Systems and Chaos in Your Novel

[00:00:00] 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.

In this episode we continue talking through the second book in my trilogy of The Threshing and trying to figure out how to enter into this project. One of the great things about Story Grid is that we have macro tools and we have micro tools. We have macro tools where we can kind of zoom out and look at the story as a whole, and then we have micro tools where we can zoom in and look at one particular part of the story all by itself.

In this episode, we talk about a couple of each of those and how you can start entering into your novel and figuring out what you’re trying to write. I think you’ll really enjoy this episode. So let’s jump in and get started.


[00:01:03] TG: Shawn, I actually did my homework this week. It was actually one of the first – I think it was the first time I went back and listened to re-listen to what we recorded last week just because it was like – It’s just something I’m not familiar with. This idea of like the complicated system that moves to the obvious order, that moves to the chaos, that moves to complexity. It was that thing where like we talked and I was like, “Okay, I got it.” Then when I want to do it, I’m like, “I don’t think I got this.”

So I listened to it again. Then I just started mapping out what I thought book 2 could be, and I did a bunch of Googling about it, which was mostly unhelpful, but just trying to get like other people’s breakdowns of like what the Two Towers did and what Empire Strikes Back did and what the middle book of Hunger Games did, like bridging the gap while also being a standalone story, but also setting up the final end.

Yeah. Do you want me to just kind of launch in to what I came up with or –

[00:02:14] SC: Let me just make a comment about this conception of these sort of four quadrants of story and using the system thinking idea. Systems thinking and complexity as a science is only about 70-years-old and it really hasn’t come into any real deeply investigative stuff scientifically since probably the last 20 years. But it started sort of I believe as an idea to manage corporations. I think it came out of the business domain of managerial stuff. What people have discovered over that sort of 70-year timeframe, and I’m sorry, I’m forgetting the man who kind of came up with the concept and he wrote a book about it called Complex something and something.

What’s really interesting about it is that when we started facing all of these problems in our global world, like climate change and global warming and what do we do about the economy in the 2008 financial crisis and all that sort of stuff. People started to realize that things are a lot more complex than we might think they are. The complexity paradigm kind of comes out of evolutionary theory, which means that evolution is not sort of a fixed point in time.

We could never kind of create the super species that would be able to adapt to any environmental situation, because we can’t predict what the environment is going to be in the future. What I love about this whole system is it’s based on the natural world. So story in my estimation are fabrications or simulations of the natural world using a psycho technology of imagination and fantasy.

Of course, in my estimation, the structure of a story which is stimulating the natural world is going to simulate the progression of a person discovering something new in the natural world. The complicated system – And I was explaining this to my wife the other night, and the complicated system is sort of like this, and I know that you’re a computer scientist and you know coding and everything. It’s sort of I like this sort of metaphor or analogy.

The beginning of a story, a character, a bunch of characters are running sort of their software program. So let’s call it code 1.0. So they’re running code 1.0, and it works for them. It works really well. They’re able to take care of their fundamental needs and things are going okay. Then something happens. Something unexpected happens. Something drops into their life that starts to make the code start sending them error messages. They’re not all that often, but they’re getting more and more difficult to handle. So they keep rebooting the system and trying again and things start to work again and then they get another error message.

Eventually they go, “Oh my God! We got to unpack this code and figure out what’s going on at the very bottom foundational levels of our code.” So then they move from that complicated code 1.0 down to the obvious sort of arena, and the obvious arena is the very, very fundamental building blocks that they used to build that code 1.0. Those building block sort of coded messages that they put together to create their software, they look at them individually and they start running them again and they start to have some success with their fundamental stuff until at one point everything just blows and their entire code system is not able to figure out what this unexpected event is all about. It can’t metabolize the unexpected event. So they hit a crisis, and that crisis is, “What do we do? Should we just quit and go back to code 1.0 and just ignore this thing, or should we press forward and sort of try and keep moving?”

That crisis moment is kind of the point of no return in the story, and what it requires the code people to do is to break their code. They’ve got to go into a chaotic realm where it’s the code of no code. They don’t have any understanding of how they’re going to fix this unexpected event. So that chaotic realm is really frightening and everything they try seems to not work and nothing makes any sense whatsoever until they reach a place of all is lost.

They reach a place of all is lost, meaning, “Our code 1.0’s sucks. We can’t use it anymore. I guess what we’re going to have to do is just start from scratch. We can’t even use the foundational stuff from code 1.0.” It’s at that moment when they come to that realization that their code has to be rebuilt from scratch with brand-new insights that they’ve never had before. That’s the moment when they transition into complexity.

The complex system has order within it, but there’s a lot of disorder and chaos in there to. But what is required in complexity is to work with other people and to sort of probe this system. So that’s what the character does with other – Their compadres and together they work and poke this system until they sort of are able to pull out a strand of order. That’s the moment when the story ends when they find the truth. There is order within that complexity. That’s where the end of the story, and they generated a new code 2.0 at the end of the story. So they begin with a code 1.0 and they end at a code 2.0.

Looking at that sort of transitional movements through time and space through those different systems I think generates a really, really interesting – It’s not exactly heroic journey, because it’s not dealing with a lot of archetypes at this point, but I think in terms of our experience on the planet, the phenomenology of what we experience as we move through time as we’re trying new things and we’re trying to grow cognitively, this is the experience that we have.

That’s why I wanted you to sort of break this down into four global kind of ideas and using the systems theory so that we can start to kind of see a landscape of the global story structure. With all that said, I just wanted to kind of review that again before I hear what you came up with. Now, take it away.

[00:10:04] TG: Okay. I was thinking in terms of the complicated system. So this is the beginning hook, and I didn’t think through like if we would start here or we would use the beginning hook to get the complicated system put into place. But the idea here is – What I have is Jesse partners with the scavengers, which are like the kind of vague group of people that live outside of the grid that I introduced in the first book to help bring a system of order into the cities and provide a base level of sustenance.

They’ve figured out how to live, kind of barely survive off of outside of the cities and outside of the grid, but which also means they’re the only ones that are like not falling apart because there is no grid. But the downside of that is that they hate the city dwellers, and especially the elites, and so they really resent helping them in any way. It’s this very kind and tenuous structure of like they’re helping, but at the same time they hate the people that they’re helping.

That to me was the complicated system, which is this is what like maybe we start three months past the end of the book, the end of the first book, and it’s like this is what we’ve established and she’s trying to – She’s basically going from city to city to get this set up and try to manage it using the help of the numbered as well. That’s the complicated system.

What I was thinking of is like we have to have something that she’s aware of and that’s working, but is so like Swiss cheese that everybody knows it can’t last because that’s what kind of kicks into what she’s got to do for the rest of the second book.

[00:12:04] SC: Right.

[00:12:06] TG: So you want me to just keep going?

[00:12:09] SC: Yeah.

[00:12:09] TG: Okay. The obvious order, the thing that I was thinking is this is where everybody’s put into a new situation where they’re trying to figure out how this is going to work and try to figure out what the new rules are. That’s how I was understanding the obvious order, is it’s obvious to somebody, but not to the people at play. This is where I think I’m going to have to – It’s not all going to be from Jesse’s perspective now.

The three kinds of strands that I came up with were, first, Jesse is invited by the reapers to go meet with them to basically see the damage she’s done. She leaves the Americas faction to go to where the reapers are and starts meeting with them and seeing their system and understanding the ramifications of what she’s done. I also thought this would be a good point for us to meet the other factions. There’ll be any other faction leaders there so we can get a much more global perspective over the world, because that was another thing I was thinking, is like a lot of times the difference between the first part of a trilogy and the second part is the first part is dealing with this one very specific part of the world order and now you get a much broader perspective in the second part.

She leaves, and she leaves Harry and 83 in charge of kind of managing the complicated system she’s created, but their strife there were 83 is kind of on Jesse side and Harry is more and more on the scavenger’s side, because he’s crazy anyway. There is like this tension and even how they should maintain the order that’s currently existing.

Then the other side is we start seeing Randy who’s imprisoned in Ada, the capital, and he’s starting to subvert Jesse while she’s gone in the capital. That’s the obvious order where everybody is in these new positions and trying to figure out the best way to handle them and get what they want out of those positions.

Then chaos happens in the second half of the middle build when Randy starts making a move to take over control of Ada, which would give him control of the faction. Harry joins the scavengers and taking control of the cities. 83 fights against them and then Jesse, at the end, would make a deal with the reapers to bring the grid back online. That would be the end of the middle build, would be when she makes the deal with them to turn it back on and then she goes back to the Americas faction.

Then complexity would be – The ending payoff would be – I have no idea how I’m going to do this, but the grid is back online, which gives Jesse and 83 the edge they need to push the scavengers out of the city, but it also gives Randy the access he needs to seize control of Ada and claim himself faction president.

How I’m thinking the end of the book would be something in that realm. I’m super vague, but I was thinking like there would be a way of basically they turn the grid back on, but it actually makes everything worse and it kind of sets up book 3, which book 3 was starting to try to think through how book 3 could end with like a happy ending of all the factions coming together as one big faction getting rid of the reapers and everybody kind of working together. I would think there’d be some sort of kind of final war where Jesse works with the other two factions to take down both Randy and the reapers at the same time. Randy would end up being kind of the ultimate villain of the trilogy to keep the family dynamic fucked up.

[00:16:27] SC: Right.

[00:16:29] TG: Then I’m like a little bit into – I was trying to come up with a completely different version of that and I got a little bit into it, but I felt like I have trouble once I think of one thing thinking of another thing other than the thing I already came up with.

[00:16:46] SC: No. Yeah. I mean, looking at the global movement of a story in this way is extraordinarily difficult because you’re really sort of moving pieces on a chessboard in a way that you’re not even really sure what game you’re playing at.

Just a couple of questions and thoughts, generally. The first thing is as you were talking, I was thinking about probably the greatest middle part of a story ever made was The Godfather part two, and I was thinking one of the really great insights that Coppola and Mario Puzo had when they were creating that story from whole cloth, because Puzo’s first novel, The Godfather, was just The Godfather part one. The way they solved it in a lot of ways was to run parallel stories that eventually intersected. They went into the past and they move forward in the future. So they kind of bookended the story using the rise of Vito Corleone and the fall of Michael Corleone, I mean, the moral fall, the worldview fall of Michael Corleone and the rise of his power.

I’m just throwing that out because it’s kind of interesting to think about. I like the idea of – Here are some other thoughts that popped into my mind when you were talking, is that there’s this really cool system. It’s called spiral dynamics and it’s also part of this philosopher, Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, and I think it’s pretty true. They have this concept that we develop and we grow cognitively as we get older. All the up until 1970s, they didn’t believe that there was – That once you became an adult, you didn’t grow cognitively after that, which has since been proven to be ridiculous.

But the Integral Theory is this, like when you’re a child, it takes a long time just to grow into yourself. So when you’re a child, you have an egocentric point of view, and that means that you think you’re the center of the world and that everything revolves around you. When in your first novel, that was sort of the way that Jesse looked at the world at the beginning of the story, was that she didn’t want to go to Ada. She didn’t want to be in the threshing. So she said no.

It wasn’t until she realized that her actions were going to result in other people’s suffering that she reluctantly ended up going to the training. In that transition and what we’ve done is we moved her from this very egocentric point of view at beginning of the story into the beginnings of the building of a cognitive shift so that she started to see that she has effects on other people by her actions so that she starts to see the effects of her life on the group dynamic.

When she gets to Ada, she’s still running the old code, as they say, because she’s in an alien environment. She doesn’t know what’s up. So she has to kind of go back to her egocentric point of view and just go back to first principles and figure out how to win this thing. How can she get back home without hurting anybody but still being able to go back to the rat life?

So she goes back to her sort of fundamental egocentric point of view to solve this riddle inside of a brand-new extraordinary world. What she discovers is that she breaks the game and then she gets into trouble and then she has to go into another severing game, and at this point she falls into chaos without question.

By the end of the story, I’ll sort of stop there and just sort of give you the payoff here. She begins to integrate that she cannot operate alone, that she needs help, that she needs to be part of a community. So by the end of the book, she participates in the threshing with Az, and together with Az’s sacrifice and with the sacrifice of other people, she is capable of “winning the threshing”.

Okay. She moved from the cognitive egocentric point of view at the beginning of the threshing to the understanding of the group, which is sort of what they call ethnocentric. So now she understands that she’s part of a group and that she needs to take care of the group as well as herself. In fact, they’re very, very tightly coupled. Taking care of herself means taking care of the group and vice versa.

In the second novel, I think we need to begin kind of at that level of conception, that cognitive maturation. So Jesse is no longer fully-egocentric. She’s now probably shading more to, “Hey, man. How do I solve this problem for the good of everyone?”

At the beginning of this story, we need an inciting incident, some unexpected event that kind of drops into this very strange sort of unbalanced world that either gives Jesse the opportunity to restore order to a certain degree or makes the thing go even wackier.

I like this idea of this alliance between the scavenger community and the citified urban grid connected community. I like the idea of Jesse being the catalyst to make that happen. But I’m not sure what the inciting incident would be. It could be something on the order of there’s a very, very sort of – At the beginning of the story, maybe it begins with some sort of attack. Like the greatest shutdown, you’ve got all these people meandering in Times Square looking for answers. They’re starting to get hungry. Maybe they’ve missed a couple of meals, and guess what happens? Everybody’s worst nightmare comes true. The invading horde comes across the river. So Manhattan is this thin slice of island in the middle of a river and a bay and it’s kind of like these scavengers are like, “Hey, man. We can take the city now.”

Everybody’s worst kind of fear are they’re going to be eaten alive by these zombielike scavenger weirdoes. That could be a pretty cool inciting incident. So you kind of begin like there’s some kind of fun – It’s not fun, but there’s some idea that we’re only like nine meals away from chaos or something like that. Somebody said that somewhere. The idea is if the global food network and the chains and you go to your grocery store and there’s no food there and you start missing meals and you start not being able to get food for your kids, things get really hairy very quickly. That might be kind of like you could even structure this story like how many meals people have been missed. How many meals have been missed?

The beginning of your story would be some sort of restoration of a complicated order that only a light shining figure like Jesse would be able to negotiate. It’s very primal thing to be afraid of the stranger, and I think that I could really sort of lock-in a lot of people very early on in the story if there is this sense of, “Oh boy! These are the civilized people,” and, “Oh boy! There are some scavengers coming. What are we going to do?”

Maybe Jesse is sort of like this really thoughtful and brilliant person who is able to negotiate some kind of truce or cooperative system with these scavengers. It could be a critical moment of the beginning hawk where everyone thinks, “Oh my gosh! This whole city is going to be wiped out. They’re going to be slaughtered,” and she somehow comes up with some sort of insight that would get the scavengers to play fairly for a while. Like maybe she can set some kind of clock, like, “Hey, if you guys give us some food, what I’ll do for you is I’ll go to the reapers and set up something for something.” So she can make some kind of ridiculous – She can set herself up to do some – It’s like when Dorothy, the Wizard of Oz tells Dorothy, “Oh! I’ll help you get back to Kansas. All you have to do is kill the wicked witch of the West and bring me to her broom.” He gives her this impossible task knowing fully well there’s no way she’s going to be able to do that. Maybe that’s the system that that sort of brings this very tenuous situation under control into some kind of complicated system at the beginning of the story.

[00:27:57] TG: I was thinking, because one of the characters that was introduced offstage was Az’s father.

[00:28:05] SC: Right.

[00:28:05] TG: I wonder if like thinking through what might be cool is if like I basically pick another city, Chicago or something, that his dad was in charge of. Because I’m thinking like what I like about this is the tension between all of the city dwellers saw themselves as better than the scavengers, and now they need the scavengers in order to survive. The scavengers are either going to overrun them or they can try to set up a deal. Honestly, it makes me think of – Did you ever watch the show Parks and Recreation? The Amy Poehler show?

[00:28:51] SC: No.

[00:28:53] TG: The whole thing was she worked in this little town called Pawnee, Indiana that was like kind of a crappy town and everybody was like – It’s just kind of a crappy town. At the next door was the town of Eagleton and they were rich and like had all this money. There is always this like rivalry between them. Then like season five or six or something, like Eagleton runs out of money and has to ask Pawnee for help, but there’s like this tension because it’s like Pawnee loves the idea that they have to come in and help but at the same time they don’t want to help. Then the Eagleton’s hate the fact that they have to ask these losers for help, but at the same time, they have to ask for help.

The opening could be like basically Jesse landing in the city on a transport, getting off, and like as they fly in, they see the hordes of people coming at the city and she has to like get Az’s father, which then that will have its own tension because of their background to like make a deal with them even though he hates the idea to make it like something like that, or is that just too complicated?

[00:30:08] SC: Yeah. I mean, the only thing that I would – I’m just thinking sort of like the opening sequence of book two as this brilliant kind of negotiation by Jesse. I like the fact that you could start it where she’s already kind of figured out a lot of tenuous truces across like in New York, perhaps. The story begins like – I don’t know, seven months after the ending of the first book. She’s flying in on a transport to some other part of like another faction city. Maybe she’s flying into Paris, or London, or Moscow. As she’s coming in on the transport, she sees the barbarians at the gates. It’s like, “Oh boy!” She gets there. She doesn’t really speak the language of that faction nor does she speak the language of the scavengers that live outside that faction’s gates. But she sort of has to go in there and do everything she can to calm the world because she’s the one responsible for breaking the grid.

She lands and she gets there and through some kind of translator she comes up with some remarkable solution to the problem or some deal that will require some superhuman effort on her part. She makes like a promise that it’s going to be almost impossible to keep. But it’s the best bad choice, because if she doesn’t agree to that promise, then all hell is going to break lose. I like the idea of adding these other figures into this story, but this first beginning thing has to be I think Jesse-driven.

[00:32:14] TG: Okay.

[00:32:14] SC: If we want to look at this in terms of the four-quadrant complexity, the complicated, the obvious, the chaos and complexity, what we have here are environmental disturbances that are dropping into the world because of the upset imbalance from the previous book. I think the start of this book has to be her leveling up her cognitive ability to somehow keep that other group, the stranger group, the alien group, to somehow placate them so that they don’t destroy her group, because that’s what ethnocentric kind of cognition is about. It’s about protecting your people and dealing with the other people in a way that maintains a tenuous balance.

The whole Cold War was about this kind of ethnocentric, superpower clashing. The Game Theory rose out of the Cold War, and Game Theory is all about how do you win when you can both blow each other up and blow up the entire world?

What it comes down to is this very tenuous, the other person needs to know that you’re willing to blow up the world and they need to know that you’re willing to blow up the world, and it’s that horrific concept that keeps the peace. That billions and trillions of dollars were spent on all of these weapon systems just to assure the other party that if they tried anything that the other one would retaliate and then the result would be everybody gets blown up.

That’s a really super-duper ethnocentric cognitive process, is sort of recognizing otherness, them, versus us and maintaining some sort of balance of power whereby they can live their life, we can live our life, but the two aren’t ever going to intertwine. That is sort of like this second level of cognitive 20th century rise of cognitive integration.

Just to take this sort of Ken Wilber idea to the third power, the next level above ethnocentrism is the understanding of, “Oh my gosh! There really isn’t anything about us and them. We are the same people. Even though we might speak different languages or we might eat different foods, we’re all part of this global system.” The next kind of level of cognition is to understand that these concepts of they’re all sort of like fake stories. There’re no really us and them. They’re all constructs that people imagine.

At the end of this story, somehow, Jesse’s going to have to get to a place where she can understand that next level of cognitive thought. The process of this story is to move her thinking from, “I’ve got to protect the people in the city because those scavengers are going to wipe us out,” to breaking that frame, breaking that old code by the end of the middle build, the second middle build. She has to reach and all is lost moment by the end and realize, “You know that ethnocentric thinking is really going to make everything horrible. If we continue to maintain these thoughts, it’s only a matter of time before we rip each other’s throats out and everyone dies.”

At the end of this second book, she has to somehow have the insight, “Oh my gosh! I need to communicate. I need to actively be able to show everyone involved that we’re all part of the same system and we need to take care of this system or we’re all going to get wiped out. Her cognition has move from ethnocentrism to globalism by the end of the story, and that way, thematically, we can see her growing cognitively as she solving the problems on the ground of the people in the cities are starving. They’re starting to get really kinky because the grid is down and the people on the outside are somehow capable of surviving in that really, really horrific environment. If we can get them to teach us how to do what they do, wouldn’t that be interesting?” But meanwhile, there’re real problems going on here because she’s got to get everybody fed and there’re a lot of different defectors in her system. Of course, you’re going to have some of her closest people be defectors, Randy being one of them because Randy is never ever going to get beyond egocentrism, and he uses ethnocentrism for his egocentric ends.

That’s what sort of tyrants do. They lock-in to people’s ethnocentrism and say, “Hey, look at us. We’re awesome. Those people over there are terrible. You know what? If we can just get rid of those people over there, we’ll be awesome again.” The reason why they do that is because it gives them the power of people believing that story, which is a bad story. It’s have the truth.

I know I’m talking super abstractly right now, but I think it’s kind of interesting to consider her cognitive processing how she’s going to grow up in this story as we’re talking about the action on the ground of the story.

Questions? Comments?

[00:38:42] TG: Well, I think there is also – Like I allude to this in the first book when they’re in the threshing and that girl is on top of her about to kill her and she’s like, “Who am I to want to win this over anybody else? She’s just as good as I am.”

[00:39:01] SC: Yeah.

[00:39:02] TG: I think that thread makes sense, and I like the idea of her basically flying around trying to broker these deals to keep everybody as peaceful as possible in this interim period. I think there’s like – Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me.

[00:39:24] SC: I’m going to drop this thing because it’s just popped into my mind. One of the things that I think is really fascinating is that some like great – I mean, not great, but big historical figures. I’m thinking of Napoleon. Napoleon had a couple of really incredible ideas that worked extraordinarily well in the battlefield and they weren’t like – Let me just tell you what it is. One of the major problems back then in military battles was the amount of time it took for the generals to be able to speak to the actual people firing the guns or throwing the weapons or whatever.

There was this big top-down problem. The general on the hill would have to tell the kernel who would have to tell the blah, and the messenger would go to the frontline, and the blah – There would be this very big delay between the tactical strategy down to the ground of the actual soldier.

One of the amazing heuristics that Napoleon came up with was he just said, “March to the sound of the cannon fire.” The average sort of soldier when – Obviously, when you’re in a battle, everything goes to shit really quickly. It becomes extraordinarily chaotic. When you’re a foot soldier and there’s chaos going all over, you want one simple heuristic to be able to follow so that, “Oh, well. Just go march to the sound of the canons.” Then that actually was a major strategic advantage for Napoleon, because for some reason his soldiers seem to know what to do when the shit hit the fan. This is the same conceptual military strategy that commanders and military specialists train their people to do too.

When we’re thinking about Jesse, like what is it that she’s going to say that’s going to be an amazing innovation, it could be something as brilliant as coming up with a rule of thumb that she can tell these scavengers that gives them some sort of power. That was the brilliance of Napoleon, is that he pushed all of his power down to the foot soldier. It was like this power surged from the top of the chain all the way down the foot soldier, and this is exactly what Moshe Dayan did too in the Six-Day War, is that he said – The concept was give your soldiers one goal and just say march to the sound of the cannons. That way – The goal in the Six-Day War was get to the Suez Canal. When in doubt, keep moving towards the Suez Canal, and that’s what the Israeli forces did and it was remarkable, because it was this blitzkrieg of united effort and united front that turned the tide of that war very, very quickly.

I think Jesse has this capacity to sort of come up with this simple but extraordinarily powerful rule of thumb that she can use as this traveling sort of problem solver that everybody just goes, “Oh my gosh! Why didn’t I think of that?” That would also establish her as a very potent leader because that’s what everybody’s searching for. They want that one answer that can make the most sense.

[00:43:15] TG: Okay. I mean, at this point, I guess what do I do next? Should I maintain like a macro lens and start thinking through what it would take to fill out a foolscap or do we have enough to like, “Okay. Maybe I should start laying out these sequences at the beginning hook?” Because I feel like –

[00:43:36] SC: It’s just really a question for you to answer, not me.

[00:43:40] TG: Well, what is so much –

[00:43:42] SC: What is more appealing to you? Do like this sort of grand strategic macro or would you like to be like, “Well, okay. I got my marching orders.” First scene, she lands in the middle of chaos and somehow comes up with some amazing turning point that buys her and her people.”

[00:44:04] TG: Well, one of the things I would like – There’re a couple things I would like with this new book, and maybe it’s completely out of the realm. But the first is I would like it not to take four years. So that’s kind of goal one. The other is like I guess there is this level of like, “Okay. If I start trying to plan out the whole book like a foolscap type thing, I will probably end up throwing away at least the last half of it, because by the time I get there, it’ll be irrelevant or out of date because of whatever I change in the first half.” But at the same time, I get nervous about like really writing a beginning hook when I don’t have any idea where I’m going, or is that where I’m just going to like trust that like I’ll figure it out as I get there?

[00:44:55] SC: Well, that’s the purpose of these sort of framing devices. Thinking what are the systems she’s going to have to navigate? Well, you’re going to have to establish a complicated order in your beginning hook. Then that complicated order is going to have to be brought down to its primal essence into obvious order. So maybe somebody’s got guns pointed at somebody. I don’t know.

Then it has to transition into chaos and it has to end into complexity. You also know that she’s going to have to cognitively grow from ethnocentric point of view at the beginning of this story to breaking that code by the end of the middle build and reconfiguring a global worldview by the end.

You kind of do you know at the end she’s going to have to confront the forces of antagonism in a very complex environment. Meaning, that she has no understanding of what the causes and effects of her actions are going to be from moment to moment. So what she’s going to have to do is try something, respond to see if it works and then either stop doing it or try something else.

That’s how you deal with complexity. You don’t go into a complex environment with an agenda. What you do is you test it and see how it responds. If it gives you something that works, then you amplify it. You try something a little bit like it even with more energy. If it responds negatively, you dampen it. You don’t do that.

Living in a complex world is what they call sort of like living in the moment. Instead of going into a complex environment with an agenda, you probe the system, see what happens and react in real-time. So that’s going to be your ending payoff. She’s going to learn how to do that in a very, very complex way that isn’t just about her navigating inside of the American faction, but her having to deal with a global faction. All three of the factions are going to be a part of this one. Not just the American, right?

You kind of generally do, I think, have a general sense of how this is going to end. You have a general sense of where you need to go in the middle. When you get stuck, you can always go, “Well, alright. So this is the beginning hook. So I’ve got to sort of get my protagonist from a place of establishing a complicated code that will be challenged so that she’s going to have to go into an extraordinary world that she doesn’t know very well and use the foundations of the code that she just used to settle things in the beginning hook and that’s going fragment. It’s not can work for her. She’s going to be funneled into chaos, then she’s going to have to remake a new frame, a global framing, which she will use in the ending payoff.”

I think you’re right. I think doing a foolscap page right now with very specific directions and movements is probably not going to serve you all that well, because it will probably change as you start to work through this story. Whether or not this takes four years, it’s really beyond your control. [inaudible 00:48:50] kind of just let that go.

[00:48:54] TG: I got to believe it I’m going to work on it at all.

[00:48:57] SC: Oh, okay. Well, whatever it takes. It sounds to me like you might want to just try banging out a scene. The camera focuses in on Jesse and she’s flying over Moscow and there’s barbarians at the gates and she’s with her lieutenants who asked her, “How are you going to get out of this one?” She’s like, “I have no idea.” Something like that, and then she lands and she figures it out. Let’s see how it goes.

[00:49:31] TG: I’m going to map out kind of a loose beginning hook structure and then maybe write the first scene?

[00:49:42] SC: Sounds good.

[00:49:42] TG: How does that sound?

[00:49:43] SC: Yeah.

[00:49:43] TG: Okay. All right. I’ll send you that –

[00:49:45] SC: Your goal in this beginning hook is to really – Obviously, this first scene, you just want to hook the hell out of the reader so they want to know how this is going to end. Simple.

[00:49:57] TG: Okay. Yeah. That’s it. All right. I’ll work on it and I’ll get it over to you.

[00:50:06] SC: Okay. Thanks, Tim.

[00:50:07] TG: Thanks.


[00:50:08] 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. We also have our first few books from Story Grid Publishing available at storygrid.com/books. The Threshing is there as well.

One place that you can get the audiobook, you can’t get it on Audible right now, but we have the audiobook available there as well at a discount with the bundle, and it’s a really cool audiobook. The sound engineer that we used put some really cool stuff into it. We used an actress to do the voice and it’s just a really great audiobook that I’m really proud of. If you’re interested in having a listen to The Threshing you can find that at storygrid.com/books as well.

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 would like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @StoryGrid. Lastly, if you’d like to support the show, you can do that by telling another author about the show and by visiting us on Apple podcasts and leaving a rating and review.

Thanks for subscribing and being a part of our work here at Story Grid. We will see you next week.



The Book

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.

First Time Writer

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.


Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.