[0:00:01.5] 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 a creator of Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.
In this episode, we start setting a real goal of finally finishing and publishing this novel. I’m ready to get moving on it and I’m in this in-between space after finishing the second draft and looking to work on the third draft. We’ve been evaluating the draft. Shawn and I talked through a plan on how to push towards the finish line on this novel, talk about some common missteps and potholes I’m probably going to hit along the way. Then we dive into some specific stuff about the hero’s journey, the moments and especially, the archetypes of characters.
For all of us that have tried to actually finish a project, I think this is a really good episode. Then of course, we dive into the hero’s journey stuff, which I think we all can always work a little bit more on. It’s a great episode. I hope you enjoy it.
Let’s jump in and get started.
[0:01:18.5] TG: Shawn, we are starting out the new year and it’s been a few weeks since we talked. I got deathly, like I haven’t been that sick in probably a decade. It was just one of those I went to bed one night, woke up at 2:00 a.m. and the demon had entered my body. It was bad. Anyway, thanks to Valerie for stepping in for me and then we had the holidays.
I was working on the homework you gave me of the scene classifications and then I started working on the hero’s journey analysis of my story. Then I want to finish this thing. Done the homework you gave me. We’ve been working on this now. I mean, this version of the book for two years. I’m ready to finish this thing.
I’ve set my goal to finish the third draft and basically, have the book done. I don’t totally know what that means, but I guess my thing is I want the book done and all that’s left is to clean it up by the end of this month. I’ve set time aside to work on it, but I’m not really sure what to do. That’s where I’m at. You’ve got my spreadsheet and all the tabs on it and everything. Yeah, so that’s where I’m at. You’ve gotten a look at it. Am I crazy to think that I could finish this in a month? Is that just biting off too much? If not, what should I do here?
[0:02:53.1] SC: I think the first thing to do is to – if you were working with me as your employed editor and say we hadn’t worked together a few years before and you sent me this manuscript, what I would say is the first thing I wanted to do is put it on the spectrum of beginning to finished, right?
I always think of the world in terms of spectrums of value. On the spectrum of value of writing a novel, where are you in terms of the timeline? You just started, versus I’m close to the finish line. Where I would put you is very, very close to the finish line. As Steve says in the War of Art, when the closer you get to the finish line the more resistance really can beat down on you and get you to go nuts. Steve always says, whenever you reach this point, you got to be careful when you’re driving.
I think he’s right, because what happens is – and I face this in my own projects, is that you get weird. You got sick, didn’t you? You got sick and it was – I’m not Mr. Woowoo spiritual guy, but again and again and then again, this has happened not only to me, but to other people that I know, especially Steve. When you get close to a project, you can get into an accident with your car, you can get very ill, a really bad flu. It’s almost as if internally, your psychological makeup, the resistance element, the shadow element within your psyche wants to undermine you one final time. What it does is it pulls out all the stops.
You got very deathly ill at the end of the year and it’s because you are getting very close to the finish line. It doesn’t mean that this thing is ready to go and we can publish it and everything will be great. What it does mean though is that you are at a place where you can really up the level with concentrated, really intense work over as you say three to four weeks. Then at the end of this period of really intense hard work, you’re going to have something that probably can go to a copy editor and then it’s on its road to publication.
With that said, so I agree with you. I think you’re at a place where it’s really time to batten down the hatches, throw everything off of your desk and say, “I’m going to finish this by X date.” Finish, meaning I’m ready to lock the words. That’s what Steve and I always say, we’re locking down the content. It’s done. We’re locking the manuscript. Now what?
Okay, so what do you do when you’re at this point where you have a macro story that’s working and the micro story is generally working, but there are lots of loose ends, some holes here and there, some things that could really derail your audience early and often? Also, at what point do you start going line-by-line and cleaning up the prose?
All right, so that is actually in my estimation the last stage is when you go line-by-line and fix poor sentences that flow, blah, blah, blah. There was a great e-mail that Seth Godin sent the other day that I saved and I wanted to share with you and it’s called – and really speaks to what the Story Grid is all about. Okay, so the e-mail was titled Creating a Useful Spec. This is from Seth Godin.
It’s a very short e-mail and it says, if you want someone to help, you’ll do better with a spec. It lists just four things. Number one, what is the problem to be solved? That’s the first question. Number two, how are we going to solve it? That’s the second question. Number three is how can we test that the thing we built matches what we set out to build? That’s the third question. The fourth question is how will we know if it’s working? That’s creating a useful spec via Seth Godin and it’s really a very useful set of questions.
If someone were to ask me, how did you build the Story Grid methodology? I would say, well I was trying to use the notion of creating a useful spec and apply it to literary work. All right, so what’s the problem to be solved right now? The problem that we want to solve is how do we lock this book? How do we finish it? Number two is how are we going to solve it? Okay, the way we’re going to solve it is by using Story Grid methodology. There are multiple levels of Story Grid methodology that we’ve gone through for the past three years. We know the methodology very, very well at this point.
Number three, how can we test that the thing that we built matches what we set out to build? Okay, that is again goes back to Story Grid methodology, because when we set out to build this thing, we asked a very specific question, what’s the genre, right? What’s the thing that we want to build? Okay. Then the fourth the thing from Seth is how will we know that when it’s working?
Okay, so the Story Grid methodology gives us answers to all of those questions. Well, a genre book of this nature works when X is satisfied, Y is satisfied, Z is satisfied. We know all of these questions that we have to answer. When I had you do the homework the last time, the homework that I asked you to do was to abstractly classify each one of the scenes in your book to give it a category, right?
Let me just pull up your spreadsheet here. You added a column to your Story Grid spreadsheet that is called scene classification. I think you did a pretty good job in classifying which of these scenes means what. When you went through that, I think what you found is that there was a nice variety of movement of seeing classification, which meant that you weren’t repeating the same scene over and over and over again.
For example, if you were to have a story that began with two people having a discussion over coffee and then the next scene was another couple of characters who were having a discussion while they were watching television. Then the next scene was a group of people having a meal talking about a particular problem. You can see that you’re just repeating the same global scene over and over again.
While the reader isn’t going to say to themselves, “Boy, this guy is repeating the same scene over and over again, because the characters change and the names change and the topics of conversation change,” internally they’re going to go, “This is boring, because this is the same scene over and over again.” They’re going to instinctively know that.
Our process right now is to look at your scene movements. I only looked at them very quickly this morning, but what it did show me was that your scenes are moving in a interesting and unique way and you’ve got these global classifications that are mirroring the hero’s journey, as well as the genre in which you are working.
You have scenes like, the lie is revealed scene. That is the scene just before the end of the beginning hook. The lie is revealed scene is scene number 13. Pretty good choice, right? Because the lie is revealed scene is basically saying to the protagonist of your story and your you’re writing a genre story that’s an action story with a maturation plot underneath, right? Because your character is a young girl who was maturing while caught in an action story, action labyrinth plot.
I think the choice of having a lie is revealed scene as the critical moment just before the break between beginning hook and middle build is a good choice, because it also is an action scene of sorts that is about recovering from a traumatic event, but it reveals the lie. The lie is that everyone in the numbered believes that Jesse has been basically thrown in there and she can’t get out. The truth is Jesse can leave whenever she wants, as long as she does what Marcus asks her to, correct?
[0:12:49.9] TG: Right.
[0:12:50.6] SC: That’s a really nice choice, because it’s a force of the protagonist to confront a lie. I think that is a really good scene and I love the way you classified it too, because it speaks to one of the genres that you’re – our goal right now, and this is why it’s great to have something like zesting, creating useful specs. What’s the problem to be solved?
Okay, we want to take the book from its present second draft into an even better third draft. Now how are we going to solve it? We’re going to solve it using Story Grid methodology and what is the right entry point in the Story Grid method to take it from a second draft to a third draft? I think that point is to look at what do you think the best next step is, Tim?
[0:13:43.9] TG: Well, I’ve gone back and forth on this, because one of the things you have me – you said would be next would be going through the scenes and looking at the five commandments. Breaking down the inciting incident, the progressive complication, the crisis, the climax the resolution of each scene, but the same time I feel – so I’m like, okay that makes sense, right, to look at it, to make sure you’ve seen this turning and has all five pieces, but at the same time when I went back through and did the spreadsheet initially, I identified I can read a scene now and know, “Okay, this one works, this one doesn’t work. This one turns, this one doesn’t turn.” I actually identified the ones that are – I have a handful of scenes that don’t have anything that will need to be reworked.
I’m like, “Okay, is that really what I should be spending my time on doing the five commandments?” I went back and looked at when I done the first draft, some of the things that we had done to evaluate it. One of the things was the hero’s journey of making sure that it had both the I call them moments, but the different moments of the hero’s journey of crossing the threshold and meeting with the goddess, all of that.
I tried to go through my draft and say, “Okay, these is the scenes where those things are happening.” Then I went through and looked at the hero’s journey archetypes of the characters and tried to identify where that needs work and I put that as a tab in the spreadsheet, and that needs a decent amount of work.
Then one of the things that was happening as I was writing the second draft, I was building the bridge as I walked on it, right? I was figuring out major pieces of the book as I was writing it. I figured out most of them by the end of the book, but that means there’s characters that show up once and seem like they’re going to be major characters that never show up again.
There’s some gaping holes that I’ve got to go back and fix. I have a couple characters interchange now that whatever, whatever. Oh, I also had – I wrote a oral history of the world, so I feel I’ve got that locked. I know what’s driving everything and who’s behind it and what happened to get us here thing.
My knee-jerk is to go back in and rebuild the beginning hook of the story, so those first 13 scenes. Those of course are going to be the ones that are the most off the mark, because I didn’t figure out the story until I was halfway through this draft. My knee-jerk is often to go back into the weeds, because that’s where I feel comfortable.
I’m a little unsure if do I need to keep doing some high-level evaluation of these things before I can do that? Is it a good idea to go ahead and go through the scenes and identify the five commandments of each scene to make sure they’re all there, or I don’t know? I’m a little lost, which is why I stopped, until we could talk again. I feel I’ve evaluated this draft pretty heavily, but I am a little like, “Okay, do I need to do some more evaluation before I dive back in, or what?”
[0:17:28.4] SC: I have a better feeling about it now. I just pulled up your hero’s journey archetype form from the spreadsheet and there’s a lot of things to work through here. I think that’s the next step. The reason why I’m going to say that is I’ll pose the question and answer it after I pose it. What is the most critical thing to generate narrative drive for a story? That most critical thing is that very generic word phrase, sympathy for the hero. How do you create sympathy for the hero? That’s by nailing and very clearly having the archetypes of the hero’s journey deeply set in the story, as well as the eight heroic journey scenes.
When I was looking through your scenes, I noticed that you really had a pretty strong foundation in terms of the scenes of the hero’s journey. You definitely have the refusal of the call and acceptance of the call and transition into the extraordinary world and the trials and the allies. What you do have a problem with here are the archetypes.
The hero is very clear. We know who the protagonist is. The mentor, okay, there is a problem, right? Because you have three of them that are possibilities. Now we need to clearly establish the Obi-wan Kenobi. Once you make that choice, then you’ll be able to go back and look inside of your scene-by-scene work and say, “Which scene can I change and add those mentor-mentee kinds of relationship storylines to?”
Usually, the mentor explains to the idiot young mentee what’s going on, right? They go, “Okay, so why did you do that? Let me explain something to you, the world is X way.” That is also going to tie into your world. I read that document that you wrote about your world and I think generally it’s okay, but I think you need to be even more specific about it and you can’t just generically say, religious leaders came to the fore and took control. I think you need to work through that a little bit more.
I understand the instinct to use a religious way of solving that big global problem, but I don’t think you can just say the Catholic Church steps in and answers the problem. Anyway, I’m getting off course here. I think what you need to do is to clearly establish, make a choice A, who’s going to be the mentor and how are you going to give a scene to the reader that they will immediately get is a mentor-mentee relationship? Okay, so that’s number one.
Now, the threshold guardian archetype is really – let me think about. The threshold guardian is like that guy in The Wizard of Oz, who opens up the passageway and the door and says, “What do you people want? You can’t come into Oz, unless I approve you.” The threshold guardian, I think you actually do have in there, remember it’s not specifically one character, it’s an element that has to be in the story. One character can be the threshold guardian, as well as part of the antagonism element in the story too.
The threshold guardian for me is as when he’s on the plane with Jesse explaining to her what she’s in for so. I think, as long as you take a look at that scene and just clearly act like he’s lording it over her, the information that he has about the capital, in a way that is a threshold guardian. Let me just warn you, you’re in for a world of pain, or whatever. Does that make sense?
[0:22:05.8] TG: I went back, like I just Googled a bunch of stuff about the hero’s journey and was trying to read about it and I’m still – there’s a couple of them I’m still unclear on exactly what their role is. One of those would be the threshold guardian. I don’t understand, because when you say the threshold guardian for the Wizard of Oz, it’s the guy that keeps – makes them answer for why they should be coming into Oz, which is late in the story, that would be I would say the beginning of the ending build. I have not looked super close at The Wizard of Oz. What you’re describing is as at the beginning of the middle build. I don’t really know what the role is of the threshold guardian.
[0:22:54.9] SC: The threshold guardian is the force that clearly shows to the protagonist that they’re leaving the extraordinary world into the extraordinary world. They’re leaving the ordinary world to the extraordinary world, okay? It’s basically – say like my kid is thinking about going to college, right? We went to visit a college the other day. What do they do on a college visit? They give you a threshold guardian to walk you around. They’re an undergraduate who teaches you and gives you the spiel about the school. They serve as the threshold guardian and they are the force in between the ordinary world into the extraordinary world. They explain to you what you’re in for in the extraordinary world.
Now the threshold guardian can either be a positive force and say, “Oh, my God. You’re not going to believe what it’s like when you get into this amazing school.” That’s what you get on a on a college tour, right?
[0:24:08.5] TG: Right, right.
[0:24:08.9] SC: When he goes on a college tour, you never get a guy or a woman who says, “Hey.”
[0:24:14.3] TG: This place sucks.
[0:24:15.0] SC: Yeah, this place is no good, man. Because they’re being paid by the university to pitch the propaganda, right? We here at university of your choice believe in all the things that sound magical and wonderful, right? That’s one threshold guardian who’s giving you the propaganda of the institution to get you to – get your parents to part with $60,000 a year, or whatever it is. Okay, so that’s one threshold guardian.
The other one is when you’re going into the freshman football team at a university and the senior is assigned to teach you the ropes, right? Last summer, my son and I went to this famous baseball training facility. My son’s a young kid, right? When he shows up for his first day of training, they’ve got the salty 23-year-old guy who’s already been to the major college playing baseball who works at this facility and he makes my son feel terrible, right? That’s his job. His job is to be like, “Hey, kid. I’m not going to make you feel good. I’m going to teach you how to become better.”
Now he’s serving both threshold guardian and mentor, so let’s just pretend he’s not being the mentor. He’s just some super stud who trains at the facility, right? My son walks in and the guys are like, “What are you doing here, kid?” Right? It’s like, “Oh, I’m here to train.” “Oh, really. You’re here to train? Hey, fellas you hear this? This kid is here to train.” He’s the threshold guardian. He’s like, “You’re in for a world of pain, kid. You sure you want to join here? You sure you want to come in? Because this is no joke, brother. You’re living in the little league world, man. We are professionals here. The guys in here are taking protein powder. They are lifting weights three hours a day. They’re chewing tobacco. They’re playing Fortnite in between sets. Are you ready for that?” That’s a threshold guardian.
The way to think of the threshold guardian is the moment, think of your own life; one of the major moments in your life when you move from an ordinary world to an extraordinary experience. What are you doing? You’re operating at the limits of your capacity, right? You say to yourself, “It’s time for me to challenge myself.” This is what’s going on for Jesse, right? Now she’s reluctantly doing it, but she’s doing it. She says to herself, “I can’t live a lie anymore. The numbered are not my friends. They think I’m a little baby, so I’m going to go into this extraordinary world, I’m going to kick ass and then I’m going to go home.” That’s her attitude, right?
She shows up on this point and there’s the guy at the baseball facility saying, “Hey, you’re not going to make it very well here. Look at your arms. You’re weak. You’re not tough. You don’t chew tobacco, you don’t play Fortnite, you can’t bench press 300 pounds. What do you think you’re going to learn here,” right?
That guy in the first day when my son came out of that training after three hours, guess what he said to me in the car? “I don’t know if I can handle it, dad. I think these guys are just – they’re too tough. They’re too scary. When I went up to hit, I didn’t hit a single pitch. The pitching machine was set at 95 miles per hour. I’ve never seen a pitch more than 60 miles per hour. What are we going to do? I’m going to quit. I can’t handle it,” right?
I’m the mentor. I’m his father. I said to him, “Guess what? That’s what you’re in for. That’s what happens when you try and do something that’s really, really important to you that is difficult. You’re going to make a fool of yourself. You’re not going to hit a pitch, but you’re going to go up there tomorrow aren’t you?” “Well yeah, I probably will.” “Yeah, I think you will.” He did.
By the end of the week, he wasn’t hitting home runs, but he hit a couple of singles on 95 mile an hour pitching. Guess what? Those salty old dogs who were giving him shit day one, they were helping him. Because they were like, “This kid went through it. He went through that trial. He knew we weren’t going to be nice to him. He knew we were going to cuddle him. This kid is four inches taller than I am and I’ve just flushed out a major league baseball. Oh, you’re damn right he’s going to have to earn my respect. Because you know what? If I had his body, I’d be in the show.”
This is what you have to think about that threshold guardian. Make it super specific. What time in your life, Tim, can you use as a means to show Jesse just what she’s in for? Guess what’s going to happen to her? She’s going to face this Az guys like, “Hey, you know what? We’ve been training for seven months sweetheart. You’re going to walk in to the capital. You haven’t been around for seven months. How are you going to handle it? This is no joke. You know what? Good luck to you, but you’re not in for any fun time here.”
That’s the purpose of the threshold guardian. In the story, people when they read that scene with the threshold guardian, they immediately go to their own mind, in their own life and they go, “Oh, my gosh. That that happened to me. That’s exactly what happened when I went to accounting school, or when I showed up for the first day of cosmetology school, or when I went to get a job at Dairy Queen.” That’s the exact – you always have a threshold guardian.
Sometimes they’re nice when they want something from you and sometimes they’re not nice, because they think, “Who do you think you are coming in here? I’ve been busting my ass for six years to get this job at Dairy Queen. You’re going to walk in here as a nice-looking person who’s 17-years-old. I’ve been working at Dairy Queen for seven years. How dare you think you can just walk in here and take my job? It’s a lot harder than you think it is. You know what? Go do the garbage. That’s where you’re going to start. You’re going to clean out the garbage.” That’s the purpose of the threshold guardian. Does that make sense?
[0:30:49.4] TG: I think so. Yeah.
[0:30:51.3] SC: Yeah. The threshold guardian is about the transition between the ordinary world to the extraordinary world. Yes, it’s going to happen somewhere between the movement from the beginning hook into the middle build. When Dorothy and the Scarecrow and all those guys show up at Oz, that is the transition to the middle build, because the yellow brick road is the movement out of the ordinary world. It gets more and more wacky and weird as they move down the yellow brick road. When they get to Oz, they have to cross into the magical world of Oz and then their trials start. Then they finally get the meeting with the Wizard of Oz and he doesn’t give them what they want.
He says, “Go kill the most powerful force here in Oz and prove it by bringing back her broom.” Give them an impossible task, because The Wizard of Oz has no intention of ever granting them their wishes, because he can’t. What does he do? He lies to them and he says, “Go do this thing. Once you do this thing, you’ll get everything you want.” What the thing is that he asked them to do is seemingly impossible. Go kill the Wicked Witch of the West and take her broom. Are you kidding me? That’s the scariest person I’ve ever met in my life.
I mean, whenever you get stuck, think about the hero’s journey. I mean, that Wizard of Oz is a great heroic journey story to be able to really lock down these archetypes. The Wicked Witch of the West is the greatest shadow antagonist that everybody knows that woman is not out for good. She’s really angry and she wants to rule her world the way she wants to. All right, so that’s the threshold guardian.
Let’s move down to the next one. You got to nail that. Where is that threshold guardian scene that will really – The purpose of the threshold guardian is to grab down and reach into the psyche of your reader and say, “Oh, my gosh. That’s just what happened to me when I tried to get a job at Dairy Queen,” or you know what I mean?
[0:33:16.2] TG: Yeah. At this point though, do you want me to – Because one of the things as I’ve gone through the – because I feel like at this point when I’m building the spreadsheet, my job is to just identify what’s there, right?
[0:33:30.5] SC: Yes. Yeah.
[0:33:31.9] TG: We’ve identified that my threshold guardian needs work. Do I need to just say, like create a second column of here’s how I’m going to fix it and it’s going to be Az and it’s going to be in this scene, or should I go back and rework that scene? Or should I just say this is how I’m going to fix it when I rework?
[0:33:50.2] SC: No. I think you’re at the point now where you want to – you want to pick out the critical moments in the story that are going to fire the neurons of your reader in a way that will make them relate to Jesse’s plight. The threshold guardian scene yeah, what you want to do is say, “Okay, I know where that is. I know who the threshold guardian is going to be. I’ve already written the scene. Now I have to go back to that scene and really heighten that, so that the threshold guardian scene is like that time when I went into computer school.” Maybe you say to yourself, “What did that jerk say to me that one time? Maybe I can use that.”
[0:34:35.8] TG: I guess, I mean, am I still making a to-do list, or am I doing the to-do list?
[0:34:40.5] SC: I think you do these one at a time.
[0:34:43.2] TG: Okay. Okay.
[0:34:44.6] SC: Yeah, you’re at that stage. You generally know these scenes that you’ve created are generally fine. The point is to take the generally fine scene and make them great. The way you can take a scene that’s generally fine and make it great is really focus on one particular element in the scene. For the scene on the plane you go, “Okay, now I need – My scene is working. I’ve got the five commandments going. How can I heighten as is portrayal of the threshold guardian in this scene? How can I make the dialogue even better? How can I make an action that maybe he tips over her tray of food?” I don’t know.
Your focus is singular. How do I make this very clear that this is the threshold guardian scene? How can I make it unique and innovative and cool? Usually, the way to do that is to think about something that happened to you, something extremely specific that knocked you on your ass and made you feel like a fool. Then you use that. Even if you can just suck the dialogue out of your memory and stick it on the page and then work around it, usually it’s so good that it’ll work.
When we’re going through these archetypes, and the same thing you would want to do with the mentor scene, like just a backup, after you make your choice of mentor, who’s it going to be? Harry, Balem, or 83? Now the 83, you’ve established 83 in my mind as a mentor figure in the beginning hook, because she’s the one who shows Jesse how to put on the clothes, what to do, etc. She’s not going to be the extraordinary world mentor.
[0:36:40.7] TG: Right. That was my next question, is if I can have – because then she shows up at the end.
[0:36:45.5] SC: That’s fine. She is a “shapeshifter.” I don’t want to get into the shapeshifter yet, but what I’m going to say to you is make Harry the mentor in the extraordinary world and make him the salty old gunnery sergeant who takes the private first-class and teaches them how to shoot properly, or you know what I mean. Whatever metaphor analogy, and find the scenes.
Now you’re going to want to have a couple of mentor-mentee relationship scene elements in the story. The first one is when the mentor saves the mentee from disgrace, or stupidity. The way you would set that up is the mentor will say something like, “Well, when you’re doing this, don’t forget that.” Then of course, what happens is – let’s make it specific. When you’re in a severing, never forget to do X. Then Jesse would go, “Yeah, okay. I got it. Got it, got it.” Then what’ll happen is in one of the severingns, Jesse will forget to do X and either the mentor will save her, or he won’t. Then she will get into trouble. You know what I’m saying?
[0:38:05.2] TG: Yeah, yeah. I’m tracking.
[0:38:06.2] SC: Okay. Then at the end, the end of the mentor-mentee arc is when the mentee, their gift makes them better than the mentor. It’s like when Neo is able to dodge the bullets and –
[0:38:24.2] TG: Right. He’s the one that has to save Morpheus.
[0:38:28.1] SC: Exactly. Morpheus is the mentor who teaches him about that world and he’s always getting into trouble and he’s always asking Morpheus and Morpheus is always telling him. Then eventually, he has to save Morpheus, right? That’s the arc of the mentor-mentee relationship and that happens in the middle build. Sometimes, the final arc of that story will end either the beginning of the ending pay off, or the climactic moment of the ending payoff.
You can generally see what I’m talking about here. These archetypical moments in the hero’s journey happen at specific times in the story. You can do things that are fun, which is setting up the false mentor at the beginning of the story, which would be 83. Then that’s a way of pulling the rug out from the reader, because they’re going to read Jesse going into the numbered and they’re going to say, “Oh, my gosh. She’s going to have to escape this prison.” Oh, here’s the old the old veteran of the prison system that’s going to help her. Oh, this is a prison story and then bang, she has to go into the extraordinary world. Hopefully, they’re going to be surprised by Jesse’s having to go to the capitol and actually taking up the call to adventure.
You can see how all these strands are starting to come together in a rope. The task for you is to identify, let’s say two or three scenes in the middle build, or maybe four – maybe two or three in the middle build and maybe one in the ending payoff, where you can make Harry do that arc of the mentor-mentee relationship between Harry and Jesse.
The first one, the first scene Harry knows best, right? Harry’s going to tell her the truth. That’s a moment where you can have Harry do a speech about what the way the world – here is the way the world works young thing. It’s like the guy at the baseball facility for my son. “Hey, kid. Here’s the way the world works. You think he can handle it?” That’s maybe Harry’s first scene.
The second scene is some advice that Harry gave Jesse turns out to be true in the severing. Maybe she uses that information to save herself in one of the severings. That way, we see that Jesse is maturing in the way that a good mentee does, right? When the mentor tells the mentee to do something, they actually do it. What do they discover? Geez, this mentor is smart. It’s actually, my life is a little bit better now now that I follow this advice.
Then the third scene is when the mentee supersedes the mentor. The mentor says, “No, never do it like that.” Then in a critical, critical moment the mentee has to say, “You know what? Something’s telling me I need to do it the other way than what they told me.” Then they do it. They’re proven correct. That’s when the mentee exceeds the power of the mentor.
[0:41:45.1] TG: Well, and I could probably, because the way I was thinking it was something like, he gives the advice, she does the opposite and everything falls down around her and she has to be saved. Then in the final battle, she faces the same decision, once again she makes the same decision of ignoring the advice and then it works, so that it ties in –
[0:42:11.0] SC: I think that undermines the maturation plot though.
[0:42:15.3] TG: Okay.
[0:42:16.7] SC: Hear me out. People think that the maturation plot is about discovering the gift within ourselves and then trusting the gift. It is. That’s absolutely true. However, you were incapable of expressing your gift, unless you have served another power first. It’s thematically like, you cannot learn how to be a great writer, unless you serve all those who came before you, like the conventional wisdom. You can’t just reject wisdom without being able to incorporate it and to be able to use it for yourself.
If Jesse doesn’t listen to the advice ever and still rises to express her gift, it’s counter to the natural course of things, which means that we don’t become great at something, unless we pay homage and listen to our mentors. If you’ve basically said to me, “I think all your Story Grid stuff is really interesting, but I’m going to do it my way.” This podcast would have ended three years ago.
[0:43:39.2] TG: Yeah.
[0:43:40.0] SC: Right?
[0:43:40.9] TG: Right.
[0:43:41.6] SC: People can make an argument about whether or not you’re a better writer now, or whether you’ve learned anything, but you have listened to what I’ve told you to do and done it. By your estimation and I think empirically, if we were to take a look at your stories from three years ago and today, people would say, “Yeah, he’s definitely better.” We can get into arguments about how instrumental I was in that, but that’s not the point. The point is is that you put your ego behind you and said, “You know what? I don’t know. I’m going to listen to this person who says he knows and I’m going to do what they say that I should do, and then I’ll evaluate afterwards.”
That’s what a mature person does, right? They’ll say, “I don’t really know anything about coding, so I’m going to go to a school that will teach me the fundamentals of coding and then I can learn how to program maybe eventually in four years.” I don’t want to walk in there going, “Yeah, I’m not buying that.” When they’re telling you the principles of coding, you never hear anybody going, “You know what? I don’t believe in the theory of gravity.” Well believe it or not, it’s true. “Oh, well. I just don’t believe it.” “Well fine. Leave.”
That’s what a mature person does, is that they serve someone who knows something better than they do. They learn that very painfully. If you refuse to do what the mentor tells you to do, you suffer. Then eventually, you do what the mentor tells you to do and you get better. That’s the maturation process.
If you have Jesse just ignore the mentor’s advice over and over again and then get rewarded anyway, it’s going to ring false and a bit – there’s something about the story I just didn’t think worked. That’s what people will come to believe. That’s what I’m trying to warn you against. Have her reluctantly go, “Oh, what the hell. I’ll just do what Harry told me.” Then have it work and go, “You know what? Harry knows what he’s talking about. I guess, I should really listen to him.”
Then eventually, then she can say, “I know Harry never told me, told me never to do that, but I have to do it. It’s my only chance.” Then she does that thing and her gift comes about, because she has gone through the proper stages of maturation. Get it?
[0:46:17.5] TG: Yeah.
[0:46:18.1] SC: Okay. All right, so we’ve only gone through mentor and threshold guardian, but I think that’s enough until the next – What we can do in the next session is you can send me the scenes where you heightened the mentor scenes with Harry in the middle build and the threshold guardians scene with Az. I would probably start with the threshold guardian scene and then do the mentor scene, because –
[0:46:44.7] TG: Okay.
[0:46:45.7] SC: Yeah. Then we can go through those and then we can go through Harold, shapeshifter, shadow and trickster in the coming episodes.
[0:46:54.8] TG: Okay. That sounds good. I’ll get to work.
[0:46:57.4] SC: Great.
[0:46:58.6] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of this 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 newsletter, so you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid universe. If you 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.
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