[00:00:00] 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 Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.
In this episode we start talking about how to plan the second book in my trilogy. I’m completely lost. I have no idea where to start, and Shawn starts walking me through some basic ideas about systems thinking and how I can apply that to my book. For those of you that are struggling with where to step into a new novel or maybe even your own SQL, this is a really great place to start, and I think you’ll get a lot out of it. So let’s jump in and get started.
[00:00:50] TG: Shawn, Sean I’ve been thinking a lot about what we talked about last week with doing the second book in the threshing and thinking about the middle part of a trilogy. I started actually writing down like who’s the cast of characters, because I feel like a lot of – One of the things I want to do is talk to you about like should I be going out and watching and reading like famous middle books of trilogies, or should I story grid – Like spreadsheet some of those out? Obviously, the one that comes to mind is Empire Strikes Back in the Star Wars trilogy, but there’s that. Then I just started thinking like a lot of what happens in the middle book of the trilogy is a lot of kind of side characters come into the forefront is just anecdotally thinking through the different books. I started thinking of like all the characters that got just a little bit of play in the first book and how there’s so much to explore there.
But then at the same time when I actually sit down and start thinking like, “Well, what’s going to happen in this story? What’s the beginning middle and end?” I have no idea where I’m going with this book. You hear about these authors that the whole story is just kind of lays out their head, and I literally – From the end of the threshing, it’s just a cliff in my head of like I’ve no idea what comes next.
Just wondering like where I should start in kind of figuring out what this story should be. Should I be thinking about what the third book is so that the second one is building towards that? I honestly have no idea where to even begin.
[00:02:35] SC: Okay. Well, coincidentally, I’m working with another writer on an epic fantasy series that’s also would trilogy. The first novel, we’re going to be publishing of story grid in June and it’s 280,000 words. So I do have some experience figuring out and thinking about these global arcing kind of structures.
Now, the thing to – I think the best way to start thinking about the middle book in a trilogy or the ending of a trilogy or even conceiving of a trilogy is to think about global system structures. That’s kind of like if we were to have – I always talk about the macro-lens and the micro-lens. So when you’re facing these big sort of challenges, to use the widest aperture that you could possibly have would be the best way to approach this problem first.
The very, very – The biggest macro telescope that we have Story Grid is something that I’ve been working on off in the lab for about two years now, and this lends – I’ll just introduces here. It’s based upon a science that it has sort of emerged in probably the late 1940s or early 1950s and it’s basically called systems thinking. Instead of sort of being analytical and thinking about a problem or a phenomena in terms of all the parts that make up the larger system, which is our traditional reductionist kind of analytical processes of science. Physics is a great example of that. We’re trying to figure out, “Well, what is the smallest possible unit of energy or matter?” and there’re all kinds of theories about that. But it’s pretty clear that there are things that are smaller than the atom.
Analytical reductionist thinking is pretty great and is extraordinarily powerful, but there is another side, and that’s a very, very micro-lens. Now the other side of science is systems thinking, and systems thinking is all about sort of instead of looking at just the elements in a particular phenomena, you look at the relationship between the elements. It’s very, very attuned to sort of like evolutionary systems.
I promise I’m going to answer this question soon, but it’s important to kind of get this global idea of this telescope. It’s really like the most abstract way you could look at the world or a phenomena. Let’s go back into the old mythic structures from the earliest stories, and what you have is this global abstraction of chaos and order.
Chaotic systems are systems in which everything that occurs is a random phenomena. It’s sort of a drop in something unexpected in a random way that has no discernible pattern. Chaos is not a world that we enjoy being in, because we can’t really figure out what’s real in a chaotic system, because every time we try and get a grip on what’s going on, we can’t find a pattern.
Chaos is one side of the equation. On the other side of the equation is order. Now, ordered systems, there’re a couple of kinds of order. There’s complicated order, which is sort of like the complicated efforts necessary to build a 747 jet require a lot of complicated tasks and causes and effects. But any one person probably can’t do it by themselves, but if you take all the pieces of a 747 and lay them out on the tarmac, you can put them back together and it’ll fly again. Complicated order are cause-and-effect relationships that are very, very complicated.
Now, there’s another kind of order called obvious order. Obvious order is sort of like those things that we all take for granted. It’s sort of when you go driving in London, you have to drive on the left side of the road. It’s a very strict rule. When you’re in the United States, you drive on the right side of the road. Those are very obviously ordered systems. In order to drive a car, you must drive on the left side in London and on the right side in New York.
Now, we thought for quite a long time until sort of Darwin came around that those were really basically the two kinds of systems, but actually there’s another system called a complex system. The complex system is one in which there is no cause-and-effect, no linear cause-and-effect relationship, but there is sort of a disposition of an environment to have things happen in there in a patterned way.
Evolution is a perfect example of a complex system. The ecology of a particular niche in an environment would be something like, “Well, when it gets cold, those animals and those organisms capable of withstanding the temperature change,” which is sort of an unexpected event. That those that can adapt themselves and fit into that environment in a better way have a greater way of surviving and thriving, meaning being able to reproduce. You have these selective constraints from a complex evolutionary system that select certain particular characteristics of organisms that would make them more fitted to the environment than other ones. It’s not deterministic, meaning there is no sort of rule that the temperature changes on a specific time during the day. No. Evolution is very much the relationships between the elements in the ecology. So the rabbits eat the grass, and the wolves eat the rabbits, and when they all die, they go into the ground, which makes more grass, which – There are these kind of really great relationships that are very, very complex. If you get rid of the rabbits, the wolves might die. So you could really mess up the ecology of a particular environment.
Okay. Why am I saying all this? Because I’ve come to the conclusion that story is what I like to call, it’s sort of like a transmission mechanism for knowledge, and eventually wisdom. What’s knowledge? Well, it’s a means by which we can navigate the world in a way that will allow us to survive and to thrive, reproduce, have children and do well in the world.
The processes by which we learn are through stories. Stories are about how to navigate through these systems, because we live in the systems, and our comfort, it’s directly aligned with the kind of system that we’re in. What do I mean by that?
Well, we all have our own sort of complicated way of ordering our lives. The way I order my life is I have all these causes and effects and I have all these things that I do during the day that are very specific to my worldview. Shawn’s worldview requires that I get up early and I do these things and I’ve got all these causes and effects and everything seems to be working okay for me. It’s working out all right.
Now, occasionally what’ll happen is that something unexpected will drop into Shawn’s everyday complicated life such that it challenges me and it makes me reconsider and have to deal with something and pay attention to an event that I need to take care of before I can get back into my complicated life. This is sort of like what I call a phere, a P-H-E-R-E. It’s an unexpected event that drops into my life that is very complicated and I have to deal with it.
Now the first thing that I do is I freeze and I sort of try and figure out what this thing is. How am I going to deal with this? Then the next thing I do, and this is what everybody does, is I kind of try and run away from it. I don’t really want to deal with it right now. I’ve got a complicated life. I don’t want to deal with the fact that let’s say my car has two flat tires. I was just like, “Oh, I’m just not going to drive the car today.” That’s kind of running away from the problem.
Then the next thing that happens are a bunch of complications happen that make me fight the problem, make me confront the problem, figure out what to do. Say, I accidentally cut my hand and I have to get to the hospital. Now, now I have to figure out how to get to the hospital with two flat tires in my car. What I do is I shift from my complicated worldview down into an obvious worldview. I go back to first principles. What is the easiest way for me to get to the hospital? I call my next-door neighbor, right? I knock on their door and I go, “Can you drive me to the hospital? That obviously words system where it’s socially okay in an emergency to ask your next-door neighbor for some emergency help. That’s obviously ordered system in our social environment.
Now what would happen if my next-door neighbor is not home and I’m losing more and more blood? I’m slowly going to hit a place where I panic and I fall into another system, and this is the system of chaos. The chaotic system is I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m starting to lose consciousness. I’m starting to not know where I am, what I’m doing here or anything like that, and things are happening to me that are seemingly random.
That chaotic movement is really, really scary, because what it’s going to require me to do is to come up with a solution that I had never thought of before. It’s going to make me have an insight that is part of the process of sort of breaking my worldview. My usual complicated system isn’t working anymore. The way I look at the world has led me to chaos. What do I do? I probably have to think through, “Well, I guess I’m going to have to stitch up my own hand, because nobody’s here to help me.” It’s like that wonderful book Between a Rock and a Hard Place that became a movie with – I think it was called 127 hours. It’s literally the story of this guy who gets his arm stuck in a rock in the middle of nowhere. He has no way of contacting anyone. He’s going to figure it out.
In that story, he reaches a moment of chaos where he just doesn’t know what to do, and then he goes back to first principles and he says, “Well, I’ve got have an insight here and figure out what to do in order to save my life,” and he reaches an all is lost moment and he decides, “I’ve got to cut off my own arm or I’m going to die.” Then he moves up into the complex sort of world.
The complex world, the complex system is the natural world. This is the way the natural world works. There are patterns that we can deduce and induce from experience, and what we try and do is to locate the patterns in the complex world and to make them – Simplify them. Make them complicated. Make them linear cause-effect relationships. The character in that story or me, I would start to find some thread in my house and try and steal my cut and maybe use a tunicate or whatever. It would require me to earn a new skill. It would make me break the framing of the way I’m looking at the world in such a way that I can develop a new skill.
That’s what we do in the complex difficulty of a complex system, is we have to – In the moment. We’re not thinking about getting to the hospital anymore. We’re thinking about solving our own problems, stopping the flow of blood so that we don’t die. We take it very seriously and we pay attention to every event that happens to us in this complex building of a new skill arena so that we can survive, and what you have is the cyclical nature of a terrific story, because it forces the protagonist of the story to break the frame of the way they’re looking at the world and have an insight so that it expands their capabilities so that they learn a new skill and that they’re capable of engaging and fitting into the natural environment in such a way that they are perfectly aligned with reality.
The reality is if I lose all my blood, I die. It’s all about these moment to moment decisions that you make instead of an ideology or worldview that you rely upon unfailingly until you do fail. Relying upon one simple ideology or worldview is not the way to deal with complex systems, because they do not have linear cause-effect relationships in them. They’re extraordinarily complex and you need to be able to attune yourself to that complexity in order to be perfectly aligned with reality.
Just to review, we have these four systems, the complicated order, obvious order, chaos and complexity. Then there’s the fifth one, which is disorder. Disorder is the thing that happens to us when a fear event drops into our life. You can look at a story in that broad context. It’s pretty cool, because what it’s telling you how to do and the structure of that story is globally helping you attune yourself to the complexity of reality. It’s a wisdom generation kind of complicated system that helps us attune ourselves to what’s real, and what’s real is very complex relationships between all of us and we’re all interconnected and we need to think clearly and live in the moment in such a way that we can attune ourselves and fit best into this natural world.
With all that said, if we use that framework and we put it on the threshing and we say, “Well. Okay, let’s take a look at the threshing.” The first part of your story, which is your beginning hook, is about Jesse living in a complicated environment, right?
[00:19:21] TG: Right.
[00:19:22] SC: She has a worldview that’s working for her. She’s one of the rats. She’s able to go and steal credits. She gets to have a lot of fun. Her worldview is really quite good. She’s very good at what she does. This complicated worldview at the beginning of the story is well-attuned for her.
Now, what happens is an unexpected fear event drops into her life. She is targeted as someone who needs to go to the threshing, and she is asked, “Hey, you got to go to the training now,” and she does what? She freezes. Then she runs away. She says, “No. Thank you. I’m not going to do that. I like my complicated worldview. Thank you very much.”
Then eventually at the end of the beginning hook she has to take on the call to adventure, as Joseph Campbell would say. Then she transitions into an obvious order. Now she doesn’t know the obvious order. She has to learn it on-the-fly. But when she gets to Aeta, or what’s it called again? Is that right?
[00:20:31] TG: Yeah, A-E-T-A.
[00:20:32] SC: Okay, Aeta, which she gets there. Everyone there knows the rules, but she doesn’t. She has to go back to her first principles and say to herself, “How do I learn the rules? What are the best ways for me to learn this obviously ordered system and how can I apply my complicated worldview in such a way that I can win, that I can get back to my complicated worldview? How can I get back home with the minimum viable amount of energy?”
Guess what she does. She figures out really cool ways to apply her worldview in that obvious ordered system that she thinks it will result in her going back to her home, but it doesn’t, because she is now become alive. She’s now become sort of a target for the villain figure in the story.
In that beginning of your middle build, she’s going through these tasks and then she finally gets the attention of the villain. She becomes an actual fear event to the villain, which is really cool. We always say, “Well, the middle build is all about the villain.” It is, because the villain now has to sort of start going through the same processes that the protagonist did.
Right about the middle of your middle build, which is called, in my terminology, the point of no return. What happens to Jesse is that she realizes, “Oh my gosh! I don’t know what I’m doing,” and she falls into chaos in the second part of the middle build. What I’m now calling MB2. MB1 is the obviously ordered system and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work like it used to. In fact, it’s so doesn’t work like it used to that it throws the character into chaos. The whole second part of your middle build, which is sort of the third quarter of your story is about Jesse reaching her all is lost moment. She keeps trying. She’s poking around in the chaotic world. She’s sort of gives up and then she has to start trying new things.
In the chaotic world, what the protagonist has to do is sort of act and see what happens. What she discovers is all of these actions that she’s taking in this chaotic world are not giving her the things that she thinks they will until she reaches an all is lost moment right about the tail end of MB2. At that point, she has to have an insight, and her insight is, “I really don’t know what I’m doing. I do know that I’m a pretty good player. I’m going to take it as it comes. I’m going to open up my worldview and I’m going to really pay attention to those unexpected things that occur to me and happen to me when I actually have to go into the threshing.”
In that moment, she opens up her worldview. She breaks the frame of the way she used to view the world and then she comes into herself into a better worldview framing in the ending payoff. What she does there is she learns how to apply propositional, procedural, perspectival and participatory knowledge all in one time at each and every challenge. It’s this process of taking all these forms of knowledge and bringing them up and enacting them in such a way that the character builds a new skill, and she does. She outwits the smartest people in this very, very complex world until such time that the story ends and now everybody is looking at Jesse to solve all of their problems.
The really beautiful part of your ending of that story in my estimation is when she’s asked, “What do we do now?” She simply says, “I don’t know.” Now that’s what a very, very wide-ranging worldview kind of person would do when they don’t know an answer to a question. They don’t say, “Well, let me think about it. Let’s do this, and this, and this.” No. They go, “I don’t know right now. Let’s get back to some complicated order, some propositions and we’ll take it from there.”
The end of the first book in your trilogy is about her, Jesse, reaching a better worldview, a worldview that is more attuned with reality. This second novel in your trilogy has to sort of use that exact same trajectory from complicated order, to obvious order, to chaos, to complexity in such a way that she either really super levels up again or, as you suggested, perhaps there is another figure in this world that you would track in this second novel. Then the third novel would be the promise of these two figures, Jesse and whoever the second figure is, either clash or come together in such a way to solve this post-apocalyptic nightmare. I know that I just talked for quite a long time, but do you understand what I’m talking about in terms of these systems?
[00:26:29] TG: I mean, yes, in theory. I can see them when you kind of point them out in the story. It gets fuzzy when I start thinking about how to apply this to come up with the next story, if that makes sense.
[00:26:45] SC: Yeah, it does. But if you sort of frame the world, the trajectory in four quadrants, four stages of the story and you say, “Well, the beginning of my story is going to be about a character or characters who are running a complicated system that seems to be working okay.” I got to sort of figure out what complicated worldview this character or characters is running.
For example, the reapers. The reapers in the mythos of your story are a group of people who came together to solve a particular problem that nobody else could solve. What they came up with is, “Well, we have limited food supplies. We’ve got three major sort of global societies that are all struggling to win their citizens enough food to survive. How could we make it ‘fair’ in our distribution of the resources that we have that would also be a system that would keep people from revolting, or defecting, or causing rebellion?”
What they came up with is, “Well, we’ve got this amazing virtual reality system that will keep people kind of complacent and pretty much addicted to neurotransmission of dopamine into their brain. So if we can leverage that system, that information network system and have these people constantly be mining or doing work so that they’re exhausted and can’t really break their train of thought or worldview to rebel, that would be a good idea. Then if we could come up with some sort of competition that seems fair, that would make – It’ll be like exponential Super Bowl,” and that’s how they came up with the threshing.
That complicated system at the end of book one is now sort of sputtering up. Sparks are flying from the machine and it’s all because of Jesse. Probably at the beginning of book 2 you’re going to have to begin in a situation where things are relatively stable but very, very kinky, because the other trick about the second novel in a trilogy is ideally it stands alone. If you look at it as a novel that you could have written five years ago and then you had an incredible insight and then you wrote the thrashing as a sequel to this story as supposed to – I mean, as a prequel.
[00:29:45] TG: Right.
[00:29:45] SC: Right? It has to stand alone. The way to make something standalone is to begin with the wonderful global inciting incident that disrupts a complicated words system at the beginning of the story. That’s the beginning of every story. Somebody’s living in a complicated worldview and a big fear bomb drops into their life and disrupts it to the point where they’re very disoriented and they don’t know what to do.
That would be kind of the challenge you’d want to think of. Where is the system at the beginning of this second novel? Is Jesse – Is she the mayor of New York? Has she had to leave the city and form a group of people outside of the city? Maybe it’s not Jesse is the lead character. Maybe it’s the lead character another character who is living in a complicated world and intent on destroying Jesse. We might not even know that yet. You could do a switcheroo where Jesse actually becomes seemingly the villain of this story. I don’t know. There’s a lot of really cool ideas that when you start thinking about complicated, to obvious, to chaos, to complexity, it gives you a much wider camera lens as supposed to, “Well, let’s see. What is the Empire Strikes Back? What happened there?”
Now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of looking at a really great second story in a trilogy and see how somebody else solved that problem. How did they start the Empire strikes back? Do you remember?
[00:31:41] TG: Oh, geez! Oh, I think that’s where they’re on like the ice planet and the empire is coming to like – That’s where like Han Solo and Leia and Luke are all there and they’re getting attacked. Geez! It’s fuzzy. I haven’t seen it in a while. I just remember when like Luke almost dies so he has to like cut open the beast and put them inside of it.
[00:32:04] SC: Right. Yeah, that’s right out of Joseph Campbell 101. I think it’s a good idea to watch that again and globally story grid it at least in your mind in terms of this system thinking.
[00:32:16] TG: Okay.
[00:32:16] SC: Kind to define what that complicated order. It sounds like to me the way Luke has started the second movie, is that what you had were these defecting rebels who had sort of after they blew up the Death Star, they’re like, Oh! Awesome. All the bad guys are dead now. Let’s go to this ice planet and start a new civilization.” There they are and everything is sort of peaceful and it’s running according to the principles that all these people believe in, and then the global inciting incident of Empire Strikes Back is, “Oh my gosh! They’re not dead. They’ve attacked us. Our complicated system that we thought would protect us isn’t quite working. Now what are we going to do?”
[00:33:02] TG: Okay. I thought what was interesting about it that I was thinking is how they all kind of go their separate ways after that. Luke goes off. That’s when he hangs out with Yoda and like figures out what being a Jedi really means. Then Han and Chewy go to Cloud City with Lando. They all kind of get separate and trying to – I need to just back and rewatch it.
[00:33:28] SC: Yeah. I mean, that’s kind of what you do the multicast protagonists. If you look at the cast of the Star Wars, each one of those characters represents a certain kind of psychic archetype within someone’s own personality. We all have a Han Solo within us. We all have a Princess Leia within us. We all have a Luke Skywalker withing us.
Thinking on separating those three figures in such a way that they go to expand their skillsets in order to defend themselves against the Empire, that kind of makes sense. But I’m talking based upon something that honestly I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Empire Strikes Back. So I’m only talking based upon the global mythos that you just explained to me. But I think your trilogy is much more in the vein of Hunger Games where you have a central protagonist as supposed to multi-variant manifestations of inner psychic construction, if you will.
[00:34:41] TG: Yeah. It’s much more shadowy in mind though. I’ve realized like the people in control, you never actually see them in the first book. You never see the reapers. You never understand how they’re really running things. You don’t even know where they are. All I do is allude to them through several different places in the book.
I thought about like there’s the whole – I also allude to all these people that are living off the grid out in the wilderness. I figured they would come into play. They can become like the army. I have the rats. I have Harry and I have – What’s her name? Not 81. That was Harry. The other one, the woman, and her brothers Randy is still alive. Everybody is still alive. The only people that died were people that were – It was spoiler alert. I can’t remember how much we actually shared this. But was Alex – Alex lived and Ernst died, and that of course Az died. His dad is still alive and is because his dad makes an offstage appearance a couple times.
I fear he could come into play. There’re all these people that I can position to like – I feel like the next one – And this feels true about a lot of trilogies. For instance, like the Matrix was all about Neo’s story. Then in the second one is when you start understanding how big this problem really is. I feel like that’s what’s going, is going to have to write it in a much less Jesse-centric way and make it much more about the entire system that’s at play and set up the actual problem that needs to be solved.
[00:36:29] SC: Yeah. If there is any number of strategies to sort of catalyze your imagination, one of them is to think about just a global inciting incident that would require a serious conflict resolution by the end of the story.
In the threshing, the global inciting incident is you are called to fight. So that sets up the ending payoff where your protagonist actually has to go and fight. So she does. In terms of the second one, I don’t know what it could be. It could be you want to think along the genre spectrum. Are you going to write a society story with an action component underneath it? Is there an inciting incident in this story that could push a societal shift? Because right now, at the end of the threshing, she has sort of pushed the system into chaos. The beginning of the second book, you either start with the system already in chaos or the system has rebooted it in some way into a complicated, but fragile order.
[00:37:54] TG: Yeah. One of the thoughts that ran through my head was – So using the language you’ve used is basically they’ve reset some sort of order that’s very tenuous and then the reapers actually throw in the chaos because they’re not going to give up control anytime soon. The other thing would be like – I don’t know. I’m all over the map on it.
[00:38:18] SC: Well, the other thing that to think about is like I like to think of historical ideas. There is this idea that Henry Kissinger came up with in the 1960s and 70s and he called it realpolitik, and his global thesis was he believed in the complexity of political systems in the world. He would use that sort of ideology, “Oh, things are complex. So what we want to do is make sure that nobody feels as if they have enough power to destroy the world.”
He would do things like tell Syria one thing while telling Israel another thing and then he’s sort of playing everybody against each other in these very strategic game theory kind of ways that in his estimation kept the stability of the world sort of percolating without any one major political nation state gaining too much control. That’s a very, very boiled down version of realpolitik, but it is interesting to think about a figure who could be a reaper or it’s also like corporate structures, right?
Corporate structures, they’re constantly trying to manage these agents in the corporation who are trying to maximize their salaries, their position in the corporation, their bonus structures. So all these competing forces within the corporation have different motivations than the global whole of the corporation. You could have, for example, the head of production is threatened by the head of marketing, and there’re resources that are distributed to those particular departments, in game theory, scarcity kind of rules. There’s only so much of the pie. One department gets X and the other one gets Y depending upon certain metrics.
That’s where you get all these political games and corporations where people buddy up to the CEO thinking that the CEO will give them more money for their department and bonus structure and all that sort of stuff.
Instead of like really baffling your mind to the point where you’re thinking of these global things, you can boil down – Because this system is all over the place. This system thinking can be applied to a group of people who get together to knit every Saturday at 3 o’clock at the coffee shop, because there is an order within that social structure. If things happen that disturb that order, like a fear of dropping in, an unexpected event that pokes the relationship between two of these people, it has unintended consequences.
To think of the reapers as sort of a corporate kind of governance and what they’re trying to do is to balance – Too much instability will destroy everything on the planet. What they want to do is manage these forces in such a way that the planet doesn’t blow up and Jesse is not fully indoctrinated into that sort of reality. She’s still a young person who does not have that very globally abstract idea.
This second book could be about her gaining that new skill, gaining the understanding that, “Well, you know what? Maybe dismantling the grid at the threshing probably wasn’t the best idea.” Now, because she was immature at the time, she didn’t understand the unintended consequences of shutting down the grid.
This second book could be her coming in. It’s almost like Shakespeare’s Henry IV stories, where Henry IV has to come into being king. So he has all these kind of cool friends, like the rats, a guy named Falstaff that get drunk at the pub. He doesn’t do anything. He’d goose around. Then he has to change when there’s war on the horizon and he has to come into his kingliness. That might be an interesting concept for this second book, is Jesse, maybe she’s avoiding any responsibility like, “Hey, man. I just won the threshing. You’re putting too much on me. I don’t have the answers to everything. I’m just going to go out here and be my own person.”
Then it’s like she gets sucked again and then she has to learn how to manage the complexity of social structures and food distribution networks, the interconnected grid structure that these people spend most of their time on. I know I’m talking very abstractly and globally, but I’m just trying to feed you some thoughts about how to move – What we want to do is move Jesse’s cognitive capabilities up another level and we’ve got to build in some very dark forces that are reconfiguring, restructuring, becoming emergingly even more powerful than they were in the first novel. Then that third novel is going to be the big war. It’s the big moment when the super cognitively capable force of goodness and creation has to face the super powerful force of destruction.
[00:44:56] TG: Okay. What?
[00:44:58] SC: Yeah, you sound like that. Oh my God! I just want to go home.
[00:45:05] TG: No. It’s more just like – Because now I’m like all these things are coming into my head of like, “Well, maybe she should actually end up siding with the reapers. Maybe somehow she has to go meet with them and she starts seeing things from their point of view,” or may be like the kind of system that they fell into right now are all of those scavengers are actually helping the city survive, and so then it becomes a war where she’s not sure what size she wants to be on anymore.
[00:45:38] SC: Yeah, because that is one of the difficulties in climbing a corporate ladder that everybody can relate to, because it’s kind of cool to be part of the in group. When you know the CEO and they return your email really quickly and they want to grab a drink with you, it makes you feel like, “Hey, man. I’m part of this thing. You know what? They’re some people who just don’t deserve to be a part of this thing and should I feel badly because I’m just more talented and smarter than everybody else?”
You can see how that kind of thinking can lead to compromising of ethics and values. So you think, “Well, it all comes down to do I want to be heroic and alone, or do I want to go along to get along so that I’m part of something larger than myself?” This is one of those perennial problems that every human being has to navigate in their life. The more iconoclastic you are, the more people don’t kind of want to hang with you, because, “He’s okay, but he’s so opinionated,” right?
[00:47:04] TG: Yeah.
[00:47:04] SC: Then if you’re just part of the group, then you’re just part of a group and you’re not standing out. You’re not really growing. This is all what Steve writes about in the War of Art, is it’s resistance. The resistance to going up that growth hierarchy is so strong, and the more powerful and the more toys you get over your lifespan, even more difficult it becomes because you are going to face that moment when you’re like, “Geez! Who am I going to serve here? The power structure that’s holding everything together or trying to revolutionize something that if I try and do that, it could cause a lot of chaos and a lot of pain and a lot of suffering.” It’s one of those extraordinarily difficult ill-defined problems that there is no simple solution to. This is why we come to stories, because we want to read about how the creator of the story has figured out some sort of heuristic that could be helpful when and if we face that similar problem.
[00:48:17] TG: Okay. Here’s what I’m feeling like my homework should be. Reflect back. One is to maybe go back to some middle second book, second story and trilogies and maybe do some foolscaps of them to kind of get a feel for how they move. Then also maybe just start writing down, like brainstorming ideas of all the different directions and kind of – I almost feel like I should be doing set pieces now more than like figuring out the story, like who’s who and what are they doing.
[00:48:53] SC: That’s where I think the systems thinking is going to really be helpful. Yeah, definitely do the foolscap, but then once you have your foolscap, then structure that foolscap into four quadrants and you could say – So the top right quadrant, so you do a cross, a vertical line and a horizontal line, and the box in the upper right hand corners, you’re going to label that complicated system. That’s going to be your beginning book. So you put complicated system BH and then you drop down to the lower right-hand corner box and you write obvious order, and that’s going to be called middle build one, MB1.
Then that line from the vertical is going to be your point of no return. Then the lower left-hand box is going to be chaos. Then your top left-hand box is going to be complexity. The chaos is MB2 and complexity is your ending payoff and see if you can map one of those second books in a trilogy using that sort of four quadrants.
The beginning hook you would describe as protagonist refuses the call to adventure and finally reaches a crisis where they have to go. The second bottom is protagonist uses their fundamental first principle toolbox to try and solve the problem and only make things worse to such a time that they reach a point of no return. There’s no way they’re going to ever be able to go back to way things were and they fall into chaos in the MB2 until they reach an all is lost moment. Then they have an insight in that all is lost moment such that they’re able to transition up into the complex real-world and solve problems as they arise in real-time using participatory knowledge. In that way, you can sort of start to see how this repeating mythic structure is inherent in these second books, and then hopefully you will be able to sort of go, “Oh! I like that little ingredient this book, and if I switch it with that one,” and so on and so forth.
[00:51:16] TG: Okay.
[00:51:17] SC: Why don’t you do that just for the Empire Strikes Back and then we’ll check in next week?
[00:51:21] TG: Okay. That sounds good.
[00:51:22] SC: Okay. Thanks, Shawn.
[END OF EPISODE]
[00:51:24] 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 like to dig deeper into the Story Grid and how it can help you become a better writer, you can see more of what we have to offer at storygrid.com/university.
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