Outlining a Redemption Story

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In my last post I described one way to use the methodology of The Story Grid to build out an original Story. By starting with a very compelling contemporary controlling idea, one that Robert McKee nailed in his classic book Story, we’d be able to reverse engineer a work plan to create a first draft of a novel, a screenplay or a TV Pilot. (Or even a sticky, irresistible personal Story one could use to get a job, build a sales pitch around, or get a suspicious colleague to join you on a project.)

Here is that controlling idea again:

The compulsive pursuit of contemporary values—success, fortune, fame, sex, power—will destroy you, but if you see this truth in time and throw away your obsession, you can redeem yourself.” (Page 125, Story by Robert McKee)

But before I break out the yellow one-sheet, it’s important to remind everyone just where the Foolscap Method came from.

Remember that there are two major components to a Global Story. There is the Macro View, big picture. And there is the Micro View, beat-by-beat, scene-by-scene, sequence-by-sequence, act-by-act construction. One of the very big reasons why writing a compelling Story, or joke for that matter, is so difficult is that these two indispensable skills (having the big picture vision and also the capability to execute the little things to paint it) are often mutually exclusive.

Steve Jobs was great at the Macro, but he needed Steve Wozniak to actually put the Micro circuit boards together to create the first Apple Computer.

Moshe Dayan understood Israel’s Big Picture situation in 1967 and had the genius to negotiate the intersection of his nation’s necessity (just to survive) and its most desperate desire (to reclaim the Old City in Jerusalem). But without the Micro of in-the-air fighter jocks like Giora Romm to hunt and destroy enemy MiGs and ground-pounding soldiers like Eli Rikovitz to execute the nation’s Kavanah, Dayan’s leadership would have amounted to naught.

The Sabras were so tightly knit, Spartan-like, that they pulled off perhaps the most audacious military victory in history. The Six-Day-War (Seriously? It only lasted Six Days?) was as big a win for the Western world as Thermopylae was as crucial a loss. If you haven’t read Steven Pressfield’s The Lion’s Gate, you’re missing the best narrative nonfiction book I’ve ever worked on—a work of art as potent as his Gates of Fire.

I bring up the work of my friend Steven Pressfield because it is through his inspiration that I devised The Foolscap Global Story Grid.

And as these things go, Steve himself devised his version of Foolscapping from his friend Norm Stahl. You can read more of the Foolscap origin story here.

This is what blue-collar writers do for one another. If they come up with a notion that works for them, they share it with their fellow laborers.  They’re not possessive of a tool that could help a fellow scribe. The prolific documentary filmmaker Stahl had little time for preciousness and needed to have a Macro one page outline for an entire project at hand to meet his schedule.  So he wrote down everything he needed to know to shoot on one page of yellow legal sized foolscap.

Norm told Steve to get his head out of his navel and figure out his beginning, middle and end of his Story…put it on one sheet of paper and then write the damn thing. Decades later, Steve told me about the Foolscap Method and I mangled my outrageously complex Macro Story Grid methodology into a one-page framework too.

Steve’s Black Irish book, The Authentic Swing, is about how he used The Foolscap Method to write his bestselling first novel The Legend of Bagger Vance. And what you’ll find if you read that charming little book is that Steve’s Foolscap Method is much more streamlined than mine.


The answer is all about the Macro/Micro Story dichotomy.

I approach writing like an editor.

I had to learn Story principles to evaluate submissions, find ways to fix broken ones and to improve those that worked. I needed to be able to sum up a Story in three sentences at an editorial meeting or in a publisher’s office. If I couldn’t do that well, I’d never get authorization to acquire novels that would be successful enough to take me from editorial assistant to assistant editor to editor to senior editor to executive editor to editorial director to editor in chief to publisher.

For the Editor, mastering Story Macro trumps the Micro.

Steve approaches writing like…well…a writer…someone who intuitively knew that he was put on earth to tell Stories. He then tasked himself to figure out the best way he could do that.

Unfortunately there was no and still is no practical craft-like University sponsored approach to learning how to effectively write a Story. You can’t take Story 101 at Williams College or The University of Indiana. Those courses don’t exist. Even though they should!

The Story Grid would be one of the textbooks for that course. That’s why I wrote it.

Anyway, without any ivory tower instruction, Steve wrote manuscript after manuscript that didn’t work. Even though each new one was incrementally better than the previous one. The scenes were tighter. The dialogue crisper. The milieu more captivating. The Micro Story components kept getting better and better and better.

But something was missing. A Kavanah.

And then Steve had lunch with Norm Stahl and it clicked for him. He discovered that he’d been obsessing over the Micro Element of the writing craft. And because of that work, he’d learned how to make beats and scenes and sequences and acts hum with narrative velocity. But still his work was still not being picked up for publication.

Now he knew why. Norm laid it out for Steve in five minutes what had taken him decades to be able to understand.

Steve needed to master the Macro Element of writing if he wanted to get his work from “doesn’t work” to “works.”  And he created his version of The Foolscap Method to do that.

Because of his 10,000 hours honing his Micro beforehand, Steve did not have to layout all of the stuff I put into my Foolscap Global Story Grid. He already knew the necessity of having inciting incidents, progressive complications, crises, climaxes and resolutions so deep in his bones that he didn’t need to map them all out on his Foolscap. Steve tells this Story much better than I in The Authentic Swing.

Now, as a dear friend of mine is fond of saying, “Let’s get back to me and my shit.”

As a book editor, I know Story’s Macro Element like the back of my hand. But what I found years ago is telling a writer that his third act isn’t working isn’t very helpful. What writers need to understand is how to practically fix their Micro problems so that their Macro moves from “doesn’t work” to “works.”

So I had to learn the Micro in order to walk a writer through a revision or page one re-write that would fix his Macro problems. I had to learn how to speak the writer’s language. And all of that work is in The Story Grid.

Why am I bringing all of this up? Isn’t this post about Foolscapping the Redemption Story?

The reason why I’ve brought Steve Pressfield and The Authentic Swing up is that he mapped out The Legend of Bagger Vance, his bestselling first novel that went on to be adapted in the Robert Redford film, in much the same way that I’m about to lay to you now.

Before he wrote one word of his first draft!

What’s remarkable too is that at the time, Steve had no idea that he was about to craft a Story that fit perfectly into two Genres, the Performance External Content Genre and the Redemption Internal Content Genre.

He was, like you, a writer in a hurry. But this time instead of letting his Micro skill set meander him from beginning to “end”, he began with a Macro idea first. He already knew he had the discipline to execute the Micro. So he challenged himself to solve his Macro.

It’s worth repeating. Once Steve had his Macro clearly outlined on his Foolscap page, he and the Muse went to town on the Micro. He’s written everything in the exact same way post Bagger. And there hasn’t been a dud that had to be filed in his closet since.

But what if you haven’t put in 10,000 hours on the Micro Story stuff like Steve had?

This is where The Story Grid toolbox comes in. Like a combo set of Mikata power tools, The Story Grid makes work that would take months…years…and brings it down to days and weeks.  It’s an exponential reducer of labor.

Now,the first tool to break out of the box for a writer desiring to plan a work of fiction from scratch is The Foolscap Global Story Grid.

So without further ado, here is my first crack creating a generic roadmap for a Global Redemption Story–the Genre that includes CasablancaKramer vs. KramerTerms of EndearmentRocky, Tender Mercies, and dozens of other classic Stories.

I’ll walk you through it line by line in the next post.

A Foolscap for an Untitled Redemption Story

A Foolscap for an Untitled Redemption Story

For new subscribers and OCD Story nerds like myself, all of The Story Grid posts The Story Grid Bonus Material posts and Storygridding The Tipping Point posts are now in order on the right hand side column of the home page beneath the subscription shout-outs.


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Shawn Coyne

SHAWN COYNE created, developed, and expanded the story analysis and problem-solving methodology The Story Grid throughout his quarter-century-plus book publishing career. A seasoned story editor, book publisher and ghostwriter, Coyne has also co-authored The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, The Cowboys, the ’70s and the Fight For America’s Soul with Chad Millman and Cognitive Dominance: A Brain Surgeon’s Quest to Out-Think Fear with Mark McLaughlin, M.D. With his friend and editorial client Steven Pressfield, Coyne runs Black Irish Entertainment LLC, publisher of the cult classic book The War of Art. With his friend and editorial client Tim Grahl, Coyne oversees the Story Grid Universe, LLC, which includes Story Grid University and Story Grid Publishing.