[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 am usually your host, Tim Grahl, but this week Shawn Coyne, the creator of Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid, he is hosting because he is talking with a special guest. One of our Story Grid certified editors helping her work through her story. She’s going to be replacing me this week on the podcast.
Courtney has been having a lot of trouble wrapping her head around her novel and her series and so she reached out to Shawn, and Shawn wanted to have her on the show. So that’s what you get to listen to this week. Before we jump in, I want to remind you that as of the publishing of this episode, you have just two more days to sign up for the summer semester of Level Up Your Craft. I’m really excited about this course and about what we’re going to be doing together this summer. This is a kind of stuff that Shawn is really good at, is helping teach, as you’ve heard on this podcast, but also helping you just apply these things in very systematic ways to your writing and to Level Up Your Craft for this summer. I’m really excited. You can check that out at storygrid.com/summer. Make sure you sign up and join us this summer for Level Up Your Craft.
Okay, let’s jump in and get started.
[0:01:23.9] SC: Courtney, first of all, thank you so much for being on the podcast and I really admire your courage. Not that I’m going to grill you or anything, but it’s always difficult to talk about your stuff. I always feel when I’m writing something, the last thing I want to do is talk about it with somebody else, because it almost seems strange, and if I talk about it too much, the muse might go away. Even though I know that’s not true, it’s always a difficult thing to do this. First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to do this.
Let me just give a little quick background. I’ve known Courtney for about a year personally and through the Story Grid for a while now, and she’s a Story Grid certified editor. She’s a wonderful person and she has been working on something for quite some time now, and she sent me an email asking if I could give her some help and she agreed to come on and do the podcast in lieu of me giving the help so that other people out there can understand that even people who have been working on this stuff for years and actually have certification in my methodology run into roadblocks in their own work, and this is just the nature of the beast.
So don’t ever feel like you’re a loser because you need help. The most important thing to learn in life is learning to ask for help and to ask help from the right people. I’m the right guy here. This is my expertise, and I don’t think we’re going to solve all the problems here, but I think the goal of this conversation for me is to almost like deflate a big anxiety bubble within Courtney so that she can relax, give herself a break and start enjoying the write process a little bit more than she has been. Blah, that’s a very long introduction, but I wanted people to understand that even those who are pros, and I consider Courtney a pro, they run into big, fat roadblocks, walls and all those things that we all worry about.
Okay. So with that said, Courtney, why don’t you just give me a little bit of background about this project and then start whatever you feel you want to ask me, just ask me, and then we’ll just go with it and see where we go.
[0:04:00.3] CH: Okay. First of all, Shawn, thank you so much for your response to me. Number one, I was like, “Oh, shit! Oh, boy! I have to be – I’m going to be on the podcast,” and I’m just going to get like a little one liner back from you saying like, “You’re fine, do this.” I woke up that morning and I was like, “Huh!” Of course, the answer was, “Yes, I’ll be on this,” and I’ve been preparing all these questions, trying to make the perfect questions and my partner is like, “No. Just show up and talk to him. He’s your mentor. He knows story. Talk to him and it will all just be very organic.” So thank you so much for offering to do this with me and listen to me and help me.
[0:04:42.9] SC: Well, it’s my pleasure. That’s why I’m here and – Anyway, let’s get into it.
[0:04:47.5] SC: Okay. All right. Let’s get into it. So my project is I’ve been writing a novel for a few years. I actually had – This is my second novel, which is now being turned into a series. I had originally seen this book as a series and I did work with somebody a few years ago in 2015, is when I started writing this story. I saw it as a series. I was encouraged to write it more into one novel, and the reason I saw it as a series is because this story incorporates – It’s a middle grade fantasy series. There is reincarnation involved. There’s six lifetimes. There is a magic crystal that ties all these lifetimes together, and there’s other things like gender fluidity, there’s age ranges, age 9 to 14. There’re all these things, it’s a very big story. It’s many lifetimes. I saw it as a series, and then I was encouraged to write it into one novel, which I did, and I wrote basically these mini novels that range between 40 and 60 pages and six lifetimes. So it’s six lifetimes in one novel [inaudible 0:05:52.5] about 240-280 pages. I wrote that in seven months and I’ve been kind of stifled ever since with, “Wow! It’s a big story.” I actually did a story grid of it and I showed it to you in Nashville and it was insanely off the charts and so long that when it printed it out, that was probably like half of the wall. I’m like, “Oh, yeah. This doesn’t make sense again to put into one book. It’s too much.”
I guess in some respects, I feel really grateful that I have the entire story. Like I feel like I know all the lifetimes where my protagonist goes through. I know the ark of the series. I know where the story ends and it comes full circle. By writing that first draft, I got my theme. So those are all super beneficial, but I kept hitting the roadblocks when I was trying to revise that one novel into a second draft, and then when you and I talked in Nashville, and I talked to some other editors there, I was once again encouraged to write this as a series, which I was psyched about. It’s what I wanted all along, it felt right, and now I’m going back to book one and I’m like, “Oh, boy!”
[0:07:06.7] SC: Right. So let me just interrupt for a quick moment here. First of all, the global ideas that you’re talking about are very compelling, and I think I said this to you when we met in Nashville, and it still holds true. So one of the things that I always try and encourage people to remember is that it’s very difficult to even come up with a concept. It’s a difficult notion to come up with a really compelling what if, and your what if to me sounds really cool. It sounds like a story about almost like a religious sort of transformation, and I always mess up all my religion. So please forgive me if I get in the wrong, but it sounds like that tradition of we are on earth to learn specific lessons, and after we die we chill out for a while on the collective unconscious, and then through some interesting thing that we don’t understand, we’re put back on earth a little bit wiser but it’s still necessary for us to learn additional lessons.
From what you were telling me about your idea, it’s sort of tracks along that global supernatural sort of religious notion, and that to me is compelling because that’s a very, very old idea. It’s what Carl Jung would say is a story archetype, and the story archetypes are the ones that really, without us understanding it so much, they really suck us into the story. So when we set out to write a story that concerns a deeply historical archetypical mode of behavior and idea, then we lock into something that a lot of people can understand without really knowing why they understand it. It’s what I call the known unknowns. There are things that we know that we don’t know until we are presented them in story and we intuitively attach to those stories because we have a sense of what’s going to happen and it’s because of this long sort of historical and evolutionary track of storytelling in our lives.
So, first of all, that is a great concept. Now, the second thing that I really loved about the idea is, to me, when people tell me they’re writing middle grade or young adult work, a bell goes off in my head, a light bulb goes off and it says, “Oh! This is cool, because when we set out to tell those kinds of stories, there is something inside of us that is trying to have a conversation with our own selves when we were children.”
So it’s sort of like that idea of like The Princess Bride. William Goldman has the grandfather tell the wonderful princess bride story to the young boy who’s sick in his bed, and I think that is an intuition and the thing that we do when we want to write young adult or middle grade, is we want to have a conversation with ourselves when we were younger and we can actually say to ourselves, “Don’t worry. I’m going to tell you a story that is very similar to what you will experience in your life so that you understand that you’re not a weirdo. You are not strange. You are an authentic, original, important person on the planet.”
Often times when we we’re young and we’re learning things, we lose the thread of own narrative. So when we grow older we become adults, we have an intuitive sense to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be great if I can write something that would have been helpful to me when I was six, and if I had read this book that I want to write when I was six, I could’ve sliced out a lot of really difficult and painful revelations, and maybe I could’ve moved a little further down the road than I am presently.”
So when we’re storytellers and we’re writers, we often try to repair our own pasts by pursuing our own muse and our own stories, and so this is all to say that when you told me about your work in Nashville I thought, “This is really cool. This is somebody who’s really, really grinding into a deep story that she needs to tell to sort of return to her own.” Jung also said like, “When we return to the innocence of our childhood while we have wisdom, that is the goal of life, because then we can look at the world with the childlike aw and yet know where all the malevolence and good things are too.”
With that said, I think it’s important for you to know, “Hey, I’m on the right track. Obviously, this is super difficult. I’m grinding on it and it’s hard,” and the reason why is because it’s really important you. This is a really important thing to you and that’s great. So oftentimes when we look at a roadblock we say, “I’m never going to get over this thing,” instead of saying, “Oh, this roadblock is an opportunity. This is an opportunity for me to go back and re-envision what it is that I’m trying to do in the first place,” and I think we have that opportunity right now because you’ve got this guy who will listen to what you say and then I’ll just throw out stuff and you can take what you want. If something rings a bell and makes sense, then you use it. If it doesn’t, you go, “Well, he was off the mark there, but maybe I can poke something else out of that.”
Okay. So you want to write a middle grade series. You’ve written a full-length novel that was about 40 pages per story and you had six stories. Okay. It’s about gender fluidity, which means sometimes the character is a boy, sometimes the character is a girl, sometimes it’s transsexual, or I’m not sure what the appropriate language today is to gender fluid, meaning you’re both – You like have a female body but you’re a male presence, right?
[0:13:39.3] CH: Right. I consider myself a pretty gender fluid. I’m him very much in between. I have masculine and feminine energy within me, and I think we all do. Yeah, that’s really what it’s about. I mean, that’s one big component to it because I think no matter if you are a male and very dominant and – Whatever, you can still have that sensitive side. I think it’s just harder in our society to be allowed that, and I really want to kind of punch a hole in that and encourage everybody to embrace that other side of themselves that society culture tries to push down.
[0:14:14.2] SC: Absolutely. In fact, there are five core traits that every human being lives on a spectrum, and those five core traits are fluid. So your story and your idea is really cool, because everybody lives on a certain wavelength spectrum within these five traits. Let me try and remember what the five traits are here so that I can be more specific. There is the trait of agreeableness. To be agreeable means that you want to sort of have an empathetic instinct to protect people and to help the group. The other one is sort of negative emotional balance. For lack of a better word, it’s called neuroticism.
So when things happen to you, and I’m sort of high on the neuroticism spectrum, which means that a little tiny setback creates a very large result. So if toes burns in the morning, I could freak out and say, “My day is shot,” just because my toe is burned. That’s neuroticism, is the degree of negativity. Then the positive emotional element is whether you’re introverted or extraverted. So extroverted people like to be around other people and they have a lot of positive emotion, and introverted people are more on sort of like – They require being alone. Everybody, again, goes somewhere in between that spectrum.
All right. Those are three. The other two – I said agreeableness, neuroticism, and then extrovert introverts, and then there’s sort of creativity spectrum, and you’re obviously high on that as well as I, which means that you can create things from your fantastical memory. So highly creative people are – They’re really into connections and abstractions and thinking like, “Well, what would happen if this happens?” You can be very high on the creative side too. Then the last one – Oh, it’s always the one I always forget about. Maybe I’ll come to it sooner, but my point is, is that your theme is it locks into the truth of psychological examinations over the past hundred years, which is really good.
So what you’re saying is that part of your message to people is that we are all on a spectrum of gender qualities and stuff, and coming to terms with the fact that we have many different sides to ourselves is an important element of being able to cope with the chaos of the universe.
Okay. So now, for the first story in a series of middle grade stuff, what do you think sort of the central goal and task of that first story should be or would make sense? The character is going to start at the beginning. What’s going to happen by the end of the first book? Is she going to die or he’s going to die? Have you chosen which?
[0:17:35.2] SC: I know every lifetime who they are and I definitely have my overall series theme, which I write about a lot in the articles and Story Grid, which is basically be true to yourself, listen to yourself, trust yourself. I mean, these are all things that, like you said, I wish I could’ve told my five-year-old self, and I’m learning now as an adult. I know that series theme. Yes. That first lifetime is really where it all starts, and essentially the way that I’ve written it is she’s in this utopian society. It starts off in Atlantis, and even though she’s nine years old, she has this gift that can save her people and destructions coming, and she does save them with the help of this magical crystal, but she has to break it. The crystal goes out into all these different directions, which end up becoming a negative thing eventually and she has to go back and retrieve them in these lifetimes, but she does sacrifice herself. She does die at the end of the book one, and I kind of imagine seeing the end of the book just kind like peeking into the next lifetime.
[0:18:40.2] SC: Okay. So this is great, by the way. This is a great – A ton of ideas are already coming to me. Okay. Traditionally, in kind of the first book in a series with a character who’s young, we want to move them from a place of – It’s a maturation story in a way. So at the very beginning, she lives in a utopian society. Now, the way social societies work is that – Now, is the utopian society very ordered? Meaning, does everybody have a job and does everybody have to do their job or there are consequences for them not doing their job? How would you define the utopia?
[0:19:21.2] CH: Yeah. Is interesting, because lately I’ve actually been – I kind of have this, I think, revelation, because I had been also struggling with it because I had seen the utopia is literally perfect, like the way you wanted it to be. Her parents are so lovely to her. Everybody gets to do the job they feel is right, except for them, except for her. There’s really not a lot of stress in that lifetime, except for this distraction coming. What I kind of thought about now is that it needs to be kind of an appearance of a perfect society, and basically everybody has to do a certain job because that’s how the society – The community can stay perfect and nobody wants to leave Atlantis. Why would they? They’ve got everything they need. But underneath it all, I think maybe some kind of repression has to happen in order to keep this society happy and perfect.
[0:20:15.6] SC: Yeah, absolutely, because the difficulty with utopian societies, and this goes to something Dostoyevsky wrote in the 1800s, and he wrote essentially that if we were able to create a world where the only thing that we had to do was to sort of eat as much as we wanted, we would never get fat and stay in warm baths so we would never get cold, would it be the perfect temperature and all we would have to do is procreate. What would happen is we would go crazy. What we would do is create some sort of stress or pain to solve. This is the human condition and that we constantly need to have some sort of unknown stress, chaotic thing, if not in our present, in the future, so that we can satiate our curiosity.
One of the motivating primal motivating elements of being a human being is this incredible insatiable curiosity, and the reason I think evolutionary for that – Evolutionarily, is that as we were sort of animals in trees, we’re slowly evolving into human beings, the animal that was too afraid to go down to the earth to look for food would die. So those animals that – Well, those primates that went out searching the unknown to find out where the food is, they would survive.
So this neural pattern has had 300,000 years of evolution to push through into the present day human being. So none of us really feel – We all want to eat. The only thing better than eating today is knowing where the food is tomorrow. Once you know where the food is, you can stop worrying about whether or not you’re going to eat tomorrow.
So the problem, the basic environmental problem for humanity in a utopia is that it destroys the curiosity element. When that is denied, we go mad. So that might be a way – And the other problem with the utopia is what’s your inciting incident? Is it a bomb goes off? Is it what insights the movement of the character to think of an object of desire in order to settle her instability? Something has to destabilize your protagonist so that she says to herself, “Oh my gosh! I got to get back to the way things were,” or “I’ve got to get out of here so that I can X –” So the utopia itself is also – It’s a straw man, almost an impossibility. That’s why we all dream of it.
So if the girl is in Atlantis, the other thing is, in order that have that kind of utopia, what would happen is that you would have an extremely ordered and rule-based society. So if everybody can do what is best for them that they enjoy, what would happen to the person who didn’t know what they want? Who didn’t want to do what everybody else does for some reason? That person would feel an intense alienation from that culture, right?
So the maturation process for a young girl – I just read this book by this woman who was raised in a very strict religious background. It was called education, but I think her name is Tara Westover, and she describes this world in which she is supposed to just follow direction of her parents and not question their teaching. So she does this, and unfortunately as she grows older she intuitively starts to rebel against it because she wants to do things outside of the strictures of her family. So that what they say to her is that, “The reason why you want to do that is you’re bad. You are being seduced by the evil of the world, and thus your desires to explore outside of our camp are evil.”
When you’re a child, you start to believe that stuff. Then you start to self-attack, and the problem, the deep dark problem of course is that you’re not evil for being curious. You’re not evil for wanting to explore the world and find your own place and to discover that thing within you that you know you need to share with the collective, with humanity. So that’s always an interesting way of sort of getting an inciting incident that strikes the character in such a way that it compels them to move outside of the group thing.
In the 1980s, there was a movie called The Gods Must be Crazy, and the inciting incident of that movie was great. It was about this tribe of native African people in a pristine sort of tribal land that had not been influenced by Western society. One day, out of an airplane, a biplane, somebody throws a Coca-Cola bottle, and the bottle lands within this tribal area. The natives come and n they look at this Coca-Cola bottle and they have to make sense of it. What is this? What are the gods trying to tell us with this Coca-Cola bottle?
It’s funny, but it’s also true, right? When something in our world jumps into our lives, we have to make sense of it. So the reason why I bring that up as this might be a way of getting an inciting incident that’s organic to the environment. If, say, she’s – I don’t like this – Well, I won’t use the expression if I don’t like it then. If she is buying into the utopian society, lock, stock and barrel and everything is great, then inciting incident could make her realize that, “Geez! Maybe there is some fallibility in this world because everybody’s freaking out about this thing that has landed in our community.”
But what I’m talking about, of course, is the inciting incident that pushes the character to create an object of desire in order to deal with the thing that they don’t know. It’s an unknown that drops into her world. She has no reference or map to metabolize the inciting incident.
So let me take a step back. What is the inciting incident of your story? Do you know?
[0:27:39.2] CH: It’s interesting, because I did write it in such a condensed version. That lifetime one is about 60 pages. I was talking recently with a fellow Story Grid editor, Lori, about what I have there right now and how it may be a bit much, because it’s so condensed. I wrote that first. She’s nine years old. She’s the only one there that has visions, and she has this vision of the destruction that’s coming, because Atlantis was destroyed, sunk to the bottom of the ocean. She sees the destruction coming and obviously is terrified by this and has to share this with her parents who kind of guide the community and she has to – Everybody ends up having to leave, and while she was kind of – Again, this is too nice, I think, she’s told she can go. She knows she has to stay because she can kind of utilize that energy from the magic crystal and send the energy outward from Atlantis and basically save everybody but herself and her parents.
So the way I wrote it is the inciting incident is her having this really intense vision and then everything just gets kind of escalates or goes towards everybody needing to leave. So I think talking to Lori too, maybe that is more of the climax of book one potentially, because maybe it’s too much in the beginning and it doesn’t bring about the fallibility you’re talking about, which is kind of interesting because I haven’t been able to find a masterwork and I know I’m sure you can pinpoint several, and I think it’s harder for us when were in our own stories to really see a masterwork that aligns and the only thing that are kind of coming to me are kind of like it’s a little bit Moana. I don’t know if you’ve seen that. It’s a little bit the Matrix with like the savior kind of aspect. It’s a little bit like the beginning of Wonder Woman. How she is in this perfect world and then a human from a different time period kind of shows up there in her space. It’s kind of a little bit of all those things.
I’ve kind of thought about her wanting to kind of get out and see what else is out there in the world, but yet she’s really left to be confined to this island, because you don’t need to go anywhere else according to the community.
[0:29:48.5] SC: Okay. So the community is essentially a walled paradise where everybody must behave in the way that the government or the structure of it. Is this literally Atlantis or not?
[0:30:04.2] CH: Yes.
[0:30:04.4] SC: It literally is.
[0:30:05.7] CH: Like 10,000 years ago, yeah.
[0:30:07.0] SC: The only thing I would caution you about is the minute you present Atlantis to the contemporary reader, they project their own story on to the thing. So if you say here we are in Atlantis at the very beginning of the story and you say, “My lead character has a vision of the destruction of Atlantis,” people would be like, “Yeah, of course! I mean, Atlantis is underneath the water. Of course we know that.”
So the way around that sort of thing is to do a reveal may be in the ending payoff where it’s revealed that this is Atlantis to the reader. Sort of like that moment in – I’m sorry, I keep jumping all over the place, but in the original Planet of the Apes, the ending pay off of the movie is when Charlton Heston goes on the beach and discovers – Remember? Charlton Heston is this astronaut and he comes, he lands on this weird planet. He’s taken hostage. He discovers that the apes are the rulers of the world. He’s used as a slave. He finally escapes. The ending payoff is that he gets to this beach, and what does he find at the beach? But the Statue of Liberty and he discovers he’s landed back on earth 250, 2,500 years after you left earth.
So that is a way of using the Atlantis reveal as a big, big sort of climactic moment as supposed to opening with Atlantis, because the vision that Atlantis is going to be destroyed is not surprising, and then the audience will know, “Oh, of course, this character is right.”
Anyway, back to the masterwork. It’s a note that a lot of times when we find something that we think is a negative, like, “Oh! Dammit! Now I have to come up with this whole new idea. I can’t use Atlantis.” No. You can still use Atlantis, just use it as a reveal that will shock the reader, and they’re like, “Oh my gosh! This is a story of Atlantis.” Then they’ll say, “Oh, right! Atlantis. The mythology of that is still to this day very captivating to people.”
Okay. So one of the questions that you just brought up that I think is a good one is; what’s the masterwork? Is there a masterwork that we can put our finger on that can be a guide of sorts for you to create a beginning, middle and end that is cohesive and easy to say in five sentences? So a story about someone who has a vision, and the reaction of the culture to the visionary is – I can think of. Well, for example, the play where you have the young girl who was in love with John Proctor. Now, John Proctor is married and he’s a good sort of Puritan man who has a moment of weakness, and the young girl seduces John Proctor and then she decides that she wants John Proctor for herself, so she accuses his wife of being a witch. Then the rest of this story is how does the society react to a young girl’s accusation against a woman that she is a witch, and off we go.
Now what you could do in yours is to think about maybe your character is accused of something, and she is innocent. So what she discovers is that the culture that is supposedly the utopia protecting her is also an instrument of oppression. So perhaps the adversary, the antagonist to your protagonist wants something that your character has. Now, it’s interesting in a utopia, the concept of wanting something that someone else has is almost odd, because everybody has everything they need and everything they want.
So it could be interesting to use sort of the global movement of a story like the Crucible. The other way to go is to do Scarlet Letter, right? Where your character is committed to saving another living creature at great terrible cost to herself. So it’s almost – You think it’s that.
[0:35:00.5] AB: In the sense because that’s what happens, right? She kind of has to give up any idea of – She hasn’t even quite to discover who she is yet, but she wants to know and she ends up having to stay in this society in order to save everybody else a great cost to herself, which is kind of like – I’ve seen this as like there’s the duty to others versus like the duty to herself, right? So she has to actually take care of others before herself and being so young. That’s also very intense. But it happens all the time to people, and she ends up also dying because of it. Having to kind of repeat this process of going back to get these crystal pieces that are kind of destroying the future worlds that they go into, which is like ancient Egypt and pirate times and like all these other kinds of lifetimes.
[0:35:49.1] SC: Well, the trajectory of your story for a maturation plot is this; your lead character has to be a selfish sort of very self-absorbed narcissistic character at the beginning, and because something happens, they must go into an extraordinary world to try and put the pieces of their life back together. In that process, they discover that they are not the center of the universe and that the way that they were looking at the world is not correct and that the way in which they are going to find the most success in life is to sacrifice their own well-being in order to serve a greater good, and it comes a great personal cost and it’s a very difficult transition. But for a storyteller, the key thing to remember is the beginning is selfish. I’m only looking out for me. It’s like Casablanca. The beginning, Rick only cares about Rick. Then the woman that he love comes back into his life, that throws him into a vortex, an abyss of real pain. He’s been so damaged by the loss of this woman that he’s an alcoholic, and he realizes in the middle that he’s got to make some sacrifices in order to regain the love of this woman. He does that. Then at the very ending pay off, is he puts her on the plane with the Nazi resistance fighter because that’s where she should be, and that’s the greater good.
So if you look at it in terms of that, your character at the beginning, if she is the daughter of the two sort of forces that hold the utopia together, she’s probably a spoiled little brat and everybody in town thinks that she’s got everything and she’s got her nose in the air, she thinks she’s better than everybody else. Yeah, I know you guys have the same stuff I do, but I am the daughter of the king and queen. So you do the math, that kind of thing.
Then something happens that perhaps the adversary is very angry with her because rightfully, she’s an arrogant little twerp who needs to be put in her place, but this adversary is a force of real malevolence and evil and they don’t just want her to be put in her place. They want to destroy her. So they concoct some sort of thing where she’s brought to trial. She is accused of something, and then the middle is her defense, and then the ending payoff is something else.
I’m just spinning here in order for you to see the three big pieces of your the first part of your story. You need a really strong adversary antagonist who is bent on, an intent on destroying your protagonist, and without that sort of chaotic malevolent, evil force, that force is the same force that’s going to destroy the utopia too. So if you’re looking at this very broadly, the beginning of your story is sort of this idealized wonderful place.
It’s almost like the beginning of Game of Thrones. There’s the really nice walled city among the chaotic world and it has a righteous king, a wise king who we know if somebody needs to be punished, because he’s the king, he punishes them himself. He doesn’t pass on those things to other people. What happens is that this very malevolent force comes into their walled city and sucks him out of that world, and that’s sort of the inciting incident of Game of Thrones.
The inciting incident is that there’s the sick otherworldly beings outside the big wall. It’s like Game of Thrones is a series of little – Of walled gardens, walled cities, walled – That have a snake pop up in the middle inside the city. What’s the snake inside this utopia? That is the thing. It’s like the Garden of Eden. I mean, what a utopia is, is the Garden of Eden, and what the Garden of Eden is, is there are this beautiful place that’s a walled garden inside that has plenty of food. As long as they don’t do one thing, everything’s cool, right?
Adam and Eve can hang out in that garden for eternity. I mean, they’re immortal, and all they have to do is not eat from the tree of life, but then a snake comes and says, “Eat from the tree of life. You’ll know, you’ll know things that you will never know unless you eat that fruit,” and Eve eats the fruit and Adam eats the fruit and, bang! Here we are, we’re cast out of the walled garden, and they’re east of Eden.
So if we look at your utopian universe at the beginning, think about who represents Adam and Eve? Who represents the snake, right? That’s one way of sort of moving your telescope outside of the realm of the micro of everything that you’ve been working on for six years, or five years or however long you’ve been working on this project, is to really just get in a spaceship, in a metaphorical spaceship and go really, really up in the sky and say, “What is a utopia? Oh, it’s this really great place where all the bad things are outside of the universe. All the good things are inside, but we all know that there are snakes that come up and things that happen that are unknown that threaten the paradise, and that is the thing that will incite your story. Someone does something that is a big, fat snake in the middle of this paradise. If the little girl has a vision and she goes to her mother and father and says, “I don’t know what to tell you, but I have this vision of destruction,” and they would say, “You can’t say that. You can’t tell anybody that, young lady. You did not have that vision.” “But I did have the vision.” “Go to your room. You are not to tell anybody about that vision.” Then she is torn, she has a best bad choice, “If I don’t share what I’ve seen, we’re all going to die. If I do, my parents are going to cast me out of my house. What do I do?”
So for the first third of your story, she’s probably not going to do anything, right? She’s not going to want to be cast out of her house. So what she’s going to do is do everything to avoid having the vision. So maybe she doesn’t sleep, but then she goes crazy and she falls asleep and has the vision again, “Oh, geez! Here it comes again.” And the vision is getting stronger and stronger and stronger, and maybe she doesn’t really can’t even piece together what this vision is about, only that winter is coming, right? “Mom and dad, winter is coming.” Let’s use the Game of Thrones stuff. They’re like, “No. It’s not. Shut up.”
Then she finally realizes it’s time, I have to tell other people. Once she’s done, when she does that, then you transition into the middle build of your story and some people are going to attack her for that, and maybe one or two will say, “Tell me more. My grandfather once had a vision like that too,” and then the ending payoff is, “Here comes the people to destroy us,” and the visionary becomes the leader, and everybody looks to this young girl, “Well, you’re the one with the vision. Tell us what to do.” I mean, that’s another way to go about it, but I think when you don’t look at the primal ingredients for a story and you – Not obsess, but you’re looking at all these fractional, tiny, micro elements of your story, you can start to panic.
[0:45:03.4] CH: Definitely. When I took notes for what I want to talk to you about, challenge number 1 says; big picture clarity, because I have this – I mean, I worked in the film industry for 20 years and I think I really learned how to be very detail-oriented with certain things. So I have this – That’s kind of my instinct to go right to the scenes of the details and see all these ideas, and then I have a harder time zooming out and seeing the 30,000 foot view. I think that’s like – That is something I’m aware of and I’m trying to be more conscious of that and I almost feel like when I go back to – I’m trying to go back to this first draft, which is 60 pages and expand it into a full length first draft of like 240 pages, or whatever, and I now I need to just look at the big picture first, because this is why I can just explore this story for six more years in pages and pages and spirals and stuff. It’s just – I tend to go right to these details, and the antagonists, and the hero’s journey and just writing all these ideas, but it’s that bigger picture that gives me just very minimal, simplified, something to look at as an overall perspective. That’s one – I think one of the biggest things I’m struggling with.
[0:46:24.6] SC: Well, one of the things that I find to be very helpful is – Oh, boy! When my kids were little, my wife and I are believers in a certain educational system, which is about – No big revelation here, but it’s story-driven. My wife said, “We should tell the kids stories and we’re supposed to make them up ourselves.” I was like, “What?” She’s like – So on long car rides she would say, “Shawn, why don’t you tell the kids a story?”
So what I would do is I’d be driving and I would say, “You know what? My kids like me. They think I’m a pretty good guy.” Whatever I tell them, they’re going to go with it. So I’m just going to go with it. What I would start with is something as simple as, “Once upon a time, there was a little girl,” and then I just go, right? My daughter still – I came up with this idea, this little girl who lives in the castle and she tends the gardens for her job. She would go to the villages with her fruits and vegetables, and I made up a little song, and my daughter to this day sings that song, and it’s not because of any great intricate detail that I pre-thought to tell the story. It’s just sometimes if you say to yourself, “I’m going to picture a little girl sitting in front of me and I’m going to tell her a story,” and because I’ve done all these work already, I’m going to say, “Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in a perfect world, and one morning she woke up screaming. Her mother and father came to see what was wrong with her,” and she said, “Mother and father, the giant gooseberry is coming to destroy our world.” Mother and father said, “Oh, that’s silly, young lady. You just had a bad dream. Go out and play with your friends.” The next night, she had the same dream, and this time she didn’t scream. This time she made a choice never to go to sleep again, but that didn’t work out so well. Blah-blah-blah.
If you just sort of like let yourself just sort of jam a little bit, free associate, think about an old-time fairytale, something that is almost outside of what you’ve already done and think about the global world, “There’s little girl who lives in a perfect castle.” That’s true. That’s what your story is about. There’s a little girl who lives in a perfect world. Her mother and dad love her and all is well. Then X happens. Is it a vision?
I told my son a story where there was a little prince who was sleeping in a castle and he was awoken in the middle of the night by a big boom, and the boom kept coming closer and closer and closer, and so he panicked and he ran into his parents, the king and queen’s bedroom, and woke up the king and said, “Dad! Do you hear that? Do you hear that boom?” and the dad looked at him and said, “I don’t hear anything.” So the little boy starts to panic and then the dad says, “Oh! It’s that time for you, isn’t it?” and he takes him down to the bottom of the castle and he finds his old armor that he used to wear when he was a little boy, and he gives the little boy his armor and he said, “Son, that is your dragon. That dragon is come to get you, and when I was a little boy, my father gave me this armor and I’m giving it to you.” The queen watches and says, “This is all true. This is now – You must go outside of our castle and fight that dragon, but I’m going to tell you how to defeat the dragon,” and the little boy goes out and fights the dragon.
This is the story you’re telling too, only your story is about a little girl that has to fight a dragon and nobody hears the dragon but the little girl, but maybe there is somebody in the town who can tell her about their Dragon and how they fought their Dragon, because we’re all – We all need a mentor. We all need someone to take an interest in us and help us on our way, and this should be in your story. There should be a mentor for your little girl to say, “Yes, that is your dragon, but you have powers that you don’t understand, and I can tell you about your powers and we can help you get access to them, but only you can use them.
So if you look at it as this very long tradition of story and say, “What don’t I think of it as that?” and then you can piece what you’re thinking into the sections. What’s the beginning? Little girl has a vision. The middle? Little girl deals with the vision. There’s a bad thing coming. She has to fight the bad thing. The third thing? Maybe your crystal is not a crystal. Maybe it’s a mentor, and the mentor says, “This is a battle only you can fight, little girl. I can help you, but you have to fight yourself.” Then then the payoff is your little girl fights to the death and she dies at the end, but you leave a beautiful ending, a coda of her coming back somewhere else, and that’s book one, and that is a Jungian archetype of St. George and the Dragon.
I wasn’t thinking of St. George and the Dragon when I was telling these stories in the car. This is an unknown known, but when I was telling this story, guess what it was? It was St. George and the Dragon. It was the Mesopotamian myth. It was the Egyptian myth of the gods fighting chaos, all a very wonderful, important story that needs to be retold in many, many, many different ways, and I think what you feel, Courtney, personally, is that it’s incumbent upon you to tell a story to a little girl that was like you, because those little girls are out there and they need to read the story that you’re going to write, but you don’t have to overcomplicate it. All you have to say is, “My first book is about a little girl who has a problem and has to fight and solve the problem to a great and she has to sacrifice.” That’s simply it.
So go back to your 60 pages and separate them into three piles. The first pile are the first 15 pages. The second pile are the next 30, and the last pile are the last 15 pages. Just do it like that, and then read each of them and say, “This is my global beginning hook of my story. This is the global middle build of my story, and this is the global end of my story. What was I trying to get across here? How can I clarify it? How can I make it more globally archetypical?”
My little girl was St. George and she’s St. Georgette, and she has to fight her own dragon. What’s the freaking dragon? At the beginning, she learns about the dragon. In the middle, she prepares to fight the Dragon, and in the end she fights the Dragon and wins. That’s your story. So now you can say, “What’s my dragon? Who’s my Dragon? Is it a thing? Is it an animal?” It’s a life-and-death action story about a girl who’s finding her inner genius and realizes that there’s something within her that can be useful to the universe.
[0:54:37.8] CH: So the next component to that is considering it’s an entire series and that same arc needs to go over the entire series, because I’ve been –
[0:54:46.9] SC: No, don’t worry about the whole series. Worry about book one. Book one is – Look. I’ll tell you a big secret right now. Each series books; Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, it’s all archetypical storytelling about order and chaos. It comes back into order. Order becomes a tyranny. The tyranny must be destroyed, which causes a chaos. Out of the chaos rises a new order. This is the cyclical nature of history. There are civilizations that rise, and when the order becomes too constricting to the individual, it is destroyed. The individual spirit cannot be dominated forever. This is why the Soviet Union fell. This is why Nazi-ism was destroyed. The individual spirit must regulate the greater order of society.
So book one is about a very ordered world at the beginning that falls into chaos. The chaos is solved by the little girl. She saves the world, but at the cost of her own life, but she rises in book 2 in another world, that maybe in this world it’s chaotic at the beginning, not ordered like one, right? The Magic Tree House, those series of books for kids. It’s the same structure in each book. It’s just a different sort or historical sensibility.
So she could travel from Atlantis to the Renaissance, or the Middle Ages, or China, or Japan, or Africa. There are any number of wonderful worlds for her to explore and to extract meaning out of those worlds, but the first story has to be her discovering the necessity of her pursuing the unknown. She needs to – That’s what education is. This is why I really purposely, for my own work, I say to myself, “Don’t keep repeating the same lessons over and over again. Don’t get in a rut. Try something new. Look at story from a different point of view. Challenge yourself. There are things that you don’t know.” This is why I wanted to have Story Grid certified editors, because people like you asked me questions that I don’t ill have the answer to all the time, right? Then I have to go out into the darkness and figure it out, and usually I go with you, and together we figure it out, right? It’s not just me alone. I don’t have all the answers to your questions today, but we’re just sort of like batting it back and forth, and that’s what story nerds do.
I love the big picture. I love the meta-meta-meta-story, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t like the micro too. There’s nothing better than a great scene that’s turn, but I love the concept of your story and I think, just saying to yourself, “Well, if I had to tell this story in five sentences, how would I do it? Could I do it? Could I make it better? Could I raise the stakes in my five sentences? Can I do it in three? I think you can do it in three. It’s like name that tune. Can I get people to go, “Wow! Yeah, I’d like to read that,” just based on three sentences.
Steve Pressfield does this all the time. He and I will do something and he’ll go, “I’m thinking of a story like this. What do you think?” and he’d tell me three sentences, like, “[inaudible 0:58:49.0] Maybe.” I go, “Okay. I get it.” Then he’ll come back with something else. So three sentences. Little girl falls into a pit. Little girl starts to crawl out of the pit and keeps falling back down further and further. The ending payoff; she realizes that she must crawl down instead of up, and when she does, she’s freed from the pit. I don’t know. That’s threes sentences.
[0:59:17.3] CH: No. I get it. It’s interesting, because I’d been to do this story spine and being so specific with it thinking like I don’t know these answers, because I’m getting – I told you, I’m getting into the micro of it all. What I started thinking about, because I’m starting – I’m reading the books for our summer level up course, which I’m really psyched about, and I’m reading Bridget Jones’s Diary, and I started thinking about – It became really clear to me that it’s like what I need to do is, okay, I’m pretty great at the scenes, the details and the ideas. But what I really need to level up at is really just the base thing, which is just the big idea.
if I can understand, it’s almost like just be simple and do this one thing, and if I could get really good at the picture and seeing that 30,000 view, then I can level up to the next thing and get better at that and really just focus on one thing at a time, because what I’ve been doing, and I’m sure a lot of people kind of do this, is just get caught in trying to be good at it all, like, “I’ve got to figure out my villain. I’ve got to figure out my story spine. I’ve got to figure out the hero’s journey,” and I’m filling pages and pages of things and then I’m just spinning in my head instead of backtracking to, “Let’s just be simplified and do this one thing right now and understand this one thing and look at other stories and only understand that one thing,” because then you can build on next.
[1:00:43.2] SC: Exactly. The one thing – I’ll tell you what the one thing you should focus on is; order, chaos and then the sacrifice of the little girl at the end of the story restores order. So the beginning is her being the only one who understands that there’s a big dragon coming to destroy them, and no matter what she does, nobody will listen to her. So she decides to shut up. Then something happens that pushes her into the middle build. If she shuts up, something horrible, even worse, is going to happen, but that could be anything like, “If I don’t say what’s on my mind, my father is going to make a terrible mistake. He is going to punish somebody who shouldn’t be punished, or my mother’s going to make a terrible mistake.” Right?
So she has to actually go, “Okay. Alright. I’m going to deal with the consequences of what my vision is and I’m going to tell people. Bang! That pushes her into the unknown extraordinary world where everybody is focused on her. What do you mean? What are you talking about? That’s not true. Who do you think you are saying that? You shut your mouth little girl. Then somebody says, “The little girl is right.” She goes, “Do you think I’m right?” “Yes, and here’s why,” and then that’ll push us into preparing for the battle while everybody else is not preparing for the battle. Then the ending payoff is the battle. Almost walk yourself through that.
So it’s like the big idea, the one idea is individual authenticity is indispensable to humanity, number one. Then number three, little girl who has a genius is told to be quiet. Two, little girl can no longer be quiet says her gift. Number three, little girl must fight opposition in order for her gift to be released. So we move from one to three. Then you can move those three into beginning hook, middle build, ending then payoff. Then you take the beginning hook and you pull down five. What’s the inciting incident scene of my beginning hook? What’s the turning point progressive complications scene of my beginning hook?
Now, oftentimes, I recommend, and I think I did this to Tim last week, is don’t worry about the middle build yet. Make sure you’re beginning and ending are – That there’s a change, right? So at the beginning, she’s a compliant little girl. At the end, she’s a heroic sacrificial hero. The reason why she’s a heroic sacrificial hero is that she changed from being a compliant little girl into a visionary. Great! That works. Right? There’s the beginning, is she’s a compliant little girl. In the ending, she’s a heroic visionary. Excellent!
So it starts out negatively and it ends positively. Then in the middle, everybody talks about the middle bill problems, and you’ll find them, but at least if you can nail these big three, you already got your number one concept nailed. We got it. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. You’re not going to be able to help but write that story with your eyes closed. So you know that. Next thing is those three big pillars. What are those big, big telephone poles that you’re going to string the rest of your lines of story on? I hope that I helped you at least get close to what those three big telephone poles are in this call, or this is a process of me chattering on and on and on to no avail.
[1:05:11.1] CH: I think like the other thing that comes up for me when I emailed you is I said like this first book is – The way I wrote it in those 60 pages, it’s an action story, but it’s like the environment is what the destruction is. However, I continue to think there needs to be this series villain, which I do have an idea of. I think that’s one of my other confusions, is how to like pull in that there is the antagonism of the environment that the villain is actually creating, because in the first draft I didn’t write in that villain.
[1:05:50.6] SC: Yeah. The villain – Let me try and help you with the villain. The villain is the force person, thing, etc., that believes that there is no meaning in the world. It’s like it’s the person, thing, or spirits that tries to convince us that life is meaningless, and the reason why it wants to convince us that life is meaningless, the way it does that, is by destroying things. It’s the force of nihilism.
I was raised in the Catholic religion. I don’t practice it anymore. I always had trouble with a lot of parts of the Catholic religion. But what it did teach was that there is meaning. There’s meaning to life and there’s a moral fiber and a moral behavior – When I see moral, I just mean a way of behaving in a world that we don’t understand very well. The big question is, is there a way that I can behave in a way that will reduce the suffering of myself and other people? If there is a way of behaving that way, that’s what I would choose to do.
Now, the evil force, the adversary, is a force that does not care about suffering. They want to increase suffering. They don’t want to reduce suffering, because they say if you were a meaningful force, why would they produce suffering? Because there’s suffering, there’s no meaning in life. The universe is indifferent, so anybody who has any moral behavioral patterns that are trying to make the world a better place is an idiot, and to prove that, I’m just going to destroy things to prove that life has no meaning, because if life had meaning, why would terrible tragedies happen?
So that is the negative antagonistic force in the global story of all stories. It’s what Dostoyevsky wrote about. It’s what James Patterson writes about. It’s what Jane Austen wrote about it. It’s what Jane Smiley writes about. It’s what Star Wars is about. It’s what Jaws is about. What’s Jaws? Jaws is the story of a shark who doesn’t care about people. It just wants to destroy and eat them. That’s the force. That a malevolent force that’s out to destroy us. That’s all Jaws is, and it’s an incredible movie, because the shark is literally a shark in that movie. In our everyday life, the sharks are in disguise. So for your character, there’s a shark that’s trying to destroy her, because it loves to destroy faith and moral. It wants to destroy the individual’s pursuit of meaning through action.
[1:08:52.3] CH: And this is where I, to some degree, I think I complicate my story, but also it seems like the idea that I want to go, but it’s like I start toying this idea of her having a twin that she didn’t know about, because when they were born, her parents, trying to maintain order, recognized that one of these children were going to destroy the society. They put that other twin away, and that twin’s been like in a cave somewhere for nine years. She ends up finding this twin. This twin is the series villain, and the story gets maybe more complicated than it used to be or maybe this is actually what I wanted to say, but it’s like who actually causes the destruction of Atlantis. She thinks it’s her twin, but it was really herself. In the end, she discovers this at the end of the series. The order didn’t work for her, and with that power from the crystals, she actually brought the destruction because she needed to destroy the world. The hero did. Because it didn’t work for. She needed to go out and live the days of their lives.
[1:09:54.0] SC: That’s why I’m doing Fight Club for 15 scenes. Fight Club is about exactly that. What you just described was Fight Club. That’s the story of a man who’s lost, who’s fragmented his personality. To literally do that, to have the twin in a cave and for her to discover the injustice and horrible tyranny and lousiness of the world is not a bad idea. That could work extraordinarily well, but would recommend against your hero. I mean, she could accidentally destroy the world. I don’t think she could be manipulated by the malevolent force to destroy Atlantis, but then, thematically, until she can redeem herself in her future lives, she will be sort of damned to go into this world again and again and again in different gender, in different ways, in gender, when she’s a boy, boy, transgender, whatever, until she can redeem herself for that flight of fancy, because not to get too Freudian or Jungian here, but we all have a shadow part of our lives, is to reconcile ourselves with our shadow. It doesn’t mean that we destroy the shadow and want to make sure we never even recognize that we have one, because that’s super dangerous, but it’s to understand, yeah, we have the capability of evil. Human beings are capable of deceiving other people. That’s malevolence. That’s evil. To deceive other people, to get what you want is an expression and it’s an act of expression of evil and malice and we all have that capability and we’ve all done it and we all don’t want to admit that to ourselves.
When we do, when we recognize our shadow, the shadow can be – Like when we defend people who are defenseless and we bring our shadow out to battle that battle, that’s a good use of a shadow in my opinion. Anyway, my point is that if you use the twin character and have her buried in a basement somewhere, it’s not a bad idea, because then your character comes to the realization that there’s a price to be paid for the utopia. There is a very deep price, and the price is freedom of speech, freedom of like, “Yeah, we don’t like people who say things that we don’t like.” But you know what? If we get rid of the ability of people to say what we don’t like, that’s a really slippery slope, because then we’re telling people, “You cannot express your own truth, because if you express your own truth, then we don’t like it and we’re going to throw you in jail.” That’s what happened with the Soviet Union and a number of other societies, is when we eliminate freedom of speech, in my estimation, the ability to speak your mind is the primary and most important law that we should uphold, even when, especially when people say things we don’t like, “I don’t like Fox News. I don’t like some of the things that the people say,” but they need to say it. Anyway, you’re going on a political diatribe now.
[1:13:40.4] CH: It’s okay though, because this is what we’re getting at. We’re getting to it. This is what I’m trying to say with my story. It actually is this. This is the series, like that’s what she learns in the sixth book, is that that this didn’t work. It didn’t work for her. It didn’t work for anybody else. That’s why –
[1:13:54.6] SC: We can’t silence people. When you silence people, you oppress.
[1:13:59.8] CH: When you silence them, you silence their own understanding of themselves. I mean, this is my story. Obviously, this is related to myself. It’s like –
[1:14:09.8] SC: I’m mean, the inciting incident of your story, if you have this sort of this twin who’s in some chambers, is the discovery of the twin. She gets a message. Maybe division is from the twin. Her vision – Oh my gosh! This is great. Okay. So what did twins do? They seem to have a way of communicating that is nonverbal. I mean, a lot of twins say they know what the other person’s thinking, and she wakes up with these nightmares, like, “I have a feeling I’m being buried.” “What are you talking about, darling?” “I feel like I’m in this cell behind the church underneath 20 leagues underneath the ground.” “Oh, don’t be silly, darling,” and it’s her twin sending her messages to free her, right?
[1:14:57.0] CH: Yeah.
[1:14:57.2] CH: Then, bang, the transition into the middle build is the discovery that she’s really there, and then she transitions into the middle build because she decides to free her. So she goes and digs her out of that hole, and maybe she gets help from a mentor, and they get her twin out of there and then they go, “Now, what are we going to do?” She says, “Mom, the truth is, sister, mom and dad put me here.” What? What are you talking about? Oh my God! What are we going to do now?” That’s a really anthropomorphized side of releasing the shadow. That’s why Fight Club is such a masterwork, is that the shadow becomes Brad Pitt. I mean, not too bad. You had Ed Norton, and Brad Pitt, and then Helena Bonham Carter plays Marla. I mean, it’s a terrific story, and that’s a masterwork. I’m glad you agree to be a part of the summer-long course, because I think the reason why took –I just decided to do Fight Club as the third one. Yes, it’s very violent. Yes, it’s very, very disturbing. It’s not the cut and dry sort of Bridget Jones diary and The Martian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love both of those, but Fight Club is a masterwork because it took the thriller from one place and it put it in an entirely different one. It made it a realistic representation of how people become nihilists to the point where they will destroy the world just to prove how meaningless the world. We’re living right now in a time when more and more people are doing that and we need to figure out how to stop that, and Fight Club – It was before 9/11 that that thing came out and it was prescient.
Anyway. So, I think Fight Club is going to be really good for you, not that you’re going to write at that level of a bloody darkness and everything, but thematically, if you think of like, “Oh, this is my Tyler Durden character, and Tyler Durden is the victim and he is underneath the ground, and this is my narrator and Norton character, and the parents of the Edward Norton character represent the strictures of society, and they’re going to lie to him. They’re going to lie to character all the time,” because lies – First of all, I think utopia is a concept that is a lie. You cannot eliminate the chaotic universe. You can’t – It’s like the yin-yang symbol. You can’t get rid of half of the yin-yang. It doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work.
So people who say, “Oh, yeah, we can have a utopia.” They’re lying to themselves. They’re telling half of the story. The story includes white and black, dark and light, good and evil there. There are all those values that I talk about all the time. There’s a spectrum of value for a lot of things. Freedom and slavery over and over – There’s a million of them, but there’s a duality to our lives, and there’s a duality to the universe that you cannot just try and explain away and say, “If everybody did this, then everything would be great and we wouldn’t have any of that darkness.” No. Because we need to constantly be reinventing and tweaking.
Anyway. So, I hate to do this, Courtney, but I do have to go. Let me answer one or two more questions and then we’ll call it a day.
[1:18:45.3] CH: Okay, cool. That’s great, because I wrote down two more thing, which is – I’ll say them then we can just address them the same time. Basically, it’s like – So would the twin be the victim and then? Then my other thing is just kind of, once again, seeing this story now that you have that full – That next part to it. What’s my next step? I just need to get this big picture down first so I can get this first draft, this full first draft.
[1:19:10.6] SC: If you do the twin in the whole, that would be the victim and the villain, and because they’re twins, the two of them together would be all three. It would be the victim, the villain and the hero, and that way you’re solving a big problem with two characters. I like the idea of the villain being the victim at the beginning of the story, and the hero saving the victim/villain and releasing the villain back into the world. That’s thematically cool, because then the hero realizes, “This person was playing the victim in order to cause chaos. Now we got to put the devil back in the hole, or don’t i? What do I do?” It’s a great best bad choice, right? Does the devil get to live on the planet or not? Can we keep the devil in the hole? Damn, I don’t know. Can we? Apparently you can’t. What do we do then? That’s a great ending of your first book.
Okay. So that’s the answer to question one. Answer your question two is you already have the big global idea. That’s your controlling idea. Put that away. The big problem you have is the beginning, middle and end, the three telephone poles of your story. If you really concentrate on doing one sentence through your beginning hook, middle build, ending payoff and it can be very, very simple. My beginning hook is my girl discovers she has a twin who’s been locked away. That’s your beginning hook.
Middle build; my little girl decides to free the victim in the hole, and she succeeds. Bang! Ending payoff; my little girl has s discovered that the thing that she’s let outside is the thing that’s going to destroy her, and she has to battle and overcome that. Does so, is successful, but loses her life, and then the coda of my story is the potential that she will have to resurface in another story. I think those are your three telephone poles.
Then after you have your three telephone poles, then you want to dive into, “What are my five scenes in my beginning hook that meet my five commandments of storytelling? What are my five scenes in my middle build that meet my five commandments of storytelling and what are the five scenes in my ending payoff?”
Then you really nail those down, and then you’ve got something that you will be able to go from scene to scene, sequence to sequence to build to those scenes.
[1:22:03.2] CH: And based on that, would you say Fight Club is the masterwork or would you say – Does that still fit?
[1:22:07.0] SC: Yeah, I think you’re going to get a lot out of it. I really do. The notion of you using fight Club as the masterwork to tell a middle grade story about a gender fluent girl being that moves through time is so exciting to me, I can tell you. Because Fight Club is it’s this overly masculine, testosterone – I mean, the characters can only feel things when they’re being beat to a pulp. I love it. I think it’s a great thing, and it also proves don’t – Your masterwork is a great template that you shouldn’t take so literally, right? It’s a thematic template that will be very helpful to you.
When I walk you through these 15 scenes in Fight Club, you will probably be able to go, “Oh! Then my third scene of my beginning hook will be just like the third scene in the beginning hook of Fight Club. All I got to do is take that scene and transpose it into my world,” and then thematically that will work, and Marla could serve your character. You could come up with a character like Marla. Anyway. Well, I don’t want to rip apart Fight club in 10 minutes, because I can’t.
[1:23:29.1] CH: Yeah. No, it’s cool though, and just that I think I’ve been trying to take the idea of a master a bit literally, like these scenes – All these scenes need to happen and this isn’t – Verses like really thinking – I’m excited about this, because just being able to think about it from a global perspective and also be able to kind of absorb some of the themes that really resonate with me in my story instead of taking like scene by scene by scene by scene by scene and trying to duplicate it, but be inspired by instead.
[1:24:00.8] SC: Okay.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[1:24:02.1] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Story Grid Podcast. For everything Story Grid related, check out storygrid.com. Make sure you pick up a copy of the book and sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid universe. If you like to check out the show notes for this episode or any past episodes, all of that can be found at storygrid.com/podcast. If you like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @StoryGrid, and this is your last reminder to make sure you sign up for the summer semester of Level Up Your Craft. You can do that at storygrid.com/summer. You have just two more days to do that, so make sure you jump in. Lastly, if you’d like to support the show, you could 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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