out of her reverie and be like – It’s like when Odysseus traveling back to Ithaca and he hears the siren song and he has his guys chain himself, chain him to the post of the ship so that he doesn’t go ashore and die.


So the siren song for Jesse is this magical moment where she’s back home, everything’s fine and there’s Randy, and Randy has to really – He might have to do shape shifting, morphing to scare the shit out of her so that she will get the hell out of there and with the mission intact. He can only bring her in there for short amount of time or she will fall into the rabbit hole too permanently.


So the revelation be like, “I literally only have five seconds to tell you this. You have to free me from this place.” “What do you mean, Randy? Are we going back home?” “Get out of here,” and then maybe he turns into Marcus and screams at her to scare her to go back. I don’t know. I’m just free associating here. But this scene has to be just very, very active, weird, scary, and the main point of it is to get her a very, very clear micro action sequence of moves that will push us into the final severing and ultimately into the threshing at the end. So that’s what I have to say about that.


[0:53:33.5] TG: Okay. I think I have some ideas. So all I’ll start working on them and I’ll rework this scene and see if I can nail it on my eighth try here.


[0:53:45.4] SC: Yeah. I mean, it’s not an overstatement to say that this is the critical scene in the novel. I mean, of course, the ending payoff and everything is going to be super important and that you’re at the mercy of the villain scene and all that. This is the moment when your reader is going to put the book down and say, “Oh my gosh! I’ve only hit half way and I don’t know – This is crazy! I don’t know what’s going to happen here.”


This is the moment when you really kick in to overdrive and the reader is going to literal – They’re not going to believe that you’re going to be able to sustain the suspense for the last half of the book. So, it’s a big important scene that could be really – We have to get it right, and once we do get it right, it’s sort of like when we were working on Running Down a Dream and I go, “Tim, stop just listing your tools. Dump your tools inside your story,” and then you’re like, “Oh! Oh, okay. I get it now.” Then you wrote the book in two weeks. You rewrote the book in two weeks with pretty limited problems. I mean, you didn’t have to really overthink it so much because you knew where you were going. I think of we nailed this scene right over the next week or two, it could have – And I don’t have the answer, by the way, but it will tumble. The pins of the lock will unleash themselves and you’ll be able to really move forward until the end.


[0:55:28.1] TG: Okay. Well, I’ll take another crack at it and then we’ll take a look at it next week.




[0:55:31.9] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Story Grid podcast. For everything Story Grid related, check out storygrid.com. Make sure you pick up a copy of the book and sign up for the newsletters so you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid universe. If you’d like to check out the show notes for this episode, including the two scenes that Shawn and I discussed, all of that is found a storygrid.com/podcast. If you’d like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @StoryGrid.


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The Book

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

First Time Writer

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


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