Restarting an Old Project

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[0:00:00.1] 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 Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.


In this episode we start talking about what it takes to restart an old project. If you’ve been following along you know I’ve been finishing up my nonfiction book; Running Down a Dream, but now that that’s done and heading off to the copy editor, I actually have to go back and restart my old project. I have to get back into the threshing and I’m only about halfway through the second draft and I’m having trouble wanting to step in, know where to start and know where to get going with it again.


So I start off there was Shawn and then we talked about a lot of different things and then we end with talking about something really exciting we’re working on here at Story Grid. I think you’ll enjoy this episode. So let’s jump in and get started.




[0:01:08.9] TG: So, Shawn, locked down the book Running Down a Dream, manuscript’s locked, finished the appendix, finished the acknowledgments yesterday. So that’s — The writing part of that’s pretty much done. That’s going to the copy editor and you said once that happens I’m not allowed to make changes, which is wonderful to have somebody say that I’m not allowed to make any more changes.


So now I’m staring down, entering back into working on the novel. I haven’t touched it in several months as I’ve tried to finish up the nonfiction book, which by the way the next time I decide I want to write two books at the same time I would really appreciate if you could talk me out of that.


So anyway, so diving back into the novel, and so I’m sure that I am not alone and people that have like started a book stopped it and it’s been sitting in their drawer for three months, a year, five years. What kind of advice do you give to somebody as they step back into a novel that they’ve worked on, but haven’t worked on in a while?


[0:02:21.8] SC:  Well, that’s a really important question, because a lot of people ask me that, and I’ve been thinking about it for a long time now and I’m going to sort of play around with some things I’ve been working on in my own work and I think the best way to approach re-starting a project is to really take you to the highest level of abstraction of your story that you possibly can. What I mean by that, instead of like 10,000 foot view or 20,000 foot view, you really want to sort of go up to the highest level, the global view. Especially for you, what that global view really comes down to is really three main archetypes, and I think I spoke about this a while back generally, and these three archetypes — An archetype is just sort of like an abstraction of an abstraction of an abstraction.


So Carl Jung, after working with Freud and doing all this deep research, he came up with this concept and also after reviewing mythology and stories from multiple, multiple cultures from Mesopotamia, to the Egyptians, to the Christian, Judeo-Christian, Holy Trinity, is that he came up with this concept, which I think is really, really great.


Anyway, so if you look at the world in terms of two things, and you and I always have this joke where people always say, “Well, the world can be divided into two things; those who understand Story Grid and those who don’t, or those who like boxing and those who don’t,” but the two things are essentially order and chaos. So order is the natural sort of movement towards sorting things out so that they are predictable. So society and cultures are very ordered and the more ordered they are, the more predictable they are.


We’re both on the internet right now recording a phone call and it’s very predictable that the electrons are going to keep firing and the electricity is going to keep going and the lights will keep going on and that the recording will work, and that’s because we have an extremely complex culture and society that holds everything together. Now that wasn’t the way it was at the very start of humanity, right? At the very beginning of humanity, it was essentially chaos. It was every man for themselves. They were dealing with predators constantly. They lived in trees, mostly. So the chaotic world is that moment when you don’t know what to do. Things are hitting you at obstacles and opportunities. You don’t know to go left. You don’t know to go right, and a lot of times what we do when we’re overwhelmed by our culture and the complexity of it is that we sort of turn off our functioning brain and we sort of generate in the chaos. It’s sort of like that moment when you were creating your company and you couldn’t deal with it, so you play video games. So that’s one sort of — The circuits of your brain are overwhelmed and you’ve fallen to chaos, and chaos can really —You can dig a very, very deep hole when you hit chaos.


So essentially if you look at the world in terms of order and chaos, the ideal situation is that you live a very orderly, predictable sort of life, but if you only do order constantly, you don’t get any opportunities, right? Because within chaos comes opportunity, and chaos is great peril, but it’s also great opportunity.


So we have worn we have chaos. So what Jung said is that traditionally — And this isn’t any sort of like a commentary about the genders. It’s just based upon storytelling over eons. Traditionally, the order realm is a paternal male fatherly sort of sensibility, and the chaotic realm where opportunity and great peril lie has had a feminine side. Now, that great question, which came first, the chicken or the egg is pretty much answered by Jung when he says, “Order comes out of chaos.”


So the feminine gives rise to the things that become ordered. So women give birth to men. Women are the force that brings on and continues humanity. So those two forces; the female chaotic sensibility and the male orderly sensibility, also have a child, right? The child is the individual human being in society, in the orderly world as well as navigating chaotic moments in their lives. So this is sort of like super-duper meta-meta-thinking, right?


So what you want to do is say to yourself, “I have a novel here. Can I delineate? Can I figure out the following elements? Is there a paternal orderly force in my novel?” Meeting, “Do I have the good side of the of order, which would be sort of like the wise king.” The wise king is a very orderly person who also listens to his subjects and changes the structure of the kingdom when he hears the changes necessary. He’s not afraid of chaos interrupting the community and giving rise to opportunity. He’s open to that. He’s wise. He shares his wisdom with his people. The wise king is a good father. He listens to his children. He doesn’t beat them down in tyrannical yelling and forcing them to do things that he thinks are the right thing.


So the wise king is sort of on the end of the very positive end of the spectrum, and on the other side of the spectrum is the tyrannical, sort of nasty autocratic, totalitarian leader of — He’s like sort of the Stalin or the Hitler-esque version of the orderly realm.


So to think about your novel you want to say, “Do I have those two forces at play? Do I have a force in the novel that is sort of the wise king, and do I have a force that is the tyrannical sort of side of order?” The other side of it is, in the feminine side, “Do I have a force where the maternal sensibility, the helpful, the nurturing sensibility is valid? A place of opportunity, and do I have a destructive force?” That idea of mother nature, right? You don’t want to get upset — You don’t want to upset mother nature, or she will destroy, right?


So on the two sides of those things are the nurturing mother force and the destructive vengeful side of nature. Those are two archetypes, right? You’ve got the wise king and the tyrant. You’ve got the destructive feminine and also the motherly feminine on the chaotic side. One is opportunity. One is peril.


Then the third element is the individual, and that is represented by the protagonist of your story, and the protagonist has two sensibilities too. It has the hero who is willing to sacrifice for the good of all, and also the adversary. The adversary is against, is the one that’s filled with resentment and only one’s vengeance.


So if you were to look at your novel again, what I would suggest is to say, “Can I identify these six forces in the story? Are they clear?” Now, they don’t have to manifest themselves as one individual character. The force of order could be, for example, a group of people who force somebody to conform with the way that they are or they’ll be cast out of the group. That could be a tyrannical force in your novel. So it doesn’t have to be one individual character. It’s sort of like an archetypical force that should be within the story, and the reason why is that the global meta-meta-story is the story of the individual falling into chaos and resurrecting with a revelatory understanding of the world in a different way than everybody else, and then that hero returning to her place and sharing the gift with the people.


So that is, of course, the hero’s journey, right? But the hero’s journey lies underneath this panoply of meta three forces that must be inside of your global story. It doesn’t mean that the hero has to win every time, but those are the things that we’re dealing with in our everyday life. The reason why we love stories is they give us possible ways of behaving that will bring us some level of security and contentment. So that’s why we go to the story. The narrative structure is a structure that hasn’t inherent moral sensibility to it. This is why I always say, your story has to mean something. It has to have a controlling idea.


There has to be of value at stake. Because stories are moral, and when I say moral, what I’m talking about, a moral platform is a way in which you adopt something in order to behave. The way you behave in the world is a moral structure, and the way humans have been doing that forever is through dominance hierarchies. We look at things that we value and we say, “I want to go to the top of the hierarchy.” So there are enumerable hierarchies that don’t have anything to do with the traditional hierarchies that everybody talks about, which are riches, and money, and status. There’s also the hierarchy great truth, holding up a standard of work that is almost the ideal, right?


To me, we’re all writers here, we’re all talking about stories, we’re all talking about what’s important to us, and for me, and I think for most of our listeners and for you, there’s a level of — The highest level of story is a story that will live longer than I do. If someone were to say Shawn Coyne, “What would you want on your deathbed?” Among my love of my family and a lot of everybody I care about around me is saying, “Hey, you did good work here on earth.” I would also want — If given the chance, I would want to have written Moby Dick, or Sense and Sensibility, or Pride and Prejudice, or I would like to have my name on something that would last even 10 minutes longer than I do.


For kind of what we’re doing here at the Story Grid, our dominant hierarchy is not about a number one New York Times bestseller. It’s not about pumping out a novel every three months and tweaking the algorithm at Amazon in order to throw off the most dollar revenue per month. That’s not our ultimate hierarchy, our things, our are value that we’re holding up as the preeminent thing that we will probably never achieve. But, boy, it’s nice to have it up there, right? It’s nice to say, “You know what? I’m not getting that boulder to the top of the mountain, but I got it up a little bit further today,” and that’s what gets me up in the morning. That’s what I think gets you up in the morning now, especially after reading Running Down a Dream, is that eventually I think we come to realization that the hierarchies that we were born into that we think are really important and what’s sort of the tyrannical element of our own culture puts forth is this sense that I need to have a great car. I need to be the top dog at the health club. I need to be the strongest one. All those things, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with trying to raise yourself on a financial hierarchy. I think that’s great. But when push comes to shove, you have to make a choice, and what do you sacrifice? What’s the top of your hierarchy? If it’s money, I think you’re playing a loser’s game. Honestly, I think it’s not going to give you what you think it will and you will constantly be chasing it, and if you never realize that that’s not really going to make you feel better about yourself, then that’s tragedy in my opinion.


Anyway, I know the question was about how do I approach my novel after it sat in a drawer for six months? The answer to that is, ask yourself, “Why am I running this thing? What is the deal here?” Stories are about helping people navigate really horrific chaotic moments. So I need to make sure that my character gets thrust and falls down the shaft into a massive pile of chaos, and at the end of the story I have to realize that she needs to rise above the surface again stronger than she once was. She’s moving from a very difficult, unbearable present, to a better future. How am I doing that? Is this clear? Is it clear that she doesn’t — She’s falling into a chaotic spiral? Is clear that she has taken stock of herself and had an all is lost moment and is rising from the ashes and coming to a different interpretation of the world, a different worldview? Is that clear?


So just taking that really broad thing and meta-idea and applying it something that you haven’t worked on for a while is going to flush out the panic of, “Oh my gosh! I don’t know if chapter 9 is as good as chapter 15.”


[0:18:10.6] TG: Yeah. That’s good, because another thing that I’ve wondered is I’ve thought a lot about those couple episodes where I feel like I finally found the book and how hard that was, and then in rewriting, doing this final rewrite of the book of how I really had to kind of sink down into kind of some dark places. Recently, I was talking with a buddy of mine about this stuff and we are talking about this other author we kind of mutually know. We are talking about how they’re always trying to just pull the right lever, “Okay. If I pull this lever, and I pull this lever, and I pull this lever, then everything is going to work out for the marketing, for creating the book, for the publishing, all of that stuff.”


There’s always been something kind of about the way that this person approaches their projects that have always kind of bugged me. When I was talking about it I was like it’s like they keep thinking they can just be emotionally kind of removed from the whole thing. I don’t actually have to sink down into places. I’m going to kind of stay up here and just learn all the levers and I’ll just pull the levers and then I can be like this amazing author that I want to be, and the author that they want to be, I’m like, “Dude, that guy is a nutcase.” When it comes to his art, like he goes to the dark places.


So then as I’m now looking at the fact that I’ve got to step back into this novel, I feel like I’ve kind of done that, and I think that’s normal as you learn a new skill. You kind of have to intellectually go about it, but now I’m like, “Do I need to bring that same kind of sensibility to this project?” Because  you hear about these writers that suffer for their work and like they really go to the — They go to the dark places. They mine their soul to tell these stories.


I’m reading this book called Kill Creek, and the main characters are all authors. One of them, like all her books are based on her own trauma in her life, but they’re all novels that she’s writing. So I’m wondering like, one, if that’s something I need to be bringing to this, which I think I know the answer to, and then to, how do I start kind of — Because It’s one thing to go to those emotional places and tell my true stories about things that happened to me. How do I bring that same sensibility into fiction writing? Because I feel like Running Down a Dream is the best thing I’ve ever written. It’s the most personal thing I’ve ever written, and it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever — It’s all the things you want to be able to say about stuff you’ve written before anybody sees it and it gets reviewed and all that stuff. How do I bring that into fiction I think is my question, because I don’t think I’ve been doing that?


[0:21:21.0] SC: It’s a great question, and I think it’s the biggest, biggest problem with writing education today, and I’ll get into that in the second. Okay. For me, I think the perfect place to be, which is very difficult to get to, is this place where you have a very ordered life, right? So you navigate on this road and it’s almost like that story that you tell in Running Down a Dream where you’re riding your bike, you’re riding your bike over that dam and there’s only six  inches of space to keep your wheel, and it’s a really, really great story for me, because that’s kind of the way I think we need to navigate our lives. Not just artistic lives, but our lives in general.


The whole meta-meta-story thing, it’s really wonderful to be able to look at it from the point of view of a story guy, because it separates me from the truth that the order and the chaos is the same thing in my own life as the thing I’m talking about for story structure, because stories are basically — They’re little like experiments in what could happen if certain things happened in the world. That’s all they are. They’re sort of like experimental beginning, middles and ends of things that could happen in your life.


If I were to win the lottery, what could happen to me? And then somebody writes a novel about a guy who wins the lottery, and then I can actually read that novel and think, “Oh! Good things and bad things will happen,” and then I will have some sort of frame of reference if I were ever to win the lottery. Now that’s a very broad example, but that’s why we read trauma novels and dark thrillers and we enjoy them, but we also say to ourselves, “Well, that’s interesting, because that’s sort of like the thing that happened to me 25 years ago and now I can process through that thing that really bugged me, and now it’s much better.”


But my point about what to do, is what you want to do is navigate that very narrow passage between a very orderly existence. I get up at X, I do my work here, but then you also need to dip yourself into the quagmire. You need to dip yourself into the chaotic universe every now and then, because that’s the place where opportunities come as well as peril.


So the chaotic symbol of femininity is opportunity as well as peril, and that the figure that is most connected to the chaotic universe is the dragon, and the dragon hordes gold, right? So the St. George story, this guy has to go outside of the castle to kill the dragon to save — Or the town. The town represents the order of the universe, and the individual has to leave the castle to fight the dragon, and if the guy wins or the woman warrior wins the battle with the dragon, what do they get? They get gold and they bring the gold back to the castle and share it with the community.


So that’s what you do when you write a story too. You have to think of yourself as that character who has to leave the sanctuary of your little life and your ordered life and you sit down in front of your keyboard and you say to yourself, “I’m going to dip into chaos right down. Now, I’ve got it ordered outline of what I’d like to do, but now it says, “Scene nine; this is the inciting incidents of the middle built.” What I need to do is to have a big flush of chaos in this scene that happens to my character. Huh? What do I do from there?”


So then what do you do? Your fanaticize in your own mind possible things, possible experiments that could happen if one person were flushed into chaos, and the beautiful thing about writers is that they allow the right side of their brain to go into the dark pits. When that right side of the brain starts to fantasize wild, crazy, imaginative stuff, that can feed your story. So you literally are like a knight going to fight a dragon when you’re writing. This is not taught at writing schools, because what they do at writing schools is they assume that you produce, like I’m talking about MFA programs, really great MFA programs. If you’re great enough writer to be admitted into the Iowa Writers Workshop, they assume, because you had to deliver something that expresses that you know story, they assume you already know story structure. So when you go there, they’re not going to teach it to you, because they assume you already know it.


So story structure to me is that ordered wall. That’s the wall that will help you when you go into the darkness. When you’re in the darkness you can go, “Oh, I can always head back to that wall. If I get stuck, I know I can run back, go inside the castle, rework my stuff and I can go out again.” So it’s this great sort of movement between order and chaos and it’s this pendulum swing back and forth during your writing day, that that delivers the gold.


Now, it takes a lot of work. It is not easy. It is really difficult. There are a lot of wonderful people who have done a lot of wonderful courses about how they specifically slayed their dragons and created their novels and they tell you what they did, but they didn’t take an abstraction from what they did and go up and say, “But how does that apply to the global story universe?” There just saying, “Hey, I was able to write my novel in three months, and this is the way I did it. Pay me X amount of dollars and I will teach you what I did,” and I think a lot of those people are really genuinely trying to help people, but they’re not sort of going up the abstraction level and saying, “But what is the point of writing a novel in three months? Where does it end? What is the big deal?”


For me — And this is something that you and I have been talking about for months. I think we need a new way of looking at writing. We need to set up a value structure that is really the pinnacle of what stories are really the best stories last, right? The best stories live long than we do. So what if we structured a writing program and learning situation about slowly, incrementally, through hard work and hard effort reviewing the really fundamental story structure so that we build up a really great wall that we can walk on that wall and jump into the chaos and come back to the wall when we need to?


So I think that’s really the third magical moments of the writing thing, is teaching the fundamental truth of story structure so that when you have that under your belt, then you’ve got some great understanding of the world that you can go into darkness, into the right side of your brain, and fantasize new concepts, innovative ideas, innovative opportunities and perils for your characters. So it’s all about incrementally leveling up your skillset so that you become more and more brave to head into the darkness and then come back with some gold.


[0:29:25.7] TG: You said often on throughout this process that you’ve just working with me, it’s been 2-1/2 years now, more than, you’ve learned what it means to teach this to somebody, because you’ve mostly you worked with people that are already kind of further down the road, or you’ve been an editor for writers for a long time, but you’ve never really taken somebody that was abysmal and help them incrementally improve. Looking back, is there like — Are you starting to put together like, “This is what I would do to get somebody up and running,” I guess is the best way to say.


[0:30:10.2] SC: It’s funny that you mentioned that, because a couple of weeks ago — Actually it was a couple of months ago during spring training, Steve Pressfield went to Arizona. He had never been to spring training before, so he wanted to check out the Dodgers. He went to spring training and he came back and we had our weekly call and he said, “You know what’s really incredible,” was he saw all these sort of 17, 18-year-old, amazingly gifted, physical specimen guys and these 20-year-old and they were doing these incredible drills. Steve was like — Of course, Steve wasn’t watching the superstar’s flame. Again, he’s watching the guys do the drills, right?


He comes out. He goes, “What’s really amazing to me is the intensity of the player development in Major League Baseball. These guys, they don’t come in like Gary Sanchez or Aaron Judge hitting 500-foot home runs. They’re in the minor leagues for good four years and they train them and get them to the place where they can be successful in the major leagues.” He was just fascinated by this idea of player development and he said, “Do you think that could ever kind of be applied that the player development concept to writing?” I stupidly said, “Yeah. I think that could work,” and he said, “Well, why don’t you do it?”


Which really made me reconsider all of the Story Grid stuff in a new light, sort of if an angel came down from heaven and pulled me aside and said, “Look. I’ve got this special mission for you, and what you need to do is create a system that you think will make somebody get incrementally better as a writer or a storyteller. How would you go about structuring this sort of progression? What’s the first thing you would teach them? At what level of resolution would you look at a story that would be most effective to someone who’s just starting out? Not someone who’s like never tried to be a writer before, or who had no intention of being a writer, but someone who always deep down knew that they really wanted to write, and when they did right, they felt good about themselves.”


But they find that it’s very, very difficult and they’re not sure of whether or not they’re making progress or not, and they have no way of being able to check it. How would you figure that out? How would you structure something and the goal cannot be too short-term goal? It can’t be a short-term goal, meaning write a book in 30 days, or get on the New York Times bestseller list, or get ICM to represent you as a writer, or all that stuff that is the fodder of really innumerable courses to be bought or enrolled in across the globe. It really has to be, “If you hold this value so highly, Shawn, people having the capacity to create timeless works of story that would live longer than they would, being if that’s your ideal, how would you start getting people down into the subbasement of that pyramid?


How would you welcome them into the subbasement of the pyramid and say, “Hey guys, our goal is to build sort of a latticework up to the top. I can’t do it alone. You guys can’t do it alone, but maybe if we all work together, I’ve got some plans here and we’re going to fix them up as they go, because I don’t know if it’s going to be a perfect layout, but I’m pretty confident that I’ve got some good stuff here that we can at least get a good foundation going and then we can level ourselves up to the top of this pyramid. What do you say?”


That’s kind of what I think — Don’t worry, an angel didn’t really come down. At least, maybe they just did and gave me that story. That’s possible. But that’s kind of — If somebody were to ask me, “What do you want? What is the thing that you would like to do next?” Because I’ve had New York Times bestsellers. I’ve written stuff that has been bestseller material, fiction and nonfiction. A lot of it ghostwritten, and that was great. I loved it. It was wonderful, but what for me could be really something would be to build a system that would be much bigger than me. I would just sort of be one of the people who drives it and helps it grow, and is there, for lack of a better term, a wise king of sorts.


Somebody who has a ton of the experience and some ideas, but is absolutely open to chaos and opportunity. That’s what writer development is to me. It’s not an MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop. It’s not, “Write a book in 30 days and I’ll give you my outline plan.” It’s, “Hey, let’s recognize that this is really, really difficult. Let’s start there. Okay, a lot of things are really, really difficult. Okay, and what is our goal? All right, our goal is for all of us to write timeless works of art. Okay, are we all going to do it? Probably not, but maybe one of us will. Maybe one of us will get enough energy and they can stand on all of our shoulders and get to the top of that pyramid.”


That to me — That would be pretty great. So that’s kind of what I want to do, and thank God I have you and we can try and put this thing together and find some other people to join us, because I think it could be really, really cool.


[0:36:18.5] TG: Yeah. I mean, we’ve been talking about this. I would say we’ve been trying to figure this out for a year, where we keep talking about like what is the best way to bring people into this, to get them started in this. Because we didn’t want to just churn out something else, something else that we could put out to the world, something else that we could invite people into. Everything that we’ve done with Story Grid has been very thoughtful and very much towards this goal. It was interesting when you said that about our goal being to create these timeless works of art. It’s like the goal — That goal is so stupidly audacious that I would have never even thought to say it out loud, but I feel like that is. I mean, if you’re looking at churning out words to make a living, there are ways to do that, and I think we can help in some ways, but that’s not really what we’re doing here. We are trying — That’s what I want to do. I don’t want to just become somebody that can churn out a book. I want to write something that I’m proud of, that I think will last a long time, that will hopefully go far beyond wherever I can push it and put it myself. So as we’ve talked about this and when you told me about that kind of challenge from Steve of like, “Okay. We’ll go figure this out.” It was exciting when you started putting it together.


[0:37:52.0] SC: The other thing I want to say about is that when we did the love story course, I absolutely learned so much doing it, and one of the things I learned beyond the fact that Jane Austen is over the top incredible, was that the difficulty I found was I did not want to keep doing courses in which I would have to review fundamental material over and over again.


So when we did the Story Grid editor certification, one of the requirements that we had of the attendees was they needed to do all that work themselves, right? They needed to come to Nashville when we did this last fall, fully prepared. They already knew the five fundamentals of storytelling. They knew beginning hook, middle build, ending payoff. They knew the units of story. They knew all of that stuff that is in the Story Grid. So I didn’t have to review that again.


Now, that’s great. but a lot of people aren’t at the level of the Story Grid editors. So what I thought was, “What if I did like it’s almost like the course catalog of a really good university? You’d go in and there’s the core curriculum, right?” These are all the fundamental forces, the bedrock of raising your education. That’s why they call it higher education, not flat line education, right? You’d go in there, you get the fundamental courses and then you start piling on top of that.


So when I was in college, I was a biology major, so I took the fundamental biology course, and I liked it and I kept going, and then I did cell bio, and then I eventually went up to like biochemistry and microbiology and I got further and further, deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, and that’s what the concept of this sort of leveling up your craft concept is about. It’s, “I will do these really solid fundamental things and I want to make them entertaining, not boring lectures so there’ll be a lot of great stuff in them that’s actually entertaining to watch. Then I can start leveling up on top of that, so that people could come into this coursework at any level that they felt comfortable, but they would have to take these fundamental courses first and then slowly I could build up the love story course that wouldn’t have to go over the five fundamentals of storytelling. I can begin at the big global meta-love story level that is at a much more higher resolution than having to build from the foundation up each time I give a lecture.”


So what I didn’t want to do is to keep repeating myself and trumpeting the same Story Grid, “Five fundamentals and five commandments of storytelling.” I mean, I don’t worry about doing that. I can do that, and I’m happy to do it as many times as I want to, but I don’t want to keep offering the same course with different trappings of genre, just lost it on top of it. What I want to do is build a curriculum of storytelling that people can add another level of understanding with each and every course that I design and offer. Anyway, I’m sorry. I’m droning on about my grand vision.


[0:41:35.7] TG: No. That’s — I mean, because that’s — I feel like that’s what we want. When you and I talked about what we’re trying to accomplish with Story Grid, it always comes back to this idea of leveling up your writing, of teaching something in a way where after I do this, my writing will never be the same.


I remember one of the questions we got one time was about, “Well, there’s all these authors churning out a book every three months. That’s how they’re making a living, is they’re are putting out a new book every three months. How do you square that with taking a year and a half to learn Story Grid to write a single novel or longer?”


I was like, “Well, I don’t think the former is bad, but if you take the time to actually dig in and learn Story Grid to write your next novel, it will make every novel you right after that better.” It goes back to that years ago, several years ago when I switched my keyboard layout, and it was like excruciating and hard and it took me months recover any kind of typing speed, but then once I got it back, I now type over 10 words per minute faster than I did before. Now I do that for the rest of my life, right? For the rest of my life, I will type faster, and that’s what I feel like as you dig into these like stackable Story Grid principles, is each time you take the time to dig in and like learn it and go through the kind of chaotic process of learning something new, at the end you’re different and you’re better forever, right? So everything changes.


You’ve already developed the first kind of series, and I’ll tell everybody about that at the end of this, but just tell me a little bit about what we’re doing this summer and what you’re going to be teaching.


[0:43:40.9] SC: Okay. What we decide is when I was in high school, some kids would take summer school because they got into trouble, but a lot of kids would take summer school, like I took [inaudible 0:43:52.3 ] chemistry class in summer school so that I could get it out of way and have more fun in my senior year of high school.


So what summer school is sort of like Memorial Day to Labor Day. So the concept of this class is it’s 15 weeks of lecture. So each Monday, people will get a lecture from me. It will be posted or however you do it. I don’t know how you do it, but I’ll film like anywhere from — It’ll probably be between 35 to 60 minutes of lecture that will cover one of the 15 scenes that Story Grid sees as the 15 scenes of a spine for a story. I’ll just go over them right now. It’s very simple.


There’s the beginning hook, the middle build and the ending payoff, which within each of those three really important parts of a global story, there are five scenes. Those scenes are the global inciting incident for the entire story, a progressive complication turning point scene. In the beginning hook, the crisis of the beginning hook, the climax of the beginning hook and the resolution of the beginning hook, and it’s the exact same thing for the middle build and ending payoff. So you have an inciting incident, a turning point progressive complication that pushes the story into the crisis scene, then you have the climax scene and then you have the resolutions scene. Five of those scenes for each of the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff, and what I’ll do is I’ll analyze each one of those 15 scenes in one of the lectures, and I will do it through the prism of three masterworks, and I chose these very, very distinctly because the first one is Bridget Jones Diary, which is a wonderful novel and film adaptation, and then the second one is The Martian.


Now, Bridget Jones Diary is a love story, and The Martian is an action story, and they’re wonderfully designed stories that are not overly complicated, right? So there’s not a ton of subplot beyond a traditional love in action story. Okay, those two are really, really fun, interesting and so I’ll analyze each one of the 15 scenes for each one of those.


Then the third one, this story is really, really complicated and complex. It’s Fight Club. Fight club is a thriller and it’s a bunch of other things too. So the reason why I chose Fight Club is that it’s sort of a level up of complexity in the story telling than Bridget Jones Diary and The Martian. So you’ll get these really good fundamental stories that are really well-told and then you’re going to get this thing that is riddled with all kinds of different kinds of genres within the genre. It’s a really amazing work of art that is very chaotic, and it’s a punch through the stomach if you’re not prepared for Fight Blub, but I think if you invest the energy going through it with me, you’ll really, really get something a lot out of it and you’ll get a lot out of The Martian and Bridget Jones diary too.


So at the end of the 15 weeks, that’s going be around Labor Day, then the culmination is I’ll have fool’s cap global story grids for each of these three things, and the reason why I’m starting with the macro storytelling is that if you don’t have your macro figured out, it’s the fundamental, indispensable thing that you must understand in order to tell a really great story. So 15 individual scenes are really, to me, the skeleton that anyone who really wants to understand story can really gain the most from, and using three different genres, I think a lot of people are going to get a lot out of it. I know I already have and I’m just about done with all the curriculum and now I just have to start filming the episodes, but I’m really excited about. It’s really a great stuff.




[0:48:20.4] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Story Grid podcasts. Now, when we started recording this episode we weren’t really planning on talking about what we’re working on here at Story Grid and the new summer semester thing. But if you want to get an early crack at that, you can go see more information about that at


So we’ll be sending you more information about that and we’ll probably talk some more about it on the podcast, but again if you want to learn a little bit more about what it is and maybe jump in and go ahead and grab your spot for the summer, you can do that at


Mow for everything Story Grid related, you can check out 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 If you’d like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @StoryGrid, and lastly if you’d like to support the show, you can do that by telling another author about the show and by visiting us on Apple podcasts 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.



About the Author

The co-host of the Story Grid Podcast and amateur writer.
Comments (2)
Author Tim Grahl


Janet Kitt says:

This episode was so relevant for me. When I unpacked my WIP – I had a SG Diagnostic done at the end of February – I was fumbling around my manuscript. With a house sale last month and a life transition to writing on the road (travel with a 20’ trailer), I’m ready to work through my editor’s recommendations, but I was unsure how to restart. Thanks for the guidance, Tim and Shawn! Also, thanks to my SG Certified Editor, Valerie Francis, for reminding me to keep on with your podcast.

Love the news about how to Level Up Your Craft!

Valerie Francis says:

You are most welcome Janet! I’m so glad to hear that you’re diving back in to your manuscript. You’ve got a terrific story. Keep writing! 😀


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