[0:00:00.2] 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.
This is the 146th episode of the podcast and I’ve been waiting approximately 146 episodes for Shawn to say to me what he said in this episode. I turned in the draft of the final 18,000 or so words of the second draft and send it to him, and in this episode he gives me his feedback. I won’t say anything more. Let’s just jump in and get started.
[00:00:54] TG: So Shawn, last week I promised to send you the finished second draft of the book. I don’t know why I feel like sometimes I see how painful I can make it on myself, because like last week my dad was in town, the kids were off school, I had to go speak at a conference and I also had to finish this book. I promised to send it to you over the weekend, and I think I sent it to you at like 9 PM on Sunday night.
[00:01:21] SC: Yes.
[00:01:21] TG: I sent you – I finished it. Sent you over 18,000 words, but you haven’t seen any of it because I decide just to finish it. See if I could finish it on my own without you looking at it every sequence or every scene. I am pretty happy with how it came together. I feel like – I don’t know. I just feel like I hit all the points I was trying to hit. You had me make that plan a few weeks ago, like make a plan, and the plan worked. I stuck to the plan and finished the book. I tried not to draw things out that didn’t need to be drawn out. I think the whole draft is at like 75,000, 76,000 words right now. Anyway, I sent it to you. You said you had a chance to read through it. What do you think?
[00:02:10] SC: Yeah, I think you did a nice job. I really do. I think the action scenes are well done. There’s a lot of really great bookending that you pulled off. What I mean by that is I think we started this podcast a couple years ago and one of the first things I ever said is that a story has to be inevitable, but surprising. When you start a book or a story and you know what the genre is, you pretty much already know how it’s going to end. So if it’s an action story, you know that the hero is going to win. Somehow they’re going to win by the end of the story or it probably isn’t going to be published or you’ll never hear from the writer again, because that’s – For better or for worse, that’s the convention of an action story, is that the ending is a – As Tolkien would say, it’s a you eucatastrophe, meaning something seems to be an impossible situation that is going to destroy everything, and for one reason or another, something arises that changes the course of evil.
For example, in Lord of the Rings, it’s when Gollum bites the ring off Frodo’s finger and falls into the fiery pit, and there we go. It’s like this moment when Frodo refuses to give up the ring. We think, “Oh my gosh! He’s come all this way.” Then there’s old Gollum who we thought should’ve been killed six times before this that bites off the ring, because he’s as passionate about having the spring as Frodo, and he falls into the fiery pit, destroys the ring. Brilliant ending, because Tolkien had brilliantly made Frodo and Sam constantly, “Oh! We can’t kill this wretched creature. Oh! He’s such an irritant, but boy we feel sorry for him. We have empathy for him,” and they kept letting Gollum live. There was real grace and mercy, which ended up saving the world. Mercy saved the world. That’s what a eucatastrophe is. We know at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings, things are going to work out okay. Our hero is going to win.
When your story starts, we know Jesse is going to win somehow. So the way that she wins is what’s going to be interesting to us. The fact is, is that obviously we’re going to spoil your book here, but the pivotal moment is when she goes into the threshing with Az and Craig. So it’s the three of them, they land and it’s the fiery pit of hell that they’ve descended into. It’s a reflection of what happened in the world prior to this dystopia rising.
The sun is beating down extremely painful just to walk around, and what is Jesse remember? She remembers the numbered. She remembers her time with the people underground, the people who clean up all the mess of the people who are coding or in the grid all day. So it’s that really nice moment where Jesse uses something that happened that the very start of the book, right?
What you did is you used all of the setup, all of the interesting details about the numbered at the very beginning of the book and you paid it off in the ending so that she uses that knowledge of that ability to relate to the numbered in order to save them. It’s one of the steps, one of the progressive steps that she uses to solve the riddle of winning the threshing. I was really happy when you did that.
You mentioned that a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t know how you’re going to pull it off, and I think you did pull it off well. It’s not easy the way she solves the problem, and also you created a moment that progresses the action even further, because it’s not all roses and sunshine down there after she figures out how to get the numbered protective gear. Craig dies in that moment.
I was really happy that you did that, because there’s a tendency on drafts for you to solve the problem and then just like don’t progress it any further after you’ve solved that one problem. So the fact that one of the numbered awakes and attacks Craig, and I also love the way that you had Jesse described that to Az that that’s false. This is a fake representation of what the numbered really are, really nice. That was a really nice moment, because Jesse is coming into her own mind now. She’s coming into her own point of view, her own worldview that is extremely nuanced now. She can understand that people manipulate things to appear black-and-white when they really aren’t.
Thematically, she’s really acting heroically in these final scenes in a way that is in character. She’s not acting like Arnold Schwarzenegger. She’s acting like herself. She is strong, but vulnerable. She understands that Az is not her best friend in the world, but in this moment they’re a team and she communicates that to Az too so that Az actually figures that out too.
I think you did a really, really nice job here, and let me just talk some more about the other things that I liked about it. I really like that you didn’t over dramatize, overdue flog her death. She does die momentarily. I mean, it’s not a massive big moment, and I think that was a good choice. She dies in the grid. She goes off page. You moved to third-person omissions where she is not the center of the narrative any longer. It works, because this is the climactic ending payoff of the story. She wins the threshing. You have a double ending. You’re hitting your obligatory conventions and obligatory scenes. Marcus has them. You’ve got the evil speech, the speech and praise in the villain at the and. He makes perfect sense. You’ve got Randy in there.
I mean, obviously, we can tweak the writing and the stuff, but globally, you really did do the things that were necessary in the ending payoff, because you need a double ending in the ending payoff of an action story. Well, this is action thriller dystopia. I mean, there’s a lot going on here. It’s coming-of-age. It’s maturation plot. It’s YA. It’s a lot of different things. You’ve got a lot of balls in the air, and I think you let them settle well. The threshing action scene is also reflective of the very first severing, and you have a little joke there, right? You have a moment where there’s a tower and Az and Jesse look at each other and Jesse says, “Why don’t we just burn it down?” It’s kind of got funny. He’s like, “Yeah, funny.” Because the task is to get to the top of the tower.
Again, it’s a payoff of a setup that you did at the very start, and it works. I think it works, because the severings are basically calculated probabilistic computer renderings of what possibly could happen in a threshing. I mean, if you’re going to look at it from a theoretical point of view, what would Marcus and the faction do in the severings? They would want to create setups that mirrored and were as like most probable to the final threshing. The fact that there’s a tower at the very end that she has to ascend to, and it goes all the way back to the first severing, I don’t think when you look at the story globally, I don’t think it was a copout on your part. I think the reader will actually go, “Oh my gosh! I get it.” So they were pretty close in their rendering of what the threshing was going to be, the American faction, “That Marcus is really smart,” right?
It actually elevates the strength and the intelligence of the antagonist as supposed to seeming like a copout on the writer’s part. Hopefully by this time when the readers in this part of the book, they’re not thinking about Tim Grahl the writer anymore. We never think of John Green or any of the people who write really fun books in the moment of the ending payoff, because we’re in the story. They’re not going to be like, “Oh! Tim Grahl copped out. He just repeated the tower element,” and it’s great, because you refer to it.
[00:12:05] TG: That’s kind of why I put that in, is I wanted to not pretend like I was getting away with something.
[00:12:11] SC: Yeah, and it was smart, because this is a tweet that you can do early on in the book when somebody’s explaining to Jesse how the severings work. They say, “Well, we have artificially intelligent computers that do their best calculations to figure out what in all likelihood could possibly happen in the threshing,” and then she could say something like, “Well, how accurate is it?” and they go, “Uhm … Well, not that accurate, but we do the best we can.”
So when it actually appears that Marcus has sort of brilliantly figured out anticipated what the threshing would be, it builds him up as an antagonist, right? He’s no idiot. This is a guy who figured out what the threshing was going to be before it actually happened. I like that too, and you probably didn’t even consider that as part of your thing, because as you were writing it, you said, “Well, I’ll just put the tower in, because that would be pretty cool to wrap it up and I better just make a joke about it, because blah.” Anyway, I like that too.
The action stuff, the killing and the beating up and all that is what it is. Again, we can look at that in closer detail on a line-by-line situation. I did think that when she was in the elevator with the dying girl that she we would have a fatal attraction moment, where the girl takes one final lunge at Jesse before she can rise. You don’t do that. You’re probably right. I think the reader will anticipate that moment, and instead you went with a more comforting moment where Jesse comforts the dying girl as supposed to fatal attraction moment, where she has to kill the thing dead. Again, I think that’s a – You zigged when the reader’s going to think they zagged. Will some people be disappointed by that? Maybe, but I think it’s probably the right choice.
[00:14:13] TG: It’s funny, because one of the things that this will go writing the second draft, especially towards the end. I was figuring out a bunch of stuff that I’ll have to go back and add, but I really like, because in one of the scenes, she was ready to die and she was kind of okay with it, because then at least this girl would get to live. Then Az kills are, kills the girl that’s killing her and she’s kind of upset about it even though – So that’s why – Because I honestly thought that when I was first writing the very, very end of the threshing, I thought that’s what was going to happen was the girl was going to lunge at her one more time. But then I felt like the whole point of this is that Jesse never wanted to be here in the first place. So she doesn’t have to finish somebody off. She’s just not going to, because she doesn’t want to. So I felt like it was better to have her in a position where she’s still kind of sad that it came to this.
[00:15:17] SC: Yeah. It’s a military warrior moment, where guys in the military who fight wars, they know that the guys that they’re fighting are pretty much exactly like they are, right? So they would be probably friends if they were in the same country, but just by happenstance, they’re in different nationalistic societies that are at war, right? So there’s a great reverence for your opponent in the warrior ethos, because you understand that that man or woman you’re fighting is you. That I think worked really well, and I also liked that you have Jesse state or think, “These kids are exactly like I am. This is weird. No, I don’t want to kill Marcus,” because Randy tells her at one point that, “Now your goal is to kill Marcus.”
Anyway, I think the action scenes work. I think catapulting her directly from the third severing into the threshing is a good choice. Again, you don’t want to draw out, because the reader knows that’s what you’re doing. It’s just like a delaying tactic so that you can prepare your set piece, your final thing, and I think you can’t do that anymore, and you don’t. I loved when you brought back 83 at the very end when Jesse is theoretically dead, and I loved her speech to her. I thought it was really, really spot on. I thought it was a very thematic moment that worked, because she was trying to explain to her just what a genius she was.
Throughout the book, Jesse still believes that she’s this lucky sort of thing that people are always bailing her out, and Randy’s much better than she is, and I’ve just got lucky. To have 83 say to her, “Well, no. That’s not true.” When she said, “We don’t recognize our gifts as gifts, and your gift is extraordinary.” I thought it was really, really good. It really made the point. Not that you wrote this book to give young adult readers a moral message. I think, organically, of moral message came to you when you wrote this book that is not just for kids, it’s for everyone. I think that’s a damn good message, is that we tend to –When I say we, I mean, every single person on the planet, tends to actually use their gift all of the time, but fails to recognize their special ability. It’s like that whole superhero thing, like, “If you were a superhero, what would be your superpower?”
I think people look at superpowers in a way that are ridiculous, and just being a hard-working strong-willed fighter who’s willing to do what’s necessary to move forward in life, that’s a gift. Jesse’s gift is herself. It’s who she is. It’s the way she looks at the world. It’s the way she can code. It’s the way she can think through problems that other people can’t solve. To have 83 explain that to her, I thought was really, really great.
Also, she’s like, “Yeah, we set you up. Yeah, we wanted you to – And there’s a reason why we set you up. It’s because you aren’t Randy. You are you. You’re the one that we knew could get out of that severing. You coded your way out of that severing in the second severing,” and I thought that was a really nice moment, because basically Jesse is believing a big fat lie about herself in the entire novel, and to have that lie destroyed and obliterated at the very ending was great, because that’s the point.
[00:19:53] TG: It’s funny, that scene was the hardest one for me to write. It was one of those, like, I’d write a couple of paragraphs, delete it, write a couple paragraphs, delete it, and at one point I just – This weekend, I just stopped and I was like, “Okay. I’m going to have to come back to this,” and I went. I was speaking at a conference here in town over the weekend. So Saturday night I went to the speaker’s dinner and it was Jeff Goins Tribe Conference, and Jeff had everybody answer a question that was there, and the question was, “What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?”
So everybody is going around the table and giving it, and one of the speakers, she said she heard it from somebody else that your greatest gift to the world is the thing you do the easiest and think it’s no big deal. I was like, “Boom! That’s it.”
I came home and then just wrote that scene in one sitting. It was like it’s one of those mystical moments where I cannot figure out what I was trying to say in this scene, and I go to this dinner on this “random weekend” “random thing” and the woman says this, and like that’s what I’m trying to say. I just went home and wrote almost verbatim that line.
[00:21:10] SC: Well, it was great. It was great, and you absolutely owe her for lunch, a dinner or whatever. But the other thing that I’d like to just say about that is that’s what a writer does, Tim. A writer is paying attention. So think about all the times that we’re in a particular situation. I’ll just speak for myself here, but you and I did the Tribe Conference a couple of years ago, and Jeff is awesome, and I love the Tribe Conference, but I really don’t like performing and going on stage. I feel very uncomfortable about it. What’s even more difficult for me is when I have to go to a dinner with other performers, because that’s part of the deal.
Just speaking personally, the fact that you were able to go to that dinner, you probably weren’t all that thrilled about doing, since if your dad was in town and your – You probably just wanted to go home and have dinner with your family and go to bed, but you went to the dinner and instead of thinking about, “Oh, gees! I’d really rather be home with Candice and watching a movie,” you’re actually present and you were listening. You were paying attention to all of those people who came from all around the country and all around the world to be at that conference, and when Jeff wisely said, “Tell me the one thing you would want to tell everyone, the best piece of advice that you’ve ever heard,” you actually sat there and listened, and that is what a writer does, because in your mind, you had a big problem and you had to put it away into the back of recesses of your mind to solve it at another time. Because you were paying attention in that specific moment, you heard the words that turned out to be, I think, the tear-jerky moment of your novel. It really, really a great message to get across to people, that the thing that we can do with ease, that we think is ridiculous and sort of like, “Who cares?” is actually our gift.
I can say personally, I always thought that I wanted to be up big cheese publisher. I wanted to have a corner office in New York and I wanted to go out to lunch and be a big deal and have all kinds of stuff. So I put all of my energy towards that goal, and really my gift was a story nerd. So I was only like, “Yeah, everybody can edit. Anyway, I’m going to be a great publisher,” and it turned out that, “Gees! I was actually an editor.” My gift was the thing that I was taking for granted.
So it really spoke to me when I read that, and I think it will speak to a lot of people when they read that. Well, if you had to wrap up the moral of this story, that would be it. Pay attention to the things that you don’t think are worth much, because they really are.
Anyway, so I love that moment. I love that it was delivered by 83, because, again, it went back to the beginning of the story. She’s sort of the, for lack of a better description, Glinda the good witch of the story. She is the woman who gets Jesse through the ordeal of the numbered. She’s the one who risks her life to save. She’s the one who gets Jesse to go on the adventure, and she is the one who returns to Jesse when she’s in another world. She’s the one to point out to her what her gift is. She’s sort of the goddess of the heroic journey in your story.
She meets, and this meeting with the goddess, as the ultimate payoff of your novel, is very innovative, because usually the meeting with the goddess in a heroic journey happens around midpoint. I used to think that when she met with Randy, that was her meeting with the goddess. But no, that was not the meeting. This is the meeting. I thought that was really, really great. It’s a really great innovation, and these are the things about the hero’s journey and storytelling and story structure, and I talk about it all the time and I go, “No. You got to do this and this and this and this,” and then I always preface that by saying, “But, to be really good, you innovate. You use the conventions and then you innovate them.” I think you did that here. I think you put the meeting with the goddess in a place that is completely unexpected, and you deliver a moment that will allow us to believe that this young girl has now reached maturity, and she has an understanding now. She has a faith in herself that will give her the strength to become the faction president.
At the end of the book, when she does become that president, and she takes over from Marcus, we don’t have a problem with, or I didn’t. I’d be like, “Yeah. She’s ready for it. Yeah, she’s going to figure this ship out.” She understands that she is really good at solving problems, and that moment of near death allowed her to get that gift. That’s her gift. She now returns after getting this gift, which she had all along, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. She was in Kansas all along. It’s nice. I think it’s a really, really strong ending that is not dependent upon CGI-generated action. Although of course there’s plenty of action in here that can be CGI’d and all that stuff.
But my point is, is that you didn’t try to have a double ending to your actions story by purely relying upon coming up with a new kind of car chase, or a new kind of death method. It’s a very internal coming-of-age maturation plot that’s happening here at the ending that, actually, in my opinion, even goes bigger than the action sequence. I think that’s a little bit risky, and I think it’s what we need now, and I think you did a really, really nice job. I think this 18,000 words, by the time we’re done with it, will probably go to 20 tops. I wouldn’t add any more scenes in here. I think it reads extremely quickly. Now you’re at 75,000 words. Now it’s like you’ve got a manuscript now, a draft that I can see this is going to be a really good book. I’m going to be really proud to put my name as your editor on this book. I think it’s really, really good. So, congrats.
[00:28:53] TG: Thank you. Wow! That’s awesome. I felt okay. I felt pretty good sending it to you. But you know you never know, because –
[00:29:04] SC: No, I confess. I read it one time. I read it quickly, but that’s how everybody reads, right? So a lot of editors, professional people who analyze things, the tendency overtime is that you start to stop trusting your first read as much as you should. It’s the great problem with becoming an editor, is that there are so many ways to rip apart and criticize something, and the more of them that you learn, the more you start to fall in love with those tools, right?
As an editor, the thing that I rely upon is my ability to trust my first read, and sometimes, oftentimes, probably 95% of the time, when I’m really super excited about something after a first read and I share it with another editor, a lot of the time they’re not excited about it, and they can really rip it apart in ways that I can understand, but then I’ll say, “Yeah, you’re just not seeing what has to be fixed here in order to iron out those problems. The core of the story is very good.”
So the trick for an editor is to learn how to trust your first read, your gut instinct, this is how you acquire well as an editor, is on that first read you just got to say to yourself, “Did I like it? Was it good? Was I captivated? Did I think that the right notes were hit at the right time?” If you can say yes to that and your blood gets a little bit – Flows a little bit., ten you can fix the thing. I was going to say something a lot nastier, but you can help the writer fix the other things that are in its way. But it’s almost like you can see like Lord of the Rings, right? You can always see the glow and something that has life in it, that something that has a thing in it.
When we first started working, the first couple of things that you wrote didn’t have any fire in them. They were very heady. I could see your brain working very hard to write sentences and put one after the other, etc., etc. But over the years, and especially in this last chunk of 18,000 words, the writing is flowing. It’s almost as if there’s a fire in there, there’s a story in there, and the story is about this young girl coming to understand who she. Yeah, it’s an action story, of course, but that is underneath the action external stuff so strongly now, that that’s the stuff that’s really hard to put in an action story. When you have that, you can fix the action external stuff relatively easy. But if you don’t have the heart and soul of the point, you have the theme of this story.
The theme of the story, the controlling idea of your novel now to me is very clear. Justice prevails when we discover our natural abilities as the wondrous gifts that they already are, something like that. That’s a pretty damn good controlling idea. It’s a really great idea, because we all forget them. The fact you’re writing this in YA is even better, because kids always feel that they’re not good enough, that they’re not going to make their parents happy going into the right college. They’re not the best kids in Little League. They’re not very good at math. They’re the worst swimmer on the swim team. They always think that there’s – They always pick out their own vulnerabilities and failures, and they think they’re letting their parents down, or they’ve given up hope and they just quit.
A story that tells young readers, “Hey, you’ve got it. You’ve got a gift. You use your gift all the time, but you just don’t see it yet. Hang in there. Like Jesse, you’re going to find it. You’re going to see what your gift is. Once you do, watch out, because you will be very powerful.” That to me has really come to the fore at the end of your book. Guess what? You didn’t have this four months ago when you wanted to throw away the book. You didn’t, and you could’ve really thrown this thing away without ever getting here.
It’s like the Kübler-Ross thing. You got to meet the pit of despair. It sucks. It’s really horrific when you hit that pit of despair and go, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” and you wanted to do that three months ago. You said – You literally said, “I want to quit this book, and I’ve been trying to figure out ways to tell you, Shawn, how I’m going to quit the book.”
[00:34:56] TG: Yeah. I’ve thought about that several times as you’ve talked today.
[00:34:59] SC: Yeah. Guess what? I told you at that time, “You are in a great place,” and you were like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Really. Sure. Thanks. This is really a great.” But I knew you were in the great place, because that’s the moment it’s hit or miss at that point, right? You’re either going to find it or you’re not going to find it, but you found it and you found it by going back to the core basics of why you’re doing it in the first place, “You know what? I’m going to finish it.” You’re basically like, “You know what? I’ve spent the time here. I’m just going to finish it. How do I finish it? What are the tools necessary for me to finish this book?” and we talked about, “Well, write these scenes. Figure these things out. Do it one-by-one. You can write a scene. You can write two scenes. You can write three scenes. Do the micro. Work the micro. Work the micro,” and then you did, and you were smart enough the other day when you said, “You know what? I haven’t figured out the scene yet. I got to step away. I got to get a macro. I’m going to go do the conference. I’m going to put my mind away from this for a while, and we’ll see what happens. But I’m not going to jump off a bridge, because I can’t figure out this one scene. I figured out scenes before. I’ll figure this out, or I won’t, but whatever. I’m going to do the best I can, but let me move away from it.”
Then you went and you did the conference, and then you went to the dinner when you probably didn’t want to go, and then you paid attention, and then you got the answer to your problem, and then you got home and you wrote the answer to your problem, because you paid attention. That’s what a writer does. They pay attention. They hit the really rock-bottom moments. That’s why a lot of people don’t want to write, or they quit writing, because s you do have to hit rock-bottom.
I remember years, maybe it was a year and a half ago, you had an episode of the Story Grid podcast where you asked me, “Do you have to be depressed to be a good writer?” At the time, I wanted to say to you, yes, but I didn’t. I didn’t say that, because it’s not about being depressed. It’s about reaching a moment at the end of the envelope of your cognition. It’s like being Chuck Yeager and pushing the envelope of what you know. Going as fast as you possibly can and you’re going to hit that demon in the sky that is going to be very, very disorienting, and it’s going to send you into a pit. It’s going to make you depressed. It’s going to make you feel that all is lost, but you don’t want to tell people that when they have an ambition, because they’ll get too scared of it.
Yes, and I remember very early on when we met with Steve, you once said to him, “How to be a writer?” and Steve was like, “The only way to be a writer is that’s all that you can do. I would not wish writing on anyone, because it’s extremely painful.” You’re like, “Oh! Come on, that’s ridiculous.” In fact in my mind I’m like, “Just you wait, dude.”
It’s not about being depressed, but what it is about is pressing forward into the unknown in such a way that you get so disoriented that you want to quit and you think there’s no way to get out of it. That’s what you hit three months ago. I confess right now, I’ve hit this with a project so badly right now that all he want to do is mow the lawn and do manual work, and that’s what I am doing, because that’s the way I can get away from it. But that’s what writing is about sometimes. But when it hits, the muse came to you in a way that gave you the answer not just to a scene, not just to your book, but to an entire series of your – I mean, who knows what the theme of your next novel is going to be. But if this is a trilogy, I think by the end of this novel that people read they will say, “I can’t wait to read the – Let’s see what happens next, because she won, but she lost. Now she’s got an even bigger problem. I wonder how she’s going to handle it.” But they’re going to think like, “I think she can handle it.”
Anyway, look, we’ve got a ton more work to do, and this thing is far from perfect. But you’ve got a real glow, a heartfelt center to this story now that you didn’t have before. My publishing philosophy is it doesn’t matter now. We’re going to make it really good. We’re going to shine it up. We’re going to do everything possible to make this the best book it possibly can be, and then we’re going to publish it. Guess what? Then it’s on its own.
But I think you’ve given it a lot of effort. You didn’t quit on it, and no matter what happens, if you sell 10 copies, it’s really does not matter. I know that’s ridiculous to say, but it’s the labor that brought you to a place where you now think like a writer. You’re now behaving like a writer. You’ve turned pro. You didn’t quit on the book. You didn’t quit on it.
It’s been almost 3 years now. Has it been three years since we started this thing?
[00:40:54] TG: Yeah, it’s been over three years.
[00:40:55] SC: Okay then, tight? I know people probably come up to you all the time, and they do to me and they go, “Gees! When are you going to leave Tim alone? God! Why did you publish that damn thing? I’m sure it’ fine.” The truth is, yeah, I guess it was fine, but you didn’t go through – You didn’t find the controlling idea of the book yet, but now you have now. Now we can do all of the polishing and all that stuff to make this line-by-line writing and all that stuff work better, and we can polish the scenes, but that’s the thing that drives me. Yeah, I didn’t care about publishing another book. I published plenty of books. I want to publish things that I know have heart in them, whether other people see that heart is not – There’s nothing I can do about that.
I see it. I was moved by it, and I operate under the assumption that if I can get moved by something, other people will be to. If they aren’t, well, I guess I was wrong, but I was moved. That works for me. That’s all I can go on. That’s all I have, and that’s what I brought you to, to a place where you could write something that I think is very original, although it’s inspired by many, many things that came before it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I think it’s an original concept. I think the character is very sympathetic. I think a lot of people find themselves in Jesse, and I think it was a really, really nice chunk of 18,000 words that will pay off the book in a great way.
[00:42:52] TG: I got a little teary a few times when you’re talking, because it’s like – It was funny, because I finished it and I told Candice. She was out when I finished it. [inaudible 00:43:04] she’s like, “Oh! That’s so great.” I’m like, “I don’t want to talk about it,” because when I wrote the first draft, it was clear, I was going back into the salt mines. There was no polish this up and we’ll be ready to publish. A lot of people been asking throughout the fall, the last few months like, “When is the novel coming out?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I can turn this draft into Shawn and he’s like, “Yeah, back to the salt mines,” and that’s where I’d go.
But it was kind of like when I finished the draft of Running Down a Dream, that became the book. You hadn’t seen anything since the introduction, I think. I don’t think I had showed you anything since the introduction. When I finished, I knew – My gut was saying, “You wrote the book. You said what you’re trying to say.” Then I gave it to you, and you confirmed it. This was very similar, where like I finish and I’m like, “I think this was pretty good. I think I hit all the notes. I think I said what I was trying to say. I think I paste it well. I think I was true to the characters,” but at the same time I’ve never done this before. So I didn’t know if that confidence was well-founded or not. I mean, just to hear that you’re excited to be a part of getting it out into the world, that just – I’m just really excited. Yeah, thank you for bringing me to this point. This is where I was trying to get.
[00:44:44] SC: Yeah. There’s a paradox.
[00:44:50] TG: A few weeks ago you suggested writing like a short history of the world, and I feel like that may be my next thing. So tell me – I feel like we’re going to be trying to publish this in the first quarter, beginning of second. What should I be doing now to – The way I’m interpreting this is I have the story, which is the most important part. Now I’ve got it cleaned up everything to really let people see the story and not get distracted from the story.
One is that we’ve already established is taking the world and putting that – Grounding that reality, but what else? I mean, is this where we go back to like do I need a spreadsheet? Do we need to walkthrough the hero’s journey archetypes and moments? What’s next?
[00:45:50] SC: Yeah. I mean, the way I would handle establishing the world, from what I understand you have a whole bunch of notes and maybe you’ve written some stuff about the general dynamic concept of how the world got where it is, etc., etc. I don’t necessarily think that you have to formalize that right now. What I would do is, yes, I would go back and I would re-spreadsheet the entire story exactly as it is now scene-by-scene. Even start on page one and do it from scratch. Don’t refer to your old notes, and just make sure that your scenes are turning and that all that stuff.
Now, after you do your spreadsheets, then – Or while you do your spreadsheet, I would also make notes, and this is what I did in the Story Grid, the global Story Grid for Pride and Prejudice. At the very bottom of the graph you’ll see I picked out the specific scenes where the conventions and obligatory scenes of the global genre were being met. There is the lovers meet scene. There is the confession of love scene. There’s the proof of love scene. There’s the rivals. All that stuff is at the bottom spreadsheet.
So while you’re going through and doing your spreadsheet, pick out the moments of where your meeting the conventions. What scene is the speech and praise of the villain? What scene is the double ending? Etc., etc. Look at the thriller conventions and obligatory scenes and see if you can pick out without really having to think all that hard of where they are.
That’s a great check to make sure that you actually hit them all, because sometimes you miss one or two and you go, “Oh! I can tweak that scene and add that thing that I need there. Then the third thing would be go through the same thing in the hero’s journey. Is it clear that there is an ordinary world moving to an extraordinary world and back again?
Again, back to Tolkien, I believe the subtitle of The Hobbit is There and Back Again. So what that means is that in the heroic journey, the hero begins in the ordinary world, goes to the extraordinary world and comes back to the ordinary world with a gift. I can just know off the top my head that you did do that, because she does return to New York City at the end of the story. But you want to be able to clearly know that you hit those moments in the hero’s journey. Is there the meeting with the goddess? Yes. Is there a guardian between the world? Is there herald? All that stuff that we’ve talked about ad nauseam in other episodes?
Then once you have generally mapped out your 60 scenes and you’ve detailed where you met all the conventions and obligatory scenes of the action thriller genre, it’s a labyrinth plot. So there’s got to be a labyrinth, and you do have a labyrinth. It’s a heroic journey. So there are three tasks or challenges that the hero has to get through. You do that. Okay. After you basically hit all of those things and you’ve clarified it and you know it and you can answer your six core questions and blah-blah-blah and your fool’s cap page looks great and your scene-by-scene works, then you pick out where you can drop in exposition in a way that isn’t cheesy or overdone.
[00:49:55] TG: What do you mean by that?
[00:49:56] SC: Because the one weakness that you have now – Well, you have a bunch – The thing that’s really important that isn’t clear yet is the world, and you can make notes when you’re doing your spreadsheet, have someone mentioned X about the world in this scene. So you can pile on the world in moments throughout the book as opposed to having someone give the history of what happened in 3,000 words in a big clunk. So you could have someone like Alex say like, “Oh, yeah. That’s just like what happened when blah-blah-blah happened.” “What do mean? Is this like the [inaudible 00:50:48],” or whatever. That way it can organically appear in dialogue as a way to progressively complicate the dialogue and also give the world a history inside of it.
Obviously, you have a plenty a shitload of work to do still. But a lot of this stuff is now like really intense micro work and macro checks and then adding the world, and then after you do that, then you’ve got what I would call the working draft. The working draft, you would then go through it line-by-line and you would fix the choppy sentences. You would fix the clichés. You would make it so that your goal – This is like we did with Running Down a Dream, except we kind of skip this part for Running Down a Dream, because we’re under deadline. Basically I did your line-by-line polishing, but you would do that polish first and then you would give me your polish and then I would polish your polish and then you would read it again and you would agree or disagree with my polishes. Then we send the copy of it.
[00:52:18] TG: Okay. That’s simple enough. I’ll have that to you in a couple of days.
[00:52:23] SC: Yeah. I think the next step would be to just spreadsheets the thing and do your checks for your obligatory scenes and conventions and your hero’s journey.
[00:52:35] TG: Okay. I’ll get to work on that.
[00:52:38] SC: Okay.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:52:39] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Story Grid podcast. For everything Story Grid related, check out story grid.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 Apple Podcast and leaving a rating and review.
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