What’s Next?

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What I’m going to write about next is something that you’ll either be very excited about…or you’ll find infuriating.  For the infuriated, I’ll completely understand if you hit “unsubscribe.” No hard feelings.

There is nothing more upsetting than someone telling you that he can help you solve your problems (My big Help Me, Help You! come on…) and then discover that he’s decided to help someone else solve hers instead. I hate that!

But here’s the thing that I’ve learned too about the wonderful Story universe.

It doesn’t matter what kind of Story you storygrid. [How pretentious, I’ve turned my methodology into a verb!]

You will learn something new with every single project!

I shit you not.

With every project I’ve ever storygridded, I’ve learned something remarkable. Not just about the Story I’m analyzing either. But you know, like deep stuff, about why I’m attracted to the art in the first place. And why I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat… All that borderline personality stuff in The Silence of the Lambs cut a little too close to home.

Before I tell you what I’m going to analyze next, I think it’s a good idea to explain why I’ve decided to do what I’m going to do.

I thought about doing some kind of contest and asking everyone to vote on the next Story Grid project and then I’d do that one, and I’ll probably do that someday for fun, but I wanted something a bit juicier to bite into next.

The big confession is that I’m going to storygrid something that I personally want to explore.

And the next Story Grid project I’ve decided to tackle terrifies me.

That terror is the key, the deciding factor. It’s that telltale sign of Resistance. And as Steve Pressfield counsels, when you feel like running away from something because it’s scary and threatening, take it as a message from the collective unconscious that it’s exactly the thing you need to barrel headlong into.

That’s why I’m going to do it.

Why does it terrify me?

I’m not sure if everything I hold dear and write about here and in the book will apply to this brilliant Story! Many of the things I’ve thought and learned about Storytelling could prove insufficient. And the tools that I’ve used to guide me may not work.

What in the hell am I going to do then?

Maybe I won’t be able to come up with the pithy analysis and step-by-step deconstruction of the work in a way that makes sense to everyone? Maybe this is the one that will break me? Maybe this is the one that defies everything I’ve spent decades constructing? Maybe this is the one that destroys my beautiful machine? I might have to build a new one!

I’m not going to be able to hide out in my shed for three years either figuring it all out before I drop it online, either! I’m going to publish before I’ve got the whole thing in the can. Ugh!

Hell, I might confuse everyone instead of giving them guidance? And then what kind of Story guru am I? I’ll be revealed as a fraud, a hustler selling healing tonic at the county fair!

And so on.

So with all of the above flat out on the table, here’s the Story/Book I’m going to storygrid next…

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.

That’s Next.

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

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About the Author

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.
Story Grid 101: The Five First Principles of the Story Grid Methodology
by Shawn Coyne
What are the first principles in writing a story that works? At Story Grid, it’s easy to get distracted by the tools, spreadsheets, commandments, macro lense, micro lense, and on and on. However, all of this eventually comes back to five first principles. In Story Grid 101, Story Grid founder Shawn Coyne distills 30 years... Read more »
Paperback: $19.99
Ebook: $0
Audiobook: $14.99
Author Shawn Coyne


Jack Price says:

I’ve been wondering if there’s a way to storygrid nonfiction (perfectly good verb, Shawn). Do it. I’m there too.

Debbie L. Kasman says:

I absolutely LOVE the choice! And I can’t wait to start reading along with you on that! There’s something spiritual in that book (I don’t mean religious) and what you are doing for all of us, Shawn, is spiritual because it’s from the heart. What an excellent choice! Follow your heart. You can’t go wrong. Bravo to you!!

Alec says:

That’s quite a hook there, Shawn.

Lemme go make some popcorn first. This should be good!

Erika Viktor says:

I love that book. I think it really changed a lot of people’s thinking. Should be fun to see you grid it. I think non-fiction is really fiction with some factoids thrown in there. Truly, we process life through stories so the cold, dispassionate, benign universe records the daily happenings and we assign meaning to those happenings. We filter things through culture, personal experience, language, history and popular thought. We can not escape the vortex of our own internal filtration system. All non-fiction is a report of the highly-relative argument for a particular point of view. Therefore, why not non-fiction? It can sometimes make a better story than fiction!

Jeff says:

Awesome! Can’t wait, Shawn. As always, thanks for doing what you’re doing.

Susan Schreyer says:

LOVED that book. Am more than willing to revisit and pick it apart with you … which probably makes me a story nerd, too … but I kinda knew that already.

Joel D Canfield says:

You’re insane.

I should drive east and serve you G&Ts while you work, lest you get parched.

Insanity should be encouraged.

Jan O'Hara says:

Well, this should be interesting! (Said without a scintilla of sarcasm.)

DC Harrell says:

OK. I’ll play. . . .

Wait! What happened to Misery!? You said Stephen King!

Seriously, if I can’t do Misery on my own by now, I haven’t been paying attention. Looking forward to your nonfiction storygrid.

Richard Brassaw says:

Not only is it a great idea to demonstrate how story ripples through our lives in so many ways it also illustrates how story functions as a teacher.

Amber Foxx says:

Fascinating choice. It’s a great book, so I’m interested to see how it grids. (Made it into a verb again.)

Michael P says:

Very excited for this. Thanks for sharing your work, and enthusiasm with all of us.

LaVonne Ellis says:

Yay, nonfiction!!! I hope you’ll do a memoir at some point too. 🙂

steve says:

Interesting variation, from SOTL to Tipping Point. It will be interesting to see how many various themes come out of the grid. Maybe Gladwell will join the dialog and will benefit from the analysis.

Michael Beverly says:

This should be fun. It’s been some 5+ years, since I read that one.

One thing, Shawn, maybe it won’t matter, but I’ll bring it up because I’m always looking to be the contrarian.

Check out Nassim N. Taleb’s work, bestselling books: Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and most recently Antifragile.

Taleb is an amazing thinker, I’ve listened to some of his lectures on Youtube recently and he makes a short comment about The Tipping Point in one of them.

He said it’s all b.s., it’s looking back. It’s like coming up with a fantastic way to pick stocks by reverse engineering a system for the past, “proving” you’ve created a method to create incredible returns.

Maybe he’s being too critical, but the man is a pure genius.

I think, however, it’s a good warning. It’s too easy to answer the question of “how do I do ______” or “why did this ________happen”, with an example of what’s worked in the past.

We are too easily deceived by past results, and successful methodologies aren’t always what we think we are.

All that to be said, I loved The Tipping Point, and Joel and I were just talking about Blink, how that book can be so liberating.

Ironically, in What the Dog Saw, he has a chapter (a former column, still online) that basically points out that “criminal profiling”, one of the things we love so much about SOTL, is mostly crap. It’s made up wishful thinking, and experts are usually not only wrong, but their very “expertness” blinds them to it.

A mystery writer can go back and engineer all the clues. But, reality, well, in reality, Clarence Starling doesn’t find the killer via her brilliance, dumb luck catches him (Ted Bundy) or 20+ years of grueling hard detective work (Gary Ridgeway).

But, it’s all fun, I’m looking forward to the next SG. I think I’m learning, but it’s so hard.

Joel D Canfield says:

I just had such a hard time with his “everything is random and you can never know anything” perspective.

Even if it’s completely true, it helps me as much as knowing that love is merely a biochemical state wherein synapses of my brain are lubricated with endorphins. Or whatever.

I’m looking to be talked into the value of his genius, if you can. Thus far, I just don’t see it.

Michael Beverly says:

Yes, happy to try.

He does not teach that everything is random.

What he teaches is that we cannot predict the future, life is filled with randomness and unpredictability.

So therefore, when someone tries to tell you that they can predict the future, forecast, prognosticate, etc.

They are lying. Either maliciously or naively.

Take Harry Potter, for instance. How many publishers turned it down? The biggest book in history, perhaps after the Bible, and it was repeatedly turned down by the experts.

On the other end of the scale, I’d have bet my life that Fifty Shades of Gray wouldn’t be picked up by a publisher, much less become a best seller, and I’d have bet your soul and mine that it wouldn’t have become one of the biggest selling books in all of history.

So, what Taleb teaches is to become antifragile.

Fragile things are hurt by randomness and complexity and variation. A tea cup in an earthquake, very fragile.

Resilient things, things that are robust, they aren’t hurt by randomness, rocks, a bar of gold. Not fragile, but not the opposite of fragile.

Antifragile, the opposite of fragile, a new word invented by Taleb, is used to describe things that are helped and benefit from randomness and complexity and uncertainty.

One of the things people get wrong is that they think Taleb forecasted the financial crash back in 2007, because he’d been preaching for years about how bad the system was, banking, regulations, etc.

No, he made some billion dollars for his hedge fund, not because he was forecasting the crash, but that he know the system was so fragile, that it HAD to crash.

He simply made small best (out of the money puts) on a daily basis.

When it exploded, he make hundreds of millions of dollars and retired from trading and became a scholar.

How we can apply this to writing?

Lot’s of ways, for instance, we recognize that what we do is uncertain and crazy and very antifragile as a whole, meaning the best thing we can do is write what we enjoy and do our best and then leave it at that.

When David Baldacci was shopping his first book, so the story goes, and I don’t know if it’s true, the Clinton scandal was fresh (mid 90’s), so yeah, he got a 2 million dollar deal for Absolute Power (plus another 3 for the movie rights,,,,Goldman wrote the script, how’s that treatment for a first novel?)

Life’s random, but not totally random. Baldacci worked for years on failures, we all know the story, but you know what? There’s a million suckers out there working on failures too, and not a single one of them is going to get a 2 million dollar advance.

So, Taleb doesn’t say “life is all random” so do nothing.

He says make yourself antifragile, live your life so that random bad things don’t kill you and random good things will benefit you greatly.

Minimal downside, unlimited upside.

Writing a novel for instance. What do we have to lose? Missing out on network television?

What do we have to gain? Perhaps a million dollar advance and a movie deal?

Oh, I could go on for a long time.

A few hundred years ago, if you went to a doctor, you’re chance of dying INCREASED. You were very likely to die of blood letting or infection, etc.

If you went to the Temple of Asclepius and made an offering (as long as it also meant you avoided doctors) your chance of living INCREASED.

And any expert could have told you the secret to a long and healthy life was worshiping Greek gods and avoiding medicine.

Today we don’t worship Greek gods, but we buy drugs that do no better (and often worse) than proper diet and exercise.

If you get a chance, read his Bed of Procrustes, it’ll rock your mind, at the very least.

Joel D Canfield says:

Antifragile. Pondering.

I am usually quite adept at extracting meaning from even the most opaque writing. This escaped me entirely.

Much more to discuss but it’s time for tea with Best Beloved.

Let’s take this to the forum and see where it leads.

Tina Goodman says:

Hello Michael, I’ve noticed that you referred to Clarice as Clarence again. What is that about? Does you computer type in the name once you start it with Clar?
Just wondering. It could be an inside joke, I don’t know.

Michael Beverly says:

No, I’m slightly stupid. Dyslexic and I often struggle with a minor speech impediment with names. I cannot have a friend named either Craig or Greg.

It’s sad, but true, but I can never get these names straight.

Must be the same with Clarence and Clarice.

Not a spell check thing. It’s my brain.

Joel D Canfield says:

So, wait, does this mean that maybe you don’t have two first names, one male, one female?

Gary Neal Hansen says:

Can’t wait! Very grateful that you’ll do something in non-fiction, and since I picked up this book at your recommendation it is particularly pleasing. (And since at some mysterious point I put it down without finishing it, I’ll be eager to see where my bookmark lands in the grid.)

Nan Roberts says:

Yay! That’s great. I haven’t read it yet. It’s nonfiction, so that will be a big help to me.
As for if your machine crashes and you have to build a new one, well, we all know you can do that, no sweat. We’ll watch.
Thanks for sharing that this is scary and hard. (And pointing out that that is Resistance.)

Gene Lempp says:

No way to turn back now. Sally forth! Besides, the best place to test the wall is in the one place you think it will fall.

Lynne Favreau says:

Interesting choice, I’ll have to dig that out of the bookcase. I do appreciate Malcolm Gladwell’s perspective and enjoyed reading Tipping Point. If I’m remembering correctly, those critical of it were focused on its lack of science-but he never put it forth as a scientific theory needing proof-just his observations and ideas.

Fran Civile says:

I haven’t read The Tipping Point but read a lot about it and listened to a Gladwell talk about it. It’ll be interesting to see how you grid this one Shawn and I’ll read the book while I follow you.

Regina Holt says:

Story grid as a verb. Earned it!
A socket wrench set is only waiting to be handed to you. So what if the grid evolves. Isn’t that the point? As for us newbies, do we get the book and start reading or wait for further instruction?

Sandy Brown Jensen says:

Seriously, Dood? Whutchu bin smokin’? I don’t think you can do it. It’ll never work. Okay, okay, I’m willing to watch you screw this one up. Go ahead; I be watchin’ you!

Scrivener says:

I was sure you were building up to the big reveal; Harry Potter – the entire series. I Blinked and Goliath trumped David on that one. Harry Potter is a bit of an Outlier so I Asked my Dog what he Saw and he thought it would be a real Tipping Point in your career. Maybe a Story to be Gridded at some future point in time – a whole series with series arcs and story arcs.

Doug Walsh says:

Bravo for this comment.

If the HP series is unrealistic, then perhaps Shawn would consider the entire Dark Tower series? Or maybe Clavell’s “Asian Saga” series.

I kid. No, I don’t. A Story Grid for “Shogun” would be epic!!!

Doug Walsh says:

Fantastic! I was hoping that you would tackle a story outside of the thriller genre (since it’s a genre I never read/write — yes, I’m selfish like that). No chance of me unsubscribing.

I do want to add that, as I work on the outline for my WIP I’ve decided to try my hand at Story Gridding (completely acceptable verb) “The Art of Fielding.” I really enjoyed that story and am in the process of doing my character counts, POV, and Location/Duration columns. Figured I’d return and tackle the Polarity/Value Shifts on a third-pass. As much as I learned reading this blog, I learn best from doing. And learning I am!

(I’m also a minor Excel geek and have added a column here and there to automatically calculate % story for each scene so I can quickly see where in the book the major scenes fell (25%? 50? 75%). I also added up word counts and average word counts for scenes vs chapters. If you’re curious Art of Fielding had 95 scenes in 82 chapters. Word count average was 1757 per scene and 2035 per chapter. Pretty darn close to what Shawn recommended for successful books — I wasn’t surprised!

Funny though, I read it on my Kindle and then bought a second copy in paperback to assist with Story Gridding (your welcome Chad Harbach). Even though I bought it strictly for this purpose, I find myself feeling bad as I take highlighter & pen to the book and jot word counts and highlight color-coded on-stage and off-stage character references.

Tina Goodman says:

Oh no, please don’t feel bad. You should always write in your books. That’s what the white spaces are for. (I write as I read.)

George in Quito says:

I must be one of your OCD story nerds because I just went back and read not only the post but all the comments. Yes I’m looking forward to this.

Jonny White says:

Once people start using it, will the story grid continue to work? Douglas Adams made the point better than I can: “There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.” Is the same is true for stories? Genres? Think of McKee calling Chinatown a genre-changing story because the bad guy wins. My question (I think) is “If everything becomes storygridded, will the audience then want something else that breaks that convention?” Game of Thrones already breaks convention regularly, of course, as do many popular new titles (Martian, Whiplash, Nightcrawler). Am I right in thinking that once the audience sees something coming, it has to change? Will this now mean a move from tightly-plotted stories to something new? On the flip side, this means that your good work is moving story forward and forcing change. It’s all just a bunch of musings I know, but it’s part of my morning question-everything-I-like ritual. Bravo on this content. Incredibly useful for my fiction and nonfiction work thus far.

Joel D Canfield says:

We all use wheels. Despite the decades-old push for hovercars, wheels have been around for thousands of years, and will be around a thousand more.

Stories are like that. The fundamental elements will never change. The Story Grid is just a way for a struggle writer to figure out whether he needs air, alignment, or snow tread.


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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.

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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.