Putting Off the Inevitable

[0:00:00.3] 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 I sent Shawn a few more scenes to look at and he starts discussing what the title of this episodes comes from, which is Putting Off the Inevitable. I think this is something all writers do, at least I do, and I know some of my friends that do that once they come up to those scenes that they really are afraid of writing, they start coming up with other things to write instead of actually plowing through. So hopefully this will be a helpful episode for you.

Let’s jump in and get started.


[0:00:54.3] TG: So, Shawn, before we get into my scenes, I wanted to mention about a month ago I entered a writing contest and it was for a man in the hole scene, because one of the guys running the contest came to the Story Grid Workshop and he was inspired by the man in the hole thing. A 2,000 word short story, man in the hole, and gets back out of the hole. I never done a writing contest before.

The way I came into this whole writing thing was I kind of fell backwards into it. Most people are doing it and have groups and local scenes that they’re a part of and you’re pretty much the only person I talk to about it.

I entered the contest and I found out that I got fourth place out of over 400 entries, which I thought was pretty cool.

[0:01:55.7] SC: Wow!

[0:01:56.8] TG: Yeah, I was surprised, because I felt like the whole scene was kind of contrived, but I did it without your input. Didn’t get your editing or anything, and I did the whole — Just like I do the scenes for the show, which is wait until the last possible minute and sit down and write it all at once and submitted it.

We were talking earlier about the importance of writing scenes and how far I’ve come. If you go back and compare what I was writing a year ago to what I can write in a scene now, it’s just proof in the pudding of learning the story grid, what learning the story grid can do for you. First of all, that’s pretty cool.

We’re talking about how once you can write a scene, it allows you to do other things, and I realized that is what we’ve been doing here is we’re not so much looking at individual scenes anymore. We’re looking at how the scenes look in a bigger picture. That’s most of what I’m struggling with now.

[0:03:05.0] SC: Right.

[0:03:07.1] TG: Yeah, because you’ve talked a bit about learning the scene overall. How do you look at that as far as learning to write a scene versus learning how to write 50,000, 60,000 word or more manuscript?

[0:03:21.6] SC: First of all, I’m really amazed about the coming and forth, that’s really incredible, those small things. There are 400 entries and you were in the top four, which means you’re in the top 1% of submissions. Yeah, I didn’t see any of that scene. I remember weeks ago you sent me an email and you said, “Shawn, I entered a writing contest. I’ve attached my scene,” and I didn’t read it. I said, “I’m not going to read that. I don’t want it.” I figured it was —

[0:04:01.7] TG: I specifically did not ask for your feedback, but then I’m like, “Well, I should at least send it to the guy that’s been working with me.”

[0:04:08.5] SC: I’m glad you did. I’m glad you did. I didn’t read it because I just didn’t get around it, and you nicely, I think in the email said, “No need to do anything with this. I just thought you might like to see it.”

[0:04:20.2] TG: Yeah.

[0:04:21.0] SC: The fact that you came in fourth, that’s really a big deal. It’s not easy to rise to the top 1% of any submission list. Congratulations. The other thing that I like to hear is that you — It seems to me that what you’ve did is you wanted to enter using the way you currently write. You didn’t grind over the thing for seven drafts before you submitted it, or maybe you did, but if you did, no matter what, it’s a great achievement. Congratulations.

[0:04:59.5] TG: Yeah, it was neat — I wrote it. I was happy with it. I read it a few — Here’s the actual sad part is I read it, fixed some things, read it fix, fixed some things, and I did my own line edit of it and thought it was ready, and then I had my wife read it. She’s like, “Now, do you want me to point out all the misspellings and grammar problems or you’re going to worry about those later?” I’m like, “I already fixed those.”

I actually paid my editor that helps me my blog and stuff to go through and clean up. Of course, she found 20, 30 things in it that I had missed. I pretty much wrote the draft, fixed a few things, and submitted it, and that was it.

[0:05:46.1] SC: You copyedit it and proofread, but you didn’t essentially change the structure of the story.

[0:05:54.0] TG: Right.

[0:05:54.7] SC: You went with your initial gut of your story structure in the scene and you came in fourth. I think that’s indicative of — I just want to take one step back, because when we first started working together, you said, “You got to have a better marketing concept for the Story Grid,” and I didn’t quite know what you meant. Then, you came up with a phrase, “Don’t waste your words.” I thought, “That’s okay.”

Now, I really get it. Now, I really understand what you meant by that, because now you are in a place where you don’t waste words anymore. Meaning, you don’t write scenes that don’t have the five commandments of storytelling in them. Can they be better? Can they be more clear? Of course, but you’re not wasting, fiddling around writing 150 words of description of the morning sunlight. A lot of people do that stuff. A lot of people still — It’s that joke that Snoopy and the Charles Schulz cartoons, it was a dark and stormy night, and then they write for page upon page about just how dark it was. That isn’t writing. That’s goofing around. That’s wasting your words is what that is.

The slogan that you came up with now makes a lot of sense to me, because if you are just starting out as an amateur writer, if you learn these principles and you work, focus very intently on the scene, then it’s almost like being in a video game situation where once you master the first maze of video game stuff, then you graduate to the second maze and your skillset from the first maze travels with you. Not to compare writing to video game playing, but that sort of what we’ve been doing, is I had to stop you a year ago or however long ago it was and say, “We have to throw this manuscript out that you wrote, because you weren’t operating with a skillset that translated into something that’s workable.”

That’s why we had to start over again in September using the generic concepts that you had started with a year before that to start working on what we’re doing now. Your question about scenes is a really good question, because a lot of people want to solve the 50,000, 100,000 word problem right off the top, and they want to pitch you their global story. That doesn’t really mean anything. When you pitch a global story, it sounds cliché. If I pitched you The Silence of the Lambs right now, I would say, “Okay, here’s the idea. There’s this rookie FBI agent and she really wants to make it into the academy and become a full FBI agent. She ingratiates herself to this mentor and he decides to let her help investigate this murder investigation of this serial killer, and what happens is there’s this really crazy guy too that they’re interviewing to get clues about the serious killer and the crazy guy gets into her head and he forces her to confront the serial killer at the end. Guess what? She kills the bad guy in the end, but the bad serial killer she was interviewing gets away with it.” You would kind of say, “That’s sounds really cliché and —” When you go scene by scene through it, it’s The Silence of the Lambs, one of the greatest crime thrillers ever written.

The point is, is that pitching a global story to an editor or to a movie producer, or whatever, doesn’t really work. What works are really perfectly constructed scenes one after the other after the other after the other. Progressively complicating and getting more and more engrossing, so that by the time you do get to the scene where the rookie FBI agent has to confront the bad guy in a dark cellar, you can’t believe how great the story is.

My big thing is learn how to write a scene. It’s like a carpenter learns how to measure and cut perfect pieces of wood each and every time so that they know that skill is always there. Then, they ratchet up to framing or whatever it is that carpenters do, whatever it is that other craftsmen do.

When I was working in a laboratory in college, I had to learn how to run gels. What gels are are these things that you create out of Agar that are — It’s like Gel-o. What you do is you have to put an electric current though this Gel-o and it pulls proteins down the gel and varying lens. You can’t become a scientist until you learn how to make really good gels and are able to get the electrodes and to make it work very well.

That was the very first thing I learned when I went to the lab. They didn’t teach me about splicing DNA. They taught me how to run a gel. The scene is the gel for a writer. Learning how to craft really good scenes is really the hardest job for a writer to learn, but the thing that will help them over and over and over again.

The fact that you came in fourth by writing this one 2,000 word scene is really a great accomplishment for you, because, remember, we’ve been only doing this for about a year and three months or so, maybe a year and a half, but you’re not wasting your words anymore and I think I shaved off quite a bit of — Your first draft is going to be equivalent of draft seven for people who weren’t using the story grid methodology.

[0:12:23.7] TG: Yeah, that was the whole reason before we even had the podcast that I tried to get you on the phone is I was like, “I read Story Grid,” and I’m like, “this is my ticket out of 10 years of horrible writing.” Yeah, that’s what I feel like we’re spending more time on the show now is not fixing individual scenes, but fixing more global problems. I’m able to step back and think bigger feeling confident that once I know where I’m going in the next three or four scenes, I can probably write those pretty well, which I guess brings us to this week’s scenes. I sent you the next four scenes.

Last week, I did four scenes after skipping. I just kind of skipped ahead in the story and then we decided I should just keep writing. We left Jessie — Let’s see. Where did we leave her? Where she started to fight her brother and had let the Balem, the guy from earlier in the book into the system. You had told me to keep writing. You had told me to make sure she’s the one that pulls the final trigger and not let Balem do it, and so I just kind of took it from there and ran.

I started with the scene where it’s back from Randy’s point of view with Lila and he basically — Let’s see. What did he do here? Oh! He’s getting ready — He talks to Lila about what’s going on. He gets a vial, or a syringe full of adrenaline so that — But he doesn’t say what it’s for. Then, he sends people after Balem and the system.

I want to stop there and just ask what your overall thoughts of the scenes were before we go scene by scene.

[0:14:25.2] SC: I think there are some problems in there, but they’re not huge problems to fix. Because you skipped forward and you’re trying to generate the climactic scene — Just to take a step back, the five commandments of storytelling are not only critical for scene by scene, but they’re critical for sequence by sequence and part by part. We’re in the ending payoff now, and what you’ve done prior to the scenes that you’ve delivered today was to build progressively complicate from a point in the threshing that really reaches fever pitch. You’re progressively complicating to reach a crisis. That has been the goal of these scenes. The crisis question is Jessie’s central core question, “Do I save myself, or do I sacrifice myself for the good of other people?”

That has been what you’ve been working towards. Then, of course, the climax of the ending payoff is her decision. We know her decision is going to be to sacrifice herself for the good of the larger group, which is the climactic moment of the thriller. It’s a convention. Thriller isn’t really going to work. You’re not going to please your audience if you bring them all the way to page 412 an your lead character decides, “Oh! Forget it. I’m not going to help anybody. I’m going home.” Nobody is going to like that book.

You can say, “Well, I didn’t want to do what everybody else does, so I didn’t have my protagonist to actually sacrifice herself for — Because I thought that would be a cliché.” That’s a perfectly — You’re allowed to make that choice, but don’t complain when nobody buys the books or nobody talks about it and everybody hates it, because you are not living up to the convention of the thriller.

Anyway, what we’ve been building to over the past couple of weeks are these critical moments; the crisis, the climax, and the resolution of the ending payoff, and that, the ending payoff, is also the ending of the book too. These scenes that you’ve delivered today are what I would call you’re trying to buy time.

[0:16:58.6] TG: In a bad way?

[0:16:59.8] SC: Not in a bad way. What you’re doing is, internally as a writer, you’re waiting to pull the trigger. You’re adding all of these elements. It’s almost like those old Batman cartoons on Saturday mornings where they would put Batman in a situation and make you wait a week before the climactic moment. You’re doing a cliffhanger over and over and over again. Is Lila on her side? Is she not on her side? Where is Ernst and Alex? Where is Balem? What’s the deal with Craig?

I think what you did with Craig — That’s his name, right? The guy who’s stuck in the tunnel with her?

[0:17:43.1] TG: Yeah.

[0:17:43.6] SC: What you did with Craig worked.

[0:17:45.7] TG: That was the part I thought, then it worked.

[0:17:49.8] SC: No. I think it works, but you’re just sort of — You’re letting it run too long. You have — From last week and this week, we have eight scenes and she has still not done her climactic action.

[0:18:06.1] TG: It’s just people are going to get bored with, “Come on, do it already.”

[0:18:11.2] SC: They know that she’s going to do it, the sooner that she does it, the better. Then, you just want to pump in to the resolution. Okay, she makes the decision to blow up the thing. It blows up. Now what?

[0:18:22.9] TG: Okay.

[0:18:24.3] SC: Now what? How is she going to be saved? She literally sacrifices herself thinking she’s going to die once she’s in the grid, and she in a place where her brother can kill her at any moment. He’s standing over her body.

You do mention in one of the scenes that her old mentor from her days at home saying, “The grid is an illusion. If you can somehow reach a place in your mind, you can reach your own consciousness and get back to reality without being unplugged.” Something to that sort of idea.

That is an interesting idea. It’s like the moment in The Matrix when Neo understands that he can shift time and space and away from the bullets before they hit him. That could be a way that she saves herself.

Again, as I said last week, you can’t have the hero be saved by a third part. If Lila is the one who saves her physical body, or Ernst, or Alex are the ones who save her physical body from Randy, that’s going to disappoint the audience. I think what you’ve done here in these scenes was to play with all of those possibilities and you still haven’t come out on decision on how she’s going to win the hero at the mercy of the villain scene, right?

[0:19:54.4] TG: Yeah. I haven’t even got her to the hero at the mercy of the villain scene.

[0:19:58.6] SC: She’s been at the mercy of the villain for the past eight scenes. Her body is there, her brother is sitting there.

[0:20:06.6] TG: Yeah. I haven’t drawn it into sharp focus. Have I? I don’t feel like I have.

[0:20:13.4] SC: No, and you need to. You need to have Jessie outsmart. She can’t out-physical her brother, unless she’s able to somehow — And that might be the climactic moment that you figure out. If she’s somehow able to solve her virtual reality problem and that she can convince her brain that she’s back in that room in reality and not in that tunnel, that can save her physicality problem, but before she can get there, she’s going to have to buy herself time with her brother. She’s going to have to outsmart her brother, because there’s only two ways that the hero can be the villain in the hero at the mercy of the villain scene. It can outsmart them, or they can out-physical them.

Out-physical means they beat them up. They somehow get some supernatural sense of power and are able to physically beat up the villain, or they outsmart them. In the movie Die Hard, Joh McClane outsmarts the great actor who plays the bad guy. I forgot his name. He outsmarts him by making a joke and getting him to laugh which distracts him and allows John McClane to pull the gun that’s been duct taped to his back and shoot him.

That made sense in that scene and it works. That hero at the mercy of the villain scene works because the whole setup of Die Hard is a little bit of a tongue and cheek jokey kind of thing. To have him solve the problem by cutting a joke makes sense.

Now, in, I think it’s Taken, the Liam Neeson movie. He gets out of the hero of the mercy — Remember, he’s on that pipe and he’s got handcuffs and he’s draped over a pipe. He literally breaks the pipe. He overpowers the pipe because he needs to save his daughter. That’s how he got out of that impossible situation. Not so great, but because it’s Liam Neeson, we kind of — We’re like, “Oh! This is a B-movie. It’s kind of a fun thriller. We’re not going to —” That was the least of that movie’s problems. It was just kind of a fun cartoony Paris thing. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t there for the storytelling, I was there for the action scenes and Liam Neeson, et cetera, et cetera.

Jessie can either outsmart or overpower her brother to save herself. Her first choice is that she is going to sacrifice herself for the good of everybody else. That doesn’t mean she’s going to quit. She does the action that will put her at the mercy of her brother, and she knows her brother is not going to give her any mercy. Once she makes the decision to blow up the grid, she knows that her physical body, she has moments to live after that decision. Once Randy discovers that she’s blown up the grid, she’s history, or so she thinks.

That’s your central problem. What I think you’re doing now is you’re running — You’re nudging away from the problem by having Lila have the syringe and having Ernst come in and talk to Jessie while Randy is talking to her and you’re sort of delaying the payoff.

[0:24:08.4] TG: Yeah. I don’t know how to do the payoff is the real problem. I’m not sure how to do it in a — What do you always say? Inevitable, but surprising way.

[0:24:24.0] SC: One of the ways to figure out how to solve that problem is to look at the problem as if you’re a Martian. What is the problem? The problem is this character is stuck in a virtual world and what she does in the virtual world will affect the real world. What she needs to do is destroy the artifice of the virtual world in order to bring justice to the real world.

What are the qualities of the virtual world versus the real world? Is there some wormhole of sorts whereby Jessie can do the action? Is there any way that there’s a delay between the time she does the action for the thing to blowup and Randy discovering that she did the action? There are — I’m just going to take one step back here and tell you a little nonfiction story to help clarify this.

A couple of years ago I worked with a great Wall Street Journal writer and he wrote a book called Dark Pools, which was all about electronic trading on Wall Street. One of the little mini-stories in that book was the story of these guys in Chicago who put together a big fund of money so that they could get a direct electronic line, literally, an electrical path from the main computer station in Hoboken, New Jersey directly to Chicago’s trading floor.

The cost of that was $100 million to get a cord that went directly from Hoboken to Chicago, and what it would require would be tunneling underneath the Appalachian Mountains, a crazy amount of infrastructure to get this single electronic wire. The reason why they wanted to do it is because it would give them information sooner than the rest of Wall Street. It would shave .000001 seconds from the information.

They would learn about trades one-gazillionth sooner than everybody else. They were willing to pay $100 million to get that line. I don’t know if they ever did the line. The reason why they were able to do that and wanted to do that is that they had computer programs that would trade on that information before anybody else knew. Effectively, they were getting tomorrow’s newspaper today, and they would have been able to make billions and billions of dollars just based upon having that wire. 

[0:27:28.8] SC: Yeah. I’ve actually heard of this. In New York, they try to get their offices closer and closer and closer to the central hub, to Wall Street, those milliseconds matter.

[0:27:41.7] SC: Oh, yeah! They really do matter, because it’s all computer-driven trading now. The old days of somebody calling their stock broker and saying, “Give me 20 shares of AT&T pronto.” Those days are over. The trades happen in microseconds.

Anyway, the reason why I’m saying that is wouldn’t it be interesting if Jessie or her mentor says to her something like, “You know, there’s a delay in the real world versus the virtual world. If you do this little trick, that delay, you will have started something happening that wouldn’t be realized by everybody in the real world.” She might be able to buy two seconds.

You could come up with some little rule that made sense. If you go and rewire X, it will buy you X-number of seconds in the real world. The reapers — Maybe that’s how — This is all goes back to how — I’m glad we’re talking about this, because the other question you have to answer is how did Randy win the last threshing? You could use how Randy won the last threshing answer that question by having Jessie use the same method, and he thinks that he’s so much smarter than her that she wouldn’t think of it. She uses his McGuffin against him. He thinks he’s the only one who knows this little quirk in the code that the reapers programed the entire grid. He figured out the quirk four years ago. He didn’t share that information with anybody else. That’s why he was in prison for four years. He figured out that he could get a lag time and wipeout this competition in a black-holean wormhole and making up this physics as we speak.

[0:29:47.1] TG: No. This is helpful.

[0:29:49.1] SC: Right?

[0:29:49.0] TG: Yeah.

[0:29:49.3] SC: If Jessie can figure out Randy’s trick without Randy ever revealing the trick, and not only figuring out, but doing one better, so that he doesn’t figure out that she’s not only figured out his trick, but turned it on its ear in a way that she can outsmart him and say, “Yes Randy, I did do that thing. Now, can you let me up?” She needs to convince him that she’s won the threshing, so that he lets her free. In reality, the threshing was never resolved the whole grid is falling apart within seconds. Does that make sense?

[0:30:29.7] TG: Yeah, I’m wondering if I should back up to where she’s in the cave and she finds — I’m struggling to come up with an example, but this is perfectly set up to be where she’s communicating to Randy one thing while she’s doing something else, because he can’t see what she’s actually doing. Us, as the reader, will think that she’s doing what Randy wants her to.

[0:30:56.7] SC: Correct.

[0:30:57.5] TG: Because I’ve not told you what it is she’s supposed to be doing.

[0:31:01.7] SC: Right.

[0:31:03.4] TG: The confrontation will be —

[0:31:07.1] SC: I think what you would do is you would have to let the reader know that Jessie’s up to something. Maybe that — What’s his name? Balem Finger?.

[0:31:18.1] TG: Yeah.

[0:31:19.4] SC: Maybe he gives her more of that mambo jambo talk that we don’t understand, but he could say things like, “Be the ball,” or “the force is with you, Luke.” So that she understands, “Oh, okay. Yeah, I’m going in to code her mode. He is just telling me to go with my instincts and do what I think is right. Meanwhile, I’ll tell Randy that I’m doing what he wants,” and Randy looks up at the scoreboard and the threshing is going his way so he doesn’t kill her, and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, so that there’s — You’re taking the level of dramatic irony up a notch. The reader thinks they know more than Randy does, thinks they know more than Jessie does, but doesn’t know more than Jessie.

Jessie is the ultimate knowledge-based. She’s using a system in the grid that is based upon her own intuitive sense and what she’s been trained in. She’s telling Randy a story that he’s going to believe, because this is all in the service of solving this problem. Jessie has to destroy the grid before Randy finds out so that Randy will unplug her and allow her to regain her consciousness.

[0:32:43.2] TG: In that case, where is the hero at the mercy of the villain scene?

[0:32:48.3] SC: You’re playing out the hero at the mercy of the villain scene in a new arena. It’s an innovative twist. The arena is this. The hero is physically at the mercy of the villain and the villain is sort of at the mercy of the victim, or the hero too, because the villain has to trust what the hero is doing for him.

This is a very unique kind of twist if you’re looking at the story from Randy’s point of view. Randy, in Randy’s mind, is the hero. Randy, in Randy’s mind, is the victim here. He’s trying to get a result and his little sister isn’t playing both, so he feels like he’s at the mercy of his little sister. We’re talking a little bit in circles now. The important thing to solve is that Jessie’s physicality has to be restored so that she cannot — She must outsmart her brother so that she can be — Her physical self can come back to reality. He needs to pull out the plug, or barring that, she needs enough time to regain consciousness in the physical world so that she can pull out the plug herself. That would be even more dramatic. Wouldn’t it? That would stop Randy for some time, because if all of a sudden Jessie gained consciousness in reality and pulled the plug out from her own head, that would be an incredible moment, and it’s a nice metaphorical moment too for the reader.

[0:34:32.6] TG: Would that be, when she does that, that’s the same scene that he’s realizing everything is melting down and she’s won?

[0:34:41.5] SC: Yes. He is about to kills her with the syringe. He finally gets the syringe, goes to her, is about to stick it in her heart, and she rises, pulls the plug out and slaps it out of his hand.

[0:34:57.6] TG: Then, what I was wondering is does her realize it’s all melting down before she wakes up or after she wakes up? What you just said is before she wakes up, because he’s going to kill her.

[0:35:10.9] SC: Right. Right. I think it’s got to be before, because if it’s after — If she wakes up before the grid is destroyed —

[0:35:22.7] TG: As it’s melt — To me, it’s like when you throw the switch on the reactor and she’s running away.

[0:35:30.1] SC: Right. It’s going [noises 0:35:31.7]. Yeah.

[0:35:35.3] TG: If I delete 10,000 files on my computer, it doesn’t just delete them at once, it takes about 10 minutes.

[0:35:44.0] SC: Right. Yeah, somewhere in that process. There has to be a moment when they both — She’s in physical danger, she rises, pulls that plug out of her head. Then, the next thing to solve is how does Randy escape.

[0:36:03.0] TG: Yeah. I’ve got you eight scenes here. How many should it be that I get to that point?

[0:36:09.2] SC: I think you have two nice scenes that’s set the beginning of the threshing and then stage one of the threshing.

[0:36:20.0] TG: That’s all the stuff I skipped.

[0:36:21.9] SC: Right. I’m just backtracking here.

[0:36:24.3] TG: Okay.

[0:36:25.8] SC: That would be two to three scenes that you’ve skipped, and then I think you’re going to want to accomplish all of the stuff we’ve been talking about in five to six scenes, and then you’re going to want to have one or two resolution scenes. That’s 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10 closing chapters. 10 closing scenes or some sort.

I would go two to three for setup, four to five for getting to climax, and then two or three for resolution. What you have now is you have eight scenes and you need to bring them down to five to six.

[0:37:08.6] TG: Actually, get to the point too, because I didn’t even get to the point in eight scenes.

[0:37:13.0] SC: Right. The point, the climactic point is brother and sister confronting each other. The whole world is melting down. Are the building crumbling? I don’t know. Probably not.

[0:37:26.2] TG: No. I feel like the resolution scenes will be Randy escaping and then the setup of the problem for book two which is the anarchy throughout the world.

[0:37:37.3] SC: Right.

[0:37:39.5] TG: Those will be the resolution scenes.

[0:37:41.9] SC: Yes, and you got to her back home. You got to get her back to the numbered. Maybe the numbered compound their fortress.

[0:37:51.8] TG: They’re the only ones that are going to keep their sanity, because they’re not hooked up to the grid.

[0:37:56.2] SC: Right.

[0:37:57.1] TG: She’s got to end there back home in their town.

[0:37:59.9] SC: Yes. Ironically, the numbered are the only ones who can keep order. They’re the ones who sort of calm everybody down in the community. They teach them how  to take care of themselves, or whatever.

[0:38:15.3] TG: The opening of these eight scenes was when right after the cave collapsed and Az has died and she’s in the cave, and I need to get from there, that point, to the climax in six scenes, five to six scenes.

[0:38:36.0] SC: Yes. The climax, as you recall, is the answer to the crisis question, and the crisis question for Jessie is a best bad choice or irreconcilable goods. It all depends on how you look at it. Irreconcilable goods, if you look at it from that point, is Jessie understands that what’s good for her will be terrible for everybody else in the world. Best bad choice is I save myself and everybody else perishes, or everybody else remains under tyranny. She doesn’t know that her destroying tyranny destroys structure. When you destroy structure, you get chaos.

Even though tyranny is horrible, chaos could prove to be even more horrible as proven by a lot of — I won’t get in the political side. That’s the irony of the story, is that she destroys the tyranny and the result is far worse than the actual reality of the tyranny itself.

The climax is her action that is her active choice answering that question. He action is to blow up the grid. The resolution begins after she’s made that choice. What we’re talking about is after she’s figured out a way to blow up the grid and return to her body, then the resolution is the confrontation, the physical confrontation between Randy and Jessie. What’s going to happen next? Okay, she’s blown up the grid. Her brother is not going to be a tyrant. He’s now as helpless as everybody else. He’s in a wheelchair. She’s pulled her cord out of her head. The only thing he has to defend himself is a syringe. How is this going to end?

[0:40:37.3] TG: Should I end with — You said, nobody else can step in to save her, but should it end — Because my thin was I think Lila needs to die. Should it end with her and her brother struggling and Lila steps in and she’s the one that dies and that’s how Randy gets away?

[0:40:54.3] SC: Yeah. That could work. It’s kind of —

[0:40:57.0] TG: Cliché.

[0:40:58.5] SC: It depends on how well you do the scene, but it sounds cliché. That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t pull it off in a way that’s interesting. Lila — The question is; is she going to have a change of heart? Is she going to side with Jessie? I don’t think she should. I think she should just be a henchman. She’s a very sweet talking nice henchman, but maybe she’s the one who fights — Who comes in to save Randy. You also have to resolve what are Alex and Ernst is doing.

The tables are absolutely turned when Jessie rises from that table and pulls the plug out, because her brother is an involute. Physically, Jessie is going to win that match. The big problem then is how does Randy get away. How does Randy overcome — Randy is then at the mercy of his sister. Maybe Randy outsmarts his sister. Maybe Randy says, “Oh, honey. I was never going to kill you. What are you, crazy? This isn’t to kill you. This was to help you heart. This is adrenaline. Watch, I’ll shoot it into myself.” He shoots in to himself and that revised him enough, it’s enough adrenaline to get him out of the wheelchair and escape. I don’t know. I’m making it up.

He could — “Oh! You thought I was —” It’s like whenever somebody gets caught lying, “Oh! You thought I was going to hurt you. Actually, I wasn’t. I was just here to —” When you catch somebody, who’s a former friend who’s lying to you and discover a lie and you confront them with the lie. What they usually say is, “Oh, you misunderstood. I didn’t mean that at all. I didn’t mean to steal your idea and make $500 million based upon that idea you told me in confidence. You misinterpreted that. I was only inspired by your genius.” Then, before you know, they’re out of the room and they’ve escaped and you’re left holding the bag.

[0:43:14.3] TG: This isn’t a personal story, is it?

[0:43:17.5] SC: No. It’s not. I don’t have a $500 million idea. I really do.

[0:43:22.7] TG: Okay. I suppose it’s for —

[0:43:25.3] SC: The reason I’m bringing — Yeah, I’m just trying to take you out of, “Oh my gosh! How am I going to solve this? I don’t get it.” To what are the practical problems? I’ve got to have very crystal clear delineations of a progressively complicating story reaching a very strong crisis. The protagonist has to make a choice. She acts this way, and that action is going to result in her being able to revive in the physical world and pull the plug out of her head, which will get me to a resolution problem that I have to solve where the brother has to outsmart her and get away.

I think the idea of the time differences between the virtual world and the real world could be a good solution to how Randy figured out how to win the first threshing and how Jessie is going to solve her problem. It’s just sort of looking at it from a very 30,000 foot view, “Here are my problems. I’ve got five scenes to solve them.” You’ve got the general setting. It’s now a lot of thrashing around until something comes to you that is just, “Oh my God! I didn’t think of that. That’s perfect.”

[0:44:46.4] TG: Okay. I can work on that. I like that I’m going to throw away several scenes after we talked about how good I was getting and not wasting my words.

[0:44:59.4] SC: Oh, it’s ironic. That’s dramatic irony.

[0:45:01.4] TG: There we go. Maybe I can work that into the story. Okay, I’ll work on that and we’ll reconvene next week.

[0:45:10.2] SC: Okay.


[0:45:10.9] 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.

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