Story Grid Mini-Course


Story Grid Mini-Course One

Story Grid Mini-Course One

I’m very happy to introduce The Story Grid mini-course.  Steve, Callie, Jeff and I sent it last week as a thank you to the more than 3,000 people who have bought the book directly from Black Irish Books and the response has been terrific.  So we thought it would be cool to share it with everyone else too.

So over the next five posts, I’ll share one of the five videos that make up the series.

While the core concepts of The Story Grid methodology are simple (Genre to Foolscap to Spreadsheet to final Story Grid) it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of details…Did I progressively complicate Scene 26 in my Middle Build?

I’m the first one to fall into those kinds of crevasses and I confess I’ve watched these myself quite a number of times as I’ve been working through my next project, The Story Grid for The Tipping Point.  They help.

Feel free to comment here and at the Black Irish Video page.  And pass them to whomever you think would benefit from them too.

And for all of you who prefer transcripts, here’s the first one.

Shawn Coyne: Back in the 1990s when I started in book publishing, there was no textbook to teach you how to edit a book. Here I was a twenty-something young guy, very ambitious, trying to move up the ladder of book publishing, and there was no resource I could reach out to and just absorb into my being. So what that stuck me with was learning how to edit books myself. Through the help of a lot of mentors over the years, I also needed to find out about the fundamentals of storytelling and genre and all sorts of stuff, so what I did was I read. It took me about twenty-five years and I’ve boiled it all down to about a hundred-thousand-word manuscript. Now I’m going to do it in video.

The Story Grid came about as a way to edit a book—to teach somebody, a writer, what is specifically wrong with their novel and how to fix it. When I was working on The Story Grid itself for years, I would hide it. I didn’t really want the writers to know exactly what I was talking about, so I’d translate the methodology of The Story Grid into very easily doable tasks to specific writers. And then one year when I was working on a book with Steven Pressfield called Gates of Fire, I offhandedly said, “That’s great, I’ll just throw the grid on it.” And he said, “What’s the grid?”

Steven Pressfield: I remember the first time Shawn mentioned the words. Shawn said, “I’m going to put the grid on it.” I had delivered a manuscript to him and I had two reactions to it. The first one was that I was completely terrified because I thought The Grid was this magical thing that was going to expose all the weaknesses and Shawn was going to be sending me back to square one for a page one rewrite. So I was terrified on one hand, but on the other hand, I thought to myself, How lucky am I that I have an editor who has a system, who has evolved some kind of a system, that’s really going to work. So he may send me back for a page one rewrite, and it may make me work like hell, but the bottom line is that in the end the thing is going to come out the best it can possibly be.

But the thing these days is that if you’re self-publishing, or if you’re indie publishing, or even if you have a real publisher—a mainstream publisher and you are assigned an editor—usually the editor is so busy with marketing and internal politics and acquisition of new material that you don’t really get an editor who is going to take the time. Nowadays you as a writer, you have to deliver publication-ready material. It’s got to be working. So you’ve got to be your own editor these days. So that’s why this book is so important. The Story Grid is so important for writers because there’s no other place you can learn this. You know they don’t teach you this at Harvard. They don’t teach you at Random House. You can’t find a book about this in the writing section of Barnes & Noble. Even if you don’t absorb 100% of this, all the technical stuff, at least you get the concept of how an editor thinks and how you have to think as a writer about your own material.

Shawn Coyne: So I ended up explaining it to Steve years and years ago, and Steve said to me, “You know, this is really important. This is the kind of document every writer is going to want to have.” Because the biggest problem he faced as a writer was after he had a finished draft, how was he going to take it to the next level? How was he going to make it better? In fact, how was he going to be able to edit himself before he actually found an editor at a publishing house to help him out? So over the past fifteen years, I’ve been working on this document and at last it’s ready to go. I think it’s in very good shape. So The Story Grid is a methodology to teach writers how to edit themselves.

Over the next few videos, I’ll be teaching how to create your own Story Grids. But before we can do that, we really need to figure out what kind of story do we really have here? And the way we’re going to figure that out is by reviewing the concept of genre. And in the next video, I will go through my entire belief system in genre, which is called The Five-Leaf Genre Clover.


16 comments on “Story Grid Mini-Course

  1. Mary Doyle says:

    Shawn it’s great that you are putting this out there for everyone. I watched the videos last week – a terrific mini-course indeed. Thanks to you, Steve, Callie and Jeff!

  2. Donna says:

    Awesome, Shawn thank you thank you ! You are sooo generous! Is helping so much.

  3. Kim Iverson says:

    I agree with Mary. These are great videos. I watched and listened the other day. Really enjoyed them all, thank you for putting them together. Great work all of you are doing!

  4. Bob H says:

    Ok. Hate to be a “stick-in-the-mud” but if this was going to be posted, WHY did I spend 9 bucks on the book?

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Hi Bob,
      If you have a paypal account, I’ll be happy to send you the $9.00 back. Or I’ll shoot you a check if you email me your address at shawn at My philosophy is to expose as many people to The Story Grid as possible. If you feel that you’ve been cheated by that, happy to send you a refund.
      All the best,

      1. Joe Milan says:

        Shawn, I’m learning a lot from the Story Grid and I thank you for it. And the fact that you’re willing to give a refund like this, elevated you from a teacher to pure cool in my book.
        @Bob, man I’ve spent a lot of money to learn story craft. If the Story Grid isn’t worth paying for, I’m not sure what is.

      2. maggy simony says:

        “stick-in-the-mud” is not really accurate — you’re what I would say is a bit ungracious. I bought a copy of the book for my granddaughter’s 38th birthday, and now I’m going to forward this mini-course to my grandson. Both work at something else but writing mysteries/novels is a serious interest. Be a mensch and forward it to someone you know!

  5. Thanks to you, Steve, Callie and Jeff for this. They will be viewed more than once, I’m sure.

  6. Jule Kucera says:

    This whole experience is just so amazing. Sometimes it feels like the Berlin wall that separated published authors from wannabe authors has come down. Without living in this time, in this now, with these tools, when would us common folk ever have access to Major Honcho story editing advice? Thank you for your generosity with what has taken you decades to learn.

  7. Marvin Waschke says:

    Shawn– I’m glad you posted these. I learn more from reading than watching videos. Just the way my wooden head is nailed together. Therefore, I probably won’t spend too much time watching them. But I appreciate your graciousness in offering the videos to those who like them.

    Having said that, I have a suggestion for a video. It might be difficult, but how about a video of you working on a manuscript with a voice over of your thoughts? Sort of applying the grid in action. I suggest this is because the best learning experiences I ever had were when I was an apprentice carpenter standing next to men with forty years more experience than me, watching them work. Just something that occurred to me…

  8. Eric says:

    Stopping by to say thanks for this.

    I’ve got the ebook/physical book bundle, and I’m trying to simultaneously work my way through the concepts and apply as much as possible to the draft of my second novel. I think it’s adding about six months to the process but improving the quality immeasurably.

  9. Christine says:

    Thanks! Much appreciated! I read “Did I progressively complicate Scene 26 in my Middle Build?” as “Did I progressively complicate Scene 26 in my Muddled Mind?”, which shows the state I’m in writing my story :).

  10. Priya says:

    Great content! Thanks.
    Can I also apply this method to middle grade books (books for 8-12-year-old children) ?

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Hi Priya,
      Absolutely. Middle Grade Books just use conventions of style (age of characters etc.) and a preponderance of Revelation/Maturation plots driving the internal content. The external content genres are all applicable to middle grade stories too. I’m not an expert, but Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew are crime/mystery stories and the HUNGER GAMES are essentially dystopian Action Adventure. All the same content genre rules apply, just younger characters.
      All the best,

  11. Talmage says:

    I’ve listened to this video series twice now, even though I’ve read most of the ebook and the large printed version. This video overview has been very helpful to me. Thank you so much, Shawn!
    And Happy New Year to you and yours!

  12. Not only do I love the videos, I love the book! I own all formats! I refer back to them over and over again. The videos are amazing, but I still encourage people to buy the book. As a literary agent and book coach, I’ve probably recommended this book more than any other book recently when it comes to story craft and structure. It’s brilliant! We put manuscripts through the Story Grid when considering them for potential representation. It’s a fantastic tool for the beginner to experienced author. We hope more writers who have gone through the Story Grid query us! Thank you Shawn for sharing this invaluable process and tool!

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