[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 Story Grid, the author of the book the Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.
In this episode, we are doing another Q&A. I grabbed a few questions from the Facebook community and our editors and I threw them at Shawn. We actually only got through three questions, but it touches on a lot of interesting things about genre, about finding and working with the right editor, the specifics about mini-plot and how that works.
It’s a fun episode, so let’s jump in and get started.
[0:00:45.5] TG: Shawn, we’re just going to jump right in, took some questions from our listeners and readers. Let’s just start with this one from Kim. This is about mini-plot. What are the specific conventions of a mini-plot? What are some master work examples? Are there any genres that don’t work as a mini-plot? Can you talk about the distinction between mini-plot versus ensemble cast? Most of this podcast we’re talking about the arch plot, right? The big one. How do you approach the mini-plot with all of these story grid principles?
[0:01:22.4] SC: Well, the mini-plot is fundamentally about the internal genres. Many plots there aren’t conventions and obligatory scenes per se, other than there’s some common features to them. The global inciting incident is usually soft. What I mean by that is that –
[0:01:47.3] TG: Can we start with what’s the definition of a mini-plot first?
[0:01:52.0] SC: Oh, sure, sure. A mini-plot is another phrase for it that people use is the slice of life. What slice of life is is that the value at stake in the story is very internal. It’s usually has to do with self-respect or rising up on some status hierarchy for the character, like that the movie recently, Lady Bird; that’s definitely a mini-plot story, because it features a young woman who’s out of sorts, because she lives in a very stifling environment and her mother is not exactly tyrannical, but overpowering her.
The whole story is about whether or not she will be able to break out of her small-town environment and get to a big city college. The mini-plot differs from – it has the same characteristics as an arch plot in that the character has a hero’s journey but the hero’s journey is not going to defeat the Spartans at Thermopylae or something. It’s not this big epic stage. It’s usually a softer thing, where the global inciting incident like I said before is softer.
It’s usually has to do with somebody recognizing that there’s something I’ve got to change; movies like Crazy Heart, that movie with Jeff Bridges, who plays this alcoholic country and western singer. The whole thing is about him coming to the realization that just drinking himself silly for the rest of his life is no way to carry on.
They’re almost these very – these stories are usually very familiar to people, because we all know somebody, or even ourselves going through a change in our life that we just want to resist and we don’t want to go through them. Mini-plots are usually in that worldview internal genre situation, or the status genre where somebody is trying to make something of themselves.
The really key thing about mini-plot is in the specificity of the of the world and in the character. The reason why the movie Lady Bird works well is because it’s extremely specific; the relationship between the mother and the daughter is very, very specific, the world is specific, the characters idiosyncratic. Those mini-plot stories have to be really super razor laser-focused on a particular world, a particular progression for the lead character.
Now the other thing is that the want of the lead character is usually something that’s pretty attainable. It’s not they’re trying to stop the Death Star from destroying the universe. It’s more like, “I need to stop drinking.” That’s hard. It’s really super hard, but it’s attainable. It’s not completely beyond the realm of a match of thinking for the audience that the character can actually achieve that thing. The progressive complications in this story are a slow raising of the temperature, but it doesn’t really boil over. It’s really about those small changes in our lives that make us discover meaning that we didn’t know was there.
There’s a lot of revelation stories here. Again, this is the arthouse movie structure. It’s like when people go on, never make a Hollywood movie with those Marvel characters and the explosions. They want to see more this art house Greenwich Village story about – there’s this very funny episode of Seinfeld. I don’t know if you’re a Seinfeld fan, but – George and Jerry they’re going to the movies and they want to go see Death Star and Death Star is sold out, so they have to go see the Gentle Heart. They’re really bummed out, because they wanted to see Death Star.
The Gentle Heart is a mini-plot story. Then there’s some great ones, like Five Easy Pieces is one of my favorite. It stars Jack Nicholson as this virtuoso pianist who’s also a bum. It’s a really good dark story about a guy who’s just blowing up his life for no real reason. The other thing is that the stakes of this story are not really crazy high. This is why it has to be so specific, right?
What’s the worst that can happen you have to think about when you’re constructing the story and usually the worst that can happen is he has to go to a state school instead of the Ivy League. Like that movie Risky Business, right? The whole movie is about this guy who once go to Princeton and he gets in trouble, because he also has a real serious hormonal high school surge.
He ends up calling a prostitute to come over to his house and things ensue. There are moments of life and death and it’s comedy too, right? The big worst thing that’s going to happen for this guy is his mom finds out that there’s a crack in this vase that he’s – that one of the parties hurt and the other problem is he has to go to the University of Illinois, instead of Princeton
The stakes aren’t exactly life and death, so that’s why the specificity of the environment and the telling of the story has to be so perfect. Another guy who does this really well as Richard Curtis, who did Four Weddings and a funeral and what’s that other one? Love Actually, and he’s done a whole bunch of others.
[0:08:41.9] TG: I hate that movie.
[0:08:45.1] SC: Yeah, people either hate it or love it and you’re obviously in the first category.
[0:08:50.0] TG: Oh, I’m firmly in the hate category on that one. One of the sub questions to the mini-plot were are there any genres that don’t work as a mini-plot? Is it most of the external genres, like they’re mostly internal internally driven? You want to have a thriller that’s a mini-plot?
[0:09:10.7] SC: You really wouldn’t have a thriller that’s a mini-plot, because think about the hero at the mercy of the villain scene, unless it’s a comedy and even a comedy – No, I would highly recommend that if you want to do a mini-plot story really concentrate on the internal genres, really have a strong sense of the place and the hierarchy that’s involved in the story. When I say the hierarchy, I mean – Let me just pick Risky Business. The hierarchy involved in that movie is everybody wants to go to the Ivy League college.
The value at stake in Risky Business is am I going to become an elite member of society who gets to go to an Ivy League college, or am I a loser? The definition of loser in that story is anyone who doesn’t go to the Ivy League school, which is very – it’s a very specific hierarchy that a lot of people from private schools deal with. You’ll see people who go to places like Andover or St. Paul’s, or any of those big hoodie-toodie private schools.
If they don’t get into an Ivy League college, it’s devastating to them. I’m not trying to belittle the pain of that, because if that’s your goal and you don’t make it it’s a very hard pill to swallow. It’s difficult. The other side of that is stories in lower-income communities. There’s a great movie called Conrack, which is based upon a book that Pat Conroy wrote when he was a teacher in Georgia after he got out of college. That that book is called The Water is Wide.
That’s the story of – it’s a mini-plot story of this guy with really great intentions going to teach literature to a bunch of poor kids on an island in Georgia. It’s a mini-plot story and it has the same hierarchy as Risky Business, because it’s all about how do I get educated? What’s the value of education? If I go to college is that great? If I learn how to read and write well, what’s that going to do to me?
The mini-plot is really about those values that have a lot of ambiguity to them, or people have ambivalence about. There’s really good elements of them and really bad elements of them. That movie Scent of a Woman, that’s another movie. That’s a really common theme in a lot of these mini-plot stories that also are Hollywood-based productions, anyway.
Then the other question I think that Kim had asked was what’s the difference between mini-plot and multicast? Well, here’s the answer to that; you employ a multicast if you’re doing mini-plot and you don’t have massive specificity of characterization in place.
[0:12:34.1] TG: Well, wouldn’t that be – because you mentioned Love Actually as a mini-plot, I mean that’s also an ensemble cast, right?
[0:12:40.2] SC: Yes, because what Richard Curtis was doing in that movie was he was exploring the multitude and the fundamental nature of love, all of its variations. There’s the love between a brother and his sister, there’s love between a married couple, there is the love between a jealous love, a betrayal love. There’s eight stories in there and it’s all revolving around a theme.
The specificity of each of the individual worlds is important, but if he had decided to tell just one of those eight stories in a mini-plot, it wouldn’t have worked. It would have been like, “Oh, for crying out loud, how long am I going to have to see this? Because there’s not much meat on this bone, right?” But because he –
[0:13:31.5] TG: See, I felt like that about the movie still.
[0:13:34.0] SC: Okay, well you got to be in a certain mood for it. I liked it, but –
[0:13:38.7] TG: Let’s see. All of those, like the indie films and stuff I’m like, I don’t want to – this is just a personal thing. My life is depressing enough. I don’t want to watch a movie where at the beginning everybody’s unhappy and at the end everybody’s unhappy. It’s just a slightly different version of unhappiness. I feel that’s what all of those are and I’m like, “I don’t need that. I want the protagonist to win.” That’s why I watch all the Marvel movies.
[0:14:09.8] SC: Yeah, well to each his own. Mini-plot is again, it’s for a niche audience. This is why we don’t see 21st Century Fox or the Disney company investing a 100, 200 million dollars to produce a movie based on a mini-plot, because it’s a very specific audience that is going to go to it. That’s why the production values aren’t crazy over the top in a mini-story and a mini-plot.
Anyway, I’m belaboring the mini-plot. You can move on.
[0:14:48.8] TG: All right. Okay, so I’ve got – so I had several questions come in around the genre classification, so I’m going to talk about a few of them for a couple minutes and then get your feedback on it. It kicked off when Roland asks does urban fantasy deserve to be an external genre?
Then what got brought into the discussion was the fact that Western is an external genre and then there’s all kinds of different westerns now; there’s Australian-Japanese space, westerns with zombies and vampire. There’s all this stuff. That’s the first thing is – Here let me jump to, because another one was what about things buddy movies, road trips, Chiclet? There seems to be a never-ending way that you can slice and dice genre, where when we look at the story grid genre five-leaf-clover, you have very specific content genres and then there’s five or four other branches of what you consider with time reality style and structure.
I guess, the question is what is driving your content genres as far as picking the – let’s see what is it? Three, six, nine, twelve that you do, versus throwing in other ones that people might come up with? I don’t know if that’s a good way to put it, but that’s what I gather, because there’s a whole discussion around this and I was trying to actually extract a question from. Do you think these content genres will change over time? When do they change if they do? What gets included as a content genre and what doesn’t? Those kind of things.
[0:16:44.2] SC: Okay, well that that’s a big fat ball of chaos. Generally, this is the way I have concluded helps me keep it all straight. Now urban fantasy just to take an example, that’s a reality plus a setting designation. Urban, meaning city fantasy is more of an explanation of part of the world that the story inhabits, it doesn’t tell you the value at stake. The content genres, the way I break them down is they all have to do with fundamental values at stake. What’s the value at stake in a fantasy? Can be any number of things, right? It could be love, it could be life and death, it could be tyranny, it could be any number of things.
The fantasy designation, which is a very large big fat massive genre is really has nothing to do with content. It just says that there are certain kinds of things that you should prepare yourself when you come to read or watch this story.
The reason why we have genres in the first place is to let the reader, viewer, person know what they’re in for in as few words or images as possible. The content genres again are about the value at stake and they are about the central question how do I get what I need? How do I behave in this world to get what I need? I know that’s a very, very large question, but this is what stories do. They teach us and give us maps or yeah, maps or prescriptive operating instructions about how to behave in the world, so that we can find some success, so the content genres are answering that question more specifically.
How do I deal with the fact that there are so many school shootings today? I find the world is a chaotic mess and there just doesn’t seem to be any justice, there doesn’t seem to be anything that makes sense to me. That person would be attracted to a story that deals with that question. What do we do in a chaotic world where anyone can buy a gun at any time?
They would be driven to more of a crime-thriller place that would feature a story that deals with that issue in one way or another. It’s either a cautionary tale, or a prescriptive tale on how to cope with that stress. This also speaks to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which I don’t necessarily see as a hierarchy so much as a given set of needs that everyone has all the time. Those needs are sometimes being met and sometimes they’re being met really well, and sometimes not at all.
There’s this gas gauge analogy or metaphor that I like to think of those needs. Those needs are physiological needs, “Am I getting enough air? Am I getting enough food, or enough water? Am I capable of releasing sexual tension?” All that kind of stuff. The second one is security. Third one is love. The fourth one is esteem. The fifth one is self-actualization. “Am I doing a job and a thing that makes me feel I have meaning in my life?” The last one that Maslow came up with right before he died was self-transcendence. “Am I doing something that is helping other people? Am I living beyond my initial understanding of who I am? Am I exceeding the potential and delivering extra value into the world so that other people can benefit?”
Those primary needs are addressed in each of these content genres, right. Those primal ones are the action stories about a hurricane comes and what am I going to do? That story is very primal and it deals with the bottom, the fundamental primal needs of humanity. Horror; that’s something that deals with fear and security, crime, again that’s a security thriller, that’s a security – performance is more of it goes up to self-esteem. “Am I going up the hierarchy of whatever my chosen hierarchy is? Am I making an ass of myself? Am I ashamed of myself?”
Those are usually the performance stories. The values is self-esteem and shame on the spectrum. Genre is really about defining, thinking about who you’re – if you’re making an argument to someone, you want to really give them very narrow understanding of the place you’re going to talk about, what your point is and where you’re going.
[0:22:38.8] TG: As you were talking, I started thinking, because I think the one that trips people up is the Western, because that seems such a specific setting when I think of a Western, I’m picturing cowboys and rustling cattle and ropes and smoking cigarettes that I rolled myself. Where really, these are just – they’re almost placeholders for the needs, or the value that’s at stake is you could almost replace each of the content genres with just the value at stake for each of them. A western is –
[0:23:19.5] SC: Well yes and no. Yes and no.
[0:23:21.6] TG: Okay, because I feel like western seems like, well that’s setting, right? Because you’re setting it in the Old West. That’s not really what you mean by western. It’s less about – a
[0:23:31.9] SC: The western is about the individual versus society, which is more important.
[0:23:37.9] TG: Okay.
[0:23:38.8] SC: Western can be set in outer space. .Alien is a western horror, science-fiction fantasy thing. If you want to hear it, I’ll go even higher, I’ll go to a higher level here. Okay, all right, this is the meta, meta, meta, meta story of humanity. Are you ready?
[0:23:59.3] TG: I’m ready.
[0:24:00.9] SC: Okay.
[0:24:01.5] TG: I think I’m ready. I don’t think I’ll know until you’re going.
[0:24:05.3] SC: All right, there are two states in life; there’s order and there’s chaos, there’s the known, which is part of order, and there’s the unknown, which is part of chaos. Now each and every one of us needs to navigate the known while chaotic moments come into our lives. As we’re going down our planned route to our goal, we want to move from A to B. As we’re walking down the road, unforeseen events happen to us and in those moments they’re either obstacles or tools. Tools meaning, they help us on our journey to point B. An obstacle is they stop us or make us retreat before we can continue on our journey to route B.
Order and chaos are the two primal states of being. We, the individual, either male female, or whatever is put in a position where they have to navigate between order and chaos. All of the content genres are different variations of that meta, meta story. Will the hero effectively reach point B while they are moving forward trying to create an order while they’re being attacked by chaotic moments?
The hero’s journey is all about that journey, that journey from point A to point B. Each of these content genres are essentially creating these hierarchies of value for each of the stories. The horror story is about monsters; it’s about life and death and the fate worse than death. In the hero’s journey, the hero must leave the ordinary world and go into the extraordinary world. They must leave the known to go into the unknown.
When they are in the unknown, they confront all sorts of chaotic events. The big bad monster in the unknown is the sort of, what has happened through many, many different cultures is the form it takes is a dragon, and it’s a dragon for a number of reasons that have to do with evolution and all that stuff. The dragon is this thing that the hero has to confront and either slay or outsmart so that they can get what the dragon is hiding, which is gold, or usually it’s the potential for, or it’s traditionally it’s a virgin, meaning a woman who’s – this is the male myth of union with the man so that they can propagate themselves in the future.
The hero has to confront the dragon and bring back gold and that’s the hero’s journey. They go into the extraordinary world which is the unknown. They have all these trials until they had this ultimate confrontation with the biggest representation of chaos there is, which is the dragon and the dragon can kill you, but it can also bring a reward.
The hero fights the dragon knowing that they could be killed and somehow triumphs in a hero at the mercy of the villains scene, brings back the gold from the unknown, so they’re bringing knowledge back to their tribe, in their community. This is the big meta, meta story; there’s order, chaos in the hero. There’s a positive reflection of the hero is the hero. The negative reflection of the hero is the adversary, or the antagonist.
Your protagonist is your hero, your antagonist is a negative version of your protagonist. That hero faces order, which is represented by it’s usually a male representation of the wise king, or the tyrant. There’s a positive reflection of order, which is a good orderly place and the person who’s controlling it is a wise king that shares information and is informed by the population. It’s almost this democratic nice social network. Whereas the tyrant is this negative version where he does whatever he wants.
Now if you look at stories like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and Game of Thrones, you’ll see these archetypes very, very clearly. Chaos is represented usually in a female representation and chaos is like Mother Nature; she gives life and she also destroys life; she’s destructive. The dragon of chaos is usually in the feminine form, while order and everything is in in the male form.
This is what I’m talking about are thousands of years of storytelling myth that Carl Jung and really smart people like that explore Joseph Campbell, who distilled Carl Jung’s stuff into the hero’s journey that we all understand. Jung was really this mastermind who really sorted this stuff out in a way that is fascinating and absolutely true.
Anyway, so if you go from these six archetypes; the positive and negative of chaos, the positive and negative of order and the positive and negative of the individual, then you pose different questions at that six-part world, those questions give you the content genres. What’s an individual supposed to do in society? There is the western and happens in a western? There’s a guy who comes out of chaos into a town and nobody knows if he’s a good guy or a bad guy, and a confrontation occurs and he will either be destroyed and the town will be saved, or he will destroy the bad guy.
I mean, there’s any number of different variations on that story, but that’s the central value. What’s more important? The individual or the town? The town is usually represented by a tyranny, right? There’s some bad guy in the town who’s owns the saloon and is a real jerk, or he’s the sheriff. Then there’s this good guy who comes into town who represents a challenge to tyranny. The individual challenges tyranny and the climax is who’s going to win. Guess who wins usually? The guy who wins is the individual, which makes us happy because we go, “Oh, that’s what life’s all about. When you face tyranny, you have to shut it down. Oh, I like that story.”
Now if the tyrant wins you go, “Gosh, I hope there’s a sequel because this is really a bummer.” You can go down the chain on each of those content genres and really suss all that stuff out based upon those six primal archetypes; the positive and negative reflections of chaos, order and the hero. I know I just dumped an entire psychology course into three minutes, but –
[0:32:09.0] TG: No, I mean I think that’s good. As you were explaining it too and as we were – I keep thinking it’s not about the fact that the genre is called horror, it’s about the value that’s at stake, which is one of these primal values. It’s almost I could call horror something else, I don’t know, but it doesn’t – it’s just a label to help us talk about the value at stake almost. Am I saying that right?
[0:32:35.3] SC: Yeah. You could say for horror it’s fighting a literal monster, a literal monster, not a thematic monster, not a metaphorical monster, but a literal monster. For an internal genre, you’re fighting an internal monster. The alcoholic is fighting the nasty bastard inside of him who doesn’t want to take the responsibility of being heroic. That nasty bastard inside him what Steve Pressfield calls resistance keeps telling him, “Forget about it. Have another drink. You’ll feel better if you have a drink.” Guess what, you do feel a little bit “better” in the short-term until it destroys you.
There’s a monster in a world view maturation, or redemption plot, or whatever you want to call it. That monster is the same monster that’s in the horror movie, except it’s an internal monster. If you think of your stories in terms of those six reflections of the three archetypes, when you get stuck you’ll say, “Well what’s the –” this works on every single level of your story, from seeing to be, to sequence, to what is my hero confronting? Is it an obstacle, or is it a tool? Is it the monster? When am I going to get them to confront the monster?
Every story the hero has to confront the monster. That hero at the mercy of the villain scene that we talked about literally in a thriller and in the horror story is also present in a world view maturation story. It’s just given another name. It’s the all is lost moment, or the epiphany moment. It’s the moment when the lead character confronts the truth within them.
The truth is blank. “I’m a jerk because all I do is stay drunk all the time and somebody is suffering because of that.” The epiphany moment is like, “I can’t live with myself like that anymore. Therefore, I got to get some help. Where do I go to stop drinking? I’ve got to detox and then I got to stay away from the sauce. That’s my goal. That’s the ending payoff.” That’s like Crazy Heart, that movie with Jeff Bridges I talked about earlier, or Tender Mercies which was Crazy Heart was basically a remake of Tender Mercies, which had Robert evolved playing Jeff Bridges. That was in the 1970s, so everybody forgot about that movie, so they just remade it with Jeff Bridges and give it another name.
I’m being cynical, but that’s not crazy off the mark. If you think of your story, like your story that we haven’t talked about in a while, who is Jesse? Jesse is the hero. What is she confronting? Chaos and tyranny. She’s confronting a chaotic world she can’t understand, she’s living in a tyranny and she wants to and she’s facing an adversary. The adversary needs to be – you really need to nail that. Who is the mother figure in it? Who’s the father figure in it? Is there a good mother, is there a bad mother figure? Is there a good father figure, or is there a bad father figure? Is there a dragon? Does she fight the dragon at the end? How does she defeat the dragon? Does she bring back gold, or does she lose? Or does she win and lose?
She fights the dragon, brings back gold, but she has then dumped her entire society into a deeper chaotic hole; that’s the end of book 1. Pretty good set up for book 2.. If you think of the big meta, meta story which is a reflection of the hero’s journey only in that it really personifies the positive and negative influences that the hero faces in the micro-story, as well as the macro story then the genres start to make sense. They narrowed focus, so you would always say, if somebody asks the person tomorrow is urban fantasy a genre?
You go, “No, it’s a marketing tool. Urban fantasy just basically says it’s set in the city and somebody is – there’s dwarves in the city and magical people. I don’t know.” It’s not specific enough, right? Sometimes it doesn’t have to be specific enough. That’s okay, because sometimes people go, “Oh, it’s a fantasy novel.” You immediately think of Lord of the Rings, even though Lord of the Rings is an action story.
[0:37:31.3] TG: Okay so I have a question about hiring an editor. I mean, this is coming from you’re an editor and we have story grid editors, but I just wanted to get your take on so many people have hired – this is, I had a specific question I’m trying to make it for lots of people listening. Made mistakes hiring editors, I’ve made mistakes hiring editors, hired the wrong editor. What is your advice when it comes to screening and selecting the right editor? How do you know who to trust and how do you know when your work is ready to actually go out and find an editor?
[0:38:08.3] SC: Well, the editor question is a very good question and it all goes down to the following principle. There’s probably no better way to learn anything than to plunge in yourself and really sweat out the painful moments and bleed through reading books, like mine and Robert McKee’s book and Aristotle and Friedman and really doing your own reconnaissance.
The problem people get into when they hire editors and this is really – this is enough to cause me great despair. Here is a truth, now correct me if I’m wrong. Most people when they finish their book, they believe it’s ready for publication, because they think it’s really good. Then they try and get it published, or they publish it themselves and nobody wants it and then they go, “Oh, I guess I should hire an editor, because then they’ll fix it so that people will want it.”
That is a really an amateur mistake into thinking that there are these magical editors that will take your work that really has very little resemblance to a workable story and be able to convert it into a saleable valuable product for under $1,000. That’s just pretending that the gods will come down and tap you on the shoulder and give you three wishes out of a bottle. It’s not going to happen, because an editor can’t do that.
What an editor can do is analyze your work and say, “Okay, you’ve chosen this genre, here are the things that need to be in your book if you’ve chosen this genre and you don’t have this one, you don’t have this one and you don’t have this one, and you don’t have an all last moment and we need to do this and we need to think about what’s the beginning, the middle and the end. You don’t have enough characters here. They can do all kinds of really great stuff like that if they’re educated and they know story structure and myth and Joseph Campbell and levels of psychology.
To be an editor means you’re a professional intellectual person who is to really dive deep into story. The people who came to become story grid editors, the reason why we charge quite a bit of money is we don’t want to attract people who don’t – who haven’t done the work. The people who came to the story grid editor certification were – had read my book, they’d read McKee, they’d read Friedman, they had written novels themselves. These are people who couldn’t stop themselves.
They were absolutely overwhelmingly compelled to rip out any little nugget of truth they could from me and I I’m the same way, because I learned a lot from them and that’s what happens when you have a community of people who share a common value, and the value that we share is the power of storytelling.
If you hire an editor who doesn’t have this massive reservoir of love and passion and understanding of fundamental story structure, you’ve made the wrong choice. Somebody can go in there and fix your sentences so that they sound better and maybe fix your scene, but that’s not enough. That’s not even close to enough. In fact, that’s the last thing you want your editor to do. That’s draft 12. You are working now on two projects that I am editing. Guess what? I’m going to fix your sentences at the very, very end.
[0:42:06.7] TG: Yeah. It sounds like, well, there’s two sides to this when you’re saying, because I hired an editor for my first book, your first 1,000 copies to help me basically do the sentence stuff, clean it all up. Actually it was funny you said that, because this morning I was writing and running down a dream about the process, like going from the first to second draft of my book, and the point when I realized that I had thought I was 90% done and we would just have to clean it up and realize like I have to rewrite half the book, which has happened several times on this podcast.
It sounds like, one, you’re looking for somebody that understands story. Then number two, you’ve got to then trust them, because I know that that’s some of the problems our editors has faced is people are bringing them stories that they think are almost done and our editors are like, “This isn’t almost done.” Then the writer gets mad at them basically.
[0:43:10.5] SC: I get mad at people. When my wife tells me something I don’t want to hear that’s true, I get mad at her. Did you know that? She gets mad at me with the same thing.
[0:43:18.1] TG: I would never do that. Yes, I understand you would do that. That’s interesting, because it’s – I have a personal rule that once I have a mentor, I just try to just do what they say without a bunch of arguing, because – and that’s what I feel like. That’s what with running down a dream has been of like – just when I tell people the story of it, I’m like, it’s basically been a series of me writing drafts, giving them to Shawn, Shawn saying it’s not good enough yet and giving it back, then I have to go work on it some more.
At the same time, trusting that process is what’s gotten me where I am, which I think is I really feel I’m writing the best stuff I’ve ever written before. Yeah, that’s interesting because it’s both – so the question was how –
[0:44:05.0] SC: Maybe that’s just a coincidence too. Maybe I don’t have any skill, because that’s what bothers me about people go, “Well, the Story Grid’s just not for me.” I’m like, “Okay. That’s fine. You want to just ignore structure that I spent 30 years trying to figure out.” I still don’t know all of it. I’m still integrating things. I’m still going into the darkness trying to get answers to questions that I’ve been stumbling with for years.
I mean. the Story Grid is really not – part of the reason why I started it was to attract people who could help me figure out stuff that I didn’t know yet. That’s what I’m doing. When people go, “Yeah, that’s my big secret is to attract other people who will goose me into looking into the dark places that I haven’t looked yet.” That’s what a community is about. My advice to the Story Grid editors who get people who say, “The Story Grid is not for me. Thanks for your 30 minutes of time,” I’m going to ignore everything that you said, just to say, “Oh, thank God, I’m not working with them.” Is not to say how do I convince them to work with me?
Because what’ll happen is that they’ll go hire somebody else, they’ll have a terrible experience or maybe a good experience, but eventually you cannot run from the truth of story structure. I’m not saying story formula. There is no story formula. There’s a structure though. There’s called deoxyribonucleic acid that is a structure that forms every living thing on earth, so don’t tell me there’s no such thing as DNA in story, because you know what? There is. There is.
It has to do with that fundamental question, how do I behave in a world that I can’t figure out? That’s what stories teach us. They teach us how to behave when we don’t know what to do. You really, really need to know the evolution of story and why it’s so important and why it’s hardwired into our brains. We have a right side of our brain and a left side of our brain. The right side is the macro-storytelling skill, which we get things from the news, that’s where the news comes from, and the left side of our brain, which is the editorial side, the micro side, the five commandments of storytelling side.
Now you need to have both disciplines. You need to know the science and the math and you need to know the humanities. If you can put those two things together, you may be able – it’s not guaranteed, because it’s an art. You may be able to tell a story that universally resonates with everyone who reads it. Then you’ll be J.K. Rowling, you’ll be J.R.R. Tolkien, you’ll be some of the greatest novels ever written are these universal archetypes and they’re just wonderful and we all love them, because they reaffirm a fundamental truth, is that in order to be a functional human being, you have to go outside of your little universe, into the darkness and fight for some truth and bring it back and share it.
That’s really it. That’s the story. You can’t be a lazy loser sitting in your house hoping for the best. You’ve got to go into the darkness, fight a dragon, a literal and metaphorical dragon sometimes, and you have to bring back the gold from that dragon. You can’t hoard it yourself. You have to share the wealth with everybody else. Incrementally, we can get a little bit better each and every one of us. The way we can get that message across is through great storytelling.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:48:01.9] 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 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 Apple podcast and leaving a rating and review.
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