In Part 1 of the How to Edit a Manuscript series, we introduced you to the way Story Grid approaches editing a manuscript and gave you the first three steps in the editing process. In Part 2, we showed you how to assign a competency grade to a manuscript.
Now that we have reviewed the initial analysis, let’s look at the full Story Grid Diagnostic that a Story Grid editor performs on a manuscript to give the most complete and useful feedback to a writer possible.
How to Complete a Story Grid Diagnostic
The Story Grid Diagnostic is the process Story Grid editors use to analyze a manuscript and communicate actionable feedback to the writer.
Editors prepare six deliverables over the seven-step process that makes up the Story Grid Diagnostic.
1. The Editor’s Six Core Question Analysis
Outlined in part 1 of this series, the EDITOR’S SIX CORE QUESTIONS Analysis is a document that Story Grid editors draft just after they finish reading the manuscript. This captures the state of the manuscript and its global story elements.
2. The First Five Scene Story Grid Spreadsheet
Outlined in part 1 of this series, this STORY GRID SCENE SPREADSHEET contains an analysis of only the first five scenes of the manuscript. It shows the writer whether these beginning scenes work and how to analyze the rest of the scenes when it’s time. Only when a manuscript is at Level Four or Five should all the scenes be put through a full Story Grid Spreadsheet analysis (this is covered below).
3. The Consultation Call
This call will happen cold, meaning the editor will not send materials to the writer in advance. This is so the writer can hear the editor’s initial feedback instead of reading and developing opinions beforehand.
Here is how the editor approaches the call.
1. Prepare for the call
The editor will take thirty minutes just before the call to review current analysis and suggestions. They will consult the Editor’s Six Core Questions analysis along with the Story Grid Spreadsheet analysis so your evaluation is fresh in your mind.
2. Record the call!
The editor will record the call (and all calls with the writer). Let the client know this to allow them to take in the information organically instead of having to take notes. During the conversation the writer and editor will have a great idea either relating to the work or to the genre and they’ll want it to be documented so as to not be forgotten. If they stop to take notes, it will break the flow of creativity.
The editor might use an automatic transcription service to send over a rough transcription of the call along with the recording. The record of the call also allows the editor to review the discussion to update their analysis easily and “gamefilm” their approach to delivering editorial advice.
So, it’s crucial that the editor record the call.
3. Plan on two hours for the actual call.
Chances are you will need more than one hour for the call. Plan on that. But don’t go over two hours. An editor promises the writer one hour and over delivers up to two hours, but anything more will start devalue the editor’s time and expertise.
Keep track of the time and remind the writer at the ninety-minute mark that there are thirty minutes left. Do another reminder fifteen minutes later and then end the call no later than two hours after it started.
4. During the Call
The Editor’s Six Core Questions analysis is the defacto script for the call. But the first questions should focus on the writer’s goals for the story and what inspired them to write it. This is vital if the editor is to provide useful feedback to the writer.
The Editor’s Six Core Questions analysis is like an MRI that shows the editor the state of the manuscript, its quantities and qualities. But this does not necessarily reveal the writer’s intention. The editor needs to suss out the writer’s goal state to guide them in closing the gap between the current state of the manuscript and what they want it to be.
After ascertaining the writer’s goals, the editor works through the editor’s analysis and provide feedback along the way. Story Grid Editors will update their thinking on Editor’s Six Core Questions throughout the call based on the client’s thoughts and responses. Crucial in this process is communicating what the editor enjoyed about the story. While the writer needs to hear what’s not working, they also need to hear what is working. One of the biggest fears writers have is that they don’t have what it takes and are wasting their time trying to write a story. It’s much easier for the writer to receive the advice openly if they trust that the editor cares and sees potential in the work. At Story Grid, we embrace a growth mindset. Through study, practice, and actionable feedback, writers can improve their stories, but they also need encouragement.
The truth is over 90 percent of manuscripts an independent editor reviews will not work; however the conversation with the writer should be collaborative, not didactic. While the editor knows story form, the writer knows what they are trying to say. The editor’s job is to help them say it in a way it will be heard.
The focus is to ask active questions over passive:
- Passive: “Do you have clear writing goals?”
- Active: “What do you do to set your daily writing goals?”
The first question is too vague and wishy-washy. It allows the writer to answer “yes” or “no” and then throw it right back to the editor to push them to elaborate.
The active question, though, puts the listener at ease because it assumes that the writer understands and does the things the editor is asking about. It’s not a “testing” question. It’s a collaborative invitation to discuss a common interest.
4. Update the Analysis
Once the call is finished, the editor updates the Editor’s Six Core Questions document and Story Grid Spreadsheet to reflect the conversation with the writer. While the analysis won’t change—an editor analyzes what is on the page, not what the writer meant to put on the page—the editor can add additional notes and expand on areas that came as a result of the call.
5. Write the Next-Steps Recommendation Letter
This document will explain the Story Grid editor’s recommendations for the writer.
This document is prescriptive, practical, and unambiguous.
The editor will wait until after the call to fill this out completely because the writer’s intention may be completely different from what the editor assumed based only on the review of the manuscript.
This document will be in letter form and will address the writer as a fellow “in the trenches,” a story lover and resistance fighter.
This letter is a cornerstone of the Story Grid editor’s Diagnostic. This provides clear feedback along with next steps the writer needs to take. It is multi-paged and in-depth.
For manuscripts requiring a page-one rewrite (Levels One, Two and Three) the editor’s advice will focus more on recommendations to help the writer learn story craft as the manuscript itself is not ready for specific suggestions.
The editor will provide helpful resources such as copies of Story Grid books, genre checklists, etc. They will also reference Story Grid tools and resources to study and suggest specific skills that need to be acquired before beginning a new draft.
We cover how to approach manuscripts at Level Four and Five in more detail below.
6. Recommend Masterworks of the Genre
The very best way to learn story structure is to study MASTERWORKS. These are stories at the top of their genre that become perennial sellers because they satisfy readers in and through time. If writers can figure out how the great stories work, they will take a huge leap toward crafting their own masterworks.
A Story Grid editor will choose three novels in the chosen global genre for the writer to read and analyze using the STORY GRID 624 and scene Spreadsheet.
The task of Story Gridding Masterworks is a big test of the writer’s willingness to do the blue-collar work necessary to become a better writer. If the writer does this work, they’ll gain incredible insight into how stories work and will be able to discuss their work in a new and more productive way. Those that don’t do this work will take much longer to gain a footing in the story arena.
7. Deliver the Packet to the Writer
We deliver the final Diagnostic materials to the writer in a way that is easy to access, can be updated in the future, and won’t get buried in an email inbox.
1. Set up a Dropbox or Google Drive folder for all client deliverables
The editor will set up a sharable folder for all the items they prepare for the writer. Once all the items have been added, share the folder, and email the writer with an access link. The editor will have a folder for each client in Dropbox or Google Drive that contains all the materials and can be easily updated. If the writer loses something, they can go to a shared folder link instead of having to ask you for it.
2. Add all of the Diagnostic deliverables to the shared folder
Here are the deliverables again:
- Editor’s Six Core Question analysis document (drafted before the call and then edited after the call)
- Story Grid scene spreadsheet of the first five scenes (completed before the call)
- Next-steps letter (drafted before and edited as needed after the call)
- Global genre masterworks recommendations
- Additional Story Grid resources such as genre checklists, Story Grid books, etc.
- Recording of the consultation call
If this process is followed for the Story Grid Diagnostic, the editor will have delivered the most thorough, clear, and helpful diagnosis of a writer’s writing that they have ever received.
While the writer will not always appreciate the reality check on their writing, the editor can rest in the knowing that they have provided exactly what the writer needs to keep progressing on their journey.
Once the Story Grid Diagnostic is done, the path forward depends on the Competency Grade for the manuscript.
Manuscript Levels One, Two, and Three: Stop Here
Any additional work done on an unworkable manuscript will prove fruitless. The next steps for the writer include:
- Taking the time to follow the Story Grid editor’s recommendations to level up their writing ability.
- Use Story Grid’s Narrative Path to plan a new draft.
- Start a page-one rewrite.
Manuscript Levels Four and Five: Further Analysis
For those manuscripts that are close to being publishable, more work is done to identify the specific steps needed to raise the level of the manuscript. The goal is to bring manuscripts at Levels Four and Five up to the Five+ level, which is approaching potential Masterwork status.
Now we move into the Story Grid Intensive territory. Beyond that is the Story Grid Extensive.
How to do a Story Grid Intensive and Extensive Analysis
We are currently in Part 3 of the How to Edit a Manuscript series, and the Intensive and Extensive are Parts 4 and 5.Click Here for Part 4 of this Series
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