Intro – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Masterwork Analysis

Hello, and welcome to the STORY GRID 101 episode of THE STORY GRID MASTERWORK PODCAST. We’re a part of a growing Story Grid Community that includes thousands of writers and editors from all over the world. We’re dedicated to helping writers improve their craft through books, podcasts, courses, and online forums. In this STORY GRID MASTERWORK PODCAST, we’ll be reading and analyzing great books to learn what makes them work so well. 

I’m your host Bibb Bailey. 

This season we’re reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum’s classic novel about a young girl’s Heroic Journey. In each episode, I’ll read you one of the book’s twenty-four scenes. Then we’ll analyze the scene using Story Grid tools in order to understand how and why this story endures and still captivates readers more than a century after it was written. 

Editor and publisher Shawn Coyne developed Story Grid’s tools during thirty years in the storytelling business. He’s applied his knowledge to dozens of bestselling fiction and nonfiction books and now shares what he’s learned with us in the Story Grid Community.

In this episode, we’ll give you an introduction to the why and how of Story Grid. Even if you’re already familiar with our tools and methods, we encourage you to check out this introduction because we’re approaching this masterwork in a fresh way. 

In the next episode we’ll begin our journey with Dorothy and her friends, but first let’s look at why we picked this story for the podcast.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is on a short list of iconic stories mentioned whenever writers and readers talk about the Heroic Journey. The Heroic Journey, often called the Hero’s Journey, is an ancient story structure made famous by Joseph Campbell, an American professor who studied literature, mythology, and religion. Christopher Vogler picked up on Campbell’s ideas and adapted them for writers. In the Story Grid methodology, we’ve built on some of Campbell’s and Vogler’s insights, enhancing and refining them to make universal patterns applicable to every writer and every story.

We think a Heroic Journey is the kind of story that engages and excites most readers. A perfect example would be the story of a young girl transported to an alien environment by a random event, who then navigates her way home against all odds.

We also believe deeply the Heroic Journey has a lot to teach us about our own lives.

After all, doesn’t Dorothy Gale’s trip to Oz have a lot in common with the journey we’re all on every day? We may not talk to scarecrows and witches on a regular basis, but we all have allies and enemies. And we all have to tap into an inner strength we never knew we had to deal with adversity, fear, and tragedy. Like Dorothy, we have to break out of old ways of thinking to see the world and ourselves in new ways if we’re going to overcome our challenges and become our best selves.

That’s why we think writers, editors, and readers everywhere will take away helpful insights by looking at this particular masterwork through a new lens and discovering exactly how it works, scene by scene.


But what is a masterwork? Like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, these are the stories people go back to time and time again.

Masterworks are stories that get it right. They’re at the top of their particular genre, whether that’s a Love Story, like Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; a Thriller, like The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris; or a War Story that defined the genre thousands of years ago, like The Iliad by Homer.

In this podcast, we’ve chosen to analyze a masterwork that defines both the Action-Adventure genre and the Heroic Journey. We’ll do that by using First Principles, or what Story Grid identifies as the most fundamental components of any scene or story. These First Principles are like the atoms that join together to create molecules, cells, and eventually become a living, breathing story organism.


Let’s briefly look at what the Story Grid method really is. We like to think of it as an MRI scan for a story. First, we get a full-body picture of the global, or macro, story to find out if anything is broken or if there is a systemic problem of some kind. Then we break the story down into smaller units, or scenes. We identify problems at this micro level too.

As soon as we identify the critical problems at each level, we can use our tools to fix what’s wrong.

Those tools spring from a set of five First Principles.

Now let’s discuss those First Principles.


Stories are composed of many units, each of which fits into the next, like a Russian nesting doll. We need to examine all those parts in order to understand each story.

The macro, or global story unit, is the whole enchilada—the total experience. Will our macro experience be a Horror Story or a Love Story? We all know what we can expect from the global story when we see a book cover or movie poster. 

During the next twenty-four episodes of this podcast, we’ll spend all our time looking at another unit of story—the micro, or scene unit. Constructing great scenes is the key to a story that works. Each scene involves a change. By the end, we have the feeling that something has resolved, and it’s time to move on to a new bit of action. 

In Masterworks, the macro, or global story is always greater than the sum of its micro parts, or scenes.


All stories are about change. The state of the world inside the story and inside each unit of the story is different at the end than it was at the beginning.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the change at the macro, or global level is about Dorothy gaining maturity and full agency over her life. At the micro level, in the first scene, the change is about Dorothy moving from a life of safety to a life in danger as a result of the cyclone.


The change that happens in stories concerns universal human values—the things most people would say are necessary to survive and thrive in the world—or alternatively, the things that keep us from surviving and thriving. 

Some positive universal human values include food, shelter, safety, justice, love, respect, knowledge, and self-actualization. Negative values include hunger, exposure, danger, injustice, hate, disrespect, ignorance, and self-abnegation.

If we put these positive human values on one end of a spectrum and their negative opposites on the other end, we can fill in the variations in between to see all the gradations of human experience.

The way we evaluate the important changes that occur in a scene or story is by focusing on the universal human values at stake. If none of these values changes, it’s not a scene or a story.


We can sum up the change in universal human values in a story or scene in a 

a single phrase or sentence, which we call the Story Event.

An example of a sentence that sums up many micro events is the one at the beginning of the Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

It’s often difficult to identify the Story Event in a scene, so Story Grid has a set of Four Socratic Questions to help us with the process. Throughout this podcast, we’ll ask these questions about every scene, and you’ll get better and better at answering them. 

The questions are: 

  1. What are the characters in the scene literally doing—that is, what are their micro on-the-ground actions?
  2. What is the essential tactic of the characters—that is, what macro behaviors are they employing that are linked to a universal human value?
  3. What universal human values have changed for one or more characters in the scene? Which one of those value changes is most important and should be recorded in our Story Grid Spreadsheet?
  4. What Story Event sums up the scene’s on-the-ground actions, essential tactics, and value change? We will enter that event in the Story Grid Spreadsheet.

We mention putting things in a spreadsheet because when writers and editors in our Story Grid Community analyze books, screenplays and even longform articles, we use a spreadsheet to track all the information. It helps us organize the pictures we are getting from our Story Grid MRI and figure out which bones are broken and where we need to apply a bandage or do a little surgery. 


In every story and scene, we can identify what we call the Five Commandments of Storytelling. Through these Five Commandments writers construct their Story Events.

In each scene we read in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, we will identify these Five Commandments:

  • The Inciting Incident, which kicks off the action;
  • The Turning Point Progressive Complication, an unexpected event that turns the human value at stake in the scene, and gives rise to. . .
  • The Crisis, which is a dilemma about how to confront the unexpected event;
  • The Climax, which is the decision and action a character takes in response to the Crisis;
  • The Resolution, which is the outcome of the action of the Climax.

Don’t worry if you can’t remember all the details of our Story Grid First Principles right now. We’ll give you a little reminder at the top of each episode. The point is to have fun listening to Dorothy’s fantastic Heroic Journey and to learn together as we go. 


Thank you so much for listening to STORY GRID 101, the fundamental episode of our STORY GRID MASTERWORK PODCAST. 

If you’re writing—or thinking about writing—a story about a Heroic Journey, you’ll be interested in Shawn Coyne’s seminar devoted to helping writers understand and use the Heroic Journey in their own work. It includes a trip to the Shire to do a macro analysis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, with a few detours to Oz and the Emerald City along the way.

Go to WWW.STORYGRID.COM/HERO to find out more. We’d love to see you there!

This has been Bibb Bailey for the STORY GRID MASTERWORK PODCAST. I’ll see you next time, my pretties!


The Book

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.

First Time Writer

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.


Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.