This week continue looking at the Hero’s Journey as a tool for evaluating a first draft.
[0:00:00.5] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is the 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 the Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 plus years’ experience.
In this episode, we continue diving into the hero’s journey. Last week’s episode, we looked at the eight different archetypes that have to show up in your story and then this week is all about the 12 different checkpoints, the 12 different moments in your story that you have to have to abide by the hero’s journey.
Again, this is another lens to look at your story to make sure that it’s working. Also, if you want to see, I put links to the book that we referenced, a couple of images I was referencing throughout this episode, all of that is going to be in the show notes so you can check that out as well.
From here, let’s just jump in and get started.
[0:00:00.5] TG: Shawn, last week, we started on the hero’s journey looking at that as a way to look at my novel. We’ve been going through, this whole thing is trying to get to a point where I could write a second draft which has been really interesting because 99% of the advice out there is how to write your first draft, how to get a manuscript done which obviously is helpful but then, once you have that first drift done, it’s kind of an opaque process to get to a second draft and we’re now on the kind of third step right?
The first one was the story grid spreadsheet, filling out the first half dozen columns and making a long to do/ brain storm list. Then that was like the micro version, we were looking at scene by scene and then we stepped back to look at the entire book on one sheet of paper with this fool’s cap global story grid and then now, we’re looking at it from the standpoint of the hero’s journey.
Last week was, do we have the right archetypes in it, the right roles being filled and then this week we’re looking at the different checkpoints in the hero’s journey to make sure I’ve hit each of those. I’m kind of thinking of this as just like you know. If I have this thing I’m inspecting, I’m like turning it lots of different ways to get a different angle to make sure I’m not missing something.
Is that kind of how you think about this as well?
[0:02:44.5] SC: Well yeah. The first thing, the spreadsheet gives you very specific items to check off to make sure that you fix and/or develop more and then when you go globally for the big fool’s cap, then you’re checking to see that your entire story is actually in those scenes.
That’s really important and you check off your obligatory scenes and conventions from your chosen genres and you literally find the scene that actually abides the convention or obligatory scene and if it’s not there, you have to make a note, I got to put in that obligatory scene or convention.
Now, the hero’s journey that we started last week and we’re going to finish up today, the hero’s journey is really about making sure that your lead character is arcing. We hear – you know, I’m sure you’ve heard that a million times and people always say it.
“Your character doesn’t arc so your story doesn’t work.” That’s not very helpful, it’s information that a lot of people can give you but a few can tell you, actually how to check to see if the character is arcing and for all of the big external genres like the action genre which is the most primal and the thriller which has a lead character that is heroic in nature meaning that they end up sacrificing themselves for the greater good of humanity.
That’s what a hero does. The hero’s journey is an essential checklist to make sure that you’re hitting those moments at the right time in the story. The beginning hook of your story, it has like five checkpoints to make sure that you’re hitting. The middle build has four checkpoints and then your ending payoff has three.
Now, I’m using Christopher Vogler’s definition of the 12 checkpoints and he’s the guy who wrote The Writer’s Journey, I highly recommend the book, it’s very – he really hits each of this major things very clearly, it’s not a difficult read and it’s a really good guide.
[0:05:22.2] TG: I feel like, because I picked up a copy after we talked last week and he opens the book talking about Campbell’s a hero with a thousand faces which is so brutally hard to read that I’m like, this is almost like a layman’s version of that book for the writer, is what it felt like.
[0:05:42.9] SC: Yeah, the Campbell book is brilliant but it was written for an academic audience. I mean Campbell was an intellectual who had spent years and years comparing and contrasting all the myths around the globe and he came up with the mono myth theory which is the hero’s journey and you know, it’s an academic book so it’s a lot of big words in there, a lot of senses.
I love Vogler’s, I always recommend Vogler because he used to work in the film industry, may still do and he really went through Campbell’s stuff and came up and really made it very clear. Let’s start with the beginning hook of the story.
[0:06:31.8] TG: I have one more question before we jump in. So you’ve talked about like your hero arcing. When do you use the hero’s journey to look at that and when do you not? Because we’ve talked about how like in the James Bond action or the Martian, the hero does a change right?
It’s all an external genre, there is no internal genre. Would you use the hero’s journey to look at those books, would you use it to look at like romance or other genres? When do you use this tool because the fool’s cap and the spreadsheet, that’s like every first draft no matter what genre, no matter internal or external but do you use this for all genres or certain ones?
[0:07:19.7] SC: I use it for all genres and the reason why is that if you looked at a James Bond movie from the 1960’s or in Fleming’s early novels, yes, he does not have an internal change but there is an external change in each one of the bond movies.
You can track the hero’s journey through external change as well as internal change. The deep thrillers like silence of the lambs, they have an external and an internal change. It’s even more important to make sure that the hero’s journey is present there.
Literally, remember that couple of months ago, you had found something online where there was an explanation, a very clear explanation of the hero’s journey and I think it was from the man who created that television series, Community College or whatever.
Dan something. Anyway, he uses the circle and you know, Vogler uses the circle too and the circle’s a good image to remember because it implies making a full revolution and a change of world view and/or a change of circumstances and they have to go on through trials, they have to go beneath the surface and only to rise again at the end.
You know, if you use that sort of circle idea, you know your beginning hook, is moving from the light down to the darkness, the middle build is the full – everything below, beneath the surface and then the ending payoff is the final quarter when you know, the hero rises again.
Again, what you have is a 25%, 50%, 25% relationship between the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff and some people even divide the middle build into two sections and the all is lost moment is at the very bottom of the circle beneath the surface. There’s any number of ways of using metaphors and symbols and thought patterns to sort of get this into your mind.
Now, when you were writing the first draft, I talked about and we talked about the hero’s journey a lot because as you’re crafting it, you want to keep that stuff I mind, you want to think about the ordinary world, mixed ordinary world, you want to think about those big, major shifts in the hero’s journey but once you have that first draft done, in the heat of the moment of the writing, we can often think that we’ve written something when we actually haven’t.
It’s always a great idea to just go back and check your work. If you’re taking in a math test and you have an extra 10 minutes after you finished it, you know, you don’t go hand in your test, you go check your work, right? That’s what editing is really about, it’s checking the work to make sure that the story can abide, conventions and obligatory scenes of the genre, abides the five commandments of storytelling, scene by scene.
Abides the hero’s journey and abides any number of story arcs that Curt Vanaget talked about. You know, the man in the hole and the Cinderella, et cetera. All of this stuff, all of this tools are just wonderful ways to check your work to make sure that you are delivering a story that can satisfy the most number of reader’s expectations as possible.
If all of them clicked together, you’ve got a book like Lord of the Rings that sells forever. That’s really why we’re going through this process and this is the third step in a kind of a four step process, we’re almost done with it so if you don’t have any other questions.
[0:11:32.6] TG: Let’s jump in.
[0:11:34.0] SC: Okay. I’m just going to quickly list the five checkpoints that you should have in your beginning hook of your story and then we’ll go through those five one by one and then we’ll do this, I want to break it up in the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff because I want people to take away from this episode that the hero’s journey does break down into beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff and if you have, you may think, I’ve got that moment, that checkpoint but if it’s in the wrong place in your story, it’s not going to work.
Let’s just start with the beginning hook. The first thing that you have to do is establish the ordinary world of your hero. Now, the ordinary world is the status quo of their existence, how they think, what they’re doing, the world in which they’re operating and we’ve had many discussions already about how you’re considering tinkering with the ordinary world to make it more clear.
I don’t really think there’s any confusion about the ordinary world, this is – you want to establish the dystopic, the dystopia of Jesse’s world at the very start of your story. You’re going to work on that, correct?
[0:13:05.5] TG: Right, yes. I feel like in the current one, I have to a certain extent but it definitely needs some work.
[0:13:12.6] SC: Yeah, I mean, it’s absolutely clear, the difference between the world at the beginning hook and the world in the middle build but the more clearer you can make the differences so that the more interesting it will be to the reader because you want to take them on a journey to a place that seems even more spectacular and more strange than the ordinary circumstances.
The great thing about a fantasy novel and the fantasy genre is that you can start in a crazy – like Star Wars starts on a planet in the middle of some distant galaxy that’s kind of an old farm in the dust bowl. That’s a very strange place to start. The ordinary world can be very strange and wonderful but…
[0:14:09.7] TG: It’s the ordinary world from the hero’s perspective?
[0:14:13.9] SC: Yes, exactly.
[0:14:17.1] TG: Okay.
[0:14:17.9] SC: Now, the next one is the call to adventure and this is pretty obvious too. In Star Wars, it’s when I think R2D2 plays that hologram to Luke Skywalker, explaining the trouble that you know, the galaxy is in or whatever.
[0:14:38.4] TG: Yeah, it’s the second moment so because I don’t want you to get mean emails from Star Wars fans. It’s actually the second time it plays when he’s with Obi Wan Kanobi and they play the full message for the first time and then that’s when Obi Wan Kanobi’s like, “you have to come with me” and become a Jedi and now I’m forgetting the dialogue. Send me the angry emails but it’s that moment where he’s like, you’ve got to come with me.
That’s when – I mean, we can jump to number three which is what do you call number three?
[0:15:12.1] SC: The refusal of the call.
[0:15:13.9] TG: Right, so in Star Wars, it’s the same scene, he says, “you’re going to come with me” and immediately Luke says, “I’m not going with you” so yeah, and all three of this happen in the first scene for me.
[0:15:28.3] SC: Right, in fact, the ending of the first scene is her refusal of the call and I think it’s a strong scene, you know, the only thing that is a bit – the ordinary world isn’t firmly established and it’s absolutely okay when you wrote the first draft, not to establish the ordinary world because you know what? You probably didn’t even know what that world was at the time that you were constructing the story.
You know, part of writing a first draft is allowing yourself to skip forward with a lot of two coms and so, even something as large and important as establishing the ordinary world, you can say to yourself, I don’t really have a completely figured out in my mind yet but I’m going to move forward, I’m going to just start the story and I’m going to start this story by nailing some major elements in the hero’s journey in my beginning hook.
Your first scene in your novel, you know, it’s the call to adventure and the refusal of the call and the establishment of the ordinary world all in the very first scene. That’s a great way of launching yourself into your draft.
After the refusal of the call, the fourth thing is meeting the mentor and meeting the mentor is the moment like when Luke meets Obi Wan Kanobi and when Jesse meets 83, now the one thing we have to think about here is how firmly established is 83 as a mentor.
[0:17:16.7] TG: Well, I feel like it’s pretty established because she’s the one that introduces her.
[0:17:23.4] SC: Yeah, she shows her around and she tells her what she has to do and she sort of saves her from that plugged in woman who freaks out.
[0:17:33.1] TG: Yeah, and saves her when Jesse runs away and – you know, she can’t do that basically but I mean, is it a problem that I spend so much time establishing the world of the numbered when she’s going to leave it anyway?
[0:17:49.9] SC: No, I don’t think so. The reason why is that it’s a complication, if you look at the numbered as a complication in your story as supposed to a delay tactic, I think it works and also, you want to establish in your ordinary world that it’s a very stratified society. This is not everybody, one for all and all for one, this is a very structured class society where there are clear distinctions between the people who mine and the people who serve the miners.
I think it works. The only thing I would suggest with 83 is – and we’ll talk about this later in the middle build but when she comes back into the story, we really need to hammer home that Jesse is immediately going to think, “oh my god, my friend’s back, I can really rely on this person.”
We’ve got to look at her in terms of her archetype as a mentor and think about what we’re going to do with her. Is she going to shape shift, is she going to move from mentor to rival or even enemy? Is she – we have to figure that out but I think right now in the story, she’s a shape shifter and it’s a little bit unclear of how she is resolved but then again, we haven’t – I haven’t actually read the book in so long that those are questions to ask yourself.
How can I clearly make 83 a major figure in this book? You know, one of the things – a good cheat, a good way to look at this is and I learned this from Steve Presfield. Whenever – he’s thinking of his characters, he tries to cast them in his mind.
You know, who would be playing this character? Is this Sigourney Weaver? Would she be the character that would be cast in the movie to play this character? Is there an archetypical sort of person that is a cultural figure that you could cast in your mind?
That can often help you in scenes where you’re like, well, Sigourney Weaver wouldn’t do that. That kind of thing can be really helpful. So think about that too. Okay, number four was meeting the mentor, we just went over that. Number five is called crossing the threshold.
Now, crossing the threshold is just you know, kind of what it sounds like, it’s a shift from the ordinary world into the extraordinary world, it’s the moment when Katniss gets on that train to go to the capital in Hunger Games and she’s treated like a very important person.
Before she was living in kind of a hard scrabble town, legally hunting food and then all of a sudden, after she gives herself up for the hunger games, she’s transitioning from her ordinary world into the extraordinary world at the capital.
Again, I haven’t read the novel in a while but I remember that I believe she gets on a train and there’s all kinds of food, there’s all kinds of clothes, people are treating her with a lot of respect, she’s introduced to a lot of people who are going to help her, she meets her mentor who is a drunk and so, that is the crossing the threshold passage or checkpoint that Suzanne Collins nailed in the Hunger Games.
When you’re reading that as a reader, you’re like, “I love this part”, you don’t even know it’s crossing the threshold. No, this is that moment when they get on the train and then it slowly shifts into this other world that’s extraordinary and incredible.
Right now, we don’t have that kind of really dramatic interesting, incredible moment when Jessie moves from the world of the numbered into the world of this competition, the world of the threshing.
You should really make a hard note for that and one of the things we discussed earlier was using Az as sort of her liaison, the person who walks her through the academy.
[0:22:49.3] TG: yeah, the threshold guardian.
[0:22:51.0] SC: Right, exactly.
[0:22:52.9] TG: Yeah, well I would say I have it in there, it’s just like a four instead of an eight or a nine or a 10. It’s not overly interesting.
[0:23:03.1] SC: Exactly, right. That’s a great moment when you can just let your imagination fly and sort of be your inner Steven Spielberg and figure out, “what does this place look like? What kind of – how does it work?”
Anyway. That’s the end of the beginning hook stages for the hero’s journey. Let me just go over them again. Establish the ordinary world, there’s a call to adventure, the hero refuses the call, the hero meets a mentor and then the mentor guides them until the moment when they cross the threshold, the accept, they finally accept the call and then cross the threshold from the ordinary world to the extraordinary world.
Now, in terms of that big circle I was talking about earlier, this is the moment when we go underground in a way. If the circle has a longitude and latitude, now we’re going beneath the latitude.
Now we’re into the middle build and the middle build, you know, I remember when you were struggling at the start of the middle build and the thing that really kind of helped you was when I explained to you in the hero’s journey we had tests.
[0:24:34.8] TG: Yeah, the test allies and enemies, I remember that snapped me into writing some scenes that actually worked in the book because that’s when I started thinking “okay, well she’s got to meet the people that are going to help her, she’s got to meet, we got to firmly established her allies and enemies and start setting up all the test that she’s going to have to get through in the middle build.”
That’s when I first then – then I wrote some scenes where Randy and Alex are introduced and then Az is established as the enemy and they’re established as the allies and I introduced the severings and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, that helped me snap in to. Because that was when – by that point, I could pretty reliably write a scene that worked.
But I was having trouble stringing together scenes that worked inside of a bigger story.
[0:25:31.6] SC: Right.
[0:25:32.2] TG: Coming back to that point and you explaining that helped me move on.
[0:25:37.2] SC: Right, I like to think of this, the tests and in terms of sequences, two or three scenes or even four or five that lead to a mini event in the story, that Jane Austin was really great at doing this where she would drop in to the story – Elizabeth was invited to go visit the lake region with her uncle in the months to come, in the summer.
She tells the reader that, pages and pages before Elizabeth ever goes on that lake trip and the reason why she does that is you got to give the reader something to always be looking forward to. The reason why you have these severings and these tests is so that the reader can anticipate and think about “oh my gosh, I can’t wait till she gets into the next severing.”
The other. The other thing that you have to do is you have to progressively make the tests more and more difficult. I think you accomplished that. The next one in the middle build is called the approach to the inner most cave.
This is the moment in the story when your lead character has their all is lost moment. It’s sort of the moment when they realize, they’re completely out of their element, they don’t know what’s going on and they have a panic, they literally are incapable of acting properly and you put this moment, this approach to the inner most cave in the second severing when she’s locked in that room.
The part of the severing is that if you are caught or attacked or beaten, you’re out immediately. She has that panic moment and that’s when her brother Randy comes out of the darkness and brings her into his secret place in the virtual world. That was a really good choice because it’s about the middle of your novel and it features her losing her way.
That’s the approach that the inner most cave and it also foreshadows the ending payoff of your entire novel. I think that moment and that scene and that construction and we did talk a lot about the hero’s journey during that period.
Really works, of course you can always make it better but you know, the approach to the inner most cave, sort of the bottom point of the hero’s journey, it’s at the lowest end of that circle, any questions about that one?
[0:28:47.6] TG: No, let’s go on to the eighth one because that’s the one I’m a little confused about – talk about the eighth one and then let’s see if I still have questions after that.
[0:29:02.3] SC: Okay, the eighth one is the ordeal and the ordeal is the big – it’s a very large event and the ordeal for Jesse is when she’s in the third severing, it looks like there’s no way she’s going to be able to outsmart this guys in this game and she outmaneuvers them.
But, she ends up getting killed in the virtual world correct?
[0:29:35.7] TG: Right.
[0:29:38.0] SC: That is the moment when she has this huge ordeal, it’s the moment when the hero faces a task or event that is you know, completely overwhelming. You chose to make this the moment when she does. I think that was a good choice.
[0:30:01.0] TG: Okay, so looking at Votler’s Map, so I have the circle here and I’ll put links to what I am looking at here so people can get all of these and then looking at the cliff notes version of the book, the ordeal, he has the ordeal in the middle of the story and I have mine about 75% in like right at the end of middle build, does that matter that much?
[0:30:31.8] SC: Well I think it’s a creative choice that the writer can make. The ordeal and the approach to the inner most cave, usually what happens is that the approach to the inner most cave then immediately results into the ordeal. So one is a set up but you made the choice of she’s actually her approach turns out to be she’s rescued by her brother. You know we could split hairs about this and some people could say, “Oh well your deal should definitely be in the middle of the book”.
And my thinking about it is you need something remarkably incredible at the very end of your middle build to kick you into your ending payoffs and ideally you’ll have something that is I think the approach to the inner most cave is an opportunity to hit an internal panic button for your character and then pay it off with an external challenge to push you especially in a thriller, to push you into the ending payoff. In the Silence of the Lambs, the ordeal for Clarisse Starling is when she faces Lecter right before Lecter escapes and she is caught by Chilton and told that she is off the case.
She’s got to get out of there, she’s in deep trouble and Lecter seemingly gives her no information that would be helpful to her. So she reaches her low point and the ordeal right before it kicks into the ending payoff of the story when she realizes that she has to go to Ohio. You chose to make the approach to the inner most cave and it is literally a cave. It’s a dark passage inside a virtual world. It has the bottom of your journey in the middle build and then you have her ordeal as sort of the ending of the middle build that kicks into the ending payoff. I think it works.
[0:33:04.6] TG: Okay, I never know, it feels like it’s breaking the rule and I don’t have enough experience to know when it’s okay to break the rule and when it’s not okay to break the rule so.
[0:33:20.6] SC: Well I would say this, the four things that you need in the middle build don’t necessarily have to be a specific iron clad times. You chose to have hit to make the third thing – I’m sorry, the second thing, the approach to the inner most cave as the bottom pit of your special world and have your ordeal at the tail end and I think that works. If you would choose to put the approach of the inner most cave at the beginning hook then you would have trouble because then you are rushing the story.
You’re not building to it. It’s just not working because you would have been pushing the hero’s journey far too many stages, far too quickly and it would have been confusing.
[0:34:18.4] TG: Okay.
[0:34:18.5] SC: So these four things that we’re talking about from the middle build, I think you can pretty much play with them in their order as long as it works.
[0:34:30.3] TG: And they need to stay in their order, you can’t rearrange their order?
[0:34:35.4] SC: That’s correct.
[0:34:39.0] TG: Okay, I mean it would be hard to I think because you can’t do one without the previous one.
[0:34:44.2] SC: Yeah, the hero’s journey is a progressive complication of the hero’s life. So to have her face all of these stuff in the first severing and then have two other severing’s after that would just anger the reader right? Because they would be like, “We’ve already got the good stuff, why are we having more severings? Let’s get to the threshing. What is this?” so the choices that you made for the three trials that she undergoes progressively complicate from one to the next to the next.
So the first one she brilliantly gets out of it by not playing then she canned it in the second one and the third one she literally dies in the virtual world and almost dies in the real life. So that’s definitely a progressive complication on top of a complication. Okay, so the last thing in the middle build is the reward and the reward is when the hero accomplishes a very big task and at the end of that they usually get a reward. So I’m not sure if you have a reward at the end of the middle build beyond the fact that she is alive.
[0:36:06.9] TG: Yeah, I skipped that. We just said the next scene after she wakes up is just them training for the threshing. So there is no – and to me in my book, the reward is the realization that she can’t die inside the virtual world. So this is the moment when she’s had the treasure all along but now she can poses it and now everybody knows she has the treasure because up until now only Randy knew but the reader didn’t know it either.
So while I need to add something in where there is some kind of addressing the fact that she can’t die in the virtual world in a much more clear way.
[0:36:59.9] SC: Well the other thing to do is to think about the Hunger Games when she’s set up that great device where people can lend aid to the Hunger Games competitors by parachuting in supplies and all that stuff and that was a way that she was building in rewards for every time Katniss did something incredible there would be a reward afterwards. So the reward that you’re talking about is more of a metaphysical reward.
I think you need a literal reward. Maybe there’s some ceremony like an Olympic ceremony where the top three stand up and they’re honored because they will be representing the faction in the threshing. So she could be honored in some sort of fashion and rewarded for her surviving the third severing in some kind of literal way like that or another thing that you could do is you could bring back 83 and the mentor rewards her with a special sword.
“This is the sword that when you go to the threshing here I want you to wear this locket.” “This is the locket my mother had”, you know? That is a really nice way to do it too because often you can use the reward as a set up for a solution to the problem later on. So when the mentor gives a gift, it’s an amazing thing for the mentee to get a gift from their mentor and they hold that gift so dearly for the rest of their lives. So that could be a really cool thing to do and it could be a shape shifting gift. Where 83 is giving it to her for other reason like maybe it’s a surveillance thing or I don’t know.
[0:39:10.7] TG: So this could be potentially be something I set up early in the book too where every – all of the trainees trying to make it to the threshing really want the thing they get when they’re one of the final three.
[0:39:28.5] SC: Right, you could do that. That’s one way of setting up the reward but remember you have to make it a surprise though as oppose to, “Oh you get a gold watch. Here’s your gold watch” “thanks” that’s not a really great scene. Everybody is dying to get the gold watch and then she gets the gold watch at the end but if you did something that is an unexpected gift.
[0:40:00.0] TG: Oh did you ever read The Magicians by Liv Grossman?
[0:40:04.2] SC: No I haven’t.
[0:40:05.0] TG: It’s a great book, it’s like a mix of Harry Potter and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the Narnia world and it’s really, really dark. So if you’ve read Harry Potter and you’re like, “This is not how real kids would act if they had magic” then read The Magicians but when you were saying that, there is a moment, it’s the same set up where they all go into the school for magic people or whatever and when they graduate, spoiler alert, they get this thing seared into their back.
That I think they don’t fully explain what it is but it’s like their graduation gift and it ends up being the thing that they use to save, one of them uses to save them at the end of the book when they fight the final god. That popped in my head when you’re talking about that. So they were given this as a reward.
[0:41:04.3] SC: Yeah, that’s a very good device to use too especially when it is a weird gift like here’s this – I am going to now cut off your third finger, something like that and it proves to be the thing that saves them at the end and that’s fun because then the reader is familiar with these kinds of stories. They go, “Oh that gift is going to payoff somehow but I don’t know how” like “Oh my gosh, that’s weird! I wonder how’s that going to – I wonder what’s the significance of that?” and then there’s mystery.
You want to create give the gift that is mysterious not obvious. Don’t give a gift where she gets a crown or I don’t know, you know what I’m saying.
[0:41:56.1] TG: Yeah, I’m thinking with you.
[0:41:58.9] SC: So the reward is the thing that you take the reward moments and it brings down the blood pressure of a story just before you kick into the ending payoff. So that’s why it’s a really nice thing to have because you get a breather after all of this, after that huge ordeal. Now the big ordeal, this is the moment where the reader is like, “there’s no way the writer is ever going to top this” how are they going to make this better or how are they even going to get to the ending payoff?
Like in Silence of the Lambs who are like, “How is she going to find Buffalo Bill? There is no way?” she’s been kicked out of the FBI investigation, she has to go back to Quantico, if she does anything in the future, she’s going to be flushed out of the program. She’s going to have to start all over again. She has no clues, how is she ever going to get the bad guy? And that’s the end of the middle build in the Silence of the Lambs.
You’re like, “Oh my gosh this doesn’t make any sense because Crawford and his team are hot on the trail. They’re going to definitely get Buffalo Bill before she does” so the reward for Clarisse Starling was the respect of Crawford and Crawford literally giving her his money. He takes out all the money in his pockets and he gives her a blank check and say, “Go. Go to Ohio. Do it” so her mentor gives her the gift and by giving her the respect and confidence that you can do this.
You have to do this because nobody else can and here’s everything I have to help you get there. So that reward moment is just before the ending payoff of the Silence of the Lambs and it’s a beautiful moment because it’s these moments when these two people, the mentor looks at Starling and knows that he had been using her throughout the investigation and realizes she’s the key. She’s the one who can fix it, she’s the one who has the knowledge not him and so that’s a great moment in the Silence of the Lambs that kicks us into the ending payoff.
So think about a scene like that, maybe it’s about 83. I’d like that. I think 83 and Jessie have a mentor-mentee relationship that’s pretty interesting and maybe you can play with that in some way. Let’s move into the ending payoff. Now these are the main checkpoints for the final and there’s only three of them which gives you a lot of breathing room too and they’re pretty obvious. The first one is called the road back. Now what the road back means is you need to establish so that the reader knows how Jessie is going to get back home.
How she’s going to get back to the ordinary world and you establish this really early on in the book when you said, “At the end of the threshing she’ll be able to go home” and you might want to hit that one or two times in the book literally where somebody literally says, a herald says something like, “Well you know, you get to go home after you win the threshing and you get to go home in a way that is terrible” so the road back has to be reiterated in the ending payoff.
[0:45:49.7] TG: So that’s one place I’ve always been a little confused because I thought the road back was like okay, she’s not back and I’m like, “Well how do you put her back in the original world when she hasn’t won yet?” so this is just establishing the road back. So the way that she’s going to go – to me one of these should also be a moment between her and Randy where he reiterates the promise that they’ll get to be a family again after the threshing is over.
[0:46:26.1] SC: Right but she needs to want to go literally back to the ordinary world where Balem and her friends are.
[0:46:36.7] TG: Yeah and her mom and dad and all of that.
[0:46:38.5] SC: And her mom and dad, yeah. So she wants to go back to that place and you firmly establish that at the very beginning of the middle build when she tries to get kicked out of the program so she can go back. So you just need to reiterate that at the beginning of the ending payoff and it could be as simple as Ernst saying, “Geez when do you get home? after the threshing, at least you get to go home win or lose”, you know?
[0:47:07.7] TG: And then I think it heightens the final decision she makes too to give that up.
[0:47:15.1] SC: Yes. The second to the last one is called resurrection and the resurrection is the moment – this is the big, big climax of the story is when your hero faces this final extraordinary challenge that they are absolutely no way it doesn’t look like they are ever going to get out of it and they used their special gift to win. So this is the hero at the mercy of the villain scene when your hero resurrects. They go from what seemingly seems like a death or dishonor or damnation to life and success.
So it’s an external, in a thriller, it is an external success. In Silence of the Lambs, the resurrection is when Starling hears the click of Buffalo Bill’s gun and fires directly in that area before he can shoot her. So she remembers she’s down in the basement. He’s wearing infrared glasses so that he can see in the dark.
[0:48:34.8] TG: Yeah I saw that in my dreams for weeks after watching the movie so I remember the scene.
[0:48:41.2] SC: And it’s great because you’re like, “There’s no way she’s going to survive. How is he going to get her out of this?” and she firmly establishes she’s the best shot in the FBI and she does not hesitate. She empties her weapon better than anybody. So when she hears that snick and she also smells him remember? Because Lecter –
[0:49:05.7] TG: The goat smell, yeah.
[0:49:07.4] SC: The goat smell. So she uses two senses to overcome the villain and it’s a brilliant solution. So this is the moment the resurrection when certain death is outplayed and the hero wins. So that’s the climax of the story it’s hero at the mercy of the villain scene. You definitely have that, you need to of course make it better and then the final stage of the ending payoff and of the novel is when the hero returns to the ordinary world, they go home.
And they have an elixir, that’s what Vogler calls it, the return with the elixir and so you definitely have that when Jessie heads back with the win for the faction but she is now looked to as the one with all the answers so she has – go ahead.
[0:50:12.4] TG: With return of the elixir and you say you have that. I know I have the return but what is she bringing back that reconstitute the elixir?
[0:50:25.4] SC: She’s bringing back freedom from the tyranny of the faction.
[0:50:31.6] TG: Okay.
[0:50:32.9] SC: So that is a definite elixir, these people were being used to do the dirty work for a very small group of people and now that whole system has been blown up. There is no more requirements to mind and it is a wonderful gift but it also brings a lot of anxiety. So in the moments at the end of your novel Jessie is being doubted as a savior and she also knows, “Oh no what have I gotten myself into now? Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Why did I have to do that” and when they look to her and said, “What are we going to do now?” and she says, “I don’t know”. I think that’s a really good ending to the first step of your novel of your trilogy or whatever.
[0:51:31.0] TG: Okay, so gone through all of them.
[0:51:34.1] SC: And what’s your takeaway? What are the things that you think you need to tweak and work on better?
[0:51:40.1] TG: Well I feel like there is none except for the reward that I just flat don’t have. So all other 11 I have at some level. I would say about half of them I needed to up the ante on how I’m establishing them and how I am doing them but I feel like overall and it was because we discussed this so much while we were doing the first draft but overall I hit most, you know 11 of the 12 marks.
[0:52:12.9] SC: Yeah, that’s always good news and it’s always a great thing to review because now you understand. You are feeling better about your first draft because you’re like, “I did hit 11 of the 12 in the heroes journey, the character definitely arcs, I just need to tweak them and make them better” and it’s those moments when you can allow your imagination to run wild and it’s actually serving you. You are not fantasizing, you’re actually putting your imagination to use.
As oppose to getting lost in the weeds while you are writing your first draft thinking about what kind of space suits they’re wearing in the academy. That doesn’t matter now you get to earn, you have to earn those moments of being able to fantasize about what kind of helmets they have. You could bet George Lucas had nailed all of these points in Star Wars before he was thinking about the light sabers and the Storm Troopers and what they’re looking like.
He nailed these moments so that later on he could really let his mind run wild and come up with these great little wonderful bits of fantastical adornment. Those are the adornments that you get to play with after you built your city. So you’ve got a really nice foundation of a city here and there’s a lot of TK’s that are fun to fill out.
[0:53:52.5] TG: Okay, so what’s next? What are we doing next? Because I think you said we have four things we’ve got to go through so we’ve hit three, what’s the fourth one?
[0:54:03.0] SC: Well the fourth one is a bear but it’s also the thing that will really kick you into having very clear directives for each scene that you work through in your second draft. So what it is, is a way to create a story grid for your work in progress now and what we’re going to do is we’re going to use the power of ten. It’s actually going to be the power of 30 and negative 30 to go through each of your scenes and give it a number.
I think you have 60 scenes so what we’re going to do is we’re going to go scene by scene or you’re going to do is you’re going to go scene by scene and assign it a number in terms of your external genre and your internal genre. So for example, the lowest point for Jessie internally is when she panics in the second severing right?
[0:55:18.1] TG: Yeah, the approach to the inner most cave, the scene right before that.
[0:55:23.7] SC: Right, so that scene when she panics will be your negative 30 for your internal genre so when you go and you map out your story grid and the way you would do it is you have a long line that would be the horizontal access and you would write number one through 60 and then your vertical access at the top will be positive, below the horizontal line will be negative. So you will take a pen and you will go to that scene that’s negative 30 and you’ll put a negative 30 down below the horizontal line.
What you need to do now is to assign numbers to each of your scenes in terms of the external and the internal genre. So where on between the number of positive 30 and negative 30 are you for each individual scene?
[0:56:35.8] TG: Okay and this is the micro version of that column of the fool’s cap, that right column that we went through into the plus minus. We are now doing that for each individual scene and giving it a number.
[0:56:54.7] SC: No, the plus minus is the individual. Each value in the scene is a plus or minus. So the value in the scene could shift from –
[0:57:05.5] TG: What’s the shift? It is not the actual place on the map.
[0:57:08.2] SC: The place on the map is determined by where that scene is in terms of the global values at stake not the micro values at stake.
[0:57:19.6] TG: Okay, so here’s what I’m going to do and you tell me if this sounds good. I’m going to do that for like the first, how about the beginning hook? Those first set of scenes and I’ll send you those and then we can go over that because I had such a struggle with that part of the fool’s cap, I would hate to try to do this for all 60 scenes and just miss every one of them. So how about I do that for the first 11, we go about that next week and you can course correct me before I do it for the entire first draft?
[0:57:51.6] SC: Okay.
[0:57:53.2] TG: Does that sound like a plan?
[0:57:56.2] SC: It does. The only plan, the ointment is that the way I do it is that I begin at the most negative and the most positive.
[0:58:05.5] TG: Well I can do that. So should I just try to identify?
[0:58:10.0] SC: Yeah, identify the most negative scenes in terms of the life value and the most negative scenes in terms of the maturity value and the most positive scene in terms of the life and the most positive in terms of maturation.
[0:58:29.7] TG: Okay, all right. So I’ll do that and I will send you that and then we’ll go over that next week and then that will – then after that I’ll be able to actually do all 60 and then we can do the map from there, that full story grid from there.
[0:58:45.4] SC: Yeah.
[0:58:45.8] TG: Okay, all right sounds good.
[0:58:47.7] SC: Okay, thanks.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:58:50.5] 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 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 iTunes and leaving a rating and review.
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