[0:00:00.5] 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 the creator of Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.
In this episode, we continue talking about the archetypes of the hero’s journey. We go over some of the work I’ve done on the mentor and the threshold guardian, and then we dive into the other archetypes and look at some of the – I still have to do there. It’s a great episode. I think as I’m working through this draft and looking at it from all these different lenses, it’s going to be really helpful for you to see how you can apply this stuff to your own work in progress as well.
Anyway, that’s enough of this. Let’s jump in and get started. Shawn, last week we started walking through the hero’s journey archetypes for my novel and figuring out, looking through the draft from that lens. It’s just so interesting, it continues to be interesting to me how helpful this is to force you to look at your draft. I feel it forces me to get out of all of the woods I’ve been working on this thing for over two years, and just very clearly say, “All right, do we have a mentor? Is the mentor doing what he’s supposed to do? Do we have a threshold guardian? Is the threshold guardian doing what he’s supposed to do?”
Each of these things and just immediately seeing holes and issues with the story, which is so hard to do when you’re just trying to look at this massive words and say, “What’s wrong with this?” We made it through a couple different archetypes. One was the hero. We moved past that, because it’s pretty clear who the hero is. Then we looked at the threshold guardian and the mentor, and the fact that I couldn’t immediately identify who they were and how they’re fulfilling that role was a problem.
You gave me some homework to work on those two. I sent you two scenes for the threshold guardian. I think about a half dozen scenes that included 61, or Harry as the mentor. I also went and just did a bunch of googling and went back and just read a bunch of stuff on the mentor figure, just on lots of different random blog posts and stuff to give me an idea of what I’m trying to do.
I found a really good article, where this writer broke down the mentor role in both Harry Potter and Hunger Games, which is the two books we’ve referenced a lot on here when working on my novel. It was really good. It’s one of those I feel a lot of these things are helpful, but they don’t really get the big picture, but it like was I was looking – there’s 10 things you need your mentor to do and I was going through them, I don’t know those two aren’t true, but yeah, that’s really helpful. That was in there and that’s not in mine.
It’s really good, and so I did that, printed out a bunch, read through it, made some notes and then went back and started working on my own. It is true, like you were saying, you’ve said multiple times when you start getting into this phase, you’re just making small changes. Because you’ll talk about you just have to go back and put one sentence in to foreshadow this other thing, right?
I keep thinking, “Oh, man. I’ve got to rewrite all these scenes.” I’m reading them and I’m like, “Well, they’re pretty close. Just I didn’t – I don’t have this, this and this.” I just got to add those. Anyway, I sent those over to you. Did you get a chance to look over them?
[0:04:09.2] SC: I did. I looked at all of the scenes. I did not give them super-duper laser focus. What was nice that you also did there is you put in a little comment before each scene to tell me what you did, which is very helpful. You told me, in this case I have – Harry doesn’t appear until X scenes. Harry as a figure – let me just take a step back and talk about what you were talking about when you first started here. That is the power of breaking down levels of analysis.
The reason why, now when I say levels of analysis, I’m talking about going all the way back to the first course I ever taught for Story Grid, which was the love story course. It’s like having a microscope and a telescope. With a telescope, you’re not getting a high resolution of minutiae. What you’re getting is low resolution, but very, very large spectrum of vision, so you can see Saturn, you can see the stars, you can see the moon, you can see the night sky. The level of analysis for story that is like the telescope is the foolscap page.
Then there are all sorts of little in-betweens before you get to the microscope. Now the microscope is of course, scene-by-scene, even all of the five commandments within a scene. The microscope tool for Story Grid is the spreadsheet. Now there are a whole slew of wonderful tools and different kinds of lenses to use in between the big, low-resolution telescope and high-resolution microscope.
The problem that we have as human beings is when we toggle between different lenses, we get confused and then only makes sense. If I’m wearing a specific glasses to look at a specimen and then somebody hands me another pair of glasses and I put those on and then my brain has to readjust to the new lenses, I’m going to get confused very quickly.
Part of the editing process is to come up with a system of what levels of analysis, what is the hierarchy? What is the most important to nail first and then how do you start moving down the ladder of resolution in such a way that you’re not overwhelming yourself with details that are going to mess up the low-resolution big picture?
The hero’s journey, what we’ve been talking about has a couple of components in itself, right? It has its own lenses. The hero’s journey is very global, low-resolution but crucial to storytelling. It’s so crucial that it’s Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung monomyth. It’s the thing that every human being, no matter what language they speak, what part of the world they live in, they understand. The monomyth is the heroic journey, which is within our mythic structures across cultures.
Pretty damn important, but it also has two tools within it, right? There’s what I would call the must have obligatory scenes and those are things that we’ve already discussed ad nauseam, which are things like crossing the threshold, moving from the ordinary world to the extraordinary world scene. There’s also the refusal of the call scene, the call to adventure scene. It’s about 8 to 12 of them, and some of them get a little navel-gazey weird.
Joseph Campbell has what he calls the meeting with the goddess scene, which can really be confusing sometimes, because when you think of goddess, you think of a female spiritual entity and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that. Anyway, so that’s one level. Then the other level is the archetypical heroic journey character, or it’s not necessarily a single role for a single character, but it’s a convention that you need to have because what it does is it gives the reader or the viewer a global positioning system.
They go, “Oh, yeah. I know what this moment is.” When you were doing the scenes with Az as the threshold guardian, those scenes were in terms of the obligatory scenes of the heroic journey, that was the crossing the threshold scene, which is moving from the ordinary world as it is part of the beginning hook, into the middle build.
It’s a crucial scene, because if you don’t have that threshold guardian, the reader can get confused. Where are we and what are we doing here and what’s the purpose of this? I’m confused and this is making me anxious, right? Not ironically, but that’s because that’s the way the character would feel. When you have the threshold guardian, it’s a very important archetype to have within the whole story, because it settles the reader into the familiar sensibility of the heroic journey.
Okay, so you sent me those first two scenes with Az, which I thought were nice, because Az is going to turn out to be a negative force. He’s going to end up being an antagonist to what Jesse ultimately wants. Instead of signaling that early, you make him relatively nice in these scenes like, “Oh, hey. Let me let me show you around and here’s how it works and here’s a sandwich, and let me take you to your dorm.” The reader is going to feel like, “Hey, this is a pretty nice guy,” which was really smart, because you’re setting him up to shape-shift into an antagonist.
Okay, and in your mentor scenes with Harry, you’re having Harry do specific things, so that again, the reader is going to have a familiar notion of Harry’s role in this story, which is to be the Mr. Miyagi character. To be the mentor in a way that he is – we’re not really sure what he’s up to. Is he really rooting for Jesse, or isn’t he? You have a couple of moments in the scenes that you wrote, which I liked, where he’s not showing up on time. He’s a little bit distant. He’s got other things that he’s into, or that he’s doing on the side, that we don’t know, nor does Jesse know. I thought that was a really nice addition to the storytelling.
All right, so let me just go back to these levels of analysis. Okay, so what we’ve been concentrating on this last week is the heroic journey conventions of archetypes. We’ve already gone through the obligatory scenes of the heroic journey number of times. We probably will again at some point, or we might not, because I think they are present in the story as it is now. What we’re doing now is to – In the olden days and before they’re all this digital technology, when somebody would go in to record a song, like a band, there would be this really cool guy who would be the sound engineer. He would be at this desk that would have all these knobs on it and he would turn up the volume on a specific instrument, or he would turn down it on another, he would tweak the treble and the bass and all that stuff, so that the final song would be really interesting.
That’s what we’re doing now is that we’ve got – the tune is pretty solid. Now we’re in the engineering studio and we’re tweaking the treble and the bass by looking at these different levels of analysis in between the foolscap and the spreadsheet.
I really don’t have a lot to say about the mentor scenes, other than I think you turned up the volume on Harry. I think the reader is at least I can speak for myself. I’ve now starting to get an image of what this guy Harry looks like to me. He looks cool. He’s like an Ernest Borgnine guy, who’s had his head shaved, he’s a little out of shape. You’re not really sure if he knows what he’s talking about. I think these are coming along fine and they’re going to be much easier to line edit and check for the micro-sounds of the line-by-line storytelling later on, because he’s now come into focus. He’s now what was once a blobby, amorphous figure in the mind of the reader, he’s now started to get his arms and legs and personality. He’s the guy who doesn’t shower a lot in my opinion.
There’s a bunch of good people I know in my life and I’m like, “Yeah, he skips a shower or two.” He’s not in there shaving his face every day, because it’s a pain to shave. He’s also a generally good solid human being, right? Okay. I think what we should do with for the rest of today is to talk about the remaining archetypes and then you can go back into the manuscript and turn up the volume on these archetypes to make sure that they’re present. Then I think next, we can move on to something else. I mean, we have let’s see, one, two, three, four, five more, but a bunch of them aren’t going to be that difficult. Do you mind if I just move in? Do you have any more questions?
[0:14:53.8] TG: Yeah, I just wanted to point out one thing before we jump in that was I found helpful as I went back through this way is because when it came time to – the threshold guardian was easy, because it was just two scenes back-to-back. I just had to clean those up. When I went back, I reread every scene that Harry was in. I started seeing my inconsistencies with the character.
There’s the scene where he gets really angry and throws Ernst around. In that scene, I had him get really soft and encourage Jesse. I took all of that out. It was really helpful, again like I said, looking at the book from this perspective of okay, I never read the book, only about Harry. As soon as I did, I was like “Oh, that’s not what he would do.” Okay, and then I got to have him do this, because this is what he did before.
Again, it was small tweaks as far as number of words changing in the manuscript, but I felt it really made him much more consistent and allowed me to when he did show some support for Jesse, it was much more powerful, because it was the only time he did it, instead of niggling the whole time. Anyway, I just wanted to mention that that was helpful for me to go back through and look at the book just from the mentor perspective. I immediately started picking up on a bunch of stuff that was wrong with how I had written him.
[0:16:35.4] SC: Okay, let me just jump on that one comment before we get in, because this can be a very helpful tool. It’s another tool that I’m actually using right now. I’m working on another project that it’s almost a 300,000-word epic fantasy novel. That situation, you can really get lost in the weeds very quickly.
One of the tools I use when I’m dealing with a big canvas of that sort is to literally pick out every single character that’s critical in the storytelling. I literally do this, I write down the answer to the 15 macro scenes that make up the – level up your craft macro course. Basically, you have five scenes in the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff; the inciting incident, the turning point progressive complication, the crisis, the climax and the resolution. You have all five of those scenes in the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff.
What I do is I look at each character and I actually write down what all those scenes are from their point of view. You could look at – now you don’t necessarily have to go into this level of detail and then edit like you’re going through now, because you’re writing a 80,000-word, single point of view, single protagonist story, but you could.
What you did was you basically pulled out all of Harry’s scenes and you said his role in this story is the mentor. To play the mentor, he needs to have motivations, right? He needs to want something. What Harry wants is for Jesse to win the threshing, but to win in a very specific way, because Harry is aligned with the resistance of people against Marcus.
If you look at the story from Harry’s point of view, it will inform all of the scenes that he is in in such a way that it’s very easy to figure out what exactly it is he would say. Because he’s not going to say anything that’s going to undermine or ruin what he wants. If I want you to take out the garbage for me, I’m not going to – I’m going to be so directed on getting you to do that task that I’m not going to have too much small talk with you. I will just say, “Tim, could you take out the garbage,” right? That’s going to be central to everything in my mind.
I’m not going to ask you about your feelings. If I just want you to take out the garbage, I’m not going to, “How you doing today, Tim? You feeling well? I’m not going to ask that.” I’m going to get to the point as quickly as I can. The garbage is full, please take out the garbage. It’s similar if you look at your characters outside of your protagonist and say to yourself, “What does Az want?” Az wants to win the threshing, so he could get his father’s approval and move up the hierarchy of the faction, so that maybe one day he can have a higher position in the faction than his father does. That is what’s motivating him.
It’s an oedipal thing. He wants to outdo his father. That’s a very, very strong force psychologically to a young man. It’s a really good choice. What does Marcus want? Marcus wants to keep everything under control. He wants things to remain the same, with him at the top of the pyramid, with everybody else serving him. In order for him to keep that, he needs to win the threshing. In order to win the threshing, he has to deal with unreliable little figures like Jesse. He doesn’t like that. He’s going to manipulate Jesse in any way possible to win the threshing and hold his power. What does Randy want, right?
You can think of each one of these characters and when you go through their scenes, I’d literally pull out every single scene that is centrally about a particular character in the epic fantasy novel. I do the 15 scenes for that person. Now in an epic fantasy story, oftentimes you have multiple characters that make up the global self of the thing. In Lord of the Rings, you have the fellowship, which are seven people, but at the top of that seven is Frodo.
Anyway, I’m getting off mark. Your intuition to go and not worry about anything but Harry, right? You’re like, “Where are the Harry scenes?” Oh, it’s scene 27, scene 36 and scene 43. Okay, right off the bat, I need to put Harry in three more scenes at least. All right, but let me read what I have, right?
Your focus when you pulled out the Harry scenes was like, “Who is Harry?” “Harry is the mentor.” You’re like, “What’s the mentor again?” “Well, Shawn told me what the mentor is and I have a pretty good idea, but maybe I could get some ideas elsewhere. Let me Google mentor and see if anybody else has any opinions.” You probably found some really good sources of other story people who gave you information about the mentor that I didn’t give you, or they explained it in a way that was more – that you could relate to better than I could explain to you.
You’re like, “Oh, I like this part. I’m going to take that and I’m going to put it here. Okay, so I need to do this, this, this and this. Here are the scenes –” Do you see how perfectly focused you are when you work these problems one at a time, knowing what resolution you’re working at, knowing that you’ve got all different kinds of levels of analysis and you never are saying – while you’re working on Harry, you’re never saying to yourself, “Oh, but Jesse’s inconsistent from seeing 13th to here.” You’re like, “I don’t care about Jesse right now. I’m working on Harry.” That is a critical tool to separate your ego and anxiety as a creative person and make it – you’re building a wall at that point. You’re working a task. You’re working a craft.
[0:23:20.2] TG: I don’t know if we should talk about building walls right now.
[0:23:23.7] SC: Right, right. Good point. Anyway, let’s transition now into the rest of these archetypes. The herald scene. Okay, do you have a conception of what the herald is and what their purpose is?
[0:23:40.4] TG: No. I mean, I could guess, but I’d rather – I mean, when I start to think –
[0:23:45.7] SC: What’s your guess? Just throw it out.
[0:23:48.6] TG: Well, the herald. I mean, when I think of a herald, I think of the person that comes and announces the king is coming. I feel like the herald is somebody that announces that something is coming. I was thinking in the beginning hook, it’s the mayor who first confronts Jesse and lets her know that she needs to go to the capital for the threshing. Then in the middle build and the ending payoff, I mean, there are scenes where the severings are and out. I don’t know if that’s the thing. I’m pretty unclear on this one.
[0:24:28.4] SC: Okay. I think you’ve got a pretty good handle on it and you just don’t know that you do. As an example, a herald is a character who talks about a future event, either positively or negatively. For example, the heralds in Pride and Prejudice, which is a love story, yes, there are heralds in heroic journeys and love stories. The Herald’s in Pride and Prejudice are the silly sisters of Elizabeth. What their purpose is is to talk about, “Oh, my gosh. There’s a ball coming. We’re all going to go to the ball and they’re going to be all lots of wonderful men in military outfits. Isn’t it going to be extraordinary?”
You think to yourself, “Oh, what a fun little character that Jane Austen stuck in there. I mean, yeah, I know people like that. They talk about the future and how wonderful everything is going to be.” A one-off mistake, or fun little bit that Jane Austen put in there, those characters serve the purpose of hooking the reader for a future event.
Basically they say, “You know what? Maybe I’ll stay up an extra 15 minutes to read the next chapter, because I really want to get to that ball scene,” right? One of the things that you do with the thriller and it’s a trope convention or whatever, is the herald is like an Eeyore character. Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh. The Eeyore character is always worried. “Oh, my gosh.” They’re always worried and they’re always thinking they’re getting the short stick and they’re always saying things like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do when the next submarine comes up, because we’re going to get destroyed. Do you see how powerful those people are?”
There’s plenty of these characters, like the little hobbits in Lord of the Rings, the fun ones. They’re always complaining about the food like, “I don’t know if we’re going to have any food,” or “Boy, there’s so many orcs. I’m so scared,” right? The point is that they talk about future events in such a way that they raise the stakes of the story in a cheap way, but organically, right? It’s believable that either Ernst or Alex are going to be of that sort.
You could use one or the other or both of them. One of them is nervous like, “Oh, my gosh. The last time we did this thing, our guy got destroyed and now he’s in the ICU. I don’t know if I can handle the stress.” That’s a herald archetype that again, it doesn’t have to be a single character and your instinct about the mayor in New York being the herald early on is a good one. That’s true, he’s talking to Jesse about a future event that’s very, very important and he’s a crucial playmaker in the story.
You need that crucial playmaker to talk about either what happened in the past, or what’s going to happen in the future. Even could be Harry at some point saying, “Do you have any conception Jesse of what it was like before the factions? Do you have any idea of what it’s like not to have any food for six days? Do you know how hungry you get? Do you know what you will do to get some food when you haven’t eaten for six days?” That could even be President Marcus. It could be talking about the horrific circumstances of life prior to the order of the society in the way at which it is now.
If you think it’s bad now, you should have been around – it’s like me talking to my kids about the 1970s like, “When I was a kid, we only had three channel.” Their glaze over, but it’s important to place that in the minds of the reader using a herald figure. That’s one, talking about the past and then the herald is also the one, like we don’t want to go back to the past because it was horrible. Then you have the other character who says, “The future is so dangerous and scary, I just want to crawl in my bed and never get out of my room again.”
The herald is this archetype in the hero’s journey that is you’re reminding the protagonist of the stakes of the story. If the protagonist does not continue to move forward and work very hard to operate at the limits of their capacity, one of two things is going to happen, or both, right? That’s the thing in the thriller. We don’t want what’s going to happen, which is when the past happened, and we don’t want what’s going to happen what the future could bring. What the future could bring is that Jesse gets scrambled in the severing, or the threshing and all three of them lose their privileges and their families suffer. That’s what could happen in the future.
What could happen in the past is it’s like the ending payoff of your story, right? You could have the heralds throughout – When I say throughout, I’m saying maybe twice. In the middle build, somebody bitches and moans about something, or about being scared in the future. You’d have two in the middle build, one in the – you need a herald to get you into the extraordinary world, so the herald at the beginning hook serves the purpose of jettison the protagonist, the hero into the extraordinary world. I think that’s pretty clear right now.
What I think you need to work on are herald scenes, or moments in the middle build. You probably need two of them. They don’t necessarily have to come from the same character. Sometimes it’s very powerful to actually have a figure that the reader believes is super strong, super powerful, doesn’t get upset about anything be the herald. That could be Harry, or it could be I don’t know, could be Randy, who knows? Or it could be Alex or Ernst.
[0:31:17.6] TG: You’re saying I should look at having something that also looks backwards?
[0:31:23.8] SC: Well, I think you’re going to want to do something like that, because it’s a set up for the ending payoff of part 1 of this trilogy, right? The ending payoff of this novel is that Jesse is – she’s burned down – she’s burned the bridge and the entire system is now falling apart and she had no idea really what that meant.
In order for that to really have impact for the reader, if you could plant a set up where someone says something about the state of the world before the factions. It could be President Marcus, it could be Randy, it could be I’m not sure. It’s probably going to be an older character, a mentor, someone with experience who would say like, “Oh, well. Let’s not get in a place where it was before we had the minors, or before there was a system, before there was a grid, before there was, because boy, that was no fun.”
You could have somebody like, “Imagine not eating for six days.” We’ve talked about this before and some people say that you’re 9 or 10 meals away from chaos. You could even have someone say that. I mean, we had not eaten for nine days before it really got bad. Just having that somewhere in the middle build, so that at the end, the paradox of Jesse winning the threshing, but then flushing the entire society back into this panicked world; it will have more impact, because what’s going to happen is when the reader gets to that place where Jesse wins the threshing and then she destroys the thing is they’re going to go, “Oh, my God. What’s going to happen now?”
[0:33:22.3] TG: Yeah. I was thinking one of the things I picked up on as I read through the mentor scenes was how much Jesse defends Marcus and thinks he’s a good guy. I realized, I’m going to have to put something in the scene after the mentor disappears, where he gets taken away where she’s like, “Oh, Harry was right all along that Marcus is evil.” If I make Marcus the herald of those things in that initial meeting –
[0:33:56.5] SC: Yes.
[0:33:57.9] TG: – then it’ll all get thrown out as a lie, because he was lying.
[0:34:02.7] SC: He’s really telling the truth.
[0:34:05.1] TG: When part of the time, he was telling the truth and then the other part of the time, he was lying.
[0:34:12.3] SC: Which is a very, very – that’s a perfect description of a really well-conceived antagonist, right? It’s someone who uses the truth to further their agenda. You never can tell when they’re lying and when they’re telling the truth. When Marcus talks to Jesse in that nice coffee scene, he can be the one to talk about, “Well, let’s not forget the way it was before Jesse. I’m a lot older than you and there were nine days. I can remember it clearly when I hadn’t had anything to eat and when there was a loaf of bread that it was a matter of the greatest urgency for me not to devour it all myself and to share that bread with my mother and father.” Something like that.
Then she can later, when she thinks he’s a bad guy, think he was lying about that. He wasn’t lying about that, he was lying about other things. That’s the difficult thing about antagonists and evil people in general, is that you can’t sort – their big cognitively dissonant experience for you. We all have people in our lives who were never quite sure, “What are they doing here? It seems like they’re helping me, but I don’t really believe –” Something cellular in your body is like, “I don’t know if I should really take this favor from this person, because I don’t think they’re really out for my best interests in general,” right?
The more mature you get and the older you get, the better you get. It’s like seeing through these Machiavellian maneuvers, but that’s what Marcus is really a genius at doing is manipulating truth and fiction, truth and lies to further his agenda. Jesse is not really that sophisticated, until of course, pretty much the latter part of the middle build to figure out, “Oh, my gosh. This guy was snowing me. He’s terrible,” right?
She’s going to move from, “He’s not a bad guy. I don’t know why he gets in such a bad rap, to he is the epitome of evil.” The reality is that he’s somewhere in between, right? Because for all of his evil, the society is stable, right? It’s like this really difficult spectrum of value that Jesse is going to have to learn how to navigate, which is at what line on that spectrum is that Marcus character? Obviously, he’s on the wrong side of order, right? Because the price for order is a very heavy price, but sometimes when it goes over and it’s overpriced, if you looked at it as a economic equation, like at what value is order too expensive?
Marcus has crossed that line. This is the thing about storytelling is we’re all trying to navigate the spectrum of value in our lives. Stories help us parse the very, very difficult spectrum between like where is the line in the sand? How much negative energy am I going to put up with a colleague before the negativity becomes too much, right? You have to think about that in your life all the time. How much is too much? A lot of people don’t like to make judgment calls. They don’t like to draw lines in the sand, and you have to.
Stories are the tools by which we learn how to draw lines in the sand, because there are moments in our life when we intuitively know that person has just crossed the line and I have to 86 them from my life. It doesn’t mean I have to have a big argument with them and scream at them. I just go, “Oh, well it was very nice to meet you and I have another appointment that I have to get to right now. Wow, yeah. Someday, it would be nice to catch up again.” Then you make it a point never to be available again to that person ever. You would be surprised at how many people meet those figures in their lives and go, “Oh, well. They want me to go help them move their apartment again. I really don’t want to do it, but I don’t want to be a bad guy and not do it,” right?
Stories, when we can really – you might want to have somebody say this at the end of the novel like, “Jeez, Jesse. Thanks a lot. You just destroyed the system. Marcus is out of power, but everything’s chaos. Well, how do you feel about that?” “Well, he crossed the line. We can rebuild. You’re afraid of a little hard work? We can rebuild this thing.” “No, I don’t know what to do exactly right now, but I’m confident that with the right people we can get something together that will work better than what Marcus did. He crossed the line. His order was tyranny. We don’t want tyranny on earth. We want as much democratic freedom and the ability of individual people to explore their gifts as we can. He crossed the line, he had to go, I had to tear down the system to make it work, let’s build a better system.” The end of book 1.
Then there’s this [inaudible 0:39:37.3] at the end of your novel, which is you’re like, “Holy cow, she won. Isn’t this great?” To dip, “Oh, my gosh. Everything’s chaotic now.” Then you’ve got to have a little bit of a rise to say like, “You know what? We’re pretty smart people. I think we’ll be able to figure this out.” That way, you’ve got this really nice high-positive, followed by a very deep negative, followed by a positive.
[0:40:03.8] TG: Just a little bit of hope.
[0:40:05.1] SC: Yes, exactly. That’s what is called catharsis. Catharsis, a cathartic experience is when that happens is that when something in your life seems tremendously wonderful and then tremendously horrible and then, “Oh, my gosh. Well, it’s a little bit better than it was before.” Or the opposite, tremendously horrible to tremendously positive, to this isn’t quite as good as I thought it would be. Those are the emotional shifts that we’re all trying to create at the ending payoff of a story.
That’s the big goal is to create that cathartic moment for the reader, or viewer that wildly gives them a rollercoaster rush of endorphins and panic things at the end of the story, so that guess what happens, it sits with them and they will say, in the future when something terrible happens to them or they’re challenged they’ll go, “Oh, I remember in that book, this girl had to face a problem like that and she did this. As difficult as it is to draw my line in the sand about this person, I think it’s time to do that. All right, so I got wildly off track there.
[0:41:24.9] TG: All right, so the herald.
[0:41:26.4] SC: That’s the herald.
[0:41:28.5] TG: Shapeshifters would be next, right?
[0:41:31.7] SC: Yes. The shapeshifter is a tricky one, because you cannot telegraph the shapeshifter, but it has to be inherently built-in to the character. What a shapeshifter is is a character – Oh, actually I think you do have this already. As is a shapeshifter that turns from positive to negative, and then back to positive at the very end, because he’s the one who saves Jesse. He does it for a very good reason is that he’s a true believer in the system. He sacrifices himself in a patriotic move for the American faction to win the threshing.
I think the only thing that you need to do in terms of him as shapeshifter is to really go look at all of the Az scenes and make sure he’s moving from positive pretty nice guy, to negative bad guy, really horrible bad guy, unbelievable bad guy, I hope he goes away, to holy cow, he sacrificed himself for Jesse. He turned out to be someone who actually had a belief system, lived by the belief system, acted by the belief system and died for his beliefs.
[0:42:51.9] TG: Well, that’s what I thought about him because he stays consistent through the entire story. He never changes, but so in the beginning when they first meet, he sees her as a way to get what he wants. Then as soon as he realizes that her values don’t match up with his, he just hates her. Then at the very end, their values match up again so he aligns with her again.
What I like about it is it’s never personal about Jesse. If he sees a way to get what he thinks is right, he’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means aligning himself with somebody he’s hated up until now. I felt like, when I went back and reworked the threshold guardian scenes, I added some more of that in. I can definitely – when I go back through and look at all the scenes he is really smooth out that arc. I think it’s there, but just with the mentor, with Harry of realizing like, “Oh, I’ve got to keep this consistent, so I’m going to pull this out or add this in.”
The more that I’ve worked on the book, the more I’ve liked Az’s character, because I feel he’s the one person you can count on to always – he’s always telling the truth, he’s always being very upfront about what he wants and what he believes and there is no waffling, all the way to the end.
[0:44:23.8] SC: Okay. Well, that works in terms of his character and this force of antagonism. I’m not sure, usually this –
[0:44:31.1] TG: If it works with this.
[0:44:32.3] SC: Yeah. Now the shapeshifter and the trickster are difficult. I mean, the distinction between the two of them can often be confusing. I’m just thinking through it now. The description that you have of Az a shapeshifter, I think is it works. Now traditionally, a shapeshifter is often seen as the character that betrays the protagonist. They’re in the same camp and then there’s a movement by which they completely shift. In The Matrix, there’s the Joe Pantoliano character, right?
[0:45:12.0] TG: Yeah. That’s the exact one I was just thinking of.
[0:45:14.1] SC: Yeah. Now the trickster is an archetype that is associated with not really having any core belief system. This is getting a little psychological, but I’m going to press on anyway. The trickster is a character who doesn’t really believe in anything and they go along with a particular dramatic arc, if it’s fun. When it’s not fun anymore, they change their polarity of alliance, to make it more fun.
The trickster is almost like – they’re just out for a good time, right? The trickster can enjoy being on a rebellious team for a while, until such time it’s not fun anymore. Then they just go to the other side. A trickster is usually a figure who betrays the protagonist at some place. A shapeshifter, you can see how these can get a little bit confusing. A shapeshifter in my estimation is a being that is capable of changing their – they seemingly change their behavior, but at heart, at their core, they are consistent.
A human being or a superhero that can have a superpower is at their core, supposedly consistent. Superman is a shapeshifter. He can move from ordinary Joe who works at the newspaper to the Man of Steel. At his psychological core, he is supposedly – he should be consistent.
[0:47:14.2] TG: Well, because these are the – who they are in relation to the hero, right? To me, that’s why he would be a shapeshifter because he starts as her friend, becomes her enemy and then as her friend again.
[0:47:29.9] SC: Yes. I would agree with that. One of the things I like to do when I get a little bit confused is to just go back to first principles of what I understand and then start talking to myself to work through the reasoning. Yes, I agree. I think Az works as shapeshifter, but you don’t have a trickster character.
[0:47:53.9] TG: I don’t. Yeah.
[0:47:56.1] SC: A trickster character, I think that the Joe Pantoliano figure is a trickster, not a shapeshifter. Ironically or paradoxically, I think Trinity is a shapeshifter in The Matrix, because originally she doesn’t think that he is the one and then she falls in love with him. I’m only talking about the first Matrix and I don’t want to get too much into this, because I haven’t really given it the full analytical thing. Part of what I think makes The Matrix work is that Trinity is a believer in the rebellion wholeheartedly. She initially does not think that Neo is the one and she’s a – she’s irritated by Morpheus’s obsession with the guy, and then slowly his worldview comes into alignment with hers. She finds herself seeing him as if not the one, an ally, until she’s completely in love with him. It’s actually that love between Trinity and Neo that brings out his “oneness,” his gift.
The Matrix is not just a great thriller, or science fiction story, or fantasy story, it’s a great love story. It’s the love between Trinity and Neo that makes him become his heroic self. That’s a beautiful concept and that’s what makes that story so great, I think. Trinity and I also think in most love stories just walking it through now, that is the process by which the love happens, right? It usually ends up at the beginning, they don’t like each other so much. Then there’s this – they don’t believe in the things that I believe. Misconception that slowly turns into a shared worldview, that gets even stronger when the two people come together.
All right, so I think all of this is to say, you need a trickster. It could be, I suspect it’s got to be either Alex or Ernst who – The trickster, I think the cheap way and the easy way to consider the trickster is they’re the ones who sell out the protagonist for 10 pieces of gold.
[0:50:31.6] TG: I guess, I was thinking more like the bumbling trickster, like the Merry and Pippin of they kept just wreaking havoc, because –
[0:50:42.6] SC: I don’t think they’re tricksters. I think, they’re part of Frodo, they’re part of Frodo’s –
[0:50:47.7] TG: I thought the trickster was the one that just kept – that keeps causing trouble.
[0:50:53.7] SC: No. I think that the trickster is the guy who tries to steal the ring, he’s one of the fellows and he dies in one of those orc attacks.
[0:51:04.6] TG: Yeah, because he ends up saving Frodo.
[0:51:07.4] SC: Yeah, Sean Bean character, I think.
[0:51:09.4] TG: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t know the actor, but yeah. Because there’s that great shot where the orc is pulling back the bow on the right and then he’s just sitting on his knees waiting on the left. Anyway, sorry. I love those movies. Anyway. Okay, so I just have a different – I had a different understanding of what the trickster was.
[0:51:34.4] SC: I mean, in my estimation and other people might disagree, I think the cheat, like the formulaic cheat to figure out who the trickster is, it’s the one character that you don’t think is going to betray the protagonist, who does. The trickster is like, “Yeah, I’m in for it.” Up to a limit and then no. Oftentimes the trickster is funny. He’s the funny character in a story and then when push comes to the shove, they abandon the cause, because they never really believed in the cause in the first place. Just had enjoyed the fun of being with a group of people with a common purpose. Then when it got hard they’re like “Yeah, forget it. This isn’t fun anymore.”
[0:52:20.2] TG: Okay. I mean, because that’s the trickster in The Matrix, right? He was basically like, “Yay, rebellion. I don’t want to do this anymore.” You said that’s the cheat way. Is there one that stands out in your mind of like, that was a really interesting way that that person pulled off the trickster?
[0:52:39.3] SC: Well, the trickster is a trope/convention, that the best examples are always surprising. Now you and I can sit back and say, “Oh, well. Joe Pantoliano was so obvious in The Matrix,” because we’ve seen it before, right? When you look back at you go, “Oh, man. Why didn’t I see that coming?” The first time you saw it you’re like, “Oh, my gosh. Not Joe Pantoliano. He’s the fun guy on the deck who everybody likes, who is as committed as everybody else. He just likes to crack jokes every now and then. I can’t believe he sold out Neo.”
I think there’s a moment in one of the drafts that you did have Ernst. He’s supposed to communicate with – he’s the comms guy, right? I think the easiest way and a way that would be good would to make Ernst the trickster. There’s a critical moment in one of the threshings, or one of the severings of the threshing where Jesse is like, “Ernst. I need Ernst. Are you there, Ernst?” He’s not there. It’s not that he was taken by the guards. It’s that he went over to the guards. She’s lost without communications anymore. I think that will work thematically in the story, because Ernst serves psychologically as her gift whisperer. He’s the one who always helps her while she’s in the middle of the action.
Thematically, we have to learn how to operate without that voice of, “Everything’s going to be okay. I’m here to help. You can always rely on me,” right? That’s part of the maturation process. We as parents are the service people who give that to our children, right? My kids, they’re never worried about whether the heat is on in the house, or whether there’s food in the refrigerator, or whether or not they’re going to be able to do what they want out of life, because their mom and dad are the Ernst. We’re taking care of them and we’re telling them, “Things are going to be okay. Don’t worry. I know they said that nasty thing about you, but friends do that and part of life is growing. Blah, blah, blah.” That’s the thematic purpose of Ernst.
I mean, that’s why you have a comms guy and a medic, right? The medic is the amygdala of the brain. That’s what Alex is the one who’s taking care of the primitive regulatory functions of the body. Ernst is playing the role of the higher-level thinker. Ironically, the thing that always betrays person is not usually their autonomic nervous system. It’s their intellectual stuff, right? It’s the thing that we reason our self out of heroically challenging ourselves by saying, “Well, I would do that if X.”
Having Ernst play the trickster and betraying Jesse, I think psychologically and thematically is going to work for the story. People will say, “I can’t believe Ernst betrayed her.” You need to set up Ernst as a possible betrayal figure in earlier scenes. Maybe Ernst has – maybe it’s like, he has the least to lose if they lose, right? Maybe Ernst is an orphan. He doesn’t really have any family who’s going to suffer if he loses. You can mislead the reader to think that Ernst is definitely not one who’s going to betray anybody, because if he loses the severings, he’s going to suffer the least, right? He’s going to just lose credits. His family is not going to lose credits, because he doesn’t have any family, right?
His betrayal of Jesse will be all the more shocking, but it will also make sense because people who have no family, what will they do? They’ll do anything to get family. They will do anything just to have some tie to another person, or group. Ernst would be the most vulnerable, because if he does betray Jesse, he’s not only going to get more credits than more good stuff out of life, he’s going to have a connection to Marcus, that will feel like a father-son deal. That’s what I think about Ernst. I think he’s the one to play your trickster and I think at a critical moment, probably in the threshing, that’s when he’s going to abandon Jesse. Then Jesse in that moment, her true gift, it’s like, “Trust the force, Luke,” right? The force is going to come to Jesse after she’s abandoned by Ernst. She’s going to have to rely upon her inner gift to save her. Oh, okay. All right, let’s stop there. We have two more, but they’re pretty shadow and ally.
[0:58:00.1] TG: What are the other – The shadow and what?
[0:58:03.3] SC: Ally. The shadow is basically Az as well. He plays both shadow and shapeshifter in my estimation. Also the shadow is Randy. Randy is probably her shadow. Randy is Jesse who has chosen himself. He’s an egomaniac, right? Jesse chooses to sacrifice for other people.
[0:58:24.8] TG: Well, an ally would be Alex.
[0:58:27.2] SC: Alex and 83, if you bring her back.
[0:58:31.3] TG: Well, I look at her as –
[0:58:32.5] SC: Alex, Harry. Yeah.
[0:58:35.0] TG: Yeah, because there’s allies, right? Really it’s Ernst, Alex, Harry and then Ernst changes, or turns on her. At the same time, I look at 83 is the overarching – she’s the mentor from the beginning hook to the ending payoff.
[0:58:56.8] SC: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think ally would be Alex, shadow would be Randy.
[0:59:01.3] TG: The ones I need to work on are the herald. I need to relook at shapeshifter and probably just tweak it, because it’s already there with Az. This sounds like the most work I have to do is on making Ernst a trickster.
[0:59:18.4] SC: Yeah.
[0:59:19.2] TG: Okay. I’ll get started.
[0:59:20.8] SC: Okay.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:59:21.4] 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 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 do that 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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