The Units of Story: The Global Story

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As per our Foolscap Global Story Grid, Global Story has the same five elements as each of its component parts—an inciting incident, progressive complications, crisis, climax and resolution. Ideally, you “the editor” should be able to pinpoint exactly what beats, scenes, sequences, acts, and subplots in your story combine to satisfy these requirements.

For example, your global inciting incident could be a positive shift in your external content genre that occurs in the third beat of the second scene in the first sequence of the first act of your global plot and a negative shift in the internal genre that occurs in the third beat of the second scene in the first sequence of the first act of the secondary subplot of your global plot.

But should you plan this stuff out before you begin writing your first draft?

Absolutely not! Don’t do it. Seriously, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

If you do, you will get an acute case of Paralysis by Analysis. Trust me, I battle P by A on every single thing I do. It’s just the way my brain works when I face a particular problem. Maybe yours does too.

The trick is to combine just enough analysis to get you started (the Foolscap Global Story Grid), something to push you through to a first draft. Then and only then, when you have a pound of rough pages, should you dive into the hypercritical editorial pool. And once in that water, it should be your goal to stay in it for the least amount of time necessary to solve your story problems. Use the macro analysis of The Foolscap Global Story Grid and the micro analysis of The Story Grid Spreadsheet (that’s up next) to find out what problems you have. And then go about fixing them.

And you should refrain from ever speaking in the story lexicon (Inciting Incident, progressive complications, blah blah blah) to anyone who has any interest in reading your story. You will bore them to tears and you will come off as quite mad. The exception of course is with fellow Story Grid nerds. Then you can go to town.

Remember that the first rule when editing a book is to DO NO HARM. Most of the books I’ve edited in my career never required the depths of detailed analysis that you could potentially mine from The Story Grid.

Could I have put the full Story Grid to bear on each and every one of them? Sure. But that is not the editor’s job. The editor’s job is to help the writer find peace with their work while also doing what’s necessary to make the story “work” as well as it possibly can.

Without driving the writer crazy!

If you are the writer and the editor (and you should be both) do your best to balance both forces within yourself.  Allow the writer in you to have freedom.  When you’re writing don’t think about all of this Story Grid editorial stuff.  After you’ve set yourself a writing task (the lover’s meet scene for example) just write down whatever comes out.  And then move on to the next assignment without editing the thing you just banged out.

Only after you have a full draft of something do you want to turn over the reins to your editor self.

Just as you gave your writer self freedom without harsh criticism while he was working, so you should allow your analytical/somewhat nutty inside baseball editor to do what he does without criticism too. Balancing the two sides of yourself is the goal.

When you feel like you’re being too loosey goosey when you’re editing, you probably are. And likewise, if you feel like you’re being too tight and analytical when you are writing, you probably are. Listen to that stuff and clamp down or pull back as necessary.

But lastly, when you’re noodling a new project, don’t complicate for the sake of theory. Don’t map out all 64 of your scenes in detail before you write them.  Give yourself just enough guidance to keep your pen moving. No more, no less.

But when you have a draft, then it’s time to figure out what’s working and what’s not working.  Then improve what’s working and fix what’s not.

The tool that will show you exactly where you need to focus is up next. I call it The Story Grid Spreadsheet.

For new subscribers and OCD Story nerds like myself, all of The Story Grid posts are now in order on the right hand side column of the home page beneath the subscription shout-out.



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Shawn Coyne

SHAWN COYNE created, developed, and expanded the story analysis and problem-solving methodology The Story Grid throughout his quarter-century-plus book publishing career. A seasoned story editor, book publisher and ghostwriter, Coyne has also co-authored The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, The Cowboys, the ’70s and the Fight For America’s Soul with Chad Millman and Cognitive Dominance: A Brain Surgeon’s Quest to Out-Think Fear with Mark McLaughlin, M.D. With his friend and editorial client Steven Pressfield, Coyne runs Black Irish Entertainment LLC, publisher of the cult classic book The War of Art. With his friend and editorial client Tim Grahl, Coyne oversees the Story Grid Universe, LLC, which includes Story Grid University and Story Grid Publishing.