I’ve always seen myself as the stand-in for you, the writer. I try to ask all the dumb and embarrassing questions and make sure the show is something that represents the every day writer.
Which is why it’s a bit weird that we’ve never actually done a Q&A with Shawn based on your actual questions.
So a couple weeks ago I took questions via Facebook and Twitter and we’re going to spend a couple weeks going through them with Shawn. I hope you enjoy it!
[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 we do something that I’m kind of flabbergasted we’ve never done before, which is a Q&A. I went on Twitter, I went on Facebook and I invited questions from listeners and I got a few dozen of them and we only got through a few in this episode. We’re going to do this for a couple of weeks of trying to get through as many questions that you have, because I’ve always seen myself as kind of the stand-in for all the listeners, and so now I want to let you actually submit questions. That’s what we did, and so I’m just going to jump in and get started.
[0:01:00.3] TG: Let’s start with this one. I like this one. “Can you tell us how making a story with multiple protagonist works with the hero’s journey, like in Game of Thrones?”
[0:01:11.4] SC: Sure. I’m not all that familiar with Game of Thrones, so I’ll talk about something like Lord of the Rings. The way you do it is you think about a single protagonist and then you sort of split the protagonist up into however many parts that you would like. Say there’s three characters that are going to come together and sort of form your central protagonist. Each of these characters are going to have elements of a whole that they don’t have the whole. The only whole that they have is when they’re all together. It’s not until these three characters sort of form an alliance that they will have the tools that capable of going on this long journey.
For example, something like Lord of the Rings has, I think, seven sort of smallish characters that come together and are successes in the end. Also, Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is the central protagonist, but she has these other three satellite characters, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion that all four of them together are these incredible team that are capable of solving all of the problems as they move down the Yellow Brick Road.
If you read Wizard of Oz again you’ll see that Dorothy, she’s the sort of central heart of the story, but she can’t solve all the problems.
[0:02:46.2] TG: How is that different than sidekicks or the friends? Because there are some stories I feel like that do have multiple protagonist, where like in Lord of the Rings I would say, of course, Frodo and then you have Aragorn would be another protagonist, but then I would say the dwarf. I forgot his name. Is just a sidekick. When do you distinguish – Go ahead.
[0:03:12.4] SC: The difference is is that, for example, I believe it’s when Dorothy – And they’re going to the Poppy Field and they all fall asleep except for the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow because they’re not animate people. Dorothy would have died if not for the help that comes from the scarecrow and the Tin Woodman.
The test about multi-character mini-plot is whether or not the protagonist can do and be successful beating the villain by themselves. Now, you would say, “Oh, well Dorothy was the one who killed the witch when she dumped the water on her.” Yes, but you would have never gotten all the way to that castle in that moment if it hadn’t been for the other three characters.
Those four characters together come together and their journey, they each have these separate little moments of journey and, of course, Dorothy is the central figure of the Wizard of Oz because she’s the immature little girl. Lord of the Rings, I apologize, I’m not as deeply immersed in that world as I wish, but something like these old movies, these old war movies, like the Dirty Dozen or Oceans 11. All those characters have to come together and they each have their own little story and together they go on a journey together and at the end they all learn something.
They all have little micro hero’s journeys, but together, the sum of their parts is much larger than one protagonist on a journey. This is why you can have multiple, multiple books, epic tales where we follow these characters as they move forward.
Another one, like the Godfather, Michael Corleone, of course, is sort of the central force in the story, but all the brothers, like the Clemenza’s, the other characters in the story, they’re all little tiny elements that together are much larger than the sum of their parts.
How do you tell this story? Well, you think about how you can split up a central protagonist with different sorts of elements. Michael Corleone has elements of Sonny Corleone. He’s very hot-tempered. He also has elements of Fredo. Fredo is a very sensitive guy who is very uncomfortable with violence. Michael Corleone has parts of that too. He also has major intelligence like Don Corleone, his father.
You can see if you break down what parts of the personality of a central protagonist and then make characters that embody those characteristics, then you’re going to have multi-character, multicast going a long extended hero’s journey.
Fredo in Godfather, he’s a secondary character, but he’s an important character because he has in All is Lost moment too, and his All is Lost moment happens when Michael comes to Las Vegas and Fredo is sort of like a secondary figure to Moe Greene who’s running the casino. Michael insults Moe Greene and actually threatens Moe Greene and says, “I’m taking over the casino and don’t ever talk to my brother like that,” which completely infantilizes Fredo. He feels as if all of the work that he’s done in Las Vegas is for not — His brother is overshadowing him, and then what happens to Fredo at the very end of Godfather II, we all know, because he betrays Michael out of jealousy and powerlessness.
If you look at all of your characters in an epic story as elements of the hero and take them to the end of the line for each of those sort of characteristics, that’s a really good way of doing a multi-stranded, multi-character epic story that — People love Fredo, “I’m smart too, Mike,” and they love Sonny Corleone. That’s what made the Godfather. Yeah, we all are centrally attracted to Michael, but Michael is also — He’s cold. The other people are more lively and more interesting and they have more Frank Pentangeli. I love the Godfather as anybody does.
To look at multi-character hero’s journey, what you do is you take one character and you split him into his core characteristics and then you give full characters to each one of those characteristics. Does that make sense?
[0:08:16.1] TG: Yeah. I haven’t seen — I’ve never watched Game of Thrones so I don’t know about that, but I would say in most of these that we’ve talked about including Lord of the Rings, there is one central protagonist. Is that important that there is still one main one even if you have other supporting ones, or do you feel like a story can work if you have — Because even in Oceans 11, you have George Clooney and Brad Pitt and, really, it’s George Clooney’s story. I forget their names in the movie. Does it still — Is there ever a time where you have multiple protagonist kind of on the same plane or does there still need to be kind of one central protagonist?
[0:09:01.9] SC: Yes, there are definitely instances of it and they’re usually though — They’re epics from, I want to say, the 19th century or the early 20th century. The French Realists, like [inaudible 0:09:15.2] and Balzac and Zola, they had multi-characters that there was no core sort of central character in some of their novels. The reason is is that they were trying to write the novel as endemic of an entire social structure.
For example, Balzac — Actually, even Balzac and I’m thinking of Lost Illusions, Balzac’s sort of masterpiece and Germinal, which is Zola’s masterpiece, and they all had multiple characters in them, but there is a core, central sort of protagonist that the reader can’t help but attach to. I think if I were to give somebody advice I would say, “Yes. Absolutely. Definitely have Dorothy. Have Don Draper. Have Michael Corleone. Have Frodo. Have these really, really —”and I wish I’m like you, I really want to invest myself in Game of Thrones, but I know it’s a commitment and I just don’t have the time yet. I apologize for not having the facility with that story.
My advice would be to use one central character. It doesn’t mean that they’re on screen all of the time, but they are — If somebody were to say to the writer, “Who’s representative of this story? Who is it really about?” They would say, “Oh! This is —” Puzo would say, “This is Michael Corleone’s story. This is the son who’s damned by the father and it plays out as sort of opera.”
Also, I think if you ask Matt Weiner, he would say, “Yeah, Don Draper is the essential core for of Mad Men,” but there’s Peggy Olson. There’re all these other characters that are parts. If you look at these characters, you see that they all have elements to Don Draper and they’re all sort of reflecting and getting different parts of him to show in the long form of the story.
Breaking Bad, that was very, very intense story. Very clear central protagonist, but you see all the satellite characters around him have elements of him personally. His son is a really sweet kid who’s sort of powerless because — He’s not powerless, but he’s got some sort of physical thing going on. I forgot what it is, but he’s a really sweet person and you can’t help but be attracted to him and you know that the father has elements of that person within him too. His wife is like that, the FBI agent who’s his brother-in-law.
I know I’m going on and on about this, but, yes, my recommendation is think of a central core character and if you want to do an epic story, slice little pieces of that character’s personality off and give them their own flesh and blood story and then you can break up the narrative by following these smaller or secondary characters throughout the course of a long form story. Now, it requires a lot of words. It requires a lot of story structure, a big bible when you have these secondary characters who the reader will attach to, because they are going to want to know what’s going to happen to Peggy Olson as well as Don Draper or what happens to Fredo, what happens to Sonny Corleone? All the characters Germinal now are reflected of the central character. He’s this young sort of French guy who arrives in Milltown and gets a job at the mill. We follow his life, but we get to meet everybody in that community too.
[0:13:11.8] TG: Okay. Let’s jump to the next one. In a love story, does the All Is Lost scene necessarily have to be the lovers break up scene?
[0:13:19.5] SC: No. It doesn’t. Often times in a love story if you have the lost — A lot of times in a love story, what happens is when the lovers break up one of them thinks, “This is no big deal. I can’t wait to get rid of this one.” This person, they’re trying to shed the other character because they don’t think that they really need them.
There’s a great love story as a subplot in terms of endearment, which is a terrific movie. It features Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson plays this former astronaut and he moves in and his next-door neighbor, Shirley McClain, and you know she’s sort of a snooty Texas woman, and they fall in love and they go on a love story. About midpoint of the movie he breaks up with her, because he’s like, “Your daughter comes over and that means I have to come over for dinner. I feel like you’re cramping my style. I’m not seeing other people.”
He thinks that he’s getting rid of her and then he’s going to be able to go back to a really fun bachelor life and he won’t think another thing of it. His story, his All Is Lost moment arrives when he understands that his life has lost all meaning without that that woman nagging him. He goes back and he gets her back and they’re reunited.
When the lovers break up, it’s not necessarily All Is Lost for one or even both the characters. I’m trying to think of more examples of this, but it’s usually the two people have to come to a realization that they need to get back together again.
Another great love story which has — It has a negative ending of sorts, is Annie Hall, and in that one, the Woody Allen character, he and Diane Keaton break up and he thinks, “Oh, good. This just isn’t going to work. This isn’t working out for me.”
Then he realizes that she’s actually the right one for him, and he goes back to her and she wants nothing to do with him anymore, because she’s changed. His All Is Lost moment is actually the climactic moment of the movie, because he realizes that he let the one person who could be his partner for the rest of his life, he screwed it up. He rejected her. She moved on with her life and now he’s going to be miserable for the rest of his life in a very funny way. It’s a hilarious movie, but comedy often ends darkly.
The answer is no. All Is Lost does not have to be coinciding with when the lovers break up. In fact, I would recommend that you don’t make that the All Is Lost moment because it rings melodramatically. It’s like a telenovela where, “Oh! I’ve lost my one true love. How will I ever —” It just seems melodramatic.
We never know when we’re making the mistake when we’re making the mistake. We think that we’re in command of our life, and in love story the characters should really believe that they’re captaining their own ship and that they don’t need anyone else. A love story this is a proof that do. If the character realizes that they lost it all because they’ve lost the one that they’ve been seeing, it rings like, “Ugh! That’s kind of cheesy.”
It’s my recommendation that you make the All Is Lost moment turn on another thing, and that thing is usually the external genre that goes along with the love story. The love story is an external genre, but I mean like an external subplot where you would have a character getting ready for some big performance, and then they dump their boyfriend because they don’t want to be distracted. Then they realize at the end of the performance that it’s meaningless because that person’s not there to share it with them. Something like that.
[0:17:42.5] TG: Okay. This one is kind of long one. It’s about global value shifts. I’m just going to read through it. In the Story Grid you give two core values per internal and external genre. For example, the core values for thriller is life to death, and for maturation is naïveté to worldliness. However, when we actually start to plot our stories, the move from one value to another is gradual, so for life to consciousness, to death to damnation in the thriller. Naïveté to cognitive dissidents to sophistication, which we have that broken out for the maturation. Is this value progression consistent within a genre? That is do all thrillers follow the same progression as Silence of the Lambs, or is that only the life-death that is consistent? Likewise, would all maturation plots follow the same progression your outlined for Pride and Prejudice or is it only naïveté to worldliness that is consistent?
[0:18:37.3] SC: The short answer is, yes, they all move through that gradation of value. The reason is is that it goes to, what I write about in the book, the Kubler Ross Curve. The Kubler Ross Curve, I adapted it to change, but Elizabeth Kubler Ross spent a lot of time with grieving people who had lost loved ones. It came up with the stages of grief, and behavioral psychologists and social psychologists were looking at that and they actually said, “Oh my gosh! This is how people deal with change too when things don’t make sense anymore. It’s a very shocking process.” Part of how we metabolize change is we go through the same stages as Elizabeth Kubler Ross outlined in her great theory.
The reason why I bring that up is that when the thriller, yes, it turns on the value of life-death, but the vehicle, the shock is life-threatening. The shock has to be metabolized through all those stages, which are — I don’t have them off the top of my head, but it’s a shock, which is your inciting incident of your story. Then I think it’s denial is the next thing, which is, “Oh, everything is fine.” “No. No. This is going to be okay.” Then there’s anger, like, “I can’t believe I have to deal with this situation.” Then there is bargaining, which is trying to, “Maybe I don’t have to do if I do this, and then it will go away,” and that never works. Then you hit the bottom, which is the All Is Lost moment when you understand that your life is — That shock at the very beginning has irreversibly changed your life. It has irreversibly changed your worldview.
In terms of a thriller, the all is lost moment is when death is on the doorstep — Death has a reason and damnation is a possibility. If you do not do something, you’re practically going to damn yourself. Your life — Go ahead.
[0:20:54.1] TG: When I think about the Kubler Ross in this terms, it’s like that is the same kind of path for every genre. It’s just the beginning and end points are going to be different, which means you’re still going to follow the same path in between.
[0:21:07.9] SC: Yes, because, remember, this is the first thing I always say whenever I talk about story. Stories are about change. Now, the values that are at stake are dependent upon the genre. The values determine the genre. Life-death is action story, survival. Are we going to survive? Justice is the crime story. Is the world safe? Is there justice in the world? That’s the primary value.
Now, the justice, it starts with a crime. A crime story begins with a crime, right? Then we have an investigator who has to go through the stages of trying to figure out who the criminal is and are they going to be brought to justice is the ultimate question in a crimes story. If they don’t, if they’re not brought to justice, it ends negatively. If they are, it ends positively.
When you’re looking at the value, yes, you should structure your story so that we see this evolution of metabolizing the shock at the beginning of the story. It’s all about making the inciting incident have meaning at the end of the story. The inciting incident of a love story is when two people meet. The end is, is that meeting meaningful? Have they fallen in love? Have they joined together and attached so that they are stronger people together than they were alone?
The crime story is the inciting incident is a crime. The ending is, is that person going to get away with the crime? Is justice done? The family sort of saga story. These can turn on a lot of different kinds of value. One is power. A lot of family stories are about a shift in power. The powerful father figure or the powerful mother by the end is has the child overcome that powerful domination and have they seized their own power by the end? That’s the driving force in a lot of family stories.
Another one is lies and secrets. Long Day’s Journey into Night is Eugene O’Neill’s classic family saga play which pretty much was one of the really deeply intense American stories about family secrets and family lies, and what are we going to do about mom? Let’s just pretend everything’s fine, and it’s not fine. It’s horrifying.
The answer to the question is, yes, use the gradation of value in order to structure your story, because the reason why you want to do this is the reader has expectations of the genre, and part of those expectations are being taken on a journey, a hero’s journey where they go through the Kubler Ross metabolizing of change so there’s meaning at them.
[0:24:17.1] TG: Okay. Actually, there is another question about Kubler Ross, so I’m going to jump to that one. I’ll read the questions and then I have my own addition to the questions. How evenly would you space the Kubler Ross points through a story? Does it even matter, or are they just guidelines for the emotional arc?
My thinking was like they also a lot of times matchup with the obligatory scenes. Anyway, how do you feel about — Like are you just looking to make sure the points are in the story in the correct order, or do you want to pace them at a certain pace?
[0:24:57.3] SC: Okay. The answer to this questions is it’s something that I’ve actually been working on for the editors course that we’re giving in a of couple weeks. Okay, there are sort of 8 defining scenes in a story, and you can look at these 8 scenes in any number of different ways. There’s the Kubler Ross sort of way of looking at it. There’s the hero’s journey way of looking at it. There’s the five commandments and storytelling way of looking at.
Kind of what I’ve come up with is these — I tried to describe them in very easy-to-understand terms. These are kind of like the story grade 8 fundamental scenes and this goes directly to Kubler Ross. I’ll sort of walk you through each one of these eight scenes and where they should generally be in your story to get the best effect.
The first scene is what I call the punch to the solar plexus, and this corresponds with the shock of the Kubler Ross Curve. The punch to the solar plexus is a scene that very much disturbs the life, worldview, everything for your protagonists, or if you have multi-protagonists, this big shock to the solar plexus hurts everybody.
Those great old 1970s movies where they had the Poseidon adventure and you have 25 different people in the movie, the big event is the punch to the solar plexus is when the ship gets hit by an iceberg or whatever.
Now, in the hero’s journey, that would be called like the call to adventure scene. Five commandments, it’s the inciting incident. That’s the first one, and this is the thing that kicks off the entire beginning hook of your story. Kubler Ross’s shock is the inciting incident of your beginning. The second one is a scene that I call, “It’s all good. This is just temporary.” This is the it’s all good scene. Everything is going to be okay. I figured my stuff out. This is not a problem. This aligns with the denial part of the Kubler Ross, and it’s also the refusal of the call in the hero’s journey.
As you could see, there’s a whole bunch of different ways of looking at the same thing, and depending upon what’s going to help you navigate a scene choice best, I recommend knowing all of them so you have a real clear understanding. This is a terms of the five commandments. This is what I call progressive complication number one.
This is the; it’s all good, this is temporary denial thing, would be in your novel, Tim, when Jessie decides, “Oh, I know what I’ll do. I’ll just go home. I’m going to get out of here. I’ll just leave.” When she runs home thinking that she doesn’t have to be the numbered anymore because she has a special hiding place in her apartment and everything will be cool, this is the; it’s all good, this is temporary scene. Am I making sense here?
[0:28:01.4] TG: Yeah. It’s super interesting as you lay it out, because I know we’ve studied each of these things individually but I’ve never looked at them as like — I almost feel like it’s like before computers and the teachers would have the slides, the transparencies. You know what I mean? They’d like lay one on top of the other to show you something else. That’s how I feel like you’re doing, is you’re laying each of these things on top of it and like you see the magic that they all are the same thing. Almost like universalism or something.
[0:28:35.1] SC: Yeah. These are all different ways of looking at the same story structure ideas. The beginning hook has those major developments. It has the shock and the denial scene. Have those in your story no matter what the genre.
Okay, let’s move into the middle build. The middle build, this is the one that — I call this one to John McEnroe, you cannot be serious scene. This is anger. This is when John McEnroe, on the court, looks at a call and goes, “You cannot be serious,” and he screams at the judge for a terrible call.
This progressive complication number two and it’s also the moment when the hero of the story crosses the threshold. When they’re confronted with this shocking element and they’re out of their element, they express anger.
In your story, Tim, it’s when Jessie decides to blow off pretty much the game. I remember we had an hour-long podcast about this scene when she started on these trials that you have in her kind of maturation plot. The first trial, we came up with the idea of her blowing up the game so nobody could win it. That’s an expression of anger, and it works.
[0:29:59.2] TG: What would that one be in Pride and Prejudice?
[0:30:02.6] SC: That would be probably when Elizabeth rejects that nerdy guy, the cousin who comes who is the pastor and he comes and he’s showing her affection and she’s like, “There’s no way I’m marrying this guy.” She had an expression of she find him just despicable and she kind of humiliates him as an expression of anger.
I would have to really screw on my head in a different way to really perfectly give that answer, but that’s my initial gut reaction, is that the middle build is when he arrives. She doesn’t not like this guy and it’s obvious that her mother tells her, “If you don’t marry this guy we’re going to be on the street. You better start acting and coming to your senses.” She angrily rejects the guy, humiliating her mother and the guy and almost really screwing up the entire family. That’s the you cannot be serious scene for Elizabeth Bennett, “You cannot be serious. There’s no way I’m marrying that guy.”
Okay, the next scene — That would also be progressive complication number two. If we’re looking at this in terms of the five commandments of storytelling, these are progressively complicating the story, but you get a better understanding of the expression of anger, I think, by using John McEnroe kind of analogy.
The next stage is bargaining, and I call the bargaining scene; I’ll blank, blank, blank and then I’m out of here. It’s the moment when the character thinks, “Oh, okay. They want me to do this thin. I’ll figure it out. I’ll do the thing and then I’ll get out of here.”
The bargaining to metabolize the shock, but they’re really not going to change because they’re just going to do something to get people off their back. That’s also progressive complication number three and it’s also in terms of the hero’s journey. It’s the tests allies and enemies sort of stage where the lead character is tested, but Jessie is tested those three times in your book and she feels like, “Okay. I’ll just get through this thing. I’ll win the threshing and then everything will be cool,” kind of her attitude. I’ll go through this thing, because if I don’t I’m going to hurt other people. Let me just get through it.
Of course, your story has a lot more piled on that makes her even come out of that world. The tests, allies and enemies is the moment when the character is actively doing something with the understanding that when they are finished they’ll get to go home again. They’ll get to be able to go back to the way things were.
The next one is deep into the middle build. It’s probably two-thirds of the way through your story, and this is the one that I call the All Is Lost truth will out scene, and it could be the result of an action or something is revealed. There’s a big revelation.
In the family saga story this is when the big secret hits the fan. In Long Day’s Journey, it’s when all the guys are drunk and they know mom’s upstairs pushing the needle into her arm and shooting up. They know it. There’s no joke. Mom is — She’s definitely firing up the heroine upstairs.
This is the All Is Lost, truth will out. It’s no, “Come on mom! Please! Just go to bed.” It’s the moment when we’re depressed. This is the deep, dark depression of the Kubler Ross. It’s also the turning point complication in terms of the five commandments. This is when things turn. The value of the global story is now moving.
In Long Day’s Journey, secrets are destroying this family and the value shift is moving from hope to despair to super despair, like crazy despair. In the beginning of the play everybody is hopeful at the point where mom’s absolutely off her rocker everybody goes right down in a sinkhole of despair. This is also called the ordeal in hero’s journey terms. It’s the big oh my gosh. This is when Jessie dies. When she’s basically obliterated in your story and she’s in another world.
Now, the next scene, which is sort of the end of the middle build is what I call the point of no return scene. This is when the lead character has to make a choice. They have to make a best bad choice or a irreconcilable good choice. There’s just no going. It’s irreversible. They’re not going to be able to go back in time. Their bargaining didn’t work. It’s over. They’ve got to change themselves. What happened at the very start has got to change their worldview and it’s going to turn in the shift the global value of the story. This is the moment where the guys Long Day’s Journey, they just start pounding the whiskey like there’s no tomorrow, because for them seeing mom like this or your wife like this, it’s excruciating, and the only thing they can do is to anesthetize themselves to the point of oblivion.
This is the liberation stage for the story in terms of Kubler Ross. The guys in Long Day’s Journey basically surrender to the despair. They’ve deliberated, “We sent mom away to the sanitarium a million times. She can’t kick this stuff. What’s the best bad choice here? The best bad choice is that we all just go with her. Let’s all be a family and go down into the dark hole together.” That’s why it’s called Long Day’s Journey into Night. These guys are going into the belly of the beat together as a family. Even though this is a really dark, horrifying play, there is a real family love here. As dark as this family is, they stick together.
Anyway, this is the crisis of the story in terms of the five commandments. This is the crisis moment and this is also called the apotheosis in the hero’s journey. Now, the last two scenes are the ending payoff scenes, and the first one is what I call the gift express. Meaning, the protagonists expresses their special gift in a way that it’s an active choice from their crisis decision.
The gift that the men in Long Day’s Journey express is their understanding of their mother and their wives plead despair and joining her. What they give her is they accompany her into hell. I’m sorry I picked such a dark to go through, but it’s a really great play. Very disturbing.
This is the choice moment in terms of Kubler Ross. It’s the choice that we make. We can’t go back in time. This is how we’re going to live our lives in the future. This is how we’re going to metabolize the shock. We’re going to change our behavior. We’re going to change or worldview. This is the climax of the story in terms of the five commandments and it’s also called the resurrection in the hero’s journey.
The reason why they call it the resurrection is that your life before death, you can’t continue to live the way you view the world before. Now, you are reborn. You are resurrecting with the new worldview, because you have changed based upon the shock at very beginning of this.
Now, the last scene —The gift express, remember, it’s got to be an active choice as a result of the crisis decision. That’s important to remember. They actively have to do something based upon the choice that they made in the crisis.
The last scene is what I call the gift rewarded, and this is when this is sort of the global resolution of the entire story where the character or characters, they’re rewarded for their choice. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re given the keys to the city or everybody’s happy or anything like that, but they’re rewarded for having the courage to change and it’s called integration in terms of the Kubler Ross, meaning we’ve integrated now our new worldview and now are our life is changed by the shocking event and we are now a different person. The resolution in terms of five commandments, and it’s called reward and return in terms of the hero’s journey.
I’ve got a sore throat now going through all that, but I hope that’s helpful.
[0:39:41.4] TG: Yeah. I think it’s the first time I’ve really understood how it all works together. I started to see —Like I mentioned before, it all just kind of works together.
[0:39:51.3] SC: Yeah, and if you get stuck, it’s a great way of repositioning yourself in your thinking.
[0:40:01.1] TG: That goes back to what we were doing as we were looking at my first draft, is basically using all the Story Grid tools to look at the same story in different ways from different levels with different ideas so that we can keep finding things that need to be fixed.
[0:40:18.0] SC: Yeah, absolutely, because the descriptive nature of each one of these ways of looking at a story, it’s very, very helpful and often times what you can see is, “Oh, gees! How am I going to do this resolution scene?” That’s kind of tricky, right? If I say to you, “Well, write the resolution scene of your global story. Let me see what that is.” That’s kind of vague. Instead if I say, “Give the gift rewarded scene. How would this character be rewarded for the choice and decisions that they’ve made in order to metabolize this very difficult change?”
Then you can start thinking about, “What would the reward be for these guys in Long Day’s Journey?” It’s a dark reward, but it’s a reward. They’re rewarded with anesthesia, right? They’re all drunk. They’re absolutely drunk by the end of the play. They can’t feel the pain like they did earlier in the story.
Yeah, that’s a very dark reward, but it is a reward. They’re rewarded because they stuck together. They still go to the same horrible cottage in New London Connecticut every summer and hang out together knowing that they’re all going to be miserable, but they do it because they love each other or they’re dysfunctional, whichever way you want to look at it.
[0:41:46.5] TG: Okay. Let’s jump to another question. I would love Sean to explain the difference between the worldview subgenres and the subtleties between what makes one maturation versus education, for example. Often, a character learns something, some lesson or comes to greater understanding about a truth, but I have trouble differentiating if it’s a maturation versus education versus revelation.
Kramer versus Kramer, for example, is this an education plot? Real quick, I have the book up here, so the subgenres of worldview are education, maturation, revelation and disillusionment. Can you talk about how to figure out which one of those you’re telling?
[0:42:28.1] SC: I’d said this before and I’ll say it again. The worldview genre is squishy and it’s sort of like — What I mean by that is that one person’s education plot is another person’s redemption plot. Is Rocky Balboa, did he redeem himself by the end of Rocky or did he learn something about himself by the end of the Rocky? Kind of both, right?
It depends on usually how deeply the story work for you. The educational plot is sort of like — It has the same sort of movement as redemption and disillusionment. Disillusionment is it’s moving from sort of optimistic point of view to complete. Oh my gosh this is corrupt and horrible.
Clarice Starling, her attitude about the FBI at them beginning of the novel versus the end of the novel of Silence of the Lambs is clear. She learned the truth. The FBI is not a meritocracy. It’s as political and ridiculous as any other thing. Her dream of becoming an FBI agent is not as wonderful as she once thought it was.
That disillusionment plot is different than Rocky Balboa moving from, “I’m a bum. I’ll always be a bum,” to “Hey, I might not have won the fight, but I’m not a bum. I gave it everything I have.”
The differences is the way to look at the worldview, maturation I think is a pretty — The way I look at a maturation plot is was the person, was the character childlike and naïve at the very beginning of the story? Did they have a much deeper understanding of the world by the end of the story?
Now, Elizabeth Bennett at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice is somebody who seems to have so many gifts and is a brilliant person, but she’s naïve, but it’s masked by her sophistication, her intelligence and by the end of the novel she’s a much different person. She’s much more mature. She can see that there are — Socioeconomic circumstances do not do not determine the person. Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird, sees a much darker world than at the very beginning of the story.
The worldview, it really depends on how you look at revelation is when you learn a big, big truth. Education plots, they’re very similar. What I would always suggest is which of those phrases has the most meaning to you and to your story? Are you excited by the notion of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady being completely ignorant about the upper-class world, and by the end knowing everything about it and being able to pass for an upper-class person? Is that education plot? Does that really make sense? Is that on target? Then if it is you say, “Well, then I’ll have a teacher character, a Henry Higgins character who will teach her how to become classy.”
You can use the phraseology of education literally to help you guide your story. When I’m putting together some cheat sheets for the editing class, and when I do, a lot of these internal movement stories are going to have a lot of similarities because they’re going to have those eight scenes that I just went over in them. Again, look at what the word revelation means to you. What does maturation mean to you? Maturation is very much a very specific projection of story movement, different than redemption plot. Redemption plot is somebody who’s living a fate worse than death kind of at the beginning of the story. Then at the end of the story discovers meaning again.
[0:46:58.8] TG: It sounds like almost would you agree with the advice of don’t kill yourself. Look at it. Pick the one that means the most to you and you write about one and it’s okay if other people pick up on different ones.
[0:47:15.5] SC: Yeah.
[0:47:16.6] TG: If you’re looking at a book and you’re trying to evaluate a book, read the book and then look at those and whichever one resonates with you you’re allowed to call it that one. You’re not just going to make a mistake.
[0:47:28.6] SC: Absolutely, because the worldview, it’s one of my favorite. It could be my favorite genre, because the worldview is about dealing with shit we don’t want to deal with. When a character does that and they change the way they behave and the way they look at the world, it gives tremendous amount of hope. It makes the reader hopeful, “Oh my gosh! If Rocky Balboa can change to the point where he has the courage to stand in a ring and take the beating and define himself by his struggle as supposed to his bumness, then it’s pretty great.” That’s why that movie, to this days, it really — It’s a real crowd pleaser.
All the worldview ones — I was telling you earlier about a great one, The Verdict, which is about just a guy living in complete desolation, alcoholic nut and how he finds the courage to fight back and to find meaning again. It’s a great story written by David Mamet, the screenplay. Some of the best writing he’s ever done. He’s written some great ones. That’s a great redemption story. I love a redemption story. Anybody who was raised a Catholic loves a redemption story, because we’re told as Catholics, “You are born with sin.” The minute you came into this world you were damaged good.”
The redemption story speaks to a lot of people who have that sort of really upbringing of religious value. Different stories appeal to different — The worldview is really, really important, because it makes people understand that they can deal with things that they don’t want to deal with and come out the other end a better person and find more meaning in their life by not just pushing things away that you don’t want to deal with, but literally saying, “Okay, how am I going to deal with this information that makes me very, very uncomfortable?”
This is to get political, but global warming stuff, it’s kind of like the entire planet is dealing with something that is absolutely true. It’s just happening. We can either deny and keep on going or we can deal with this stuff. We need stories that encourage people to take in information that makes them uncomfortable and start peeling away and self-examining what am I going to do about it. How am I going to change my behavior? What can I do to make me find something meaningful in this information?
There’s a lot of people that say global warming is, “Oh my gosh! It’s going to be a catastrophe.” Well, maybe there’s a way of looking at it where it’s an opportunity too. It’s an opportunity for deeper thinking, “What’s important to me?” “Why do I need all these oil and electricity in my house all the time? Is that the best thing for the world? Is that the best thing for me?”
Anyway, the worldview, I love it. If whatever one of those categories zings you personally is the one I would say for you to write. Again, you might be writing a redemption story. Somebody else might say, “That was the greatest revelation plot I’ve ever, ever read.” You would go, “Great. Thank you,” because whatever the other person brings to it, that’s what makes art. What I think is great about something, you might find something else. That’s what makes — Art is universality through specificity. If I’m very specific and I’m going to write an education plot and I’m going to use sort of blog Pygmalion and My Fair Lady as my core masterworks to really inspire me, and at the end of the day when I finish that, somebody else thinks it’s a revelation plot, I’ll say, “God bless you. I’m glad you enjoyed it,” because what they read is as valid as when I’m writing. I need to be specific in my intentions in order to allow that universality to happen.
[0:52:04.1] TG: Okay. We’ve reached the episode of the episode. I had a couple of dozen questions and we got through five of them, which I think is normal and I think is great especially for how I deeply went into some of them. I think we’ll stop here and pick this up probably next week to continue the Q&A.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:52:27.8] 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 would like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @storygrid. Lastly, if you would like to support the show, you can do that by telling another author about the show and by visiting us on iTunes 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.