The Units of Story: The Global Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without driving the writer crazy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



13 comments on “The Units of Story: The Global Story

  1. Mary Doyle says:

    This post comes as a total relief. I didn’t realize it, but I was trying to wear my writer’s hat and my editor’s hat at the same time, and lately the writing has been a maddening and onerous process. Now I know why. I’m grateful for this important reminder – you’ve saved my dwindling sanity. Looking forward to the next post – as always, thanks Shawn!

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Hang in there. I know exactly what you’re going through. You can really go off the deep end when you move back and forth. The book is in galley pages now and I’m just fixing up the art etc. So we’re in the final stages and I promise you’ll get an early price break with some fun stuff included for your patience. I think THE STORY GRID SPREADSHEET is really going to settle your nerves. Which is up next week.
      All the best

    2. I did this for way too long, switching back and forth. Ha, I still fall into it.

  2. Ron Estrada says:

    I’m enjoying your posts, Shawn, and almost caught up (patiently waiting for the book). Last year I turned up the heat on my writing, completing four drafts. Mind you, it took me 15 years to complete the previous four. When NaNo came around, I decided to participate. I outlined and did some character development in advance, but nothing in depth. I’m finally getting around to editing the book I wrote in November and find that it’s some of my best writing. I plan to start my first sci-fi series next week. While that requires a bit more planning (light speed or hyperspace, etc.), I still intend to go in with just enough to keep me from hitting a wall. Thanks for all of these posts. They’re some of the best writing instruction I’ve ever read.

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Thanks Ron. Appreciate it and congrats on moving those boulders up the hill.

  3. Travis C. says:

    Thanks for all of your insight Shawn. Each post is a delight to read, informative, and entertaining. Your story-grid analyses are also great; I’m turned on to rethink many of my favorite books and movies through that lens. Keep them coming!

  4. Every year for the past decade I’ve participated in an act of lunacy called February Album Writing Month: a group of us come together at and commit to writing an entire album of music, 14 songs in 28 days. (14 songs each; last few years we’ve topped 10,000 songs for the month.)

    The biggest lesson I’ve learned from writing a 150+ songs the past decade is that when the muse is singing, get out of the way. Analyzing the best rhyme or line length or the perfect extended chord is madness and she’ll leave you.

    When you have 2 days to write a song (and for those of us who don’t do music notation, recording a demo so we can come back in March and learn the darn thing again) you do not muck about with anything but the bones of the song and enough skin to keep it alive.

    Then, as I perform the songs over and over in various living rooms, they grow; I get to know them better, and they settle into a new life. I find hitches, and untie them; I find the word I wanted but didn’t have.

    But I can’t do all that in the throes of the birthing. It only comes as the child grows and reveals itself to me.

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Exactly the right attitude! That’s why deadlines are so important.

  5. Mike says:

    What a relief. I’ve toying around with my own spreadsheet, which has been excruciating, even though I’ve already got the goods locked in for the Foolscap. This is exactly the thing I needed to hear, because I totally would have practically written the thing in spreadsheet form before typing word one in a draft! Thanks not just for this post, but every single one that keeps me wanting to push forward, Shawn.

  6. Michael Beverly says:

    This advice is key: “Don’t map out all 64 of your scenes in detail before you write them. Give yourself just enough guidance to keep your pen moving. No more, no less.”

    I’d like to add, from what I learned from all my failures in the past, the corollary to this is that you must map out those 64 scenes, even if it’s just one sentence telling yourself what happens in chapters or scenes 1-64.

    Once the loose road map is written down, deviations may happen, but you won’t get lost.

    I’m anxiously waiting for the next post (and of course the book) I’ve been line editing for weeks, and I’m going mad. I tended rite fast quickly and in the that process my fingers fall behind it’s brian. And I had to excise “probably, maybe, bit, it might have, and she drank her coffee” about a thousand times…. Beats head against wall.

    What I’m hoping The Story Grid Spreadsheet helps me do is see the bigger picture, I still can’t imagine how that’s going to happen because I’ve been in microscope mode for nearly a month.

    Thanks Shawn, I’ll be sending you my first born.

    Side Bar: final day of the Bar Exam today, if he fails, you may send him back.

  7. Elanor says:

    I know I’m late in reading this, but I wanted to say how much I love this post. Thanks for reminding me to write first and edit later! It’s such a simple concept, but it’s one I keep forgetting as I worry about writing my story “correctly.”

    Can’t wait for the Story Grid Spreadsheet!

  8. Eating up these posts, Shawn. Loved your Creative Penn interview too.

    Really glad you put up this reminder post. Few things can bring a writer to a halt faster than trying to write and edit simultaneously. I try hard to guard against it, but I’m not immune either.

    Just Friday I was working on the first scene of the third act of my fourth book, and I was having a terrible time. Realized later I was being critical—trying to be an editor before I had stuff on the page.

    Once I knew that, things went easier. I followed my outline, tugged my writer hat firmly on my head, and knocked out the words. Once the rough draft of the full book is done, there’ll be PLENTY of time for editing!

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Definitely. The trick on a first draft is to keep moving. Don’t kill yourself over a cheesy passage or a cliche. You’ll fix it later. No one will see it. So don’t let Resistance keep you from your goal. Resistance loves when the editor sucks the life out of the writer and when the writer sucks the life out of the editor too.

Leave a Comment