Flash Forward: The Story Grid in Action

Download the Math of Storytelling Infographic

Just for fun, here is what The Story Grid info-graphic looks like for Thomas Harris’s novel The Silence of the Lambs.


The Story Grid for The Silence of the Lambs

The Story Grid for The Silence of the Lambs

Don’t panic. It’s not nearly as complicated as it looks.

Like a human being, who has a nervous system, a skeletal system, a respiratory system and seven other major systems, a Story has global systems too. It is from these systems that extremely specific features develop.The Story Grid, at it’s most fundamental, concerns just six systemic questions that you will ask yourself over and over again.

My client and business partner, Steven Pressfield, has an organizational technique he uses before he starts any novel or narrative non-fiction project. He calls it The Foolscap Method because the whole thing fits on a single sheet of yellow legal sized foolscap paper. He’s written epic war novels, Gates of Fire, Tides of War etc., narrative nonfiction, The Lion’s Gate, a golf novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, self-help nonfiction, The War of Art…fourteen bestselling books in total using this very simple method.

Before he used The Foolscap Method he’d written quite a number of books too.  Guess how many of those were published?


I’ve edited most of Steve’s books and we’ve been a great team for so long (just about twenty years) because we speak the same language.

It’s no coincidence that The Foolscap Method is The Story Grid in miniature. It’s a crucial one-page document that gives a writer the 30,000-foot view of his work. This one-pager coupled with The Story Grid Spreadsheet (a document that represents the microscopic view of his work) gives the writer the coordinates to map all of the movements of a novel/narrative nonfiction/screenplay/play/and certain big idea and prescriptive nonfiction projects to boot.

From such an infographic, we can see the artist’s work behind the work…all of the little decisions he or she made that resulted in the sum being exponentially larger than its parts. The infographic is a craftsman’s Nirvana.

As editing tools, these three documents (The Foolscap Global Story Grid, The Story Grid Spreadsheet, and The Story Grid) are indispensable. As inspirational “what if I did this?” guides to look at your work from the outside in, they can even help you create your first draft.Tweaking Steve’s Foolscap Method (there’s a desperation story about how he learned it from one of his mentors on the way) is the first stop on the path to creating the big matrix.

In my adaptation of Steve’s method, The Foolscap Global Story Grid, we ask ourselves of the story we’re about to write or have already written just a half a dozen questions.

Over and over again:

  1. What’s the genre?
  2. What are the conventions and obligatory scenes for that genre?
  3. What’s the Point of View?
  4. What are the protagonist’s objects of desire?
  5. What’s the controlling idea/theme?
  6. What are the Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?

Do you think of your story in these terms?

Do you ask yourself these questions?

This is how an editor works to make a story work. This is how they identify problems and how they discover how to fix them.

Next week, we’ll start with The Story Grid’s Question #1—What’s the genre?

For new subscribers and OCD Story nerds like myself, all of The Story Grid posts are now in order on the right hand side column of the home page beneath the subscription shout-out.

Download the Math of Storytelling Infographic

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Shawn Coyne

SHAWN COYNE created, developed, and expanded the story analysis and problem-solving methodology The Story Grid throughout his quarter-century-plus book publishing career. A seasoned story editor, book publisher and ghostwriter, Coyne has also co-authored The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, The Cowboys, the ’70s and the Fight For America’s Soul with Chad Millman and Cognitive Dominance: A Brain Surgeon’s Quest to Out-Think Fear with Mark McLaughlin, M.D. With his friend and editorial client Steven Pressfield, Coyne runs Black Irish Entertainment LLC, publisher of the cult classic book The War of Art. With his friend and editorial client Tim Grahl, Coyne oversees the Story Grid Universe, LLC, which includes Story Grid University and Story Grid Publishing.