After a couple months of running the first draft through the Story Grid tools, I’m finally ready to start working on the second draft. This week Shawn gets me ready to get started.
[0:00:00.5] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is the show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host, Tim Grahl and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He is the creator of the Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 plus years’ experience.
In this episode, we are finally taking the plunge in getting me to the point where I can actually start working on the second draft. I’m really excited about this, we’ve gone through a lot over the past couple of months and I’m excited to actually get started on the second draft.
Anyway, this episode, I think is really good as you hear me plan out what my beginning hook’s going to look like, here are Shawn’s feedback on it and getting me to the point where I can actually start working on it and then we have a cool announcement of what we’re going to be working through for the next couple of weeks of the podcast. I think you’re going to enjoy that as well.
So let’s jump in and get started.
[0:01:01.5] TG: Shawn, I’ve gone through, we’re finally at this point now where I think at the end of this, I’ll actually get to start working on the second draft. I meant to go back and count, it’s been at least two months since I finished the first draft and we started working through each of these things but it’s just been really cool from my perspective to see a methodical way to go from first draft to second draft because it’s the most opaque kind of part of the writing process to me.
Because I’ve worked with writers, once they have the manuscript like getting it published and then out into the world and then marketing like the finished manuscript and then I of course seen all kinds of stuff online about how to write your first draft and I’ve done nano rhyme and that kind of stuff.
But this idea of what it takes to get from a first draft to a second draft has always seemed like I don’t know what to do. Getting the work through each of these things because you know, we started with the scene by scene, filling out the spreadsheet and making a brainstorm and to do list and then we moved into the fool’s cap where we put everything, that whole novel on one page.
Then we looked at the book through the lens of the hero’s journey and looked at both the moments and the archetypes and then we made the actual story grid graph and then so I finished that graph over the last week and then moved in to planning out the beginning hook of the second draft based on all of those things.
Yeah, it’s been a really just – seems like such a long arduous process but now once I started actually planning these out, I planned it out and like basically one sitting where I just sat down because I just looked at all my notes that I made through each of those processes and then just like banged out the 12 scenes, I should add the prologue in but we talked about this so much I know what that is too.
To the prologue and then the first 12 scenes of the book and I put them in the same Google spreadsheet that I have everything else in so if you haven’t seen that yet and you’re listening, you can get to that through the show notes but anyway, yeah, that’s where we’re at.
We’re going to talk through those and hopefully I’ll be able to start working on the second draft.
[0:03:33.1]SC: Yeah. The method is to constantly be moving your focus of looking at your story so that you look micro at the beginning because you know, you just sort of come from finishing micro scenes so it makes sense to be able to go and look at the micro world and then you pull back the camera and you look at the global world in the exact same manner with as much dedication and deliberation as you would in the micro.
Then after you’ve gone through this sort of, I think it’s four stages so you got the spreadsheet, the fools cap, the hero’s journey and then the story grid. Those four things give you four tools that will allow you to construct your next draft. In the next draft, as you said, after you do all this work, once you start to plan how to do your revision, you got so many notes and so many things in your spreadsheet, you’re sort of you know, you’re brainstorming spreadsheet that actually doing and laying out the revision for the second part is actually not so hard.
Then you give yourself very specific assignments in each scene when you go back and I know probably at the end of this conversation, next week either tomorrow, you’re going to start rewriting your book in principle and it’s not going to be as scary and frightening as it was after you finished the first draft.
Taking the time to really put a deep analytical method on your work really is going to pay off and the movement from first draft to second draft is a very large stage, it’s not as intimidating as writing a draft from scratch but it’s really a big deal and the later drafts are going to get far more, let me just hone that moment there, I’ve got to you know, we’ll look at the next draft as they come but I think you’re going to be in good shape.
I think what would be cool is I deliberately did not go read your notes to yourself about how you’re going to fix each one of this early scenes. Instead, I thought it would be a good idea for you to – I recommend this in the book itself in the Story Grid Book is that when you have an idea or you have a revision, it’s a good idea to go out with a friend and buy him a cup of coffee and literally tell them the development of the story.
You’ll know when it’s working or when it’s not depending upon the reaction of your friends. I think verbalizing your ideas now will help you when you write because a lot of times, you’ll make notes and you’ll write it down but then when you talk it through with somebody, you might realize it doesn’t quite work.
If you’re cool with it, why don’t we try and walk through the 12 scenes that you have sort of plotted out how to revise.
[0:07:06.4] TG: Okay. All right, I’ll just get started and if you feel like I need to do something different just let me know. I planned out one of the things that did make this easier for the beginning hook is I feel like, of the entire story, the beginning hook is the tightest and like we got the story right.
Most of what’s going to be – I’m going to be changing in the beginning hook is first the setting because I’m moving it to New York City and I’ll get more into that in a second. I’m working mainly on the setting and then I’m going to also be setting up things that are going to come later that I didn’t know were going to come later when I wrote the first draft.
I’m going to be weaving in things into the beginning hook that I’ll be able to pay off later. The prologue is going to be, we’re going to add in the part that we’ve discussed a lot on the podcast which will be Randy running through the woods, carrying Jesse because she had died and he’s freaking out and then she wakes back up. I won’t put anything about her dying, I won’t explain why he was freaking out.
It will just be you know, watching them third person, watching this happen and that will set up the fact that later on when we find out that Randy knew she would come back from the dead, people will think all the way back to the prologue.
I’m adding that bit in as the prologue. Then, the first scene is going to be a new scene, not a rewritten scene and it’s basically, because the current first scene is where she gets caught stealing. What I’m going to do is add in a scene that establishes them, the whole goal of it is to establish a lot of things.
The first is going to be the setting so we’re going to be in New York City, she’s going to be moving through the buildings, she’s going to be basically breaking in to an apartment so that she can steal their credits. You’re going to get to see New York and what it looks like from her perspective because what I’m basically doing is taking modern day New York and freezing it in time for like a hundred years because everything falls apart.
How I’m picturing this is it’s basically because electricity is such a scarce resource and there is no fossil fuels anymore, I’m basically taking New York City and putting it like in the old west times. That’s where everybody’s going to be using lamps and torches and those kind of things for sources of light while living in this very modern city, I thought that would be a fun kind of jacks to position.
The first scene, she’s breaking in to the apartment where she’s going to be stealing, she’s going to be on the radio with the rats and with Balem that I’ll be able to setup for later in the story for them when they show up and it’s going to be all about her trying to work her way into this particular apartment that they want to steal from and why they want to steal from there.
The second scene is going to be pretty similar to how it is now where Jesse is going to get caught stealing by president Marcus and offered a chance to go to the academy and we’re going to see for the first time what the people in the city look like and I’m going to talk, I’m going to show how like even the higher ups in the city are basically emaciated addicts because I’ve decided the big change is going to be like everyone that’s walking around, connected to the grid and in the city are going to be addicted to the grid.
I’ve done a lot of work with addicts and that kind of thing so I know the symptoms, I know how that all looks and I’m basically going to write that in as they’re all addicted to the grid. At the end of that scene, she’s going to say no and that’s going to be what it turns on.
The next scene is going to be Jesse is shamed, it’s going to be the same dynamic where her parents are going to be there and not take care of her, the mayor’s going to be there and he’s the one that does the shaming but the setting is going to be instead of an old church, it’s going to be a Broadway theater where it starts and then when they step out, they’re going to be in Times Square.
Again, it’s going to be lit by torches, it’s going to be at night because that’s the only time anybody comes out anyway and I’m going to try to make it as like suffocating as possible with like the crowd pushing in and everything happening and then at the end of that scene is when the numbered come and get her.
The next scene, we’re now in the scene four is Jesse, when she wakes up, she’s in like a low ceiling concrete bunker but then this is a scene where 83 like gets her up and kind of hurries her through the process of going out into the world.
What I’m doing now is I’m placing the numbered in the subway system. This is how they get around is they have like, remember in all those old western movies where like the carts on the railroads where they have to pump them up and down to get them going, to get from place to place?
That’s how I’m going to have them basically getting from place to place is using the subway system to go out and take care of all of the people that are hooked up to the grid. I’m going to have them in the subways, that’s how they get around the city, that’s how they get to where they need to be, they only come out during the day because – so the people don’t ever see them. I thought in the first scene too when she’s talking to the rats in Balem that she’ll throw something in about the numbered and I’m kind of going to make them like a mysterious group of people that everybody’s scared of.
Because they never actually see them you know? Because I was thinking about how a friend of mine, he’s a plains person, kind of like Amish but without the religion and he talks about how like in the old middle ages, you know, a lot of the peasants ate better than the kings because they actually had all the animals and knew how to cook them the right way.
I was kind of thinking, he’s like and there is always this jump to position so I thought there would be this kind of fear of these people and they’re like the lowest of society and what we’re going to see is like they’re the only ones that are like healthy because they’re not hooked into the grid.
[0:14:16.2] SC: Right.
[0:14:18.0] TG: Anyway. The other thing I’m going to introduce during this scene is I never introduced how food gets distributed to people from the reapers, the centralized kind of government that runs the severing or the –
[0:14:33.5] SC: Right, I was going to ask you about that.
[0:14:34.9] TG: Yeah, I’m going to add that in here where they have to go to this central location to get like food to deliver to everybody that they’re cleaning behind and that’s where 83 will talk to her about where the food comes from and who’s in charge of it.
You know, actually talk about how that works because at the end of the movie, the end of the book, when everything falls apart, they realized they’re not getting any more food. They’re not getting any more supplies. What they have on hand is all they have because she shut down everything.
[0:15:13.9] SC: Right. I had in my notes that I needed to explain that at some point so I’m going to do it here. Then pretty much the rest of the beginning hook is how I laid it out. I had some notes to change some certain things and of course the setting’s going to be different in each of the scenes but I like how it flows from there basically after that scene where they go –
At the end of that scene is when she accidentally unplugs somebody and they attack her. Then the next scene is where 83 saves her but then tells her that she’s been sentenced to 25 years with the numbered. Then the next three scenes are when Jessie tries to go back home and then the numbered come and get her and there’s that whole race back and of course it’s going to be different because the setting will be different but in general, I like how those scenes work.
Then there’s that scene where they’re all together and they’ve accepted her and 61 forgives her for basically getting him scrambled and he shares stuff about the capital which I still got to change the name of the capital.
Then I can’t decide – because I had this other character in there that I never introduced and I basically have to decide if I want president Marcus to come and punish 83 or have the mayor do it but he’s going to come and punish her because they were seen and then at the end is when everybody finds out that she’s not one of the numbered, that she can leave anytime she wants.
If she stays, people are going to keep getting hurt and so that’s – then the next scene is when she’s in the capital.
[0:17:03.8] TG: Right. Before you move forward, a couple of things occurred to me that I think are important to establish.
[0:17:12.2] SC: Okay.
[0:17:13.1] TG: One, it’s something that you can setup and pay off later on in the novel. That is the nature of what the people are doing to my – in the grid. Because I think, what’s interesting today and what we’re facing globally is the idea that in the not too distant future, work like, the work we all do, the things that we do will no longer be required of many people.
Work and meaning are sort of separating from each other. In the future, it’s possible that artificially intelligent programs and algorithms and robots will be doing a lot of the work that you know, we all do now. The idea is that these people are required and in fact, addicted to doing certain online or in the grid kind of work and ultimately that work is meaningless.
To make that discovery later on in the story, you know, either through Randy or Marcus, explaining to Jesse either before or after she triumphs, oh you know, those guys who are, you know, everybody who is in the grid all the time, the work that they think is so important is really kind of meaningless.
It’s just to occupy them so that they’re not constantly trying to overthrow the system. That’s an idea to think about.
[0:18:55.7] SC: Yeah, I was thinking in the first scene, they would refer to them in some way like you have the people who go into the mines every day like in Pennsylvania or whatever that are doing the real work and the backbone of society and that kind of thing and then you have the people that are trying to undermine the fabric of society by living outside of the law. They see those people as losers that are actually submitting to that way of doing things.
So that’s where I was thinking. Part of the conversation between the rats and Balem and her in that first scene will be just in a few sentences talking about how they look down on these people that are just basically going into the mines all day.
[0:19:49.6] SC: Right, great.
[0:19:50.4] TG: Do you think that would be a good way to do it?
[0:19:53.8] SC: Well I think thematically and the big metaphor here is this is a dystopian world in the not too distant future where the atmosphere is so overwhelming that people can only live at night. So during the day it’s so hot that nobody can leave their shelter. So we need to explain how do you keep society from evolving into a very aggressive people fighting for the last loaf of bread kind of deal and the way that was solved was by the centralized government that has tricked people into believing.
That their work that they are doing in the mines is crucial to their survival. Not only is it crucial to their survival but it’s the only thing that gives them any sense of “happiness” because the grid work that they are doing in the mines is sort of like playing Candy Crush all day. It gives you a dopamine rush from playing on the video screen that is meaningless but it makes you happy. So all these people are addicted to doing this work that ultimately doesn’t do anything, does that make sense?
[0:21:26.0] TG: Yeah like I was planning on tying that back to the reapers of like the belief is the more credits you create there on the grid not only that you get a rush every time you get one but it helps the faction which helps you get more food and everything from the reapers but later we”ll show that those don’t actually connect but that’s the belief.
[0:21:51.1] SC: Exactly. Yes so I think in some way, in some elegant way you need to establish what these people are actually doing. They are in this artificial world doing what? Are they literary, do they have like a virtual reality thick and they’re actually hitting virtual coal or what? Or are they playing a game? I saw a really great episode of a very interesting television show on Netflix called Black Mirror and there’s this great episode where everybody in society has to ride a stationary bike.
And as they’re riding the stationary bike, there’s this big video screen that they get to choose that shows them on their journey and they get little credits every time. They hit a certain milestone and the big reward is once you get 15 million credits, you get to audition for like an American Idol show and if you’re lucky you get to be a celebrity. So when I watched that show I thought, “Oh that was kind of interesting because it’s similar to the world that you are creating”.
Where people are plugged into a system where they are constantly chasing the next reward and they believe that these rewards add up to a greater good that helps their faction get more supplies in order for everybody to be able to eat and be happy not knowing that they are actually just sort of being mind controlled in a way that they don’t up rise and change the way. Everybody is lenient and I think that’s the subtext and the big metaphor for your story.
Is that our society is getting to the point where everybody is constantly engaged with this virtual world that we’re losing site of the real world which is plants, animals, all that kind of stuff, you know nature. The reason why I bring this up is that it begins somehow to show what those people are doing in their virtual world that is interesting like the idea of riding a stationary bike and getting reward based upon, it’s almost like everybody is addicted to going to the health club.
But yours is more an internal thing where people just don’t want to get out of the world. They want to check their social media constantly. So maybe each person, maybe there’s different divisions of labor. Maybe some people have to be the social media people who I don’t know, I am just making these stuff up but I think their needs to be an implicit structure in the society that makes sense to the reader so that Jessie and her friends when they make fun of it, they know what they’re making fun of.
[0:25:17.5] TG: Okay. Yeah so I feel – okay so I got those notes down. I feel like overall I got a sense of where I’m going. I feel like the stories elements work. It’s the setting that kind of thing is going to be most of my work because even as I thought through it, I’m like “Well I got it” like there’s this scene where 83 is out in the street trying to find Jessie and that doesn’t really work with having everybody in building – like I got – there’s just some very normal problems to solve.
That I’ve got to solve to set it in this new place but I even found the apartment building in New York City that I want them breaking into in the first scene. So I know what street they’re on so I might even throw in some references to like the street numbers as she’s going there she’s like, “Okay this is where I’m at” and they’re like, “Okay one more block” or something like that. So I can actually follow on a map where she’s going so it is rooted in the real world.
Because I feel like that was the biggest thing missing is there is no kind of rootedness in the real world and so I’m not really in a position where I want to make up a completely new world like Mocking Jay or whatever but I thought it would be fun to just take what I know because I go to New York City once or twice a year anyway. So I am pretty familiar with the city. I know how it runs. I can establish it in that place but then just take it back a 100 years and set it in that and that is going to be basically what the setting is going to be.
[0:27:06.2] SC: I think that fine. A dystopian New York is really a believable idea.
[0:27:14.9] TG: Some would say we are already there.
[0:27:16.2] SC: I just hope they don’t break into my apartment. You know, I don’t know just yeah, don’t have them go in my bunk.
[0:27:23.3] TG: Well I thought it would be like creepy to talk about what it looks like at night because it will be completely dark and New York is never dark or like –
[0:27:34.1] SC: Well you know what’s kind of funny about New York is that there are certain sections of the city that are virtually empty and the reason why they’re empty is that very wealthy people buy the apartments because their coops are condominiums, they buy them and then they just never live there. So they live in say in Switzerland or they live in San Francisco but they have an apartment in New York City like I have an apartment in New York City but I am rarely there.
The reason why people do this is that New York City’s real estate value are so high that it’s a really good investment. It’s better than the stock market so what’s kind of interesting in your idea is there are large swabs of New York City where you have dormant buildings and there’s nobody living in the building. So when I use my apartment and I go there, the doorman is so happy to see me because nobody is in the building and I think in the future, if something horrible were to happen.
There will be all these buildings that were empty anyway. So you would have the underclass people getting out and want to take over them very quickly if everything went to hell. So that’s kind of an interesting idea to stick in if you ever need to put in the reason why there’s people living on Park Avenue through our destitute who are barely getting enough to eat. It’s sort of like squatters who came into the buildings after the big melt down of the grid or something like that.
[0:29:30.9] TG: Yeah, I mean that was my thinking is that basically since everybody gets all of their food and resources from a centralized location, everybody has to be in a centralized location to survive because that’s the only place that has any resources. So that’s what made me change it in the first place because I like the idea of cramming a lot more people in a smaller place having everybody but still having the wealthy of society.
Just like you are saying like once you reach 20 million credits you get moved to the nicest part. You get in a bigger apartment, you are playing for yourself too because that who she’s going to be going after to steal from but that’s what I want to show is even the wealthiest in society are still in horrible shape.
[0:30:31.6] SC: That’s good, that’s true because the great equalizer is scientific technological oppression and there’s no difference between classes when it comes to an iPhone. Everybody sticks the iPhone in their face four to five hours a day and we may not think that that’s a problem. Well that’s a problem, it is. Your novel is a way sort of entertainingly pointing out that obvious fact that if all we do is devote our energy screens, we lose our ability to interact with real nature and reality.
We lose our ability to do anything for ourselves beyond buying things or acquiring things. It’s a consumer society based on teaching people that they are incapable of doing anything themselves. You know, “Oh that is something that you buy” or “Just go to the market and get your vegetables” instead of, “You know what? There’s something called seeds that you can put in the earth and the earth will eventually return food to you” and people don’t get that too.
[0:31:53.1] TG: Yeah. I like the idea of making it basically a souped up version of Candy Crush.
[0:31:57.8] SC: Yeah, exactly.
[0:32:00.9] TG: So okay, good. I feel like again, most of my work in this first beginning hook is going to be setting and establishment of how the world works because the story itself works pretty well and then I think once we get into the middle build is where we’ll have a lot more story work to do verse setting work. So I basically have –
[0:32:29.6] SC: Oh I’ve got to make one more suggestion is that I would not write the prologue now. Just put that in the back burner at this point because the prologue is probably one of the things that you are going to write last.
[0:32:44.6] TG: Okay.
[0:32:45.0] SC: Because it is a foreshadowing device that you want to get perfectly in – you don’t want to be rewriting it a million times because you don’t know exactly how you are going to end or what your middle build fine acts are going to be or there’s a whole bunch of scenes that we have to skip over in order for you to hit the finish line at fools cap. So the prologue is going to be probably one of the last things you’re going to write and it is not going to be that difficult to do I hope.
[0:33:15.6] TG: Okay. So as of now I’m at 12 scenes then because the original was 13 or 11 and then I’m going to work on those 12. Now when I’m rewriting like the first scene is a completely new scene so I just do that but when I am looking at like rewriting the scene where she gets caught or rewriting the scene where she goes home and tries to get her dad to let her stay, should I just read the scene and then just rewrite it from scratch or should I take that scene and actually try to change the words and just adopt those words to be the new version?
[0:34:00.6] SC: Well that’s really your choice but you know it all depends on the scene. Sometimes you need to – sometimes an idea will come where you’ll re-envision the notion of the scene and none of it is really going to work and so you have to continually rewrite the scene but you know your beginning, middle and end, you know you’re inside against in it. You know your revolution, you know your progressive complication.
So writing a whole new scene isn’t going to be that difficult and then other times you are just going to tweak it and say, “Oh here’s the part where I will put in an additional progressive complication and then I’ll stick in that bit about how people are addicted to Candy Crush” so it’s really in your quart. My gut would be to do whatever feels like is going to be less onerous. So if you find that you’re going over every word you wrote before and it’s like moving molasses.
And you are not feeling good about it then just put it aside and say, “Okay how can I begin again? Where would I do this?” and the fact that you are adding so many elements of setting etcetera, you may be able to just drop in the setting and then keep the dialogue, who knows? But it’s really up to you whatever works best for you in the moment and you can go back and forth. There’s no rule.
[0:35:41.7] TG: Okay because I was working with an editor on the second draft of one of my non-fiction books and I was like, “I feel like I just need to type the whole thing again” and he’s like, “No most of this you’re going to keep. That is just a waste of time” and so anyway, I’ll just try a couple of things and see what works.
[0:35:59.6] SC: Yeah.
[0:35:59.8] TG: Okay. So I’m going to get started working on the second draft of the beginning hook of the novel and what I’ve eluded to a few times I think on other episodes is I’m also working on a new non-fiction book and it’s been interesting because on one had I feel like if a crazy person trying to work on two books at the same time but it’s been a nice – so over the last two months as we’ve worked from first draft to second draft, I haven’t had a ton to do in between recording the podcast.
So I actually wrote an entire first draft of this non-fiction book that you and I have been talking about and I’ve been playing with for a year. I actually was able to sit down and write the first draft. So we are going to flip those over the next couple of weeks while I am working on the second draft of the beginning hook of the novel on the podcast you and I are going to start working through how to move from first draft to second draft of a non-fiction book. So hopefully that would be interesting to everybody.
[0:37:08.4] SC: I hope so. It should be. It definitely should be.
[0:37:13.1] TG: Yeah, I think it would be good. It’s always good to look at things from different perspective and I get emails a lot from people that listen that don’t write fiction that write non-fiction. They are just trying to get better storytellers. So hopefully it will be good there too. So for the next couple of weeks we are going to be working on my non-fiction book while I am off writing the novel and trying not to go crazy by doing both at the same time. So we’ll do that.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:37:38.4] 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.