How do you know if you’ve done enough to make a big move from the beginning hook of your book to the middle build?
This is when understanding the global emotional arc/s of your story becomes so important. In this episode of The Story Grid Podcast, what was clear to me…wasn’t so clear to Tim. That makes sense because Tim in knee deep in the scene by scene construction of the work. And when you’re focused on the micro movements of story, you can easily lose the big picture point of view. So while it was pretty obvious to me that Tim had capped off his second “man in a hole” emotional arc for his lead character and that his potential future readers would be ready at just that moment to move into the magical world of his middle build…it wasn’t obvious to Tim.
Obviously the more writing you do and the more editing you do of that writing, the sooner your “transition muscles” will be developed. And when they are strong, what you’ll discover is that you save yourself a lot of headache and heartache creating scenes that you will inevitably cut.
To listen click the play button below or read the transcript that follows.
[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 Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid, and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.
In this episode, well actually, about 45 seconds in I have a really embarrassing moment, and then we recovered from that and we discuss the next sequence in the story, which ends up finishing up the beginning hook of the story, which means next week we actually start getting to dive in to the middle build.
This is a really good discussion. As we walked through the final sequence of the beginning hook, and really decide where does that end, and where should we move in to the middle build. I’m sure a lot of you deal with the same kind of just decisions of when do I transition, how far into this story should I transition. I think this is a really great episode, as you hear me kind of struggle through that with Shawn.
So let’s jump in and get started.
[0:01:09.5] TG: So Shawn, this past week, it was kind of fun, because a lot of the weeks where I have writing to do, you’ve freed me up to write one scene, or rewrite one scene. I was planning on this being three, and it ended up turning into four scenes, and we can talk about that.
I actually, of the last seven days, worked on this fiction book five of the days, which was just kind of nice to work on it in that big of a chunk at a time. But yeah, we left it off at — jeez, where did we leave it off? We left it off, I’ve completely forgotten.
[0:01:54.5] SC: We left it off just as the man is saved barely from…
[0:02:02.3] TG: That’s right.
[0:02:04.1] SC: From the running back from when Jessie runs away to her house.
[0:02:10.1] TG: Right, okay. They made it back.
[0:02:14.9] SC: I think that’s the end of scene seven.
[0:02:16.5] TG: Yeah, that’s right, they made it back; he gets hurt but he gets back, and 83 leaves her to take care of 61, the guy that got her.
[0:02:26.5] SC: Right, the advice that I gave you last week was at this point in the storytelling, we’ve had a lot of kinetic energy. Meaning, there’s been a lot of movement and action, which I think is extremely important in a thriller, coming of age, young adult, dystopian novel. At the very beginning of your story, you want to really grab the reader and say look, I’m not going to let you down. You bought this book because of the cover, which looks really cool, and you’re expecting an action thriller featuring a younger protagonist, who has to move from a position of sort of naiveté to maturation by the end of the story.
The reason why you really bought this is for the action. At the very beginning of your story, you need Tim — because you’ve made the choice to write in these genres — to really deliver a kinetic experience. Something that will really grab the reader by the throat and make them be really curious what’s going to happen next. They need to be engaged by the world, by this character, by the circumstances of the story, and the last thing you want to do at the very beginning of your story is to bog them down with a bunch of exposition.
We’ve worked very hard over the last months to really trim down your storytelling, so that you are setting up things that you can payoff later on. The payoffs are going to be great, because they are all those things that you think you need to tell the reader upfront, whereas they can learn those later. For example, the setup of Jessie being sent down to the number was that we understood that she was, but we didn’t know what kind of sentence she got, and she didn’t either.
There’s a revelatory moment in — I think it’s scene five or so, or scene six, maybe it’s four. Anyway, where 83 says to Jessie, “Hey, you got 25 years.”, at least that’s the information that 83 is giving her. She believes that she has 25 years to serve in the numbered clan. That’s what incites her to try her escape; to run back to her family. Again, what we’ve been doing is creating a very kinetic meaning of energizing, exciting, active experience for the reader in these first seven scenes, which it’s probably 10,000, 12,000 words. I don’t know what the word count is, but something around there.
[0:05:19.3] TG: Yeah, that’s about right.
[0:05:22.8] SC: Your reader at this point is like, ‘oh my gosh, this is great!”, but they’re getting tired of it. If you top on one more exciting moment that throws them into a chase or something like that, I fear you would begin to lose the reader. Because their blood is pumping very hard right now, and they need a pace resetting. They need to come down from that and learn more about who these characters are, more about the world; in an organic way. Meaning you can’t just drop down and have two characters come on the stage — like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet — and explain what this world is all about, et cetera.
You need to make it an organic thing, so at this moment I said to you, “This could be a nice opportunity to bring the pace down a little bit, organically, because 83 has assigned Jessie to take care of 61, who’s now been hurt, then they can start to form some kind of bond or relationship.”. Also, if we started talking about all this stuff before you had written anything, you would probably be nodding your head a lot, but you really wouldn’t know how to actually execute what we’re talking about. Now that you’ve written this stuff, it all sort of seems organic and easy, but it’s not.
We’ve been working on this for a year, and what’s really great about this process and I think what we’ve discovered here is that, to slowing down the pace and sort of taking a step back, for every two steps we go forward we’re slowly moving forward in a way that I think is organic and interesting. I just want to kind of recap a couple of things that I think are important to remind everybody, and you, about the story. Now, I always talk about wants and needs of your lead character, and how important it is to literally write down what your character wants and what they need.
Now, the great thing about knowing your genres very well, is that the need is a reflection of the internal genre that you’ve chosen and the internal genre that you’ve chosen is the maturation plot of a young girl coming to terms with a very scary universe that she’s living in. The maturation process moves from sort of a naiveté to a worldliness, and understanding that there are shades of gray in the world, and that everybody is not sort of going off of you being the center of the universe.
Everybody has their own little stories that they’re telling themselves, and that she, as the protagonist, has to understand that she’s part of a larger world. That is her need. Her need is to find the truth and to mature. The truth of the universe as opposed to the naïve view that she has now. Now, her want, which we’ve talked about sort of from the very beginning, her want is her obvious, what she thinks if she can get will make her life perfect. What she thinks she can get that will make her life perfect is a return to her organic nuclear family.
She hopes that if there’s a possibility of her bringing her brother back together, or healing from the loss of her brother into her family, that they can all go back to the way things once were. What’s really nice about the beginning of your story is that is a very strong thematic undercurrent in the storytelling. At the second scene, we see this very large betrayal of Jessie from her father. She hopes that her father will act on all of his niceties, his language, but his actions are pretty terrible. He’s basically rejecting her and saying, “Until you do whatever it is other people tell you to do, I can’t really be your father. I can’t give you the things that you want.”
Then, in scene five, she runs back home, thinking that her loss to the family would be such a bad thing for them that they would embrace her, when in fact, she gets pushed away again. We’ve got this longing for family that she — she is learning slowly that she’s not going to get that staying the ordinary world, right? She’s not going to be able to get mom and dad to treat her in the way that they used to treat her when her brother was still alive and around the family.
You’re slowly boiling her point where she’s going to understand, “Hey, maybe I can repair my life by leaving this world. Maybe I can do something that will get me what I need; a strong family that is supportive by leaving my ideas of what a great family are.” Then these scenes that you’re doing now, these four scenes that you’ve sent me, this is a way of creating an atmosphere that does a couple of things.
You want to be able to tell the reader more about this world. Especially you want to prepare them for the moment when Jessie crosses over into the extraordinary world. One of the things I told you to do last week when you were considering these scenes, think about ways to tell the reader about that magical world through the straightforward linear storytelling. One of the ways I suggested you do that was to have some sort of relationship built between this 61 numbered guy who has been hurt, and Jessie. You did that, I think, very well. I think the things that I asked you to do, you did in a way that really works, and it’s a very nice step back in terms of pace, and so we get immersed in the way the numbered live.
When we’re reading it, when I was reading it I’m like, this isn’t as bad as I thought it was, there’s a community of people here who care about each other. They’re reluctant to bring in a new person, but also, they’re open enough to allow somebody new to come in. In these four scenes — what I think would be instructive for everybody is instead of me walking everybody through the Story Grid spreadsheet column by column, I think it would be cool for me to ask you those specific questions, and see if you have immediate answers for them. Because we can demonstrate the craft of moving these scenes from positive to negative, negative to positive in a way that it’s not heavy-handed.
The scenes that you’re working on are — they’re softer scenes. I have to say, I was a little bit worried that you wouldn’t pull them off in the way that you do the action, but I think you did these really well. I think these four scenes are really good opportunity for the reader to come to grips and to understand what Jessie really wants. I think you did a really nice job of doing that without ever saying, “You know 83, I’d really like to have a family, because my dad doesn’t treat me very well and my mom is crazy.” I think you know, maybe last February, you may have written it that way. I’m not trying to beat up old Tim but.
[0:13:53.8] TG: No, if I’m not old Tim anymore, we can beat him up all you want!
[0:14:01.7] SC: Well, this is a really nice series of scenes that I think would be kind of cool — if you have your scenes in front of you — what would be fun for me would be to just sort of ask you the questions that I ask myself when I’m going through a Story Grid spreadsheet. Are you game for that?
[0:14:24.7] TG: Yeah, absolutely! What I did, actually, for each scene — so I sent you four scenes, and according to our current layout it’s scene’s 8 through 11. I’ll post this in the show notes, but what I did for each scene actually is write out notes for myself before I wrote this scene. I wrote like okay, this is going to happen, and this is going to happen. I actually started with the value shift that I thought was going to happen, and then I kind of wrote out notes and then I would write the scene. The only one I didn’t do that for was the 11th scene, the last one, because that was the scene we knew what was going to happen already, and we had already decided that. Actually, I went back in my notes and saw that my 11th scene was actually what I originally thought was going to be my eighth scene, and you’re like, “No, let this play out a little bit before we get to that point.”
Yeah, I’m game for that, ask away, we’ll see what I come up with.
[0:15:32.8] SC: Okay, let’s start with scene number eight. Obviously in the spreadsheet, you would just go all the way to the left-hand side and fill in number eight and then the word count, let me see, I might have it up here. The word count for scene number eight is 1,314 words, which is nice. That’s a nice potato chip length, as I like to say. The next column that we want to come up with is to explain what happens in the scene? What is the story event?
[0:16:09.4] TG: The story event is 61 wakes up and recovers from being hurt the night before.
[0:16:19.8] SC: I would say it’s a little bit different than that. I think it’s… that’s what’s going on, on the surface, but what’s going on underneath is 61 and Jessie form a bond. Do you agree with that?
[0:16:39.2] TG: Yes.
[0:16:40.4] SC: Okay.
[0:16:40.8] TG: This is where I still get a little mixed up, because I want to say that actual like on-stage action that happened.
[0:16:50.6] SC: Well, you could do that, and there’s nothing wrong with doing that. The reason why I want to say what happens in terms of the movement from one place to another is to reinforce for the listeners out there who aren’t you, the necessity of moving from one place to another. Forming a bond suggests that before two people were friends, they were disconnected figures, and by the end, they have a closer relationship. Yes, you could say 61 recovers from the chase, but I like saying Jessie and 61 form a bond, because that’s really what the scene is about. It’s establishing her ability to form a relationship with somebody besides her parents and 83.
All right, let’s move on from there. The next column is, what is the value shift in this scene?
[0:17:54.3] TG: Now, is this the plus-minus, or is this the actual like, words, the value?
[0:17:59.3] SC: This is the actual words.
[0:18:01.5] TG: I wrote down “outcast to accepted”.
[0:18:05.5] SC: That’s very close, I think it might be a little bit too broad, I think maybe it would be “stranger to friend”, because stranger to friend connotes a tighter focus of relationship between two people as opposed to outcast and — what’s the other word?
[0:18:24.5] TG: Accepted. Because that’s actually — I wrote down that same value shift for scene 10 or scene 9, the next one.
[0:18:31.4] SC: Yeah, that makes more sense, because she becomes part of a group. This one is more about… I have to compliment you again here because…
[0:18:43.9] TG: I will let you.
[0:18:48.8] SC: Because one of the things that is important to establish to readers about characters is our different masks that we wear as individual people. What I mean by that is that you want to be able to establish her relationship to one-on-one — so personal relationships between herself and a single other person, and you also want to establish her relationships to smaller groups. Like she has a relationship now to 61 that’s not quite as strong as it is to 83, and her relationship to 83 isn’t as strong as it is to her father, because she has so many years. And the implication, too, is that it’s not her relationship to 83 isn’t as strong as it is to her mother or brother, but what you’re doing is you’re creating a hierarchy of relationships here that broaden and get more and more broad.
The way she relates to 83 is different than the way she relates to 61, and the way she’s going to relate to the group of the numbered is going to be different than the way she relates to 83 or 61. What’s necessary is to show the character in different strata’s of groups and one-on-one relationships. This scene is establishing a relationship between her and this man 61, who obviously is playing the role in this scene of the surrogate father. It’s the father who is forgiving, the father who is entertaining, the father who has good old war stories, it’s the good father who slips the kid a piece of candy underneath the tables, you know?
[0:20:48.0] TG: Like a grandfather is kind of what I was thinking.
[0:20:49.9] SC: Yeah, that too, but that’s a paternal presence and 83 is maternal presence, she’s more the strict one, the reasonable one, the one who says these are the things that must be done. You have to clean up your room; she sort of has this sensibility of the maternal presence, and as we all know, the maternal presence rules the family.
They are the ones who really have the final say. At least, that’s the way it is in my family, and I’m sure it’s the way — I’ve met your wife, and I know that she’s not a weak person, and I’m sure she rules the home. That’s the way — it really does work that way, you know? Because dad isn’t always home all the time, so mom has to rule. It can be switched, I’m not saying it’s a gender thing either, just not to be politically correct, but the maternal and the paternal role aren’t really necessarily gender role specifically, but the sensibility is, the maternal at home reigns and the paternal outside the home place is sort of mysterious.
When the dad comes home, he can tell stories of the outside world, and he’s less strict than mom at home, because mom has to take care of everything at home. Anyway. In this scene is really nice, because you’re establishing the yang to the yin of the maternal and the underlying currents of your story. This is a story about growing up. With all the action and everything, this is really about coming to terms with the difficult process of acclimating yourself in a very turbulent world.
If you don’t have these stand-ins for maternal and paternal presences in the book that is a maturation plot, you’re in a lot of trouble.
[0:22:58.4] TG: Okay, because I worried that I was like establishing a second mentor, and that would cause me problems down the road.
[0:23:06.4] SC: It would. You got yourself out of that problem in a very smart way. What you did is you melded the mythology of the trickster to 61, as well as the paternal figure. What I mean about the trickster is that the trickster is a character in so many myths. Native American myths, especially, that sort of plays the fool a little bit, and you’re never really sure if they’re lying to you, or if they’re sincere, or what. Whereas 83 is a strict mentor, 61 has a sensibility about him that is very trickster-ish, which is also another archetype that you want to have in the hero’s journey story too. I don’t’ want to get too complicated about this, because this is a great thing, when you start to get a feel for your own voice, and I think you’re reaching that place.
These things start to sort of — I’m sure you didn’t think “I’m going to make this guy a trickster” when you were writing it. What happens is that, I’m a big kind of young guy, and I believe in the collective unconscious, which means there’s sort of this metaphysical world that we don’t really understand that’s all around us all the time. I believe, like Steven Pressfield, that when you are really busting your butt, and working hard, and taking a blue collar sort of attitude to your writing and your creativity, that metaphysical soup kind of opens up a pathway to you.
So when you created this character 61, the trickster elements kind of just, sort of came in there. It’s easy for me, as the outside editor, to say well, there’s the trickster, and there is the mentor role, and you know, here’s the guardian keeper — that’s who Captain Mason plays, he’s sort of this authoritarian guardian that has the keys to the kingdom to the magical world.
But when you’re writing that, you’re not thinking about that. The way you got to the place where these things started to come into your work was a process by which you worked as a blue collar laborer writer every day. You wrote that first draft, it didn’t work, you didn’t quit, you try it, you start it over again; you did that. I told you “no, that’s not right, I don’t think that’s working”, so you tried something else. As you’re going through this process, things are opening up to you. It’s what a lot of people call the muse, you know? The muse is coming to you when you’re not even thinking about it.
It’s best not to think about it, it’s just the way to bring the muses. To work your butt off ,and to work on your craft, and you know, slowly — it will never happen overnight. Slowly, little tiny things are going to come to you that you hadn’t thought of before. I don’t think you ever would have come up with this character 61 back in February, because the characters that you wrote back in February just didn’t have this sort of — when I was reading it, I could picture this guy. I could kind of picture — I could see somebody like Anthony Hopkins playing this guy, or one of those great character actors that we all know. Like there was a great character actor in the 70’s, Charles Durning, and 80’s too. A great actor.
Anyway, I’m going on and on, but I’m really — I really enjoy these four scenes, and I think scene eight is a very nice transitional moment, because everything before scene eight was very serious. This really kind of brings it down. It brings it down to a place where it’s an old guy, he hasn’t been around kids in a long time, he’s had his brain fried a bunch of times, that’s nothing new to him, and he kind of says that, you know? This isn’t the first time it happened, it’s going to happen again. Sometimes I hope that I do go over into the red, so I can leave this world.
It’s nice because she is a little kid, she’s afraid that he’s going to hate her for bringing him to this scrambled brain sensibility, and he wakes up and he’s like, “Hey kid, don’t worry about it. If it wasn’t you, it would have been something else.” It’s a really nice moment, because it brings down the level of my gosh, what’s going to happen to me? The seriousness of the storytelling has taken a breather here, as it needed to do when I told you that.
[0:28:18.1] TG: Yeah, I tried to make scene nine even have like a couple of funnier moments too, to kind of ease some of that tension as well.
[0:28:27.0] SC: Alright, let’s get back to the spreadsheet. The value shift moves from stranger to a friend and what is the plus-minus?
[0:28:38.7] TG: Yeah, negative to positive.
[0:28:40.4] SC: Negative to positive, and what is the turning point, is it revelation or action turning point?
[0:28:46.8] TG: Well, revelation, because there is no action in the scene.
[0:28:52.9] SC: What’s the revelation in the scene?
[0:28:56.2] TG: The revelation has to do with the value, and the value is stranger to friend, so it had to be earlier in the scene. Jeez, I’m looking at it here.
[0:29:10.9] SC: I think I know what it is, I think it’s — you don’t have to over analyze it that much, the thing that moves the scene is when 61 says to her, “Yeah, there is this one kid back in the magical world who is an incredible coder. He’s the only one who ever beat me.”
[0:29:31.5] TG: There I’m trying to foreshadow her brother a little bit.
[0:29:33.1] SC: Of course. Yeah.
[0:29:34.6] TG: Okay.
[0:29:36.4] SC: That moves stranger to friend, because Jessie saw this guy as a stranger before, and now that she thinks that he had some connection to her brother, she wants to befriend him. Maybe he can lead her to her brother. This is a really nice revelation scene that — I want to suggest one thing about it.
[0:30:03.4] TG: Okay.
[0:30:04.5] SC: I don’t think you should make it gender specific. Meaning, I don’t think 6t1 should say he. You should avoid the use of the word he or she, and I’ll tell you why, because the really smart reader when they read this section, is going to say to themselves, “Jeez, here’s that moment where the guy says there is this great coder, and of course it’s going to turn out to be Jessie’s brother.” Right? Because people — you got to remember who your reader is. Your reader has read this kind of novel before, and they’re going to jump to conclusions — and hope they’re not true — but they’re still going to jump to conclusions. What I think would be a smart move here is to set up a false expectation in the reader.
If you say he, the reader is going to believe it’s her brother. If you don’t say he, and you don’t make it gender specific , what could be fun later on would be to reveal that the person 61 was talking about was not her brother, it was 83. 83 could move with Jessie into the extraordinary world and serve as her mentor. You could continue that relationship into the extraordinary world, because that could be kind of cool. I’ll tell you why, the reason why is that one of the things that’s a very difficult thing to come to terms with when you’re a kid is when you discover you’re not so special.
That other people don’t think you’re so special. Your mom and dad might tell you all the time, you’re fantastic, you are really like one of the best baseball players I’ve ever seen, but one of the problems when you get older is you discover not that they were lying to you, but that other people don’t see you that way. She is going to jump to the conclusion that her brother, the reason why her brother didn’t return home is because he was so special, and by extension, she believes that she’s special too ,because her brother is. What I think could work here in a way that could really feed the underlying internal genre is — I don’t want to get too deep here, but I do want to throw you my ideas so that you can at least throw it out, or consider it, or do whatever you want with it.
When I was reading this, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if Jessie and the reader believed one thing at the beginning of this book, that she’s the chosen one?”, right? Like the faction thing, she’s the hottest coder in the world, and she’s going to be the one that fights the faction. What I think would be interesting is to play with that convention in a way where hey, yeah, the faction wants her to be part of the coder group, they think she has potential, but they don’t think she’s the one. You know what I mean?
They just need another warm body at the capital, and that’s why — the reason why they’re not really pressing her to come, is because you know, she’s just another potential great coder,. She’s not the one. They don’t’ think she’s this special thing. It’s not until she shows her specialness that they realize my gosh, she is the one. Right now, they think her brother was sort of good, but he flamed out, and now he’s on life support, or whatever it is that you decide to do.
He was okay, but he didn’t make it, he’s now on life support. We don’t want to tell the family because we don’t want to freak them out, he might come back to life, who knows? His kid’s sister has shown some potential, she’s a — I love the idea of the townies and the coders too, I think that’s a really good idea, because anybody who is familiar with the word “townie” knows just how painful it is to be called a townie.
Anyway, maybe before your story even began, they noticed her as being pretty good. She could definitely help us out. So they send the guy to tell her that she’s got the free ticket to the coding school, and when she said no, he’s like, “Yeah, whatever, all right, let’s just shame her and see what happens”. They want her to go to the capital, but it’s not the end of the world if she doesn’t. It’s not until she gets there and starts to demonstrate real gift that the stakes elevate, and part of how she — it’s like you know, in the karate kid, nobody thinks Ralph Macchio is going to be a great karate guy, they don’t know that’s in him, they’re just like a kid, Ralph Macchio, is taking lessons from that weird Japanese guy down the street.
The Japanese guy is fooling him, and he’s now cleaning his car for him, but you know, that guy’s never going to make it as a karate guy. It’s not until he actually demonstrates his gift that people go what’s going on here? I think that could be a cool way of justifying — in terms of story structure — justifying this little, this sort of build before she jumps into the extraordinary world. Like in the wizard of Oz, Dorothy immediately goes to the extraordinary world. You’ve got maybe two chapters before that tornado hits, and then she’s thrust into Oz.
You have decided to extend this exploration of the ordinary world for very good reasons, because you need to show the dystopian elements of it, and you need to establish the character of the kid, and you know, the strata of society too. I think it works, but I do think if — this is why I’m reluctant to talk about this so soon, but I think it’s important now so that you can lay the groundwork later in the back of your mind. When this goes into the middle build, it will give you a little room before the stakes really get super high. In that area, you can play with, showing just how — it’s like if you read the novel Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.
[0:37:18.1] TG: Yeah.
[0:37:19.7] SC: He slowly builds, he has these kind of lucky successes in the war room until, my gosh, how did he figure that out? I think you could do something similar with Jessie when she finally does answer the call and go to the capital. But I’m sorry to flash forward so far, but this is the great thing about this chapter, is that you can’t help but throw yourself into the future when you’re hearing this guy’s story, and it’s nice because he speaks in “yeah, I was a coder, I used to have to hurt people, whatever”. It’s nice, because he’s speaking in the way somebody who — he’s over it. He doesn’t really want to talk about it anymore, it’s fun every now and then, but he’s not going to sit down and give a lecture to this litte girl about everything that happens in the capital. He’s going to throw it out in little bits and pieces.
Anyway, this chapter moves — we don’t have to go through the timeline, and the characters and everything, because that’s really kind of continuity homework that you have to do on your own. But obviously, we’re talking about this is third person omniscient point of view again, and it’s within the timeline, it’s the day after. This scene takes place in probably 15 minutes, which is good. Because I’ve been talking so much, why don’t we move on, let’s move on to the next scene.
[0:39:02.4] TG: Okay.
[0:39:03.4] SC: Okay, the next scene is nice, she’s just returned from doing all of her chores, and she gets home and nobody wants to really deal with her, they’re still very suspicious of her. She walks in, everybody is very cold to her, until 61, he comes to her rescue, he gets her something to drink, gets her some food, they go and they sit down with 83 and have a conversation. Then slowly, people start to loosen up. 61 starts telling some more stories, they bring out some alcohol in little bottles, some kind of thing, and they have fun.
Then it ends with Jessie having to do all the dishes because she was the last one in. This is scene number nine, do you have a word count on it or do you want me to do that now?
[0:40:00.4] TG: Yeah, it’s 1,205 is what I have.
[0:40:04.7] SC: Great. What’s the event?
[0:40:09.0] TG: I don’t know, Jessie is accepted by the numbered?
[0:40:12.7] SC: Yeah, or you could go the other way, which is the numbered hang loose or something, I don’t know where that came out of my brain.
[0:40:24.2] TG: We talk so much about like, what the point of this was to establish a new family for her where she might actually be happy, and then pull the rug out from underneath that. I had to really make it about how they enjoy each other, they actually have fun together, they’re a family that takes care of each other, and she now gets to be a part of that.
It’s this kind of tough thing of like, I had to do that, and I did it in about 2,500 words between scene eight and nine. That’s where like, when 61 gets up to go to bed and he’s drunk, he kisses her on the head before he heads back, you know? Was just trying to establish it in this kind of — like you say, without them saying “you are now one of us.”
[0:41:24.5] SC: Yeah, you can see that in the worst of circumstances, this is a great thing about being a human being. In the absolute worst of circumstances, people somehow are able to still form community and still have…
[0:41:42.9] TG: Still be happy.
[0:41:44.3] SC: Yeah, exactly. What’s nice is that again, in the first scene, it was between two people, in this scene it’s between her and the group. It’s a soft scene, meaning it does transition, it moves from positive to negative. The negative’s not that huge, the negative is simply, it’s a revelation turning point, and it’s simply the tag of the entire scene when 83 says, “Oh, by the way, the last person in has to do the dishes.” It’s a softer feeling, kind of “got you” at the end that does turn the scene from positive to negative, and it works. It’s nice, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it shows us that this people can let lose a little bit and that 61 is sort of, he is the number’s kind of class-clown trickster. It establishes that even more.
It also establishes that you know, 83 isn’t such a hard ass either. She can hang, and she doesn’t have to be yelling at everybody all the time and keeping them under her thumb. It’s a nice scene again, that’s 1,200 words, and you needed to really bring down the temperature of the storytelling, and these two scenes do that. The fact that it took you 2,500 words to establish this camaraderie is perfectly reasonable and works. I wouldn’t worry about the length.
Okay, let’s go to scene 10, and why don’t’ you walk me through it?
[0:43:30.3] TG: Okay, I’m trying to remember what it was here, I got it up in front of me. Jessie wakes up, she’s getting ready — what I try to do at the beginning of the scene was like just quickly reestablish this new normal where she’s thinking, like I found my family, I want to get up every day, and I’m going to work, and this is my life now basically. She wakes up, she starts going through the normal motions, you know, gets dressed. She goes out, 61 gives her something to drink before they get started for the day, and then there is a tap on the door and that’s when the Captain comes in. This is where we have to establish that 83’s going to be punished for the numbered getting out of line.
It ends with this back and forth, and it basically ends with her punishment as going to be — back up, I’m trying to think of like, what would the punishment be? Because originally this was just going to be one scene, where like they come in and punish her, and then out Jessie as not really a part of the numbered. I was trying to think like what the punishment would be, and of course the first things that come into my mind were like whipping her, or like some kind of torture where she gets beat up on, or all of them get punished in some way that’s bad. Then I was like well, if I could use the world to punish her, this world I’ve established to punish her, that would be interesting.
When I thought that, I thought, well, I mean, the most dangerous thing that they deal with is the sun and the heat. I’ve established many times over that they have to protect themselves. I wanted to make the punishment her having to go out without the protective gear. It’s almost like, as my kids have gotten older, what I told my wife a couple of times was like, I enjoy that we no longer, or we rarely have to come up with punishment. Usually they just have to suffer the consequences of their bad decisions.
I kind of liked this idea that like she just had to do a normal day. It was just slightly different and that was her punishment. I ended up taking almost 1,400 words to have Mason come in, go through this whole spill of look, this is what happened, when I try to do it in this way where he’s this overly nice guy, just trying to — he’s just completely…
[0:46:24.4] SC: He’s just doing his job.
[0:46:26.2] TG: Yeah, I’m just trying to figure out what happened you know? Then, I kind of say that the punishment’s just going to be, she gets a longer sentence. Then I switch it around, and it’s like no, this is a horrible sentence, that she’s now got to go out and do her chores without the protective gear. Then that’s how the scene ends.
[0:46:50.2] SC: Yeah, again, I think it works, and one of the reasons why I think it works is that you have to remember that just normal everyday people, they want to do the least amount of effort for the most amount of payoff right? This guy Mason is really smart, because he really does, he’s a sadist. He enjoys his work. He enjoys making people miserable, but he doesn’t like to have to whip anybody. It’s a pain in the ass, you know? Who wants to go, “All right, lock her up and then your arms starts to hurt from how many whips,” this is a great solution, right?
I know what I’ll do, I’ll just have her get burned to death by the sun, I don’t have to do anything. All I have to do is say that she can’t wear protective gear. Then she’s going to come to understand that the faction is what gives them that protective gear, and if we take it away, they’re dead. It kills two birds with one stone in the least amount of effort expended.
It rings true of just every day normal people, and his attitude is great too. He’s not stupid, he doesn’t need to run around like some crazy Gestapo guy. He understands he has all the power in the world. He doesn’t have to scream. There’s a great movie, it’s a film adaptation of Neil Simon’s play, Brighton Beach Memoirs, or maybe it’s Biloxi Blues, that’s what it is, and you know, what happened is Mike Nichols directed it, and Mike Nichols and Neil Simon had great collaboration, and so when they were casting…
Basically, it’s the story of this guy who goes to World War II, army training. He’s this nice Jewish boy from the Bronx, it’s a stand-in for Neil Simon, and he has to go to like Alabama for basic training. It’s a hilarious play, and the movie is fantastic, and Matthew Broderick plays the Neil Simon character. Mike Nichols wisely chose to have Christopher Walken play the sadistic drill sergeant.
Christopher Walken, when you think of drill sergeant, then you think of like the guy in full metal jacket who is screaming at everybody, but Christopher Walken is like, “Hello soldier, how are you doing today?” He’s just so sweet, and deep down, he just loves to torture these guys, but he never raises his voice. I like that about your character Mason, because he’s similar kind of guy. He’s that sort of fake sugary sweet, insincere nice, and he enjoys making other people uncomfortable by using his nicety to his advantage.
Again, this is a really nice scene, it turns on revelation again, we’re going revelation, revelation, revelation in the turning points, but you know, I think it’s okay. The only switch I would possibly make would be to make it an action turning point, but that would be — it’s a small tweak.
[0:50:19.6] TG: Like bring her out?
[0:50:20.8] SC: No, he would go over to the bin and find, is this your stuff? Okay. Is this yours? Then he takes all of it and says “I’ll be taking this now, you’re still expected to do your chores”. He never has to say, “Your sentence is that you have to go out without your gear”, he just takes the gear. That’s an active choice as supposed to a revelation. It’s a simple change that will make the scene a little bit more — less like the previous two scenes.
He will actively take her gear away, he never says to her you have to go out and do your chores tomorrow, because that’s assumed. If she doesn’t do her chores, she’s even in worse trouble. This way, you’re avoiding revelation, and instead you’re breaking it to revelation, action, and then your fourth scene is the big revelation. She can leave whenever she wants, which is good, because now I’ve jumped to the last scene already.
Let’s just quickly go through the lashing. Let me just recap the third scene, which is scene number 10, the event is Mason, the captain comes in and confronts and gives 83 her sentence, what’s the value shift?
[0:51:57.8] TG: Positive to negative.
[0:51:59.8] SC: It’s positive… yeah, what’s the word, how would you describe it? Probably safe to vulnerable, you know? Endangered, safe to endangered, because the global scene is about one of the numbered being safe, and then they’re in danger by the end of it. They’re threatened.
[0:52:20.2] TG: Okay.
[0:52:22.9] SC: This next scene is when — why don’t’ you describe it?
[0:52:27.7] TG: Okay. I picked up basically at the end of that day, so it starts out where they’re all getting ready to go out in scene 10, then this happens and she has to go out and do her chores without the protective gear. When it opens, the first line is “she was hard to look at”. She’s now like sunburnt and blistering over her entire body, Jessie and 61 have been taking care of her. Jessie feels really guilty, and so what I wanted to do in the middle build of this scene was to make 61 double-down on his defense of Jessie.
He tells her like, this is not her fault, this is the faction, they’re evil, and when Mason comes in, 61 gets in an argument with him about it too, and then Mason brings in everybody and announces that she can leave whenever she wants. That ends with, basically, he walks out and everybody, including 61 and 83, are not happy about that. I tried to do something a little interesting, when he finally tells them that he uses her name. Because I on purpose have named as few people as possible in the numbered, and of course the only two that have a name are numbers, and so nobody uses anybody’s name So when he says you are — she can leave whenever she wants, he says her name.
I actually went back and took out almost all of the pronouns, and just replace them with her name. He says it like four times. Anyway, it then ends with it’s now been revealed that she can leave whenever she wants. All the suffering she’s been causing for the last several days would have never happened if she had just stopped being a petulant child and taken this awesome opportunity that they would all kill for.
[0:54:40.1] SC: Yeah, it completely works, it’s kind of shocking, and the one note I have about it is the early revelation in scene five when 83 says to Jessie that she got a 25-year sentence. Now, you’ve put something in the reader’s head, they’re saying, but 83 told her she had a 25-year sentence, and now this guy Mason says that she has no sentence. That has to be answered in some way. How are you going to fix that? Are you going to fix it, or are you going to leave it sit and then discuss it later on? Do you have an answer for that?
[0:55:30.8] TG: Well, early on, this was probably back in the spring, we talked about like the continuity problems, you always fix later. I kind of thought that, I mean, because I even, I make a change where in scene one, it’s the president of the faction, and now it’s just a captain. That doesn’t work either. My thinking is, I’m going to cause other contradictions as I write the middle build and ending payoff. If I worry too much about fixing contradictions now, because that’s… if I want to make 83 a bad guy, I can use it that way later. If I want to make her a good guy, I could just go back and just clean that up somehow, have one person say one line somewhere along the way, that explains it away.
My thinking was any continuity issues now, I’m just going to leave alone until we come back with an actual finished draft, and start kind off tying pieces off. Like when my wife makes, she makes these — she crochets a ton, and she’ll make these giant blankets, and at the end, she has to cut off all this loose ends and weave them in. She’s like, this is the worst most tedious part of the job, but there’s no way to build a blanket without doing this.
She just saves it all till the end, that’s kind of what I was picturing is as I’m sure I’m leaving all kinds of loose ends and the hanging stuff, but as long as each scene is working, and building off the previous, I can always fix stuff later.
[0:57:10.9] SC: I would agree with that for the most part. The reason why I’m bringing it up is that often times, these moments that you organically write things, I like to look at them as opportunities less than — especially something that’s this big, right? You turn two very big scenes with contradictory information, right? You turn one scene by saying you have 25 years to life, which pushed Jessie into a major decision to try and escape, and then you close out this scene. Which you could even end this entire — you could end it right here and go right into your middle build. You could go right in to her at the magic kingdom now.
I don’t want to get in to that quite yet. My point is that this is an opportunity which is kind of interesting to me, because the last sentence that you have here is “finally she dropped her eyes to 83. She was no longer asleep. Her eyes were open; she was staring at Jessie too.” What that said to me is, aha, this is a way to tell the reader, now this two have a secret, Jessie knows that 83 told her she had 25 to life, and 83 knows that Jessie knows that, and 83 knows that Jessie didn’t rat her out and say, “But she told me I had 25 years to life.”
Now, you’ve got something kind of interesting here. You’ve got a secret. You’ve got a secret that you planted between two characters, and this is a secret that can propel your reader into wanting to find out what happens next. When are they going to talk about this? When is the secret going to emerge in a bigger way. I don’t’ have the answer to that, but that’s why it was pointing it out, because you organically built this kind of interesting trap at the end which is contradictory, which implies, there’s something even stranger going on here than I imagined. That’s what the reader will hopefully say to themselves, because 83, she just, wait a minute, I don’t understand, she just went through this punishment that burned her skin, and she didn’t — and she knows that Jessie can get away.
It’s a little bit confusing. There’s a complexity to it that you could use, that’s my only point. You could use that complexity and pay it off in a really interesting critical way, because we all know the middle build is when everybody wants to jump off the bridge, because you have to build in so much — it’s half of your book is the middle build. There are a lot of sequences in the middle build that need to really payoff and really push the reader through, so that you can give the ending payoff. One of the problems writers have in the middle build is not having enough stuff to mine in that territory.
What I’m saying to you is make a note to yourself that you have a nice lie setup here, and you could have a critical moment when one turns to the other and goes, “Yeah, just like you never told me about the fact that you knew I could come to the magical world whenever I wanted to?” That there’s a confrontational scene that — or when the true character, when the character arises, this would be proof that you set it up earlier. Do you know what I’m saying?
[1:01:19.4] TG: Yeah, you’re thinking way more deeply than this about than I was, because I think — which is good I guess, because I was thinking of it kind of benignly, is if like — although it creates another problem as you were talking about it. I was kind of thinking of it benignly of like when she get shipped off, 83 probably gets paper work on everybody, and they couldn’t just like, in the field of the sentencing, couldn’t just be like none or N/A. They just put down 25 years just so they would have something, and she was sentenced.
Then that makes a problem where I was kind of thinking well, Jessie knew she could leave whenever she wanted, so why did she run home? Which I guess I was thinking — I don’t know how far to go into this — but I was kind of thinking like well, she might have been thinking, well this whole numbered thing is kind of sucky but eventually they’re just going to let me go home.
83 really did think, though, it’s a 25 year sentence, because that’s what they told her was the sentence. Because they couldn’t tell her, “well, this particular number can leave whenever she wanted”. That was kind of — without, I think that was kind of what I was subconsciously thinking, because I hadn’t really thought all that much about it.
[1:02:41.7] SC: Right. Well, remember that whole speech I gave you about how to generate narrative drive, and it’s all about how much information the reader has versus the lead character.
[1:02:57.5] TG: What you said, though, is to me almost an argument for me to just leaving it. Like you said, I made a note, I wrote it down, just leave it alone, because if I need a lie later, I’ve got one built in and if not, I can just come sew it back up later and make it less confusing. If I establish it as a useful thing, 10 scenes from now, people will go, that part that I was confused at, now I understand it. If I don’t need it, I can just come make it less confusing later.
[1:03:28.3] SC: Well, I would want you to do the first one, and not the second one, and the reason why is perfectly crafted story lays the groundwork for very big revelation later on. It’s like that — I use this example all the time, but it’s a scene in Chinatown when Evelyn Mulwray says, “I’m her mother and her sister”. What happens for the viewer in that movie, if they’ve been following the movie, is they finally put all the pieces together and they understand that Evelyn Mulwray’s father raped her, and that this entire search for this girl is so disgusting because the father wants his — the product of his incest with his daughter. He’s a sick evil bastard.
That revelation has been setup very earlier on, and one of the questions the viewer has as they’re watching is, “what’s so important about this girl, we don’t understand”. When that happens, everything becomes clear. When you can setup a moment later on in the novel, it could be the midpoint climax, it could be the all is lost moment when one of these things that seem strange that hasn’t been explained is easily explained, that’s a real gut punch to the reader, and it gives an emotional catharsis to them that they hadn’t seen coming.
[1:05:04.4] TG: We’ve kicked around the idea of making 83 a bad guy, and this would be a pretty simple way to establish that early on, because there was a lie, and there was her also sacrificing herself in this way. Even though she knew she didn’t have to, because she was trying to get something bigger.
[1:05:23.2] SC: Right. Yeah, you could have a critical moment in the midpoint when 83 who has been serving it, who will serve either — this is your decision, I’m just going off the top of my head. If 83 becomes her mentor in the magical world because she was a shit hot coder herself and there comes a moment when Jessie seems to have relied upon her and she doesn’t, she can say, “You’ve lied to me, how could I ever trust you?” That’s the moment when maturation takes hold of somebody, when they understand that when somebody lies to them, and such a critical moment that their motives are not in sync with their own. You can’t trust everybody at their word, it’s their actions that are really the most important. Anyway, we’re getting a little bit too deep into this, but the bottom line for me is that these four scenes were terrific, and I’d say march on and do a couple more.
[1:06:33.7] TG: What you said, is this the end of the beginning? Because I’ve originally — what we were going to do is get or have her try one last ditch effort to get the plug out of her head and just escape the town. Then her friends getting mixed up in that is what causes her to go into the new world. Is this bad enough to kick her out into the new world or…
[1:07:05.3] SC: My instinct is that it is, my instinct is that this is a moment when people run. It’s like man, nothing ever works out for me, I quit, I give up. Because what you’ve established in this scenes is this moment of bliss for her where she felt a part of something larger than herself, and then the minute, the second she started to get a little bit of comfort, it was ripped out from under her. This is number — you know, this is like the third time this has happened to her. To do the other bit, I think is guiding the lily on the motivation, meaning you’re going a little bit too far to get her to go in the magical world. I think she — at the end of this scene, it seems to me that she would just say okay, I’m done, I’ll go, these people hate me now, what’s the point, I might as well go become a coder, you know?
The conversation she has with 61 earlier on, I think you’re setting it up that she’s about — she’s not so afraid now that she’s hurt a little bit about the way the world is. The other thing is, you don’t have to throw away the setup of that note to her friends in the brick, you can bring that into the middle build. There could be some critical moment in the middle build when all of a sudden, her old posse shows up, right? She’s like, what are you doing? Well you sent us that note, what did you expect? It just took us a while to be able to figure out how to find you then, bang. Then you can go back into — it’s almost like that moment when you go away to college or you go away and you’re in this new world, and then one of your friends from high school visits and they sort of pull you back into your mootness, the way you used to be.
You build a new identity when you’re a new place, and then somebody from your past comes to visit you, you take stock of yourself again. You could use that phenomenon to get Jessie to reevaluate, because basically what happens when we all go to a new atmosphere is we try and integrate ourselves and try and get along. We try and find an equilibrium where we can survive. This is my new world now, I’m just going to sort of go with what goes, and I think that’s what’s going to happen to Jessie. She’s going to be like, “Okay, what do I have to do to survive here? I have to be the best coder? Okay, I’ll do that, what’s that going to entail?”
She’s going to work towards sort of finding her own place, and then bang, if one of her friends from the past comes to visit her, then she’s going to be like “My god, I’m a townie, what am I doing as a coder? What am I going to do? What do I want again?”
This is all to say that it’s my gut, I don’t know what your gut is telling you, but I think we’re at the place where we’re like, she’s definitely going now. This could be the end of like book one. if you were to organize this story and this series of sections like four or five books, book one, and then this is the old world, and then book two, that could start right after this chapter when she enters this mystical universe.
[1:10:49.9] TG: Okay, I’ve been terrified to start the middle build, so I was looking forward to putting it off a little bit further.
[1:10:56.9] SC: There you go, now you know you have to do it.
[1:11:03.3] TG: You think I should just kind of take a crack at the first scene of…
[1:11:09.5] SC: Yeah, think about what would happen, don’t start her like — don’t do a scene where she goes to Mason and says okay, I’ll go, really? You mean it? Yeah, I’ll go.
[1:11:19.8] TG: That was the exact scene that I had in mind.
[1:11:28.7] SC: You want to get it in, as they say in Matias Reyes, in the middle of things. She could be already there, she could be in the middle of her day. You could show her being a shit pot coder, or you could show her being, now this, the end of this ended at a negative, right?
[1:11:53.9] TG: Yeah, I need to start it at positive.
[1:11:57.0] SC: Right, like something’s pretty great about this place. Maybe, you know, it’s going to end — that’s always a good place to start. Like, how do I have to shift my polarity? It ends with the negative of the previous things. Maybe this scene begins negative and ends positive. It would because that’s what you want to do. She might be terrified of going into this mystical world and this scene could end where — here’s your brand new car, one of those deals.
[1:12:33.3] TG: Should I worry that — didn’t my beginning hook start negative and end negative?
[1:12:41.9] SC: Your beginning hook started positive and it ended negative. The beginning hook started positive in that she was offered this opportunity to rise out of townie-hood, right?
[1:12:55.8] TG: Right, okay.
[1:12:57.6] SC: It was a positive inciting incident, “you’ve been chosen to enter the magical world, congratulations”. It ends negative, where everybody now knows that you’re a petulant little brat who won’t take good things that come to her. That’s a positive and then a negative. What her decision, which was a private decision in the first chapter of this book is now public, and now all of those people that she wanted to be friends with, and she felt comfortable with, and she felt that she could possibly make her new home, now they all think she’s a petulant little brat. The last thing any child, any young person wants to be thought of is a petulant little brat.
They want to become adults, they want to be seen, and they want to gain respect from everybody around them. Your beginning hook begins positive, and it ends negatively, and it’s a nice book end because she tries to hide her decision from the world. At the end, her decision bites her in the ass. It becomes public information, and now she has to face facts. You know what? They’re right. I am being a baby, these poor people have numbers, and I am just sort of slumming. I’m hanging out in their world, and I’m feeding off of their camaraderie, and that’s not cool. It’s totally not cool, I’ve got to go face the music. My family doesn’t want me anymore, yeah, my brother died there, but so be it, I’ve got to become a person and go. It works.
[1:14:51.2] TG: We have a working beginning hook.
[1:14:53.9] SC: I think so. I mean, I can only speak for myself, but structurally, it works. I think people who would read this rough would say “hey, kind of interested to see what happens, and what’s this magical world all about? This is kind of a creepy universe, what’s going on, what’s with these things in the back of their head?” You could begin this next scene where she gets the thing removed from her head. I don’t know. It should start negatively and end positively.
It should be a moment like in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy wakes up after the tornado, and she’s in her house, and she wakes up, and she’s alive, and not only is she alive, her dog’s alive. She’s very happy about that, and then she steps out and she realizes she’s not in Kansas anymore. Then all this strange people come to her, and not only is she not in Kansas anymore, but she killed somebody.
There’s a dead person underneath her house, and she’s responsible. That’s a really dramatic moment, when she enters this magical world and she’s alive, all is well, and then she discovers this terrible thing that she did. She doesn’t know it’s the Wicked Witch of the West or East or — she’s killed one of the wicked witches, but she’s a good person. She doesn’t want to have killed anybody.
That’s kind of what you want to think about that opening magical moment in the Wizard of Oz, or some other similar, or when Katniss goes to the — what they did in Hunger Games, I think she’s on a train, right? They talked about the Capitol. They talked about how great it is. This very big build up, and then when she gets there, it’s even more wonderful, and strange, and odd than she could have ever imagined. Then she gets all those serious gifts, that archery kit or whatever.
[1:17:12.7] TG: I should… my scene should open negative and turn positive?
[1:17:19.4] SC: Yes, because your final… your climactic scene of your beginning hook ends negatively. She’s been found out as a petulant little brat. At the beginning, it doesn’t have to turn on that value, but it should begin with something negative. The thing that comes to my mind is to either have that painful thing removed from the back of her head, she could be something…
[1:17:54.5] TG: I mean, I was thinking of even like jumping further ahead where she’s already been there a couple of weeks.
[1:18:01.6] SC: Right, yeah.
[1:18:05.4] TG: It could be as simple as what 61 described that they do to new recruits. She’s dealing with that, right? That’s what she’s in the middle of in the scene.
[1:18:15.9] SC: That works, that’s a really nice action scene. You need some action right now because the last four scenes have been pretty soft. I like that idea, I like her being in the middle of a battle and she’s getting really pressed and hurt, and maybe it turns double negative. You could move form negative to double negative. It doesn’t have to be negative, positive.
[1:18:45.3] TG: I was thinking, if this is going to serve to start to establish if she’s going to — if I’m looking at Ender’s Game, it started with these small victories that continue to build into bigger and bigger victories. So it could be something where she’s basically pulling off the trick that 61 described. Like, letting herself get beat, and then turns it right at the end. When she comes out, when she comes out of the matrix or whatever, everybody’s like “wow, I can’t believe you pulled that off.” It ends in this positive way. Yeah, I like it. I don’t’ know, I’ll think about it, this is my job to do.
[1:19:35.6] SC: No, I think that’s good spit-balling though. I like that idea, because you don’t want to do what Orson Scott Card did. What he did was really great, so to just sort of use his positive — his valence shifts, and putting it in a different universe. Yeah, you could do that, but what I like about your idea is that it’s counter to what the reader’s probably going to expect. They’re going to be thinking at this point, “okay, I get it now, now this is Ender’s Game with a girl. Before I thought it was Hunger Games, now it’s Ender’s Game”. You don’t want to give them Ender’s Game. You want to think of something innovative that’s in the realm of Ender’s Game, but is not Ender’s Game, right?
[1:20:28.7] TG: Yeah.
[1:20:30.3] SC: That’s what you’ve been doing throughout this stuff, you are in the middle of a whole bunch of different kinds of novels. What you are doing is not a rip-off of other people’s stuff. You’re innovating in a genre class that you personally love. You’re really familiar with the conventions and obligatory scenes of your genres, intuitively or rationally, it doesn’t matter. What my challenge to you is, and you’ve been meeting it, is to not do what your reader, the smart reader in your genre is going to expect the most. You can play with them by giving them the anticipation that you’re going to cheat, and then don’t do it. Do something unique.
What that will do is keep them reading your book and saying, “I still haven’t figured out what this guy’s doing yet, but I know I’m going to catch him in a lie”. If you can sustain that all the way to the end and give them a sucker punch that says to them, “no, this is completely unique and different”, they’re going to go “my gosh, he did it. I didn’t expect that coming, this entire novel I thought one thing was going to happen and then something else happened.”
[1:21:56.5] TG: You know, I wonder, could I, because if I look — we started with her need and her want, and her want is to just return to her family. Maybe she tries to just — okay, you finally got me here, I’m still not playing your game, I’m going to just take a dive on every fight so you’ll kick me out of the program and send me home.
[1:22:19.5] SC: I don’t know. I think this is a moment where, as they say, it gets personal for her. There’s a moment in everyone’s life when they reach a place, where they believe that they’re on their own. When you’re on your own, you can do one of two things. You can quit and give up and surrender, or you can say, “okay, I’m on my own, there’s no safety net behind me. I’m playing for keeps, I’m not going to quit. You think my brother was a great coder? You can see me, I can outwork anybody. I can outthink anybody. I can do this, I can do that.”
What I liked about your earlier idea where she listened to the trickster — the trickster gave her a trick. She didn’t reject that trick, she filed it in her memory bank. When 61 says to her, yeah, there is this guy — or this unnamed person — who lured me into a trap, and I thought I was going to be able to whip them down, and he turned it on me, and I knew that he had me just as he turned me. I like this idea for a sort of playing possum, playing the loser, playing the coder who can’t catch a break, and bang, she switches it and everything turns. It’s like Keanu Reeves, a moment where everybody goes wow, you know? She’s that good. My gosh, I didn’t see that coming. She’s smart.
This is a smart person with gifts, she has more gifts than she can imagine. Right now, I think there’s a moment when people understand, yeah, I have a family, yeah I do have close relationships. When it comes down to it, it’s my pride, my being that’s on the line, and I don’t give into anyone. If I’m going to lose, I’m going to lose, but I’m going to go down fighting, and I think that’s the kind of person Jessie is.
I think she has pride, and I think maybe in this first scene, there’s a moment when — you know, the great thing about mentors, the mentor role is the mentor tells the mentee, you know what? Have some freaking pride, when are you going to have pride? I can’t fix everything for you, when are you going to take pride in yourself? Want me to give you all the answers?
I can’t give you all the answers, I learned them myself the hard way. Now, you have to take some personal pride, and fight your own battles. Now, get out of here. That’s a moment that she might need to hear, she might need to get that cold water splashed in the face. Hey, I can’t go out on that coder playing with you, I can train you in here, but you’ve got to do it yourself. If you have no pride in yourself, there’s nothing else I can do for you.
She has to sort of start to say to herself, I need to collect myself, I need to collect who I am, and I need to take pride in my own things. This is what the middle build is really about. It’s about the hero. It’s really — this is a good episode, because the hero in the hero’s journey, at the beginning, they get the call, they reject the call. But when they finally do take up the call, they’re still not fully committed. It’s sort of like okay, yeah, I’ll do it, here I am, what do you want me to do, and then the mentor’s like, I don’t want you to do anything, you don’t want to learn this stuff, there’s nothing I can do for you.
The mentor has to be at — I’m not a big Star Wars guy, but Obi Wan Kanobi, or who is the little…
[1:26:54.2] TG: Yoda.
[1:26:55.0] SC: Yoda, you know what? This is your deal man, I can’t fight your battles for you. You have to have that critical moment when the mentor just gives up on the mentee. You know what? Maybe you aren’t good enough. There’s plenty of other people I can mentor, what do you want? I can’t help you if you don’t help yourself. That’s kind of what the middle build is, and then they start to take pride in themselves, and they learn more and more, and then of course the rug is pulled out from under them and they have to do something beyond their capabilities, which they usually take a serious ass whipping at that point. Which brings them to an all is lost moment where they have to either evolve to a higher plane and self-actualize their gift, and in the hero’s journey, they do, because it’s a story about all of us seizing our inner gifts.
This is why these stories are so important, it’s not just for entertainment, these stories are important because it says to all of us, it is our responsibility on the planet to find out what we’re supposed to do and do it. Do it with everything we have, because our life contribution depends on our seizing our gift so that we can give it to the universe. That’s the myth, that’s the thing that is so important to be repeated. This is why we love ironman. This is why we love this archetypical stories, because they tell us, you are worthy. You have something inside of you that has to come out, and you’re going to go through a painful journey to bring it up, but it’s your responsibility to do so. The better the stories are in this arena, the more willing people will be to take those opportunities to seize their own lives.
[1:29:00.6] TG: Alright, sounds easy enough. Alright, well I’ll get to work on at least the first scene on that, and we’ll just go from there.
[1:29:15.0] SC: Okay.
[1:29:15.5] TG: Alright.
[1:29:16.9] SC: Thanks Tim.
[END OF EPISODE]
[1:29:18.5] 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. Make sure 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.
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