[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 finish off talking about the Hero’s Journey archetypes. I submitted some scenes to Shawn and we go through those, and then we start talking through some bigger ideas about tying the story together and then some very concrete steps to finish up this race to the end of the novel. So it’s exciting for me. I feel like I’m getting much closer now. So I think it’s a fun episode. You’ll get a lot out of it. So let’s jump in and get started.
[00:00:50] TG: Shawn, I worked on the other archetypes that we talked about, because the last couple weeks we’ve been looking at the second draft of the threshing through the lens of the Hero’s Journey archetypes. We got through about half of them the first week, and really the only big homework I had was working on turning Ernst into the trickster. So setting up a scenario where he double-crossed Jesse and the team.
At first I didn’t push back because it was one of the situations where I knew you were right, but I really like Ernst and I don’t want him to be a bad guy, which I always hear it when I run into those things in the audiobook upon on writing Stephen King says, “Always kill your darlings.” So I got to let that stuff go.
So I started thinking through it and it was – On one hand, it was kind of easy the way because I thought – So what I decided was he was going to be an agent for another faction, and the whole idea was he was in there as a mole to undermine winning the threshing. So that gave him a really good reason why he should be helping Jesse for most of the book, because he wants her to get to the threshing because that’s his biggest chance to undermine the success. So that required me to – Like I did a few these. I’ll need to do some more, but basically through the book, all I have to do is amp up of few things about how bad he wants her to win and a few kind of inconsistencies in his actions that seem like no big deal, but then later pay off. But the real kind of thrust is when he double-crosses him during the threshing.
So I wrote in three scenes of this, because once I started thinking through how it would work, it’s one of these things of like everything I kind of came up with was like, “Yeah, but wouldn’t he just do this and he’d get around that thing?” and I was like, “Oh, yeah,” because I thought, “Okay, he’ll knock Alex out,” and then I’m like, “Why doesn’t he just kill Jesse? That would work.” Then like, “Well –” So I got to come up with something else, because otherwise if he doesn’t just kill her, then it would be fine and I can’t have her die until the moment she’s already set to die in the story.
So then I came up with this whole like standoff between him and Alex and I cut into the threshing all the scenes that are showing what’s going on the threshing. I cut in three times to show what happens through all of that, and I wrote those scenes. So I sent you those. Before you kind of give your feedback, my couple things that I struggled with was, one – So before this, the only time you don’t see something from Jesse’s perspective is after she dies. So the whole book is just her perspective. You never see a scene that she is not in.
So I was a little worried that all of a sudden we start seeing scenes outside of her in them, and then the other is is like felt like my solution was a little cliché, but it’s all I could come up with. So I just went ahead and wrote it and figured it’ll at least be a starting point. Because I felt like it was just kind of this cliché fight standoff thing. But then at this point, I have trouble knowing if anything I’m doing is any good.
So I just wrote it, tried to fix the holes that I could find, because it drives me crazy when you’re reading a book and something happens and you think, “Well, why didn’t they just do this?” and then you realize, “Oh! Because that would cause problems with the story.” So I tried to not have that happen. Do you know what I mean when I say that?
[00:05:12] SC: Yes.
[00:05:13] TG: So anyway, so that’s what I sent you. I sent you the three scenes. I didn’t send you all of the threshing again, because I didn’t want to make you read all of that again. But they line up pretty well with stuff that’s happening to Jesse in the threshing. Anyway, I’ll stop. I think I’m putting off at this point hearing what you have to say. So I’ll let you talk.
[00:05:35] SC: First of all, I think this choice is really going to elevate the level of the book in a very large way, and the reason why is this; very, very difficult things about creating a fantasy story that’s an action plot is what I call the closed system problem. Now the closed system problem is this; everything happens in a very closed world that refers to threats from outside, but never really brings those threats to bear. What that means is that you’ve created a world where there are factions, where there are the American faction, the Eeuro-Asian faction. Basically there’re three or four or five sections of the global earth that are vying for resources. So that’s great.
However, what’s difficult is explaining in a way that’s interesting and story-driven just how competitive these factions are. So in a closed system, Marcus, the president, seems to be like, “Oh, geez! Really? Isn’t he overreacting? Is it really that big of a threat that we need this kind of tyranny to keep everyone in line?” and his answer to that question would be, “Absolutely. It is that contentions.”
All the factions are at each other’s throats and the only way that war is averted is through this ceremonial threshing that happens every however many years and we set our best warriors to this threshing and they do it. That close system, meaning throughout the book, we never get outside of the American faction. We don’t understand what it’s like meaning when I say we, I mean the reader, or the viewer. They don’t know what’s going on in the other factions, right?
A lot of times what people do to try and fix that, meaning to expand the social world from – Let me just take a step back and can explain what I’m talking about in terms of social order. The social order starts with the individual, right? So Shawn Coyne is a person, and if you expand outside of me as an individual externally, you would move from me to my wife and children. That would be the second circle, right? So if I’m the dot in the middle of the solar system, the closest circle around me is my wife and three children. Okay?
Then there’s another circle outside of that, and that circle would be say my brother and two sisters. My mother, my past family history, and all that sort of coming to bear, almost like a Eugene O’Neill, like the past of your family unit. So that’s the second circle. So all of those living people and dead people who influence my decisions based upon my global worldview.
But the tightest circle is my family and then outside of that is my extended family. Let’s call it my extended family. And then there’s a circle outside of that, right? And the circle outside of that is my professional family, and that would include Steve, Kelly, you and then probably people like Seth Godin, who have influence on me. The mentors in my world that I go to when I reach a place where I don’t know what to do. So that is the next circle in the Shawn Coyne universe, right?
And then there’s a circle outside of that, and that would probably be what I call the greater literary publishing universe. So let’s say people that I like, like Joanna Penn. I don’t have a lot of business with Joanne. I’m sometimes on her podcast. We see each other at conventions. We always have great conversations. I respect her. Then there are other people on the net world that I don’t hold in such high-esteem, but they’re part of the greater publishing universe, right?
So you can keep going out in these layers, right? So I use that as a way of sort of going from the individual into larger circles of society, and then outside of publishing is probably what I would define as my Americanism, like I’m an American citizen, I feel a kinship with people who live in Montana versus people who live in the Congo. Then outside of that is – And you could just sort of keep going out in these rings.
Now when you create a story and you create a novel, you can see how this can get really mind-trippy if you’re thinking about what I’m talking about now while you’re writing a scene. You can’t really put all these –
[00:11:26] TG: Yeah, it’s too big.
[00:11:27] SC: Yeah. It’s way big. This is a big macro-telescope kind of viewpoint, but it’s an important thing to consider, because prior to this event of you sending me these trickster scenes, your novel had Jesse as the center of the solar system, and then it had her immediate family, which was her mother and father and Randy, the ghost, right around there. In fact, probably there’s a circle in between that, which are the rats, right? Those are really her family. Those are the people that she really is the closest to. They’re sort of her friends. Then there’s the family next, and then there comes the numbered, and then outside of the numbered are the people in the threshing, or the severing competition, right?
So it’s the people in the capital. Then outside of that circle is the American faction, and then there’s this vague, vague, sort of large amorphous area that includes the competitive factions, and on top of that one, the reapers, right? Now the reapers – And if we are looking at your story we would say, “Yeah, we get it. I understand Jesse is the center, and then there’re the rats, and then there’re the extended family, and then there’s the people in the capital, and blah-blah-blah.” But once we start getting to that out outer shell, it gets very vague and amorphous.
So what I liked about what you did here was that you now have defined the competitive amorphous world outside of the American faction. There are very, very competitive forces that are pushing against the American faction that will stop at nothing to defeat the American faction. So Marcus is not crazy. He’s actually right. There are these other factions that will do anything necessary to get the double ration. It’s a difference between people starving and people living.
So the Euro-Asian faction and these other factions, they’re in it for keeps, right? So adding Ernst as a mole of another faction in the story and paying it off in the ending pay off of your story is going to really work.
[00:14:14] TG: I even put in the email I sent you that I want to go back through –
[00:14:18] SC: Oh, yeah. You got to set it up.
[00:14:19] TG: And like drip in where like Marcus is always freaking out that there are spies everywhere and everybody kind of rolls their eyes, like, “All right,” to kind of set it up so that it reinforces that he’s not crazy, which then will reinforce his speech and praise of the villain.
[00:14:37] SC: That’s right. Now, if I had given you the note and it would be a valid note and a good editor would give you this note, if I’d given you the note, “You know what, Tim? We don’t really have an understanding of these other factions and you really need to make sure that we understand it.” What you probably would’ve done is just dumped a shitload of exposition in there about how everyone’s competing for these things and blah-blah-blah and it wouldn’t land very well for the reader, because they would see right through it.
Now, this set up of this entire world is there is a massive competition for very few resources. So the resources are scarce. Everyone’s competing for them. So you don’t really need to keep saying that. What you need to do is show that, and the way you’ve shown that is to make Ernst a really, really good spy, because I think you’re right. I think the readers are going to find Ernst to be extremely attractive as a character, because he is not the physical force tough guy that Alex is, right? And they’re going to have an innate sort of negative feelings towards Alex, because he solves his problems physically. He’s a guy who’s going to shove somebody in the chest and use foul language to scare them, and if push comes to shove, he’s going to get him an arm lock and choke them out, right? That’s the kind of guy Alex is, right?
So our initial instinct about guys like Alex are, “I don’t really like that kind of guy. That kind of guy scares me.” So what you’re doing is you’re saying to the reader, “You know what? Guys like that, they’re not all bad. In fact, we need guys like that, because when guys like that believe in the right things and they help the right forces, they’re indispensable.” Whereas the sort of intellectual smart guy like Ernst and Marcus, those guys are a little bit dangerous, because they can outlie, they can lie better and behave counter to what their true purpose is far better than the guys who are just headlock kind of guys.
So when Ernst betrays, Jesse – What I think will happen for the reader is, “Oh my gosh! Why didn’t I see that coming? Oh my gosh! Of course Ernst is the mole. Holy cow! You mean Marcus wasn’t wrong? You mean there are people inside the American faction trying to destroy them? Holy cow!” and it’s not going to be someone saying that. It’s literally Ernst doing it. So, great choice. It’s the perfect way of having the trickster archetype taken care of too. It might seem – I was thinking about this the other day, because I’ve mentioned that I’m working with another writer on another story, and his story is an epic fantasy story, which I always say epic fantasy is action story to the ninth level.
So as a means to give him like a super duper fast way of explaining archetypes, I’ve been going through Star Wars episode IV, the first Star Wars that everyone thinks of when they think of Star Wars, and my gosh! Does that thing – It’s like George Lucas wrote down all of these archetypes and he made sure to nail each and every one of them. All the episodes of the heroic journey are so perfectly and clearly stated, not just done, but stated by the characters that it’s a very instructive story to explain the heroic journey in a way that people who want to write a fantasy novel, either it’d be the traditional mythic fantasy story or science fiction fantasy story, which is about the future, your story is a fantasy story about the future. It’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy action story with a labyrinth plot.
Now, the Lord of the Rings, what that is, that’s a fantasy about the past. So when we say fantasy, a lot of people think of Lord of the Rings, and that’s just one of the forks. There are two roads. One is to go fantasy in terms of the future and one is to go fantasy in terms of the past, and both operate with the mythic mono myth in exactly the same way.
So the Hobbit, you look at the Hobbit, it’s going to mirror Star Wars and vice versa. So when you’ve written a fan – As a post-apocalyptic fantasy labyrinth story, so obviously, gees! We’d be crazy not to make sure that you’re hitting the mythic moments in the heroic journey in your story too. So that’s why when you’re like, “I really want to finish my novel by the end of January. How do you think that’s possible?” The first reaction I had is, “Let’s nail the heroic journey and then take it from there,” and I think this one sort of section that you’ve written, “Now, are the scenes perfect?” No. “Do you want as much blood and gore as is in there now?” Maybe. I’m not saying no, because let’s not forget, this is the super duper critical part of the novel, right? If somebody isn’t bleeding, if somebody’s not in serious physical pain, then you’re sort of running away from the climactic moments of an action story. If nobody ever believes in your action story, you have a problem, right?
[00:21:10] TG: Yeah. Well, I like those scenes. I feel like –
[00:21:13] SC: Yeah, they’re important. You’ve got to have them especially in an action story or you’re going to disappoint the audience. If I say to you, “Let’s go see an action movie,” and we go and nobody is threatened with a gun or nobody bleeds or nobody gets punched in the face, we’re going to walk out of that movie and go, “What a piece of crap. Where was the blood?”
To pretend that that doesn’t matter, because those kinds of scenes make you uncomfortable, that’s undermining yourself and not – Don’t write an action story. That’s not your kind of thing.
[00:21:50] TG: Do you feel like they were too bloody?
[00:21:53] SC: No, I don’t. I think they might work, and I think that’s a critical moment. I don’t think Ernst is going to hesitate to smash – I don’t want to give anything away, but I don’t think he would hesitate to smash the poor Jesse when she’s lying in the bed. So having Alex hit him with the syringe after we think he’s dead. Is that a cliché? Yeah, maybe, but it makes us feel good, or you could have another character come in. You might have Harry come in, and Harry is the one who gets the syringe into Ernst at the last severing
[00:22:31] TG: Well, see. That’s how I was originally writing it, and then I remembered like Harry is in jail. He got taken away.
[00:22:39] SC: Then that would really make it amazing. That would really elevate the power of Harry if he somehow – And the great thing about a moment like this is that you don’t have to have the scene where Harry breaks out of jail.
[00:22:54] TG: Right. Yeah.
[00:22:55] SC: He could show up. Then you were like, “He was in jail!” Well, he’s really smart. He got out of jail.
[00:23:02] TG: Well, one of the things I read when I was just reading about the mentor was that the mentor eventually gets saved by the hero, which I don’t think is necessary, because I immediately thought of several different versions of mentors that were saved by the hero, but I had liked that –
[00:23:28] SC: Like Gandalf.
[00:23:29] TG: Yeah. I mean, Gandalf wasn’t, Obi-Wan Kenobi wasn’t, but then like Haymitch was. I forgot why though. Anyway, I kind of like the fact that he was stuck and she’s the one that got him out at the end as her way of like overtaking the mentor. I forgot where I’ve read it, but I read it as like a good way to show that the hero has now surpassed the mentor, is the mentor ends up getting saved by the hero.
Anyway, we can deal with that, but that was what I was thinking when I – Because I originally was like, “Okay.” I actually was like halfway through writing the scene when I realized like, “Oh, wait. He’s not available,” and then I thought about that and then I thought, “Well, I kind of want him rescued by Jesse at the end.” So that’s when I rewrote it as –
[00:24:25] SC: I think it works with Alex too. In fact, it’s a nice –
[00:24:28] TG: Because I’m thinking too long term of like Alex I think is going to be by her side for a long time.
[00:24:37] SC: Yeah.
[00:24:37] TG: Like he’s probably end up dying at the end of the third one right at the end. I remember one of my favorite trilogies is The Night Angel trilogy, by Brent weeks, and I only cried at one scene, and it was when the friend was killed in her stead, in the hero’s stead, not her stead, his stead, and it was like devastating.
So my thought was if he saves her here, that sets him up to be her Savior for a very long time, and I like having him kind of be in this world where everything is so mental, like he’ll get in a fist fight for. So I feel like that will follow for a long time to the point where that way when he finally dies it will be really devastating to everybody, including myself. So I kind of liked him being basically beat down and then right at the last second saving her. So that was my thought process in it.
[00:25:54] SC: I think it works. So I wouldn’t change it now. I think you make very good points about that, and I agree.
So in terms of the trickster, I think you solved a lot of problems with these scenes. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to move into multiple point of view chapters after Jesse, we lose contact with her and she’s in the middle of the threshing. I think it’s a reasonable trick that your reader is going to want at that point. They’re going to want to see a broader canvas by the ending payoff of this novel, and it’s a canvas that you wouldn’t be able to do just with Jesse’s point of view.
00:26:39 TG: Yeah. I wasn’t worried, like I was just more worried is will it be jarring or will it be natural? Will people be like, “Whoa!”
[00:26:49] TG: It will be jarring.
[00:26:50] TG: But in a good way. I mean, I guess I was thinking like –
[00:26:52] SC: You don’t really know until we have a workable manuscript, meaning one that will line at it. But my gut is that it will be a little jarring, but in a good way. I think when they start seeing – When the reader gets to that place and they start seeing the world through Ernst point of view, the pachinko machine in their brain will tumble back and say, “Oh my gosh! Ernst is the bad guy. Ernst is the mole. Holy cow!” Then it’s the hero at the mercy of the villain scenes. It’s a set up to the hero at the mercy of the villain scene, because obviously Jesse can’t protect herself in that place. She’s ultimately vulnerable.
If you want to look at – And this might be fun for a second, like who does Ernst and Alex represent in terms of Jesse’s subconscious personality?
[00:27:59] TG: Oh! I don’t know. I don’t really know what you’re asking.
[00:28:03] SC: Okay.
[00:28:03] TG: So can you give me a hint?
[00:28:05] SC: Let me go back to the solar system again, okay? The solar system that I described was the external solar system earlier when I said Shawn Coyne is in the middle. The first ring around Shawn is my wife and my three kids, and I extended those rings outward to human being on the planet Earth, right? So it goes all the way out there, probably 10 or 12 rings that are the external rings outside of the individual human being.
Now, there are also internal rings. So there’s Shawn Coyne, and then inside the microscopic little ring, it’s like that power of 10 movie I always show to anybody who will bear to watch it again. It’s like the macro-telescopic movement by power of 10 away from the couple having a picnic in Chicago to the internal, like into their cells, their organs – Their organs, their cells, their subatomic particles. So psychologically, the internal rings would be the yin and the yang of Shawn Coyne, or your character Jesse, which would be the part of Jesse that wants to destroy everything, right? She’s the shadow. She doesn’t like the way things are. She’s resentful and she wants to wipe everything out. Okay, so that’s one part of her personality, and the other part of her personality is the creative sort of explorer, and those two parts are the yin and the yang, the shadow and the hero, the antagonist and the protagonist.
Okay, so that’s one ring, and then when you go outside of that ring, that double ring is all the multiple sort of sub-personalities that fan off of those two major personalities. So Alex, Alex represents the heroic force as physical being. So the heroic force that will play football and work towards a goal of the team winning a football game, or play basketball. They’re physical movements toward a creative act, and the creative act would be winning the big game.
If you’re an artist playing the piano, it’s the physical being of moving the fingers and training the hands so that they can play perfectly. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be a sport. It’s a performance too. So if you’re a salesperson, it’s using your voice, your physicality to close the sale, okay? So that’s sort of what Alex is on that other ring. He’s an ally to the creative heroic hero that’s in the first internal ring of Jesse, right?
Now, all these archetypes that we’re talking about in terms of the heroic journey are what I’m describing, right? They’re the second ring of the hero. I would say the first ring is binary. The first ring is the shadow versus the hero, the antagonist versus the protagonist.
[00:32:01] TG: And this is where you would put like chaos versus order.
[00:32:04] SC: Exactly.
[00:32:05] TG: In that first ring. Okay.
[00:32:06] SC: Exactly. Chaos and order are external features, as is the creative force of the external world and the destructive force of the external world. So that’s sort of mother nature, and order, it has a masculine – Traditionally a masculine connotation throughout time through myth. So order and chaos usually has sort of a masculine sensibility, and the destructive forces of nature and the constructive forces of nature have a feminine. So that’s why we say mother nature and God Father, the Father.
Anyway, I don’t want to get into the genders of these things, because it’s a very controversial part of the world right now. Alright, so those are sort of the two external forces that also go internal too. Anyway, let me get back to the internal ring. So the first ring is hero versus shadow. The ring after that are these heroic journey archetypes, and there are some that are closer to the positive, constructive creator, which is the hero. So the heroes has some characteristics to them. The hero is exploring. They’re working at the limits of their capacity at the edge of their capacity. So they’ve left the campfire of safety and they’ve gone into the darkness to pursue knowledge, or a skill. So they are actively moving to bring something that is not available back to the campfire. They’re out there to create something, okay?
Now, the antagonist is out to control and keep everyone in line and to stop creation. They want things – They’re reactionary. They’re conservative. They want everyone to stay in the light of the campfire and no one is to go outside the campfire, and if anyone does go outside the campfire, you’re going to destroy them, because if they come back with something fresh and new, it’s going to destroy the order established by the antagonist, right?
So it’s paradoxical, right? Because sometimes it’s a great idea to go outside the campfire and look for a new tool, and sometimes it’s a terrible idea, right? It’s dependent. This is why we have both sides to us, and this is why we’re constantly boring inside internally, because part of us wants to, “You know what? Let me just make my nut this month and the next month and everything will be okay. As long as I have enough income coming in to take care of my family, everything is going to be fine.”
The other part of us is like, “I’m not really all that excited about just breaking even every month. I want to come up with some new ideas and new shit. I want to go explore some stuff.” So it’s a constant battle within us. So these internal rings are wonderful to consider after you have sort of the global external points of your story kind of in line, which you do. So that’s why we’re really pursuing the second ring, the archetypes of the heroic journey, to make sure that we’re hitting these points so that – Because that’s the thing that’s really going to grab someone by the throat and force them to read your novel. It’s not how well you describe and action scene.
In fact, you could do it pretty poorly as – And then if you look at the first Star Wars, that’s the really basic story that has zero CGI or any effects. It’s really an internal story that’s driving the success of Star Wars. Now, it’s a different thing today, but when we go into that second ring of the internal when we’re going down into the high-resolution microscopic look. On the side of the hero, like I would say the positive side of the spectrum, you would have the mentor, right? The mentor is a very good force of positivity, and the allies, the people who are aligned with the pursuit of a creative act, which is what your hero is doing. Like Jesse’s creative act is to win the threshing so that the American faction can maintain its power. Then you have like the character who’s helping and then shifts, the shape shifter. The shape shifter is Ernst. So Ernst is helping Alex for a long period of time in the story until he doesn’t. He shifts. He goes down to the other side of the equation to help – Because the shape shifter has their own sort of – I’m sorry, the trickster.
[00:37:25] TG: Trickster, yeah.
[00:37:26] SC: The shape shifter is Az.
[00:37:30] TG: Right.
[00:37:31] SC: Right. Okay. So he is aligned with the positive forces of Alex’s goal, which is to win the faction, win for the faction. So Az is on the positive, even though he starts negative. The trickster starts positive and ends negative. That’s Ernst. So Ernst is aligned with the shadow. Now, the herald – Do you have a herald scene?
[00:37:57] TG: We have the herald at the beginning of the book with the mayor, and then we have a couple – I forgot what we came to last week. It felt like it wasn’t a big homework assignment, because it was mostly just like we’ve got to add in a couple like this is coming, and I know a couple of them are already in there. I actually found one when I was getting ready to write some of these scenes I was going back and rereading.
So I feel like it kind of on my mind went on the shelf of, “I’m going to have a list of things that I’m weaving in as I go back through the book anyway,” and that’s on there, to make sure that it’s strong, because they’re in there. It just needs to be a little stronger.
[00:38:42] SC: Well, I would recommend that you pick one scene right now. Pick one character right now, and remember that herald doesn’t have to be a specific character. What I mean by that is that Az conservative as the herald. Although Az also serves as the threshold guardian right now. So the herald –What the herald job is is to be the Eeyore, the one who says, “Oh! We’ll never going to win. This is – Forget it. There’s no way.” So they’re the ones who always say, “Do you understand how many people – Did you understand?” The one in Gates of Fire is the one who’s saying, “Do you know how many of those Persians are on their way to slaughter us? There are millions of them. We’re 300 guys. Are you kidding?” So that’s the role of the herald.
While you do have that peppered, you do need one dramatic moment that really lays it on the line. When somebody says – And it could be Alex., could be Ernst, it could be Harry, it could be Marcus, it could be Randy, it could be anyone. Basically what they say is – And it could be within the speech and praise of the villain, but somebody needs to say, “You understand the stakes here. There’re five factions. We’ve controlled double resources for eight years. Now, think about it. Think about those moments in your life when you’re really hungry and then multiply them by 50, and then multiply that by 8×365 days. This is how important it is for those other factions to win the threshing. So think about that. Think about that before you head in there.”
Now, what that would do to somebody is probably undermine them, right? You would make them scared the shit out of them before they had to do something important. So if somebody says to you – Like I’m giving the great story certified editor week, which is it’s a big task, right? So if the day before I go to give this big lecture for seven days, eight hours a day, somebody says to me, “You know, you really aren’t going to want to disappoint those people who spend all that money to come here you talk, Shawn. They’re going to want to know X, Y, Z. They’re going to want to know blah-blah-blah. So you think you’re really up to it?” That’s a herald. You need one very, very clear moment of that, and usually that’s going to come right before one of the big severings or right before the threshing or something. We need to know – This is the telling of the stakes for the other factions literally, and then Ernst is the proof in the pudding of that statement, right? So you want this thing to come before Ernst betrays Jesse.
[00:42:04] TG: Okay. I’ve already got one in there that I can just amp up, which is when Jesse gets five minutes with Randy before the threshing starts and he kind of lays out. Because, to me, she doesn’t care as much about the fact. The only reason she’s agreed to do – Yeah, the only reason that she’s agreed to do the threshing in her mind is because it gets these other things she cares about. She doesn’t really care about the rations or all of that. So they could beat that drum all day long. That’s not why she’s doing this.
So I could just amp that up. It’s probably – Again, I’m going off of memory from a while ago. It’s probably already in there. I’ll just kind of need to turn it up a little bit of him saying, “Look, if you don’t win this, everything you want is going out the window.”
[00:42:57] SC: I like that, because psychologically Randy is going to want to undermine his little sister, because Randy is the one who won the last threshing and nobody wants to teach somebody how to do something better than you did yourself. So I mean psychologically –
[00:43:14] TG: Especially your sibling.
[00:43:15] SC: Yeah, exactly. So him saying that to her is a clue to her that, “This guy is kind of a dick. He’s my brother and everything but I don’t know that he would be a good person to have in power, because if his motivation right before I go into the most important thing in my life is to do anything other than to make me feel confident,” then that’s not really somebody you want to empower, because those kind of people prey on people’s weaknesses to keep them in line, to keep them in their place.
So a really good leader would say something like, “Hey, you know what? You’re ready. I have a good feeling about this. I think you’ve been working really hard and I think you’ve got a good chance. Not only a good chance. I think it’s inevitable that you will win. So go in there. Do what I taught you. Follow the force and you’re going to be fine.” That’s what you need in leadership. So if Randy says, “You know, there’s a million guys you are going to be –” That is a tell and your reader is going to figure that out psychologically inside of their mind and they’re going to feel like, “That’s not really cool,” but they’re not going to put the tip of the tongue on that, if you know what I mean. They’re not going to figure that out until later.
Then when Jesse actually seizes power, it’s sort of like, “Yeah, I don’t want to be in power. But what’s the alternative? Marcus or my brother? No. Those guys are going to ruin it. I’m going to do the best I can with the people I trust and maybe we can work out a better way.” Now, that’s courageous and it’s also going to cause a very big ending to your novel that will hopefully make people want to read the next part of it.
Okay. So let me just go back to these archetypes and put them to rest. So you’re going to pump up that herald scene. The allies, I think we firmly established as Alex as her major ally, her protector. So we’ve got –
[00:45:39] TG: Ernst is an ally for most of the book too.
[00:45:41] SC: Sure. Yeah, but he’s the trickster. So I think all of these archetypes we’ve covered, we’ve got mentor, shape shifter, threshold guardian, trickster, shadow, and herald. Now, the shadow of course is Randy, and I think is pretty clear that he is the shadow, especially when you give him the role of the herald in that moment too.
Good. So I think tweaking the herald, I’m trying to consider – I mean, that’s not going to be a lot of work for you. Do you have any thoughts about what you would like to work on next?
[00:46:17] TG: So there’s a couple things. So one is I just have a bunch of shit I got to go back and like put in one line at a time. The stuff we talk, like I got to start foreshadowing Ernst. I actually have been thinking I should write them all down. That way I’m trying to get around having to read the entire book 20 times. Like, “Okay, one for Ernst, foreshadowing him. Once for Az, doing things that he’s got to do.”
The thing that I feel like is becoming more clear, but is still the fuzziest that bothers me is the overall world. Why we’re here? I wrote that little history of the world and you had some critiques on that. Because I feel like what I’m moving towards is kind of one more big going through and tying everything together so that it works. Because I’ve already figured that out as I’ve gone through and worked kind of on individual scenes for these hero archetypes. I’ve also changed the bunch of stuff of like, “Oh! Harry want to act that way. I’m going to pull that out.” “Oh! That character want to do that. I’m going to switch that up.”
“Oh! I made this decision about the end, so I need to fix that here while I’m here,” and I know there’s probably just 123 more of those things that I’ve got to do, but I feel like I’m still a little fuzzy on the world, and then by extension, the history of how we got here that I feel like needs fixing so that – Because I’m getting more clear on things like the propaganda that’s going to be in the beginning hook in New York, and then some of the stuff that’s going on in the capital. I feel like I’ve pretty well established the capital city. I don’t even know how to say it in the book. It’s A-E-T-A, but like the capital building itself, I’m very fuzzy on what it is and the floors and whose there and corridors and what they look like and all that kind of stuff.
So I feel like it this point we’ve got the characters, we’ve got the moments in the Hero’s Journey. We’ve got the hero archetypes looking at the scene-by-scene spreadsheet, like I clearly have scenes that I’m either going to cut or rework because there’s no value shift, there’s no turning, which is fine. That’s easy to do. I feel like my punch list of things to do is becoming really concrete, except for that. So that’s where my mind goes when I think about what I need to do next.
[00:49:11] SC: Here’s what I suggest you do. There is something that I’m doing with another client that I think is helpful. I don’t know – Okay, it’s basically doing index cards, and what the index cards are is the first thing you do is you write out your 15 macro scenes. So these are structural scenes that are – It’s the macro level up your craft course. So you would have the global – inciting incident of the beginning of the beginning hook, the turning point progressive complications scene of your beginning hook, the crisis scene of your beginning hook, the climaxing scene or your beginning book, the resolution of your beginning hook.
So you have one index card and you write that structural scene down, and then what you do is you go find the scene in your novel that aligns with the structural scene. Sometimes your crisis and your climax are in the same scene. So sometimes what we’ll do is one scene hits a crisis and then they reactively act in a climactic way in the same scene. So it’s okay to say if, say, scene nine is both your crisis and your climax. So I don’t want you to get hung up with, “Oh! I don’t have a fully dedicated crisis scene. I have one scene that does the beginning hook, crisis and climax at the same time, or I have one that does the climax and the resolution at the same time,” and I want you to worry about that.
But I do want you just like we picked apart the book in terms of the archetypes of the heroic journey and we’ve gone through the book a number of times hitting the big moments of the heroic journey. I think it’s good to pinpoint those 15 critical macro scenes in the book. So you have these index cards and you write scene seven or scene nine and that will be a really good checkpoint to make sure that the global storytelling structure is in place.
After I’ve said this now, I don’t know – You know what? There’s no way that’s going to hurt you. I was about to say, “I think you’re okay. We’ve gone through it so many times. I think you’re okay, but then the other thing just came to my mind, which is why not check? Is the worst thing in the world to give it another check? Because you might find like, “Holy shit! I don’t have a resolution to my middle build. Is that okay? Shawn, do you think that’s okay?” And then we can actually talk about it. We might realize it’s okay, but we might not.
In terms of the levels of analysis after the heroic journey and the archetypes, I think just making sure that your clicking on these moments in the story using the 15 structural checkpoints of a global story is a good idea. So I would suggest you do that along with the herald scene for next week. Now, if you’ve finished that early, you can shoot those to me earlier and then if you’re ready to go to the next level, maybe we can tape this earlier the next week if you want.
[00:52:58] TG: I mean, what you just gave me is the opposite of what I said, or not the opposite, but not related to what I said. So you feel like this is the path to fix those other problems?
[00:53:11] SC: No. No. The other problems are – Let me just talk about your concern about the global world. The trick to the global world is to put in a lot of mystery in reference to previous major events without being too specific about it, right? So you want to refer to – like they do this in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker, he’s in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s house, and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s telling Luke about his father and he says, “Well, I was a Jedi Knight and so was your father,” and Luke says to him, “Did you fight in the Clone Wars?” and Obi-Wan Kenobi goes, “Yeah, we did,” and then they move on, right?
So he just says the Clone Wars.
[00:54:03] TG: So what the hell is that?
[00:54:05] SC: Yeah, but we go, “Oh! It was a war with Clones,” and we move on, right? So George Lucas obviously dropped that in there in the hopes that maybe one day he could do a story about the Clone Wars, because he set it up, but he had no idea really what the Clone Wars was going to be, but he gave himself a little Easter egg that he could, at some point if there was demand, go back and do.
So when people are talking about the big events that happened that created the present order in your post-apocalyptic world, they could say things like “Well, after that big conflagration between what was once called Asia and the Americas, well, we don’t want that to happen again, right?” “Oh, no. We don’t.” And then they keep moving on, right?
So you don’t get too specific about what happened. You don’t have to give a history lesson, but you drop in little bits and pieces, right? So I don’t think there’s a massive huge problem right now with your world in that you want to give yourself some wiggle room to develop story later on using these sort of vagueish but specific global ideas, a war, an assassination, a rebellion. You could say drop in things like that. “Well, we don’t want another rebellion.” “Oh, no! Of course not,” and then everybody in the story that you are writing would know what they’re referring to, but you don’t necessarily have to.
[00:55:58] TG: This still seems weird to me.
[00:56:00] SC: Yeah, the characters –
[00:56:02] TG: That the characters know more than I do.
[00:56:03] SC: Yeah. Yeah, they do, and it’s okay that they do, because that’s a way of getting into finding strands of story. You’d go, “What would Harry – Where did Harry come from? Where did Harry grow up?” And then you start thinking like Harry and Harry is like, “Well, I grew up in the some weird place in North Dakota,” and then you’ve got like a back story percolating in your mind about who Harry is. Where he came from? How he became a leader of the rebellion? What his relationship to Marcus is? All that stuff.
So my only point about the world is you don’t have to solve every micro detail about the world, but what would you do want to do is have – I think it’s reasonable to have like maybe four to six references throughout the entire novel about the past, just enough to let people know who are reading story that the characters are operating under a shared past and that there are events in the past that they all understand to mean something. That’s enough. That says, “This is a world that’s consistent that all of these characters are familiar with, etc.”
So I don’t see that as a massive problem. I see that as a deliberate micro task for you to do in a line edit. Now, before we get to the line edit – And we really are pretty close I think to the line edit, but I want to be super anal-retentive and say to myself, “Let’s take one more check in terms of our five commandments of storytelling to make sure that Tim has a very clear beginning hook, middle build, ending payoff and then he can identify the big moments in each section of this story before we start doing the micro edit,” because once we start doing the micro edit, guess what happens? It’s kind of fun and you’re going to start doing little tweaks to your sentences. You’re going to change the little bits of your scenes. You might even say, “I’ve got nine meetings scenes in a row.”
Now, you have a spreadsheet that tells you the character of each one of your scenes that you’ve already done, and when you’re doing your micro, you’ll probably want to look at like, “Today I’m going to work on just the conceptions of my first 10 scenes. All right, let’s see. I’ve got a break and enter scene, followed by a two-person heart-to-heart interrogation scene, followed by a big events in the middle of Times Square, followed by – Right? So you’re going to go, “Yeah! Yeah! This is percolating along. I’m changing up the setting, the number of people in the scene, the situation. I’m not doing coffee scene, coffee scene, coffee scene, meal scene. I’m moving it around. I’m adding more bit players.” So that would be something to do in the micro edit, and then you can tweak a scene and change the character of it at that moment like dealing with those scenes that are flaccid that don’t have a shift, a value shift, etc.
So you see what I mean? I think you’re line edit, you’re probably going to go through the book a couple of times in a line edit, and I do think it’s a good idea to track through the book just looking at where Ernst appears. How many scenes is Ernst in? Is the reader going to understand his evolution? He’s in how many scenes? Is Ernst in five scene, three scenes, two scenes?
[01:00:02] TG: I just had the thought, I’m like, “Oh! That’s such a pain in the ass to go through each scene and figure out is Ernst in this one?” I’m like, “Oh, wait. It’s already in my spreadsheet.”
[01:00:12] SC: That’s right.
[01:00:13] TG: I’m like, “That’s what that thing is for.”
[01:00:13] SC: That’s why you do the spreadsheet. Yeah. No. You don’t have to read the manuscript again. You just go through your spreadsheet and then you don’t have to read everything. You just go, “Oh! There is Ernst. Okay. Ernst is only in three scenes and he’s going to be the trickster. Was that going to work or should I put him in a couple of more scenes so that the reader gets familiar with him so that when he really does shift it doesn’t come out of left field? Do you get it?
[01:00:42] TG: Right. Yeah. Okay. So next thing is the note cards or identify the 15 scenes and then a bump up the herald scene and then we’ll meet again and go from there.
[01:00:58] SC: Yeah. Yeah.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[01:01:00] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Story Grid podcast. For everything Story Grid related, check out story grid.com. Make sure you pick up a copy of the book and sign up for the newsletter 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 or any past episodes, all of that can be found at storygrid.com/podcast. If you would like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @StoryGrid. Lastly, if you would like to support the show, you can do that by telling another author about the show and by visiting us on Apple Podcast and leaving a rating and review.
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