Story Editing: Definition and Story Grid’s Approach

Story Grid is a methodology for creating and editing stories that consumers love so much they tell everyone they meet.

In this article, we are going to specifically look at the problem of story editing and how Story Grid approaches this problem.

Story Editing: Definition and Story Grid’s Approach

Let’s start with a simple question …

What is Story Editing?

Story editing is the process by which we examine and analyze an existing story to make it as engaging as possible for a consumer.

Let’s get more technical about this.

Story editing is the process by which we examine the structural, functional organization of a specific narrative across multiple levels of abstract analysis to create a story that mesmerizes a reader, viewer, or listener into an altered state of consciousness—a state of suspended reality that is more real, more distilled, and more meaningful than everyday existence.

A reader, viewer, or listener is literally transported into another realm of consciousness when enveloped in a compelling story. The Story Grid methodology uniquely trains and equips editors to help writers develop their story into the most powerful and engaging form.

By identifying the underlying problems in a story across multiple levels, an editor using the Story Grid methodology suggests reasonable changes to the story to enhance the engagement and potency of the narrative.

Why do we need Story Editors?

There are two fundamental reasons story editors are invaluable and necessary in the story generating process.

1. Writers are too close to the work.

When a writer creates a new narrative, they are over-attached to the work in multiple ways.

First, by writing every single word, they are like a farsighted person reading without their glasses. The writer is too close to the work. It’s impossible for a writer to push back from the micro and clearly see the story as a whole.

Second, every version of the story is in their head. All of the characters, arcs, scenes, and random ideas that have been changed or cut are still rattling around in the consciousness of the writer. The writer will be the only person that can never truly experience the finished work of a story because they have experienced every iteration of the story that has ever existed.

Third, the writer is most often emotionally entangled with the story and cannot make good judgment calls on what needs to be changed.

2. Writing and Editing are Two Different Skill Sets

Much like driving a car and fixing a car are two different skill sets, so it works with writing and editing. The writer must know how to create compelling line-by-line writing and scenes while it’s the editor’s job to ensure those scenes both work and are building into a fully coherent narrative.

The editor also has the tools and skill set to apply these tools in the correct way in order to find what is missing or wrong with a story and give a clear prescription for fixing the problems.

Are you a Story Editor? Should you be?

How do you know if you are a good fit to be a story editor? It takes a unique type of person to work alongside writers to help them develop the best work of art possible.

Here are some indications that you might be a good fit to be a story editor:

  • You love to read and consume lots of stories.
  • You are excited to understand how stories work and to see what’s under the hood of your favorite stories.
  • You enjoy creative partnerships with others.
  • You want to enable and support writers to do their best work.
  • You enjoy the process of diagnosing problems with existing work more than creating the initial work.

Is there a compelling demand for story editing services?

The demand for compelling storytelling is just beginning.

Binge watching, 24/7 access to stories across multiple genres 365 days a year is in the very early stages. Demand for entertainment in the next 50 to 100 years will continue to explode.

Those who understand stories and those who can fix stories are powerful figures

How large is the minimum core market for story editing services? Can we pull some sort of number from the data available about aspiring storytellers?

Let’s look at one corner of the storytelling world: NaNoWriMo. Hundreds of thousands of writers participate every year.

About 50,000 of those participants finish a draft.

And 5,000 of those who finish—about 1 percent of the total pool of entrants—will be serious enough to explore hiring a third-party editor to evaluate their work and help them make it appealing enough to attract a commercial audience.

This is only one source of hundreds that are in need of editing help.

As the demand for story grows, so will the need for world-class editing services.

What is the current editing landscape?

There are many freelancers who offer editing services, but since there is little understanding of what an editor actually does in the marketplace, the waters are very murky.

The big four publishers do not delineate the editor’s job either.

There is no formal education to teach aspiring story editors.

A series of classes or coursework to reach professional competence did not exist. This reality incited the creation of the Story Grid methodology and book.

So, story editors establish their bona fides through past professional history (for example, “I used to work at the big four, and I’ve worked with the following bestselling writers who can attest to my skills”) or through slick sales language.

There is no consistent methodology that all editors use.

This means clients have no idea what they’ll get in exchange for their hard-earned cash.

There is no consistent product or deliverable for clients to help them make an informed decision about the value of the editor. It’s a cross-your-fingers, transfer-the-money, and hope-for-the-best situation.

Clients don’t know what the editor really knows about story.

They don’t know what to trust and what not to trust from all the advice they end up receiving.

There is a ton of bad advice from editors out there because no matter how well intentioned the freelance editor is (and most are well intentioned) if they do not understand fundamental story structure, function, and organization, they’re just going on their “gut.”

These editors have implicit understanding of what makes a story work because they know it when they see it, but their ability to translate that implicit knowledge into a workable explicit plan for writers is not founded on the principles of a comprehensive narrative theory.

Sometimes the gut works well, and sometimes it gives terrible advice. Story Grid Founder Shawn Coyne  knows because he had to go on his gut as he learned the editing craft. To level up his editing skills he had to create an explicit and objective methodology.

How does Story Grid fit into this Market?

Story Grid’s competitive advantage is based on a comprehensive narrative theory and methodology developed by Shawn Coyne, a veteran editor, writer, and publisher with scores of bestselling titles edited (and one co-written, plus three ghostwritten).

Coyne’s book, The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know, is an expensive and dense academic work. It has sold over 100,000 copies since its April 2015 publication with no bookstore placement, top-down marketing, or advertising.

The soft marketing, word-of-mouth approach and the deliberate choice to not promise quick fixes are the indispensable ingredients of Story Grid’s secret sauce. There is no magical easy fix to learning story. It’s the fundamentally simple, yet difficult, commitment to monk-like repetitive study and iteration.

Writers can’t truly commit until they exhaust their desire for quick fixes or magical thinking elsewhere. Story Grid does not try to give writers a formula, however it provides the form that world-changing stories take on.

The very good news is that the Story Grid methodology is spreading.

In terms of sales velocity, each year the book sells more copies than it did the previous year.

The Story Grid Podcast is one of the top podcasts in literature and arts and has a core weekly audience of approximately 10,000 and approximately 3,000,000 total downloads.

Through Story Grid University, we offer both foundational and in-depth courses to help writers and editors gain propositional, perspectival, and procedural knowledge and practical skills they can apply in their own works.

The Story Grid Guild has developed from an online forum with activities to a comprehensive training program that helps writers actively improve their writing through perceptual exposure and deliberate practice.

Story Grid Editorial Services offer clearly defined deliverables for each level of editing service. Writers see what they’re buying before they pay and will learn how to become better writers as they progress.

Again, Story Grid has established a comprehensive narrative theory and consistent and working methodology that improves storytelling skills. The client will know what they’re getting before buying. 

Story Grid identifies four kinds of story editing.

  1. Draft Evaluation. Editors analyze the structural, functional organization of a manuscript and then recommend a logical progression of step-by-step revisions to fortify the work’s mesmeric potency.
  2. Conceptual Editing. Editors guide the writer through Story Grid’s Narrative Path process to refine and build on a story idea and create a comprehensive map to help the writer stay on track while drafting the story.
  3. Developmental Editing. Editors guide the writer through the process of drafting (or redrafting)  their manuscript using Story Grid tools to help them course correct as soon as possible and create a story that works.
  4. Editor Mentorship. For novice storytellers, editor mentorship builds skills from the bottom up to help writers construct exciting and intriguing sentences and scenes. This process involves fast feedback loops to help the writer avoid page-one rewrites. We offer this training through Story Grid University as part of the Story Grid Guild.

These services provide the basis to meet the true needs that writers face in developing and fixing their stories.

Story Grid Editor Certification

Early on in Story Grid’s history, we began receiving inquiries to hire Shawn Coyne. When they found out he was unavailable, we started fielding requests to recommend editors that use the Story Grid methodology.

Thus, the Story Grid Editor Certification program was born.

Story Grid Editor Certification is a three-year program that provides all of the training and resources you need to build and run a successful independent editing business.

By joining the Story Grid Editor Certification training, you will gain a deep understanding of story that you can’t get anywhere else.

By the end of the Editor Certification training, you will know exactly how to:

  • Look at a story and objectively evaluate what is working and what is not
  • Give clear, specific feedback on the writer’s work
  • Always know the next action steps your clients should be taking
  • Evaluate a manuscript from the micro sentence-by-sentence level all the way up to the macro manuscript level
  • Help a writer develop a story idea into a working manuscript
  • Identify Masterworks to help your clients progress in their understanding of writing
  • Start and grow a profitable independent editing business

If you are interested in joining the ranks of Story Grid Certified Editors, click here to find out more about the certification process.

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