The Editor’s 6 Core Questions: Part 1

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[0:00:00.5] 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, Shawn and I continue talking through some of the fundamentals of Story Grid looking at the book, looking at the ideas in them and hitting them again. This week we start going over the editor six core questions. These are six questions that you should be able to answer about your manuscript and definitely help you start getting ready when you are writing your manuscript and planning it out.

It’s a really great review and it’s always fun for me to go back through these, especially as I’ve now been learning about Story Grid for three and a half, four years. It’s really fun to go back to these fundamentals and hear them fresh from Shawn. I think you’ll enjoy it. 

Let’s jump in and get started.

[EPISODE]

[0:01:01.5] TG: So Shawn, last week we went over a lot on genre and why that was the first thing that you talk about in the Story Grid book. Again, we talked a lot about genre. We went over some of the five leaf clover stuff. We spent most of time talking about content genre and the fact that genre is the first decision you make because it gives you the direction on everything. Again, I feel it’s – if you’re standing in the middle of America, I don’t know, Wisconsin or something and you got to decide, “Am I going to California and am I going to New York?” Because you got to make that decision first before you know even what direction to go.

Then the next thing you start getting into is the foolscap, the editors six core questions. Now that you have your genre pick, so you’ve gone – you have an idea of the story you’re trying to tell, you look at the genres, you make your decisions about the content genre and whether reality and all that stuff. What’s the next tool when it comes to – what is that – the making those decisions that allow you to do next?

[0:02:22.8] SC: Well, just to take a half a step back, one of the things a lot of people say to me is I just don’t – I have no clue of what genre I want to write in. How am I supposed to figure that out? Should I just pick it willy-nilly and then just do whatever you say I need to do for obligatory scenes and conventions and plan it out that way? Yeah. No, you shouldn’t do it that way.

The best way I think to really figure out and hone in on the place with the genre choice that you really want is to think about well, and this is something that that Steve Pressfield always has said to me is what’s the story that you want to tell? Now don’t worry about the genre. Just say well, it’s the story of let me say yes, this guy who is a great piano player and nobody really wants to listen to what he has to play, because it’s on the edge of experimental piano playing.

Right away, the first thing I would say is that’s a performance genre, right? Because anything in terms of art or business-driven, like the setting, if you’re really in love with a particular setting and say you want to set your story in a hospital, or at law school, or a startup for software development and you want to track how that startup moves from the idea in the entrepreneur’s head, till success or “failure.”

A story like The Social Network, which Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay, that was about the idea in the founding of Facebook. That’s a performance story. It’s a story that also has other sub-genres underneath it, but at its heart it’s a performer story and it’s a business performance story. Knowing that you’re in the performance arena is a great first step, because then you can look at the performance story, its obligatory scenes, conventions, etc., and start mapping out globally the skeleton of the story you want.

Say instead, you’re a big fan of mafia stories, The Godfather is your favorite movie, it’s your favorite novel and you really want to tell the story of say a young soldier in a mafia family and how she rises from someone who’s just brought into the family to actually heading the entire operation. Well, that’s a crime story as all – or it’s a story about power. Power is in this society genre, right?

If you get a little bit confused, think about well, what’s the setting? Where do I want to tell this story? That’s going to give you some clues about the genre setting that you’re talking about. Who are my characters? What do they want to do? Where do I want to take them? My character is going to start here at the beginning and start – and finish here at the end. Those are the ways to come to an initial global decision about the genre that you want to pursue. Then what you want to do is start reading in that genre, right?

Well, I haven’t really read that many crime, mafia stories beyond The Godfather. Maybe I should branch out and see if there are other stories in that arena that are inspiring too. You might want to read The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille, or somewhere like that. The point is to get as you say your global GPS bearings.

What is the crux of the story that I want to tell? Then once you land on it, well I want to tell a performance story that’s in the fantasy, science-fiction reality genre, which is going to say that I’m going to have to write a 200,000-word epic story and it’s going to have the literary sensibility of say, Jonathan Franzen.

Now there are novels that that live in that arena and they’re ones that you should go and seek to read and think about before you plunge in. Think about those five leafs on the genre clover before you come to your final conclusion. You might say, “I really want to tell a story like The Lord of the Rings.” Great, got it. The Lord of the Rings is people call it a fantasy novel, because of a whole slew of reasons that I really shouldn’t get into. At its core, the content is action. It’s an action story.

Knowing you’re on this clover, you’ve got fantasy and then you’ve got action in the content clover. Then your protagonist is going to go through a heroic journey. A heroic journey connotes an internal content genre for your protagonist that will usually be a maturation plot, or sometimes a redemption plot, or an education plot. The heroic journey is integral to the fantasy genre, so you should need to know that. Then once you start taking off the boxes and you understand well, if it’s a fantasy novel, it has to be at least a 100,000 words, so that’s going to be part of your genre leaf in the length.

The style, well I want it to be comedic. Oh, okay. Well, that’s good too. Understanding those five genre classifications with real intention will put you on a really nice track to begin the next stage. The next stage would be using the editor’s six core questions to move forward. I don’t think it’s a good idea to jump directly into a foolscap page, because then you can fall down a vortex and start worrying about your 15 skeletal scenes way too early when you haven’t really even – because the great thing about genre again, it’s going to give you so many clues about what skeletal scenes you’ll need and where you need to put them. The six core questions would be the next stage and of course, the first question of the six core questions is what’s the genre?

We’ve covered that. It’s a big, big question. It’s one of those first principle questions that throughout the process of your writing, you’re always going to want to go back to what am I trying to do here? What’s the genre? What’s the type of story that I’m trying to create that – the reason why you want to do that is that there is a very, very – there’s a very strong audience for any number of genres, right? If you’re not satisfying the obligatory scenes and conventions of that specific genre, you’re going to alienate your audience.

Obviously, you really want to nail that question as close to the bone as you possibly can. Whenever you get lost in the writing process, always come back to it. In the course of the three years we’ve worked on your novel, that’s where we always came back to whenever we got confused. After you answer that question, what’s the genre, the next question on this six core questions for editors is –

[0:10:35.4] TG: It’s what are the conventions and obligatory scenes for that genre?

[0:10:38.7] SC: Right. Okay, excellent. You’ll see what we’re doing here. We’re going to the top of the pyramid of our story construction. At the apex of the pyramid is the genre, right? There are five elements underneath that choice that you have to select, the content, the reality, the style, the length and the structure. What kind of structure it is?

Now the structure question is a pretty easy one to answer. You have basically two choices; you have the mini plot, or the arc plot. Most stories are in the arc plot arena. Now underneath that first band, underneath your apex of your genre, you want to look at well, let’s tick off, let’s write down a list of the things that I’m going to need to put in my story to ground and to satisfy the people who love to read this story. Those are the conventions and the obligatory scenes of that particular genre.

Now we’ve been very, very lucky. Well, not lucky, but a lot of the Story Grid editors, a number of them have spent quite a bit of time writing all of these things out for you. You can go to storygrid.com. Under fundamental Fridays, you can find the genre that you love and you will find an article that will list and discuss the obligatory scenes and conventions of that particular genre, which is a tremendous amount of information given away for free, that a lot of people have held on to these trade secrets for years.

That’s what I would do to answer the second question is to go to Story Grid and dig deep into the specific content genre that you’re looking for to create and you will find the answers to the obligatory scenes and conventions. You’ll find what’s the global value at stake? For action story, it’s life and death. For horror, it’s life and death. These aren’t major difficult concepts to embrace, because again, stories are about the primal conflicts and difficult situations in our lives. We go to stories to help us when we find something difficult in our own life.

The love story, that’s a huge one. Then of course, the value at stake there is love. The crime story, it’s justice is the value at stake. What you’ll find under the second question that Story Grid are the answers to the obligatory scenes and conventions of your particular genre and literally write them out and these – I actually write them on every single foolscap page that I work through with a writer, so that we can always go back and check. Well, did we put in the hero at the mercy of the villain scene in our thriller? Well yeah, we did. We can check that box.

[0:13:47.9] TG: Yeah. I just have a question on those, because we’ve done things where some of the genres we have them listed out and then we’ve talked about in the past how if you’re wondering what the obligatory scenes and conventions, go back and look at three master works in your genre, compare the scenes and conventions that show up in all of them and you’ll start finding them.

I’ve wondered with that, because I feel some things with Story Grid, we always say is squishy, right? It can be this, it can be this, it depends on your point of view. Then some things are very solid, as far as like the 15 scenes. Where would you put these on that scale from squishy to solid of are there – I look at it, I’ll see these conventions and obligatory scenes. If you look at it, you’ll see these conventions and obligatory scenes and it’s your perspective, or do you feel like, no. When you’re looking at an action labyrinth plot, it has to have these scenes and these conventions in it. If you don’t, something’s going to not feel right.

[0:14:58.3] SC: Well, that’s a very good question. Here’s where I come down on it. I think each of the global genres have almost obvious obligatory scenes. If you’re going to have a thriller, you need the scene where the hero is at the mercy of the villain. That is the key scene in the entire story, because if you want to talk about the abstraction of what a thriller is, a thriller is about coping with the very difficult nature of the chaotic world that we live in. It’s a very dangerous world that we live in.

If you’re worried about the chaos that surrounds you and difficulties of getting along in contemporary society, you’re going to want that scene where it’s literally – the character is literally facing the embodiment of that anxiety, which is the villain, the antagonist in the thriller, same thing with a horror story.

Then love story. Oh, jeez. Well, let’s see what are the obligatory scenes; well, two people have to meet and two people have to come together, two people have to break up and two people either get back together again or don’t. Those are pretty, pretty much all you need in a love story. Now the conventions that are associated with those are a little bit more squishy. That’s where innovative writers can tweak them and change them so that they do not come off as clichés.

If someone were to really hold me down and say what are the really, really most important? I would say the obligatory scenes and then the conventions, I would use as inspiration to add more flavor to the story. Is it really necessary that there’s a helpers and hinderers in a love story? I think absolutely. Because if you think of it in abstract terms, when we fall in love with someone, there are people who support our attraction to the other person and there are people who don’t. If you do not have those characters and those forces in the story, it will not ring true.

We have to remember what a story is. It’s really the closest approximation to real life that we can create in our minds. When your story starts to feel as if it is not convincingly possible to happen in real life, that’s a clue. “Oh, I probably am missing something that is part of the universal experience of falling in love.”

If you were to say, where do these conventions and obligatory scenes come from? I would say they come from life experience. All of us know exactly what they are intuitively, because we all have felt and had the emotional experiences that are contained in those twelve content genres. If someone were to say to me, “Well, how do you know what a war story is going to involve?” Well, you think about it metaphorically. Let’s see, what’s the closest experience in my life that I’ve had that could approximate war? Probably when I played football.

Okay, what was the dynamic when I played football? What was the big climactic moment of playing football? It was the big game, right? What’s the climactic moment in a war story? It’s the big battle. All right, well that’s a little bit too close, probably football more. Let’s say I didn’t play football and instead, I was a chess champion. Well, could I look at chess as a metaphorical representation of war? I think I could. Well, what about being the first chair in an orchestra? Was that a war? Probably it was, right?

It’s metaphorically all story can be pulled back. This is the great thing. This is why we want to write. All stories can be pulled back metaphorically to personal experience. One of the things – I know I talk about Steve Pressfield a lot, but it’s important too because the guy really knows what he’s talking about. One of the things that he explained to me when he goes in to stories, he acts like a kid again, and he’ll – that’s why he has a very – he’s got a sanctum sanctorum where he does his work, because when you go back to your childhood joy of pretend, you need a safe space, right? When you go to Steve’s house, you know where his safe space is and you don’t invade it, unless you’re invited. I think that’s why a lot of people are very protective of their workspace.

Anyway, so what he does is he goes and he thinks about it like a child would think about it. If someone were to give me, ask me to write a war story, what kind of war story would I write? What in my life was similar to being a soldier in a war? I’m putting these words just knowing Steve’s personal history, he might have said to himself, “Well, probably when I worked as a fruit picker in the Pacific Northwest, that was the closest thing to war, because it was really about the war of attrition for the pickers.”

He probably extrapolated from that experience and went to what was the Spartan ethos about? It’s probably very similar to migrant farmer ethos. There’s the certain person who’s out there at the day at the break of dawn, busting their butt from morning to noon to night and they’re doing it out of personal pride and they’re supporting their family. It’s just like the Spartans, right?

When it comes to obligatory scenes and conventions, are there ones that are must-must haves? Absolutely. I think the place to start is like the way all amateurs need to start. They need to go to someone, or a source where people have done the work before them and they’ve come up with some parameters to work in. That’s what the Story Grid editors at Story Grid have done. That’s what I’ve done in the book.

Is everything that I say absolutely on the money? Probably not. What it’ll do is it’ll give you a global place where you can act like a child again. If I were to say to you, “Hey, think of that time when you were little, when you were scared to death, that the big kid was going to beat you up. How did that feel? What was that like?” Okay, now write a hero at the mercy of the villain scene using what happened to you as the inspiration.

The first step would probably be, why don’t you remember that moment and write down how you experienced it and how you felt and then translate that personal experience onto your character and then mess around with the setting and all that stuff. That’s a great way to think about these obligatory scenes is to say, “What was it like when I met my wife?” Well, let me think about what that was. I’ll write that down and then I’ll say, “I’m going to use this personal experience as inspiration for the scene I’m going to write where the lovers meet.” You know what? It might work, it might not. At least, you’re locking into a personal emotional experience that you will not be able to help but inject into your storytelling, even when the character is from the 1300s and they’re meeting a princess and they’re a serf, or whatever it is.

The obligatory scenes and the conventions are these great tools for writers to really lock down and start to focus their creative energy, so they give you constraints, so that you can remember those moments in your life that were the most similar, because they are. They’re exactly analogous to the scenes that we’re talking about. Then you can extrapolate from your own personal experience to create a fictional world. Guess what? When you do that, that fictional world amazingly becomes incredibly believable.

I know this is a long-winded answer, but I would say use the obligatory scenes absolutely as rules. I am not going to ever write a crime story where I don’t have a crime within the first 10 pages. That’s just what I’m going to do. I may not like that, but if I’m going to say to people, “Hey, here’s this crime story I wrote and there’s no murder in the first 10 pages or no massive crime,” then they’re going to go, “It’s not a crime story. That’s just stuff that I don’t care about. When’s the crime?”

[0:25:23.8] TG: Right. Okay. Well, that’s helpful because it’s – I feel like as I’ve looked at them, most of them I feel like, well you’ve got to have that. Then there’s other things where I’m like, “Well,” but I think that’s good.

[0:25:37.7] SC: Well, I can say this, everything that’s listed is listed for a reason. I would not suggest that anyone disregard any convention or obligatory scene no matter where it comes from, because you can get really, really into the weeds on tropes and things. Well, what is a trope? A trope is something that’s been used over and over again in a particular story that it’s become almost a convention, or is a convention.

Cheap surprise, say in a thriller, or a horror story. Cheap surprise is when the lead character, it’s so suspenseful, they’re in the dark. They walk around the corner, they hear a loud noise, they turn on the light and it’s their cat. That’s cheap surprise, right? We love that scene. Is it a cliché? Yeah, probably. That’s the challenge, right? That’s like, “How can I provide cheap surprise that will actually be surprising?” That’s where the writer’s job is. It’s not to say, “I think cheap surprise is a cliché and I refuse to put it in.” That’s not a writer’s job. The writer’s job is to say, “People enjoy this trope. How can I reinvent the trope that will surprise them?” It’s like a little puzzle.

[0:26:57.0] TG: It’s funny, watching shows with my kids and especially as they’ve gotten a little older and we can watch some of the scarier stuff, it’s so funny because they will put just flat clichés in, to where I’m watching it and I know everything that’s going to happen, but my kids don’t have enough story experience to know that that’s a cliché yet, so it just works every time, like the same thing. That’s what made me think of it as the whole like, “Oh, no. It’s something, it’s something. Oh, it’s just a cat.”

I look over at my kids and they’re like, “Oh, my God. He’s going to die.” It’s just been – it’s just funny to see wherein movies for adults, that it still gets me, but it is done in a unique way, or a way that I don’t see it coming, where when I watch shows with my kids, it’s just cliché after cliché after cliché, but they don’t know that. They feel like it works for them.

All right, so let’s go to the third question. The third question is about point of view.

[0:28:03.2] SC: Yeah, the point of view is also referred to as the narrative device. Point of view is it can be the thing that really cracks open a story for a writer when you figure out who should be telling the story. That’s what I’m talking about when I say point of view. It’s the narrative devices who is the voice behind the story in the head of the reader? Obviously, first-person stories where you have a character telling the story, like Nick Carraway and The Great Gatsby, those are very, very – the reader can certainly lock into that choice very early.

Those choices can really make a novel just remarkable, because the reader grows attached to the narrator in such a way that they know the narrator knows the end of the story and is parsing out the details of the story in a very argumentative way. If you’re looking at the Great Gatsby and you read it, at the very beginning it talks about Nick Carraway introduces himself and he says, “I’m going to tell you basically a story of a summer I spent in Long Island. One of the things that’s difficult for me is that I’ve always been taught not to jump to conclusions about people or their character. That’s who I am.”

Which is a great beginning, because what does he do at the end of the novel? He’s passes judgment on an entire class of people, with good reason by the way. It’s a really great argument. If I were to say to you, “Tim, I’m not the guy who likes pomegranates.” Then by the end, we’re eating pomegranate pie. That’s pretty interesting. I know that’s a terrible example, but it’s the narrative device is so engaging that we want to know, well how did this guy change? He’s telling me a story. If your father, or your mom, or your aunt, or uncle has ever sat you down and said, “You know what, Tim? I need to tell you a story. When I was your age back in the blah, blah, blah,” you expect them – the reason why you’re there telling you a story, it’s a metaphor to teach you about something about yourself.

What they’re saying is that I was like you a long time ago and I had this experience. The reason why I’m telling you about this experience is so that you can benefit from my wisdom. The narrative device if you use the first-person voice, I always like to think of it that way. Think of it as you are telling a story to a young person that needs to get their act together, or to understand some fundamental difficulties of making your way in this world, and how to guard themselves. It’s a cautionary story, or prescriptive. It’s cautionary, stay away from these sorts of people. They’re going to lie to you. They’re going to come on to you as if they’re the greatest person in the world and then they’re going to break your heart at the end. Be careful when you meet people like this, because they’re very, very seductive. Okay, that’s a cautionary story.

Another story is hey, if you behave in these ways like the character does in this story, then you will find success. Then there’s the ironic story, which is in order to get what you need, you have to sacrifice what you want. That’s ironic, right? In order to get what’s necessary for you to navigate the world in the way that will make you the most happy, or the most satisfied, you’re going to have to give up your childish wants and then the other –

[0:32:12.5] TG: Right. That’s what the threshing is, right?

[0:32:14.6] SC: Yes. Well, the threshing is about – it’s a maturation plot, which moves from false sophistication to a modicum of wisdom, right? By the end of your novel, Jesse has reached an understanding that man, you can’t really trust everybody that you think you can trust. Things are a lot more difficult to navigate than I initially thought. Things aren’t as simple, or as easy as I have been led to believe.

Then the other side the ironic one is to get what you want, you have to give up what you need. Those are usually punitive plots, where the hero gets the great pot of gold at the end of the story, but has lost their soul, or is tremendously unhappy. That’s The Social Network, right? At the end of The Social Network, the character has a big, big company that is worth billions of dollars, but a woman that he’s interested in will never ever talk to him again, because he sacrificed his soul for third-party validation, or whatever you want to call it.

The narrative device and the point of view is a great way to help you as a writer to think about what the global trajectory of the story is. Then you would say to yourself, “Well, how would my character tell this story to the best of fact?” That’s for first-person.

Now for third-person omniscient, which is the Godlike narrator, guess what? You have become the point of view and narrative device. You take on the role as the writer, as the omniscient Godlike narrator, which puts a lot of wonderful powerful tools at your command, but at the expense of very clear narrative direction.

I suspect when Fitzgerald was writing The Great Gatsby, he wanted to – I bet an early draft was in the third-person omniscient, because if you remember in the novel, he refers to this advertisement on the side of the road of an optician, JT Eckleburg I think is the name of the optician. He always talks about the eyes of JT Eckleburg watching over this city of ashes between the Hamptons, or the gold coast of Long Island and the city of Manhattan.

I suspect that that was one of the initial – he probably saw an advertisement while he was driving his car, or on a train and he saw this optician’s lenses and thought, “Wow, that would be a really cool way to get the reader as a metaphor to understand that there are forces beyond us that are watching us.” He might have tried to tell the story of the Great Gatsby almost through the eyes of a omniscient Godlike figure, and it probably drove him crazy. because he couldn’t get the nuance of the social classes in the way using that omniscient voice.

Similarly, E.L. Doctorow in Ragtime, now that’s an amazing story that’s basically a great historical fiction novel, that’s also a society story. He uses the point of view of narrative device of the youngest child of this family. I think it’s in either Great Neck, or Rye, New York and he always refers to mother’s younger brother, or mother went here and father went there and meanwhile, Harry Houdini was doing this. He’s telling the story from the point of view of a young boy who was now grown to be a man, but is recalling the circumstances of the era.

[0:36:23.9] TG: Yeah. I’m reading a book right now that’s like that. It’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. It starts with yeah, it’s him and as an older man going back to his childhood home and then all of the memories come flooding in. Now you’re watching it first-person as him as a child.

[0:36:43.2] SC: A very effective narrative device, because what it does is that it immediately locks the reader into – they will give you a lot of leeway when you’re writing from a younger point of view, the naïveté and also the nostalgia for a time that was less complicated. Narrative device and point of view, for a crime story, a lot of times we get the third-person omniscient voice describing a master detective like Sherlock Holmes.

Again, looking at the genre in which you love and seeing, well what did the masters of the genre use as their narrative device? How did it work for them? That’s a good choice, right? That’s a good idea, because oftentimes the narrative device or point of view is genre specific. Mystery stories are usually told through either first-person where it’s the private detective or amateur sleuth telling you what happened, or the police detective, or the cop. Those are great, because then you get to walk through the investigation from the first murder to the end.

Then somebody like Agatha Christie really leveled up the genre when she used the unreliable narrator in the murder of Roger Ackroyd. The unreliable first-person narrator is also a choice that is that often works in crime and mystery. The point-of-view choice and narrative device is one of the six major questions to ask yourself as you’re starting to think about your next story. While each genre has a traditional point of view, it doesn’t mean that you can’t play with that.

In fact, a lot of people innovate a specific genre by coming up with a new concept for the narrative device. Like Gone Girl. There’s an example of someone who just took the thriller and used two narrative devices, alternating it to really great effect.

[0:39:02.2] TG: Yeah. I just read The Girl in the Window. It’s like a rehash of rear-window by Hitchcock. It was an unreliable narrator, because she was constantly drunk or on pills. Lots of spoilers here if you haven’t read either of these books. Where Gone Girl was the unreliable narrator – is it narrator? I forget it when you said it 30 seconds ago, because she was trying to lie. The Girl in The Window, it was an unreliable narrator because she it was constantly foggy ,so you couldn’t tell if she was always telling the truth, but you didn’t know if that’s what happened, you know what I mean?

That was interest – I don’t know if I’ve read one like that, where you don’t think that she’s lying right? Because it’s just first-person but you’re also like, “Did she really see? Or was that the pills?” It was interesting. I guess, this is the one where this – of the editor questions is the one that’s always surprising to me. It seems it should be an easy answer but then there’s so much that you can go into it if you want to. Because you also will usually talk about The Legend of Bagger Vance, where the book finally cracked open when he figured out it was going to be, what’s it the caddy?

[0:40:29.5] SC: Yeah. The young boy, caddy’s assistant telling the story to someone who needed bucking up. It’s 40 years later. Yeah, for Steve that was fracking who the narrator is and who the narrator is speaking to, especially for performance stories or business stories, business performance or sports performance. The model to use is well, let me tell you a story about another young man who thought he was the best baseball pitcher to come around for an age.

That’s a great way of especially if you make the narrator very interesting and when they withhold information, it’s for their own purposes. It’s a great device. It’s always one that people really love. You really need to – it really has to be a very specific morality tale usually. I don’t want to get into that. The point of view and the narrative device is one of the six core questions for a very good reason. Oftentimes, it’s the thing that will again, open up the answer to how best tell the story. Sometimes, when I’ll get a manuscript and be asked for advice I’ll say, “Well, I know you don’t want to do a page one rewrite, but what if it was the sister who tells the story as opposed to atonement?

There’s a story where I believe the narrator is trying to explain her guilt, a decision that she made when she was very young that has haunted her. It has this embedded mystery element inside of this love story and war story that really keeps the narrative momentum moving, because we suspect that there’s something untold that will be revealed later and it is. That’s another thing to think about. Is there a way of using the narrative device point of view as some element of the ending payoff of the global story? Will the narrator reveal, well, I happen to be that pitcher. That’s certainly a cliché ,but if the story is developed properly, then that payoff can be wonderful. Like in Field of Dreams, where at the very ending, the father and the son finally play catch again.

It’s a magical moment that if I were to say you, and the big payoff is this guy who’s dead comes back to life and he’s the same age as his son and they get to play catch on this magical field. You would go, “Oh, that is the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Then when you read the novel, or you see the movie, you’re like, you can’t help but be crying at the end, because what is baseball but an opportunity for a father and the son to communicate without having to say anything to each other.

That narrative device certainly worked extremely well too. It’s a really, really important choice that I’m not saying let it dominate your life and give you agida until for months. My advice is always trust your instinct. If you instinctually think that this story is best told from third-person omniscient, it probably is. The worst thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to create a draft and you’re going to say, you know what? If I tweak who tells the story and I tell it from their point of view, then a lot of these scenes will really get even more – the stakes will be raised in the scenes, because the narrator will have such an emotional investment in the outcome, that it will really increase the narrative velocity of the story.

Then that first draft actually serves you as the roadmap to tweak on the second rewrite. Again, it’s a super important choice, but don’t let it really dominate you to the point where you’re paralysis by analysis. Just go with your instinct and that’s usually the right choice to go with.

[END OF EPISODE]

[0:45:11.8] 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’d like to check out the show notes for this episode or any past episodes, all of that can be found at storygrid.com/podcast.

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

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

[END]

About the Author

Valerie Francis is a Certified Story Grid Editor and best-selling author of both women’s and children’s fiction. She’s been a Story Grid junkie since 2015 and became a certified editor so that she can help fellow authors, in all genres, become better storytellers.
Comments (2)
Author Valerie Francis

2 Comments

Sandra Gulland says:

LOVE the podcast and the book!

Shawn says, above: “…lot of the Story Grid editors, a number of them have spent quite a bit of time writing all of these things out for you. You can go to storygrid.com. Under fundamental Fridays, you can find the genre that you love and you will find an article that will list and discuss the obligatory scenes and conventions of that particular genre.”

I’ve looked, but I can’t find this.

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ANNE HAWLEY says:

1. Go here: https://storygrid.com/category/editor-roundtable-podcast/ We covered all the obligatory scenes and conventions for all 12 content genres, twice, in the first 24 episodes. All those details are in the show notes, if you don’t want to listen to the podcasts themselves.

2. Enter this exact string into your search engine

Site:.storygrid.com

…followed by “Rachelle Ramirez.” She has written fully detailed, monumental posts on each of the content genres including obligatory scenes and conventions. All her posts should come up with that search trick.

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