Micro to Macro: Editing Your First Draft

[0:00:00.5] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host, Tim Grahl and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He is the creator of the Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 plus years’ experience.

In this episode, we move from the micro to the macro. One of Shawn’s rules is, if you’re really concentrating on something small and you’re stuck, you then go big and you look big at your story and once you do that work, you can then go back small and so I’ve been spending a couple of weeks doing the spreadsheet where I’m going scene by scene through my book and now we go back to macro and start talking about the foolscap story grid and putting everything on one page. It’s another great way to look at a story grid tool and we actually kick off the episode with a question from a story grid listener. I think is a great episode as we continue diving in how to do the editing of your first draft.

Let’s get started.


[0:01:07.2] TG: Shawn, before we jump in to my spreadsheet and you know, getting through this first draft and everything. I was chatting with one of the guys from our workshop and he had a question that I thought was a good question because I thought the question, which means, if two of us have lots of people have out there.

I don’t know if it was last week or the week before, you kind of threw out this something — we’ll get to that on the seventh draft or something like that. This guy was like, you know, what does this mean for my writing career, the idea that I have to do like seven, eight, nine drafts on a book because you have these masterpieces that people are trying to create over a long period of time.

Then you have these authors that have pretty good online followings and are literally writing a book a month and putting it out and making really good money selling their books. It reminded me of, I heard that at RL Stine’s height, he was writing a book a month.

Now these aren’t 100,000 words manuscripts but still, a book a month is a book a month. Then you have the process we’re going through where we’re going to take a book through seven, eight, nine drafts before it’s ready. How do you think about those things?

As a writer  who is like okay, I want to make money on my writing so this idea that I have to spend that amount of time to write a book, I don’t know, I guess I don’t have a specific question other than like how do you think about those kind of pressures on the writing?

[0:02:54.2] SC: Well, it’s true that somebody could tinker with their work until the end of time and a lot of people use that as an excuse, never to publish anything. I’ll say that right off the bat. There will come a time when you have to say, this is done and I’m going to move on. Now, the people who write a book a month and you know are in it for a revenue stream, that’s fine.

But, the reason why I’m in the business and why I care so much about story is that I don’t see —I think each novel and each story has great potential and I think it’s not just about finishing the thing and putting it on sale, to me, each book, each project comes to you for a reason, whatever is circling around in your brain or inside of you, I believe that there are unfinished curiosities in each and every one of us.

A novel and a story is a great way to examine those things that bring you personal joy or turmoil. My process in the story grid process is a process of examining the story to help us discover the things that we really want to say. People write stories for a reason.

Yes, they write them to entertain people, of course. They have to be entertaining or nobody will read the thing. But, as I’ve said this a million times on the podcast, genre stories are really important and the necessity of communicating the global universal truths that we all hold dear and what hold our society together, it’s really important to do that.

The more work you do on each story that you create, the more you’re going to be better at actually discovering what you want to say. Then, once you know what you want to say, then communicating that to an audience through story grid strategies will become better and better.

Now, I’m not doing, when I edit Steven Pressfield’s stuff, I don’t go through spreadsheets and I don’t go through the fool’s cap stuff to a degree that I’m going to do with you, I usually send them like a 10 or 12 page letter that talks about the genres that he’s choosing whether or not he’s a budded obligatory scenes and conventions, he usually does.

If he hasn’t, it’s just a technicality. You forgot to throw in some red herrings here. Something like that but what those memos are really about are helping Steve, helping the writer hone his controlling idea. What Is it about this novel, about this story that compelled him to take a year of his life to write it?

Because that’s an interesting question and if you can think about that question, you become a better writer. Yeah, plain people just try and you know, do this for a financial gain and that’s totally fine but what I’m in it for is exploring, everybody has something that they want to say, everybody says to me, when they meet me.

I’ve got a book, I’ve got this amazing story and I really need to sit down and write. Everybody has a story to tell, it’s so — finding the ways to tell it the best possible way and really getting into the details are going to make you not only a better writer but a better person.

Because when you have, like we were talking earlier before we got on the podcast, something — you were in a bad mood the other day and you had to sit down and talk to your wife about it and you had to pick at what your bad mood was about but once you’ve unearthed it then you were released of the tension.

Okay, now I know why I was snapping at my kids for no reason. It wasn’t about my kids, it was because of that and when you’re a writer, that’s exactly what you do in your story. There are parts in your story that are going to be a problem for you. Those are opportunities to be able to examine what it is that you really want to say and how well you’re saying it.

That’s the writing craft, the writing craft is also a form of, for a lack of a better word, self-therapy. You allow yourself to examine things about you externally. You can say, this is just my novel, this isn’t really about me, this is about this girl who has to go to this thing.

It’s like you anthropomorphize your internal angst through your characters. When you’re picking apart their problems, you’re actually helping yourself. That’s why I think so many writers, they say I’m going to quit writing, I’ve had enough. Stephen King has retired 20 times but he keeps doing it and he finds new projects that he has to do because it helps him. It helps him be a better person because he has to examine what it is he’s trying to say.

What is bothering him inside that makes him externalize his frustrations and anxieties into stories. Yeah, sure, write a book a month, I don’t care. As long as you’re thinking about why you chose to write that particular story. What’s interesting about it? How can you make it better? That’s my answer.

[0:09:24.2] TG: All right, sounds good. Looking at — were you serious? When you say the seventh draft, what am I doing on the seventh draft? Surely not going scene by scene and coming up with 157 different problems with it.

[0:09:41.9] SC: No, seventh, eighth, ninth draft, those are moments when you look, at the end of this big picture looking at everything from the micro and the macro point of view, you’re going to have a very long list of to do’s.

You’re not going to be able to sit down and do every single one in every single draft right? Because you go crazy. What you’re going to do and we’ll get in to this later and I think in this episode, is we’re going to find the big problems first and then we’re going to have a list of all the tiny little details and the reason why I had you do all the little tiny details now is because you need to be intimately familiar with each and every scene that you’ve written.

You need to brain storm each scene and say to yourself, what can I do here? How is this working out for me? Then when we go on to the larger problems in the story and they’re not massive problems because we worked so hard on this first draft. But when we do get to them, then all those little things will be percolating and you’ll be able to solve a lot of problems with one draft.

The seventh and eighth draft are usually, you’re going through a systematically to widow away your big to do list. The seventh draft might be 20 things on your to do list. The final couple of drafts are just going to be language drafts. Those line by line writing things that you’ll say, yeah, that’s kind of rickety that sentence, I need to tweak that a little bit. You might think of image systems in those drafts. Meaning, do you want to use imagery, mental imagery in a way that will consistently remind the reader of a particular dilemma, for example, in the movie china town, water is a major image system.

Too much water, lack of water, the whole plot is about privatization of the water supply and so when Robert Town was writing the screen play, probably in his later draft, he said to himself, how can I put in more things about water in here? So that I can get immerse the reader in a particular sensibility so that it returns and you know the guy is murdered in water, the glasses are in water, everybody’s talking about water all the time in the movie.

It’s great when you look at it through the 75th viewing which I’ve seen that movie so many times that you start to pick up all this little bits. The image system is something that you might want to do in a later draft. When I say seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 drafts, those are systematic things, you’re not going to feel like I’m so exhausted, this is my 11th draft, instead you’re going to say, my god, I can’t wait to go to draft 11 because then I can put all those ideas that I had on my to do list in an image system.

Then you’ll go through it and you go, here’s a great place to insert something. I see in your notes from your spreadsheet, you’ve made little bits of notes. Maybe I could put this here, maybe I could put that there. What about this?

How am I going to do that? All those little bits and pieces will add up and help you as you’re going through the editing process. Believe it or not, this is actually fun. This is not the pain staking, my gosh, should I use a four syllable word or a two — you know, it’s not like that.

This is actually the fun part, this is when you get to chip away at your statue and polish and sand and all that stuff. Don’t get so overwhelmed by draft 11. You probably end up doing this drafts in maybe a week. You might be able to fly through the book in a week on one of those drafts.

[0:14:12.7] TG: Okay. Did you get a chance, you looked through the notes on the spreadsheet?

[0:14:18.1] SC: I did, I think they’re spot on, they’re exactly what you need to do, the point of the spreadsheet and the to do list at this stage is to write down all your thoughts. How can I tweak this scene? What do I need to do here.

For each one of your scenes, you have like three to four notes. Sometimes five. This document is going to serve you immeasurably for the next drafts. The other really important thing and I know you haven’t done this is not to, once you have this one micro spreadsheet done, not say, why don’t I just tackle this problems now, I’ll do another draft and I’ll knock this things out and then I can concentrate on my next editorial thing.

Again, I’m going to recommend that you never ever do that. Because what you want to do is take the small scale stuff and we’ll talk about the large scale stuff today and then they’re about five different ways of analyzing your story that you’re going to compile to do lists for. This is the first one. It’s a real bear because it makes you really get detailed and the reason why you should do the detailed one first, now, here’s a caveat for what I’m saying.

What I’m teaching you Tim, is how to edit yourself. The way I do it, when I get a manuscript is different than the way I’m teaching you to edit yourself. This is the thing, when you’re editing somebody else’s work, it’s important for you to diagnose whether or not they have a working story.

You have to diagnose if they have a really — maybe they don’t have an arm or they’re missing toes or their eyesight’s, I’m trying to give an analogy here. It’s a triage for a doctor. You have to see if this thing is alive first. And if it’s not alive then you have to pin point where the cancer is or where the accident was so the reverse of that is when you’re editing yourself, not to panic immediately and if you find a big problem, immediately.

What you’ll end up doing is just so obsessively focusing on that big problem that you lose the force for the trees. That’s why I recommend for writers, your first editing process is to go very micro. So that you can have all this tiny little problems that aren’t so dramatically upsetting, you can pinpoint those first before you move on to the bigger problems.

When you do go to the bigger problems, your identification of all the little ones will help you solve the big ones. If you just go to the big ones first, you might panic and throw your manuscript away. Because you look like, I’ll never be able to fix that. If you have all the little micro problems and you’re very familiar with every single scene, then a lot of those micro problems can be solved and help you fix a big one.

I know I’m talking in very unspecific terms but I talk about this a lot. Being able to shift focus from narrow focus to global focus is an extraordinary skill. Whenever you get into a place where you’re panicking over your focus, if you’re narrowly focusing and you’re panicked over it, you know, I always recommend, go to a global, move your field of vision away from the micro because you’re obsessing. Vice versa.

The reason why you did this massive micro spreadsheet first was so that it can help you deal with challenges that are larger in the next stage of editing for you. The next stage of editing and I think — do you have any questions about the spreadsheet?

[0:19:06.9] TG: No, I felt like, because I had several scenes done last week when we talked about it, I felt like I was on the right track with my notes and everything and I ended up with 157 notes or 156 notes. I felt like it was fun to go back through the novel because some of these scenes I hadn’t read since the fall.

And then, it was interesting to see how my writing even changed over that time. No, I think it was good, it was a couple of things like there were scenes that I knew didn’t work so I’m like, I don’t really feel like thinking through the value shift and polarity shift and turning point when I already — they’re going to get cut.

I would just like leave that blank and you know, there were some points where I couldn’t really figure out what the turning point was so I just put question marks next to it when I filled it out. Then I did have a lot of fun brain storming and I would actually go back and write towards the end the book I thought of something that I could do in the first scene so I went back up and added something to that.

Yeah, I’m not sure what to do with all this notes now. I have all this notes, all this brain storming, got the first half dozen columns in the spreadsheet filled out for all the scenes and now I don’t know what to do next.

[0:20:41.4] SC: Okay. Well it’s like when you go to the doctor and they take blood and they send it away to the lab, they don’t just check your cholesterol right? They check your liver function, they check so many different things. How much LDL, low density lipo whatever — When you get the results of your blood test back, you get like nine different categories of analysis.

That’s the process we’re in now. Right now you’ve done one category of analysis. The next category of analysis is to do a fool’s cap global story grid for your novel.

[0:21:25.3] TG: Okay. To do it exactly the way you would if you were planning the novel. You would start by defining your genres right?

[0:21:36.0] SC: Okay. For everybody who is familiar, who is not familiar with the full kept story grid, you can always go to storygrid.com and download one of this things. Let’s start walking through with it okay? Because you’re editing the book now, I don’t want you to have any preconceived notions about the answers to this.

The first thing you want to fill out is what’s your global genre? That means, what is the genre that will be on the cover of the book? How will you market this book? What will you say when people say, what kind of story is it?

[0:22:23.0] TG: Are we talking about the five leaf clover?

[0:22:27.8] SC: We’re talking about, yeah. What we’re talking about is the external, internal and global. Every novel has a global genre. When I say, what I mean by that is, to kill a mocking bird is a global maturation story, it’s a coming of age novel. But, there’s also a legal thriller in there but the legal thriller is not the global genre of To Kill a Mocking Bird. The maturation coming of age novelist. If I were to do a story grid fool’s cap page for To Kill a Mocking Bird, the global genre is coming of age/maturation.

[0:23:13.6] TG: You have on the global story grid sheet, external and internal genres, you don’t have global on here?

[0:23:22.4] SC: I do on — I put in the global genre about seven or eight months ago.

[0:23:32.1] TG: Okay.

[0:23:32.7] SC: The reason why I did do that is because everybody gets confused and the reason why I’m saying global, it’s the one that everybody says the book is or the story is. It’s the dominant genre, it’s like in genetics, there is blue eyed gene and there’s brown eyed gene. The brown is a capital B and the blue is a lower case B. That’s because brown and a big B and a little B gives you brown eyes.

You have to have two recessive genes to get blue eyes. The brown is the dominant gene in eye color. In stories, some stories only have one genre, they’re only external and those are usually action stories. James bond stories, classic way, except for the last couple of movies only have external action genre.

But your novel has a bunch of genres inside of it. If I were to say to you Tim, of all the genres that are in your book, what’s the dominant one? What would you say?

[0:24:53.8] TG: Coming of age or thriller? I don’t know.

[0:24:59.4] SC: I thought you would like the coming of age answer so that’s why I said it.

[0:25:06.1] TG: Okay.

[0:25:07.4] SC: No, your book is not coming of age, it is coming of age, yes it is but the global genre, you’re not going to be selling this book as a coming of age novel right? Because when you say coming of age, we think of Stand by Me. We think of To Kill a Mockingbird. We think of a small-ish story when I say small-ish, I mean, it doesn’t have action scenes, it’s about like stand by me is a great short story by Stephen King which that was the movie title.

I think The Body was the name of the short story. That’s the story of this kids in Maine to go see a dead body. That whole thing is about them walking to see this dead body. It’s no’ a big canvas, bombs exploding kind of thing.

It’s a coming of age story about friendship and honoring the dead. Anyway, that story would be a coming of age story. When we traditionally think of coming of age, Brooklyn, that’s another coming of age story about a young woman who leaves Ireland to come to United States.

When we think of coming of age, we think of heartfelt movement from one world view, from naiveté to maturity which is recognizing that life isn’t black and white and that there are paradoxes in the world. Your novel is a thriller.

It’s a post-apocalyptic thriller and I think that’s probably the best description of it.

[0:26:54.9] TG: Okay, now you want to throw young adult in there?

[0:26:58.3] SC: Yeah you could but that’s more of a marketing thing.

[0:27:02.6] TG: I think that’s what I’m struggling with is like — because I asked about sci-fi a couple of weeks ago and you’re like, well that’s the setting that you put a story into.

[0:27:14.2] SC: yes.

[0:27:13.8] TG: It’s like okay, that would be, if you’re talking about — to me, the cover is the marketing right?

[0:27:21.7] SC: Yeah.

[0:27:22.2] TG: you would do a different cover for a young adult story than you would an adult thriller right?

[0:27:31.4] SC: Well, what about Twilight? I don’t want to get into a discussion about marketing but I think the covers for young adult thrillers are often so shortsighted. Like the Hunger Games covers were graphic in nature. What I don’t like about young adult thrillers in the marketing covers is that they usually feature a young adult on the cover.

I think that dumbs them down to the point where certain readers are attracted to that but a lot of readers aren’t and I think you alienate more people than you attract by having imagery of young adults in danger on the cover.

The young adult thing is probably important to put on your global genre because there are some conventions in young adult literature that you need to abide. Let’s put down young adult post-apocalyptic thriller as your global genre.

Basically, thriller right? It’s a thriller. All the other stuff is descriptive in that it says setting and marketing element but if you had to boil it down to one word, it would be thriller.

[0:28:53.7] TG: Okay.

[0:28:54.9] SC: All right. The external, now, just moving down the page, the external genre is thriller right?

[0:29:03.5] TG: Right, then the value at stake.

[0:29:06.4] SC: Is what?

[0:29:07.0] TG: Life and death.

[0:29:08.6] SC: Right.

[0:29:09.4] TG: Or life.

[0:29:11.1] SC: Now, here’s an important part. One of the conventions of thriller is that it goes to what Robert McKee calls, the negation of the negation. Which means it moves from life to unconsciousness, to the possibility of death to the negation of the negation which is the fate worse than death, damnation.

I would write that down under the value shift. It moves from life to unconsciousness, to death, to fate worse than death. Now, the reason why we’re writing this down is to remind us that we need to analyze our story with this piece of paper in mind and see and pinpoint exactly where in the story we’ve abided the conventions of our genres right?

[0:30:09.5] TG: Right.

[0:30:10.6] SC: Okay.

[0:30:11.3] TG: I have to start immediately wondering if I pushed it far enough as far as fate worse than death.

[0:30:17.5] SC: Well, you’re absolutely in the realm but you’re going to have to tweak it right? You’re going to have to make it more clear. You’re going to have to clarify it for the reader through some moment in the story where a crisis arises where it’s very crystal clear that if she does not, if she chooses to not move forward, she will damn herself.

The fate worse than death is walking around damned knowing that you chose selfish interests over the greater good. Usually, just as a side note here, redemption stories are about people who are living with damnation, who redeem themselves. Who overcome their darkness?

Okay, the next line is the internal genre, what’s the internal genre.

[0:31:14.5] TG: Coming of age.

[0:31:15.5] SC: Yes it is, I would use the phrase, world view which is the internal genre, the world view, maturation. The internal genre’s world view, the sub-genre is maturation plot. How does the internal value in a maturation plot move?

[0:31:40.5] TG: I know this one, I can’t remember, it’s like coming from realizing the world’s not black and white, there’s shades of grey, yeah, I don’t remember off the top of my head.

[0:31:52.6] SC: Okay, it’s naiveté masked. Now, the negation of the negation of the maturation plot is when somebody behaves as if they know everything, when they really don’t know anything. It’s naiveté masked by sophistication. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet acts as if she’s just got the world figured out right? At the beginning of the novel.

She knows that rich people are idiots and that they’re all silly and that the only good people are country folk who are idiosyncratic and fun loving and all that good stuff. She pretends and she’s well read, she can talk better than anybody else in town. Her father thinks that she’s just the brightest thing in the world.

She’s naïve but she masks her naiveté with a sophistication. What characters start out as in coming of age stories is that they see the world in a very distinct way and they think they’ve got it all figured out. Now, Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird is five years old and she sees the world very clearly as she doesn’t understand why she can’t make fun of somebody, she gets into fights because her world view is that of a five year old child which is only within the confines of her neighborhood does she really fully understand anything.

When she goes to school, she doesn’t really — she can’t understand the notion that there’s another child who is even poorer than she is. She kind of makes fun of him inadvertently.

No, she doesn’t make fun of him, she gets in a fight with him because he gets her in trouble in class. Anyway, we’re not analyzing To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m just trying to give — It’s naiveté of mass by sophistication. Sophistication is another word for knowing, like a know it all. To be sophisticated, they pretend as if they know it all.

They’re pretending to be sophisticated and Jesse seems to have that personality at the beginning too. She knows what’s good for her and what’s not good for her and she’s not going to listen to anybody else. Okay, that’s the very bottom of the negative. Then it moves up to naiveté which means they recognize that they’re not lying to themselves anymore.

They understand that they have a lot to learn. In your novel, when Jesse freaks out in the second severing, you know, thing. That’s an indication that she’s reached a place where she understands that she doesn’t know everything and it’s overwhelming. She’s naïve. She doesn’t understand how it’s all working.

The next one is uncertainty and the uncertainty means that they are deliberating in the world without a clear understanding. They have to — you know, it’s a way of looking at this is through the Kubler Ross eight stages of dealing with death and grief and change.

Lastly, the goal is maturation or sophistication meaning that you can understand that there are paradoxes in the world. That there is a goodness that comes from tyranny, not a goodness order and tyranny. Tyranny brings some level of order because there’s such strict control mechanisms. But, tyranny means that the rules change depending upon who is in charge.

That is wrong and if you had to categorize it’s good or bad, that’s bad but the order people aren’t living in chaos, that’s kind of good. It can be both, it’s ironic, it can be negative and positive and maturation is the process of understanding that you can have two opposing ideas in your head and they both can be true.

[0:36:30.7] TG: Okay.

[0:36:32.5] SC: You could see why it’s important to go through this stuff because you have to remind yourself what’s the goal of this genres. Where do I need the reader to identify this person on a particular value scale?

[0:36:47.9] TG: Right. Go ahead.

[0:36:51.4] SC: I was just going to move on to the obligatory scenes and conventions.

[0:36:54.7] TG: Okay.

[0:36:56.0] SC: The next line on the fool’s cap and this is the top of the page before we even get into the beginning hook middle build and ending payoff, the next line is obligatory scenes and conventions. What this section is for is to literally list what thriller and coming of age stories have in them that must be on the page.

What things you have to deliver to the audience, what they’re going to expect from those genres when they sit down to read your story so we need to list the obligatory scenes and conventions of the thriller and of the world view maturation plot. Now, we are going to the next thing after this is going to be exploring because you also have a fantasy element in the story and fantasy elements are best tracked by looking at the hero’s journey and they are like, yeah, I’d say like 12 little bits and pieces of the hero’s journey.

That we’ll look at in the next iteration of the editing process. Let’s just list the obligatory scenes and conventions of the thriller here. Because that is your global genre and it’s the thing that really must be in there. Secondary genres, while they’re extraordinarily important, you can often get away with not having everything in there.

Things can happen off stage in a secondary genre that can be referred to that don’t have to be on the page. For the global genre, you really need to have the obligatory scenes and conventions on the page in the scenes themselves.

[0:38:52.3] TG: Yeah, we talked about this with thrillers and action stories that have love stories, you know, the first kiss, does it have to be on the page?

[0:39:04.7] SC: Right.

[0:39:05.7] TG: That’s an obligatory scene of the love story but since it’s a secondary genre, it’s not important that every single obligatory scene happen on the page.

[0:39:14.8] SC: Exactly. Now, just as a side note, a great solution to that is to combine conventions and obligatory scenes into one mish mash. What comes to mind is guardians of the galaxy, the first one when they have the first kiss as they’re going through a really intense action scene.

The first kiss is sort of a joke and is part — they deliver two conventions with one scene at the same time which is a really good idea. Okay, let me dig up my Silence of the Lambs fool’s cap page.

[0:39:59.7] TG: Well I’ve got the chapter 31 from story grid up here where you have conventions and obligatory scenes for the thriller.

[0:40:09.5] SC: Great. Why don’t you just read them off?

[0:40:12.6] TG: See, this is where I had this whole plan where you were going to ask me and I was going to say them like I was this movie and just totally blow your mind. Okay. An Inciting Crime is the first one, a McGuffin is the second one, Red Herrings is the third one, A Speech and Praise of the Villain is the fourth one. The fifth one is The stakes must become personal for the hero if he fails to stop the villain who will suffer severe consequences, the her must become the victim.

Number six is there must be a hero at the mercy a villain scene and then number seven is False Ending, there must be two endings. It was interesting, I thought that because I re-watched Guardians of the Galaxy this past weekend, getting ready to watch the sequel and they had that.

[0:41:09.2] SC: Yeah.

[0:41:09.5] TG: They had the false ending and then the ending. Those are the conventions and obligatory scenes of a thriller.

[0:41:17.3] SC: Okay, let’s go through them one by one and just review what they mean. An inciting crime is the first one right?

[0:41:25.5] TG: Right.

[0:41:27.7] SC: Do you have that in your book?

[0:41:29.6] TG: Well, can it be the hero doing the crime?

[0:41:33.1] SC: Sure.

[0:41:34.8] TG: Then yeah, that happens in the first scene when she’s stealing from the people that are plugged in.

[0:41:40.4] SC: Good. Okay, what’s the next one? McGuffin?

[0:41:44.0] TG: Yes.

[0:41:45.4] SC: What’s the…

[0:41:45.6] TG: I don’t remember what McGuffin is. Is that the thing that the hero wants or it’s the thing that — it’s just the thing that somebody wants that drives her action.

[0:41:58.3] SC: No, It’s the thing that villain wants.

[0:42:02.5] TG: Okay, the villain wants to win the threshing but in the beginning hook of the book, the villain wants Jessie to go to the capital.

[0:42:13.4] SC: Well, I think they’re both the same. The villain needs Jessie to escape right? The villain…

[0:42:21.3] TG: Escape?

[0:42:21.6] SC: Escape.

[0:42:22.8] TG: Yeah. What do you mean escape?

[0:42:26.1] SC: Because the villain is Randy right? Hello.

[0:42:29.1] TG: Yeah, I’m thinking, sorry. You got to give me time to think. I guess I was thinking the villain is Randy, I was thinking of Marcus as the villain because that’s who we’re setting up as the villain.

[0:42:42.6] SC: Well yeah, that’s fine. We’re doing a switch in act two though, in the middle build where Marcus is just a tool that Randy has manipulated in order to device his own escape.

[0:43:00.8] TG: So randy wants Jesse in the capital, I mean, that’s what he needs, he needs her in the training.

[0:43:07.6] SC: Yeah, he needs her to be in the threshing so that he can escape his captivity, he’s being held captive by Marcus. He convinces Marcus that the only one who can win the threshing is his sister. The McGuffin is that Randy wants freedom and he’s going to use Jessie to get it.

[0:43:34.6] TG: Okay

[0:43:35.5] SC: Okay, what’s the next one?

[0:43:37.1] TG: Red Herrings.

[0:43:38.9] SC: Red Herrings. Now what’s a red herring?

[0:43:41.3] TG: You tell me.

[0:43:45.4] SC: They are miss directions. A red herring and a crime story. Now, thrillers evolved as a combination of action, horror and crime. We have a little smattering of conventions and obligatory scenes from those three genres but I’ll stop there. IT’s in the original story grid book.

Red herrings are usually a crime convention. They’re just misdirection’s. You want like if the investigator is constantly finding the right clue and drawing the right conclusion, it’s boring.

Red herring is when the investigator makes a mistake based upon a clue. He misreads it or she misreads it or whatever or something seems like something and it’s really something else. A red herring for example in your novel, Marcus being the ultimate evil is a red herring. Because Randy is actually the one who drives the action.

[0:45:01.5] TG: Yeah, one of the things I put in my notes, I didn’t call them red herrings, I call them mystery boxes. I remember JJ Abrams talking about this so I went back and re-watched his TED talk and he talks about how he creates, he constantly creates these things, throws these things in his stories that make you want to figure out the clue.

It’s like in Lost, the polar bear is showing up on the island is a mystery box which I hated Lost. I realized going through my book, there’s not enough mystery there, there’s not enough things that she’s — that you see, that you don’t know what it is. I was thinking of things like, in this case, a red herring could be, when Az is first showing her around the capital, there’s like a door that you’re not allowed to go behind.

She decides down the road that that must be where Randy is. She decides she wants to get behind that door but that’s not really where Randy is, is that what you’re talking about?

[0:46:05.7] SC: Yeah.

[0:46:06.8] TG: Okay. I would say I have I guess one but no other ones come to mind.

[0:46:12.8] SC: Right, you’re going to want to make a note, you’re going to want to say I need — Now, in the Silence of the Lamb’s story grid. I don’t know if I’ve posted my full thing. Anyway, at the very bottom of the story grid for the Silence of the Lamb’s are the places in which Thomas Harris abided all of this conventions.

What you’ll see on my story grid, the very bottom is see, red herring number one, clue number one. So that you see the places where the misdirection is. In Silence of the Lamb, there’s some brilliant ones and the big red herring at the very end is also the thing that gives rise to the double ending is the FBI finds Jane Gum in Chicago.

It’s the wrong Jane Gum and they break down some guy’s door and then you cut to Belvedere Ohio and Starling has found the real one. That’s the red herring and they also tell Starling. “Hey, we got them, come on back to Quantico, everything’s fine, we got him.“ She could have gone back but for some reason she didn’t. She was compelled to check out that tailor, Jane Gum.

Red herrings are really important and you don’t have to solve all of them right now and I think one of the fun parts about editing is that now you know what your story, you know the nuts and bolts of your global story, you can think of a really fun red herrings that can misdirect the reader and pay off in a way later on.

Maybe the mystery door doesn’t lead to Randy but it leads to something that will help her later on. She believes she get through that door, she’s going to find her brother. Once she gets through the door, she finds something else.

[0:48:27.6] TG: Okay.

[0:48:28.3] SC: You know? Let’s get through this obligatory scenes and conventions and then we can move through more of this next week but go ahead.

[0:48:38.4] TG: Okay, a speech and praise of the villain.

[0:48:40.5] SC: Right, Now, the speech and praise of the villain is very important, it can often be the villain actually praising himself or herself. In silence of the lambs, the way they handled the speech and praise of the villain is they have couple of them but the one that’s really great is at the end of the beginning hook of Silence of the Lambs, starling and Crawford get off the plane and they’re flying to West Virginia to go to the crime scene of the latest victim of Buffalo Bill.

On that plane, Crawford hands starling a dossier that has all of the information about buffalo bill and how impossible it is to figure out where he’s going to strike next. The way Harris handles the speech and praise of the villain is to show how smart this guy is by having her refer to the documentation of the case file which is a really really terrific way of doing it.

I’m trying to think of other speeches and praise of the villain but they’re really fun to put in. They’re really — I like to think of them, here’s what I was thinking. In Apocalypse Now, there’s a great — they do the same thing. Martin Sheen when he’s on the boat going up river to find Colonel Kurtz.

He gets, you know, the army records of Kurtz and in voice over, he’s thinking about what caused this great guy, this army ranger to lose his mind and so he talks about this guy’s career where it came from, how he’s the most decorated army ranger. It’s a great moment because the reason why you have this speech and praise of the villain is that it allows the reader to empathize or to admire or to understand the evil point of view.

Just how they got to be where they are and why they have the world view that they have. It’s really important to have them. Now, you don’t really have one for Randy do you?

[0:51:10.5] TG: Well, I do, I had part of one and I cut it when I rewrote one scene and then I have a part where he’s trying to get Jesse to understand why he’s done everything he has. But there is no — well, one of the things I realize that’s missing is when he actually takes over from Marcus and that’s, I thought when I could make a much stronger one.

[0:51:36.9] SC: That’s a good idea is to have — it’s always a good idea to have the villain explain their thinking because the smarter it is, the better informed it is, the more convincing it is, the better it is for the reader.

A speech and praise of the villain, I think you need somebody else to tell Jessie or tell Az or have it become part of their training where they talk about the last threshing and how Randy ingeniously solved the puzzle and solved the riddle and how brilliant he was.

Make it a big mystery about where he is now so that I would make a note to myself that you need to — you could have — you know, one of the numbered tell Jesse when she’s there about the guy who won the last threshing. Maybe 61 could do it or whoever.

That’s something that you really want to build up so that when we do meet Randy, we have a certain offering and fear of him. Because he’s physically weak but he’s mentally strong.

[0:53:02.6] TG: Okay, the next is the stakes must become personal for the hero. I feel like that I did that one.

[0:53:09.9] SC: Yeah.

[0:53:09.9] TG: Because she does become the victim and you know, the people around her are threatened based on what she does or doesn’t do.

[0:53:21.2] SC: Yeah, I think you definitely have that done. Okay.

[0:53:24.7] TG: There must be a hero at the mercy of the villain scene so I have this but it’s not super strong, there’s not really an extended period of time where we’re like, my gosh, what’s going to happen, it’s kind of like — that’s one of the things I put in my notes, is this just over too fast, it’s a little weak. It’s there but it needs to definitely be stronger.

[0:53:47.7] SC: Right.

[0:53:49.4] TG: Then, the false ending, there must be two endings, I don’t have that.

[0:53:53.4] SC: Right.

[0:53:54.5] TG: And we mentioned that before when I was finishing up the draft.

[0:53:58.9] SC: I think now you can — we’ve only gone through the first six or so pieces of information that we have to figure out for the fool’s cap page and I think you could see what I meant when I said, you know, if you do the fool’s cap page first, when you’re self-editing and you get a big hole, you’re going to have a big temptation to go and my gosh, I’m going to go do that false ending right now and get that off of my list.

Again, you really don’t want to do that because the false ending will probably come to you in a moment when you’re taking a shower or going on a walk or something or driving. The way it’s going to percolate up to you is by knowing your scenes as deeply as you do now by doing that micro spreadsheet.

[0:54:48.9] TG: Okay, so, I will — because we got kind of most of the top done. I think I can — should I try to fill out the rest myself?

[0:54:57.1] SC: Yeah, and then we’ll go over it next week.

[0:54:59.2] TG: Okay, I’ll do that.

[0:55:00.6] SC: Great.


[0:55:01.8] 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.

Thanks for subscribing and being a part of our work here at Story Grid. We will see you next week.



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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.