This is Not Normal

This week’s podcast episode confronts the big fat elephant in the room over these past 60 weeks of pontificating and instruction.

At the current pace of writing, Tim won’t finish this novel until sometime in 2018!

Wasn’t Shawn supposed to teach Tim how to write a workable novel without all of the mess inherent in learning craft alone?

Wasn’t this whole process meant to streamline Tim’s education?  To make it go, like, much faster than it would if he were writing by himself?

The bottom line for me, as the guy who’s supposed to mentor an amateur novelist into a working pro, is that Tim is far closer to a finished workable novel than it appears.  And that the product of our discussions will have a far greater chance of finding a captivated audience than anything he would have written alone.

Is it possible that even after we’re done with Tim’s first novel, it may not find an audience?  Absolutely that’s possible.  The thing about stories is that no matter how hard you work, you just never know if other people will connect to them in the way you planned.  But why not work as hard as you can with all that you know in order to put out the best possible story?

Yes, the fact is that Tim “only” has eleven working scenes. But remember when he wrote that entire first draft without any guidance beyond a rough story grid plan?

Do you think Tim would rather have FOUR MANUSCRIPTS of novels that didn’t work without having any idea of how to fix them (which is probably what he could have churned out in the time he painstakingly worked out those eleven scenes)…or be in the place he is today…which is being a writer capable of analyzing his own work in a way that tells him what’s wrong with it and then knowing how to change what’s not working into something viable?

While this process may seem excruciatingly slow, it is in fact moving with exceptional alacrity.

Just to remind everyone…what Tim and I are doing isn’t normal.  This isn’t the way writers are taught how to write. That’s what makes it fun.

We’re trying to deliberately see if a hardworking amateur willing to listen to a hardened professional can learn twenty-five years of lessons (10,000 hours plus of experience) in a fraction of the time it took the old dog to learn the tricks.

In the 60 hours Tim has spent on The Story Grid Podcast, it took me probably five years to learn the same thing. That’s a pretty good use of his time I’d say.

To listen click the play button or read the transcript that follows.


[0:00:00.5] TG: Hello, and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is the 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 the Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid, and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.

 

In this episode, I ask a question that’s been on my mind a while, which is, “How long is this going to take?” We’ve been working on this book a while now, and I’ve got exactly 11 scenes. How long is this going to take? I recently heard a story about R.L. Stein, where at the height, he was writing a book every single month. I am not exactly doing that, and so I want to know like what’s normal? That’s where we start, and we dive into some other important matters around that subject. So I think you’ll enjoy this. I’m sure we’ve all had that wondersome times as like, “How long is this thing really going to take?” I hope you enjoy our conversation.

 

Let’s dive in and get started.

 

[EPISODE]

 

[0:01:04.5] TG: I have some things I want to go over. I did the homework where I went through each of those four setting things and filled out each of those, so I feel like it really — I had sent you that document where I thought through the world, and then I specifically went through and thought through those things too.

 

I feel like I’ve got a handle on this world that’s happening around Jessie and she’s entering into, and I want to talk about the middle build again, but I want to just — I’m sitting here thinking that I wrote the whole first draft, I think it was like February to early April, and then we’ve been working on it, we took some time off over the summer, but otherwise we’ve been working on it pretty steadily since then. It’s now November, and I have 11 scenes.

 

If I do the math, that means I will finish this book sometime in 2018 if we keep at this current pace, which seems a little demoralizing. I’ve just been wondering, like how much longer is this going to take? What’s your sense on — because now, there’s other things where back in the spring, I couldn’t consistently write a scene that worked, and now I’m more consistently writing scenes that work.

 

I keep telling myself, “you’re going to move faster once you actually get going.” I’m just kind of stuck. I’ve been thinking, like I have some ideas for the book launch and how to put it out there, but then I’m like, “Well, you know, I may be growing old by the time this thing’s done,” so anyway, I’m just wondering like your sense on where we’re at, how it’s taking so long, and then what’s your sense on how long this is going to take? Or is this just a dumb question to ask right now?

 

[0:02:59.6] SC: No, it’s not a dumb question, and it’s inevitable when you’re working on something like this. I do have to say, a lot of people have emailed me or called me directly, friends of mine who listen to the show, all 12 of them, but they’ve asked me the same…

 

[0:03:15.1] TG: Like you only have 12 friends? They all like, listen to the show?

 

[0:03:19.5] SC: I’d be lucky if I had 12 friends, but they ask the same thing. What’s interesting to me is that every time they ask this question, my first response to them is, “Hey, this isn’t done.” Meaning, what you and I are doing, Tim, is not done. It is not a formal process that any editor/writer combination has really tried before. A while back I wrote some stuff for Steve Pressfield’s site about what an editor does, and the difference between the editor who gets the manuscript from the agent and edits the manuscript after they’ve acquired the book for the publishing house versus what I defined as something called the developmental editor.

 

The developmental editor is a unicorn. What I mean by that is that there aren’t people who are doing what I’m doing with you right now. I’m not trying to glorify the work that we’re doing, I’m just saying that we are sort of feeling our way around a process that is going to work for you, Tim, versus a generic sort of set of steps that teaches somebody how to create a first draft. There’s tons of things that people use to create a first draft. What do they call it, Nano November?

 

[0:04:48.6] TG: NaNoWriMo.

 

[0:04:49.8] SC: Right. That’s how you use the structure of that sort of thing, and at the end of it, if you’re lucky you’ve got 60,000 words, or whatever the novel is that is a first draft to something. That’s fine, and there are plenty of other writing books that are “write a book in five days”, that kind of thing. What those things are inherently unspecific to a particular creative person.

 

Developmental editors don’t exist, because — and I say this to you all the time, why I don’t edit as much as I used to at the major houses is that it’s extraordinarily frustrating to invest a lot of emotional energy and creative energy as an editor in a project that somebody else puts their name on. Somebody else actually writes and is truly the creative work of another person.

 

This is all to say that we’re flying a little bit blind here. I don’t have data that I can say to you, “Well, in my experience with the 170 other people that I’ve done this developmental editing process with, that you’re on track to be done in six months.” I can’t give you that data, but what I can tell you are a bunch of things that should put your mind at ease, and the first thing that you already mentioned, which is the most fundamental thing that a writer needs to understand and needs to be able to do is write a scene.

 

You need to be able to write a scene from, “Hey, write me a scene at a dinner party where the husband and the wife have had a blow-out fight, and they’ve decided to get divorced, but they have to give the dinner party anyway and they can’t fight in front of their friends. Write that scene.” With that assignment, you would be able to go back to your writing room and say to yourself, okay, that’s the scene, that’s the setup of the scene, the conflict is between these two people, and I don’t want to share the conflict with other people.

 

What could be the inciting incident of this dinner party? What could be the progressive complications involved in this dinner party? What would be the crisis that’s bad choice that one of the people in this scene make to turn the scene from a value charge from positive to negative, or negative to positive, or negative to double negative, or positive to double positive. What would be the climax of that scene? Meaning, the actual action of choice based on the choice, and what is the resolution of the scene?

 

Then you would map it out, and then you would start fooling around and trying to figure out how to figure that out. When you were finished, you would have a scene that, I’m 99% sure you would have a scene that at least worked. Meaning it does have a very deliberate turning point, it does have all those five fundamental must-have things in the scene. Whether or not it’s a great scene, we don’t know. At least it works. Now, a lot of the people that I know who have ambitions to become writers have no clue about scenes. I hate to say this to you, but you didn’t really when we started this process.

 

[0:08:22.6] TG: No, that’s been made very clear.

 

[0:08:24.2] SC: Right, okay. You’re not a dumb person. You have ambitions. You’ve wanted to be a writer for a long time, you have the discipline to do it, so I had to sort of start from the beginning and teach you scene work. Now, yeah, you have 11 scenes, but you have 11 working scenes that comprise a couple of sequences. You have two men-in-a-hole emotional arcs to begin your beginning hook, you have an understanding of where you have to go, and then when we got to the middle build, we hit a huge roadblock. That roadblock we’ve been facing, and staring down, and trying to figure out how to fix for the past couple of weeks.

 

I’m pretty sure that we have a fix for it, and a couple of weeks ago, I wrote The Cure for Writer’s Block, and I truly think this is the cure for writer’s block, is that when you get bogged down in big thinking, macro point of view, put it aside and start writing some scenes. Give yourself some assignments of scenes that must be in your book, and you can find those by knowing the obligatory scenes and conventional moments that you have in your book based on your choice of genre, and start doing those.

 

What will happen is, your juices will get flowing again and you’ll start having ideas that will unconsciously begin to solve your big picture problems, and vice versa. What we did is vice versa. You were doing very well, chugging along on the micro scene-by-scene work, which is exciting because that is the stuff that seems like it’s a real story. You feel like you’re doing real work when you’re writing scenes, right? You feel like you’re making progress.

 

[0:10:19.0] TG: Right, yeah exactly. Yeah it feels good…

 

[0:10:23.9] SC: I knocked out 1,500 words in my novel today, because I wrote a really good scene. But when you do macro work — this is why people hate macro work, this is why people hate the full global Story Grid. They hate to plot, they hate to plan, they hate to do all this stuff, and the reason why they hate to do it is because it doesn’t feel like you’re working.

 

It doesn’t feel like you’re making any progress at all, right? You feel like you just fussed around for three weeks while I insisted that you learn how to do a setting.

 

[0:10:56.6] TG: Yeah, that’s what’s so funny, because I was talking with a friend of mine who has been trying to do NaNoWriMo, and he was wanting my — talking to me about how to write a book and all this kind of stuff, and I was feeling pretty good. I’m like, “I’m finally at this place where Shawn’s letting me write even like, three scenes before he sees it,” and like, I told him, “I’m finally at this place where I can just write, and then we go over it,” and I haven’t been able to write for three weeks, you know?

 

Because it’s like it we just slammed into this problem, and so I’m no more further along in the book — It feels like I’m no longer further along in the book than I was a month ago or whatever.

 

[0:11:41.6] SC: Right, I beg to differ, and I can get into that in a minute, but yeah, I think that’s the problem is that people who like to see progress, to see word counts, they don’t see the big picture work of working out your setting, and working out the world as progress. But now I’m going to tell you why it is progress, and why specifically the work that you’ve been doing on your setting is going to solve a whole slew of problems for you, so that you’ll be able to lay out a very specific movement, narrative movement of your middle build, and you’re probably going to get a much stronger sense of how the end of this novel is going to come to be.

 

I think, I’m hoping, well it doesn’t matter what I think or hope, what I do think will work is you’re going to make progress, and once you hit this place where you have a much stronger sense of where your story is going, and what chapters you have to write, and what scenes you have to write — sorry to say chapters, I mean scenes. You will be able to hit a place where it almost starts to write itself.

 

The velocity of your progress scene-by-scene may end up surprising you, and you may end up being done with this novel a lot sooner than either of us probably think right now. Now, let me give you the big secret, and the big reason why I think that it is. This comes from not just my Shawn theorizing, it comes from examining deeply, intricately, stories over 25 years, and just for fun, for an example, I’m going to use Pride and Prejudice, which I’ve been going over for an upcoming thing for the past couple of weeks.

 

The thing that I find so striking about Pride and Prejudice. Anybody who hasn’t read it, who is intimidated by the fact it was written in 1813, and I don’t know about the language, if I can handle it, it might get boring; you should really give it a try. It’s actually, you can get it for free because it’s in the public domain. You can get an ebook for free from Amazon or Project Gutenberg. I really recommend that you read this novel, because it is so meticulously, perfectly put together that it’s just such a work of art. It’s the main reason why love story has become the most important genre in storytelling today.

 

Okay, what do I mean by that? Pride and Prejudice, if you look at just the setting questions that we were talking about a couple of weeks ago, is so clearly laid out and perfectly put together that I wouldn’t be surprised if Jane Austin, when she tackled writing this novel, thought of it in this way: “Okay, I want to have a story about a reluctant woman who has to get married or she will end up destitute. Now, how long will it take for somebody to meet somebody and really truly fall in love with them so that they feel comfortable going in to marriage? That they have fully vetted that person and feel comfortable that they will have a successful marriage.”

 

She probably said to herself, being at the time and the moral world and the social conventions, “Let’s see, that’s probably going to take about 18 months. Probably 18 months. Alright, my entire story has to take place in 18 months.” She probably thought that to herself. “Okay. That is going to be the duration of my entire story, 18 months. Okay great, so now what do I do, let’s see. Now I’m going to have to begin this thing, so how many months should I have sort of the really fun intricate beginning hook be? When these two people actually meet each other?”

 

She probably said, “Probably three months would be good, and then I’m going to have this long period where all of these miscommunications, and secrets, and things between the two of them become more complicated and then slowly resolve, and then we’ll have his proof of love and then — that will probably take about a year, and then for the ending payoff, maybe a couple of months there too.” She was probably thinking of structuring her scenes in terms of the overall time, just like JK Rowling did in her Harry Potter books. It’s one academic year per book, right?

 

[0:17:00.9] TG: Right, exactly, yeah.

 

[0:17:02.6] SC: When I said, “Tim, go think about your setting.” Deep down, I was thinking to myself, “If he comes up with a perfect time period of how this entire story, what’s going to happen, and how long is it going to take, that’s going to solve a boat load of problems for his middle build. Because we’ve already established that this is kind of like an academic or physical training kind of program that his lead character is going to go under.

 

How long are those programs? Anywhere from an academic year, meaning nine months, to six months. What’s basic training in the army? Is it a month? Is it six weeks? I mean, these are very easily answerable questions so his middle build will probably take place with the beginning, middle and end in her training period. She’s moved from her ordinary world, which is sort of a dystopian downtrodden lower class existence, she’s now in the upper realms of society in a very intense training process, and that training process is going to last how long? Did you answer that question?

 

[0:18:16.1] TG: Yeah, I had the whole book lasting a year. The idea is they brought in a new batch of people a year before the threshing, and then she’s going to come in late because she was fooling around with the numbered for a while.

 

[0:18:34.7] SC: Great. Let’s use a year, and here’s the other beautiful thing that Jane Austin did in Pride and Prejudice. She used the seasons as a metaphor, meaning she thought about when does the — she could have set her the beginning of her story in summer, so that a lot of times people fall in love over the summer, and then she probably thought about doing that, and then for one reason or another it didn’t work out.

 

She decided to start her story in the fall, just after the summer, and she says that very early on in the story. It’s in the first chapter. She very directly tells the reader, this is just before Michaelmas. Michaelmas is a holiday in England that celebrates Saint Michaelmas, Saint Michael, but it’s also the beginning of fall. She starts the story in the beginning of fall, and she decides to end it 15 months later, not 18 months later.

 

She decides to end it at Christmas time, which is a beautiful time of year, and it’s also winter, and people who get married in the winter are usually so enamored with one another that they can’t wait for the summer or the spring.

 

[0:20:00.6] TG: I got married in the winter.

 

[0:20:02.4] SC: Yeah, of course. Yeah, so did I, I got married in October. I couldn’t even wait for the winter. Thematically, she used the moments in the calendar to support the story that she was telling, and that’s something for you to think about. Is there something that happens during the year that could coincide with the threshing? Is there some environmental thing that happens that could tie in to your world? One of the things I love about the Great Gatsby is that Daisy Buchanan talks about the longest day of the year early on in the novel, and the longest day of the year, she always looks for it, because there’s sunlight until 10:00 at night or whatever.

 

Fitzgerald put that idea into the book, and then he pays it off. I believe that the big confrontation that all of the people have at the Plaza Hotel in New York falls on the longest day of the year. That’s kind of interesting, because it’s a way of planting anticipation of events in the future in the reader’s mind. That’s another thing that Austen does so well, she always talks about the upcoming next thing.

 

Elizabeth was excited because she was going to go on a holiday retreat with her aunt and uncle in the summer. She states that seven chapters before she actually goes on that adventure to put in the reader’s mind, “She’s going to go on that thing, that trip. I should really hang out for a few more chapters and see what happens on that trip.”

 

She does this with balls. There’s ball after ball, and every single ball is different in the novel, but she’s always seeding new events that are going to come soon. That’s another thing for when you’re dealing with your setting in your world is to setup in the reader’s mind events in the future, and you’ve done this by talking about the threshing. Talking about the fact that there’s this academic program that the faction wants Jessie to be a part of. You did that earlier on.

 

That’s a really good instinct, and it’s something that you should really think through and say to yourself, “Okay, where can I put in more of these things organically when things get a little slow so that the reader will anticipate action in the future that’s going to be exciting?” This is part of setting too.

 

Okay, you’ve established that Jessie has sort of messed around for a couple of weeks, so she’s missed the early training in this thing. Your middle build, she’s already getting in there late and then you have to — go ahead.

 

[0:23:00.7] TG: I was thinking through, one of the things that you said I did well in the draft form last spring that I need to do again is to introduce the allies and enemies in the middle build early on. Find her friends and her enemies, and I thought, “You know, whenever you’re the student, you just moved in November and you’re starting at a new school, they always pair you up with like this nerdy guy to walk you around the school and introduce you to everything.

 

There was this movie, 10 Things I Hate About You, it was like stupid teen comedy, romantic comedy movie, but that’s how I thought of that ,because that’s how they introduce you to the world. It kind of goes back to what you talked about of like, introducing through reaction, and so the protagonist of the movie gets introduced to like all the cliques of the school, all the areas of the school, the people of the school, the girl that he’s going to end up going after, all by this guy who ends up being his friend through the rest of the movie.

 

They like walk around. I thought there could be something where she gets thrown in, and that’s where she meets her first ally who takes her through and introduces her to this world, because she’s already running behind what everybody else already knows.

 

[0:24:25.2] SC: That’s great, that’s a great device.

 

[0:24:27.7] TG: Okay.

 

[0:24:28.1] SC: Just don’t forget to put in a turning point in the scene during that. There is a great scene that I think I mentioned before in Mad Men where a copywriter shows Peggy Olson around the entire advertising agency. I think it’s in the very first episode of Mad Men. He’s showing her around, and he’s being very nice, and he’s showing where all the departments — he’s explaining to her how the agency works, et cetera, but he’s also trying to seduce her.

 

There’s things that are going on the surface, and the scene is turning under the surface. His actions are externally to show her the ropes of the office, but internally, they’re to seduce her and get her to go out on a date with him. That’s a way where you can turn the scene, and also load in tons and tons of exposition in an interesting way. You could do that exact same scene, and because we’re dealing with 12 year olds here, her ally isn’t going to be seducing her, but there has to be another motive for that ally or enemy to be revealed sooner or later so that the scene — something is revealed and turned in the scene while you’re doing all the exposition.

 

[0:25:55.9] TG: Yeah, I was thinking of a way of making it surprising is to have the person that shows her around end up being the enemy. I started this — I worked at this place for only eight months, not long after I graduated, and I was hired by the CEO of the company to come in and he introduced me to everybody, and like walked me around, and then like for weeks, nobody would talk to me.

 

I found out later that he was a complete asshole, and everybody did not like him, the guy that ran the company, and so because they thought like I was his buddy, they didn’t want anything to do with me. It took a while for people to warm up to me because of that, and then I ended up going to war with the CEO. It was like — I thought there would be — that was basically the idea I thought of is like, since she’s coming in late, she’ll get to meet people and be introduced to the new world through the fact that she’s late.

 

[0:27:04.9] SC: Yes, exactly. That’s a great strategy too, because it has — the idea that you’re talking about is exactly analogous to the work relationship, and your work experience is exactly what happens to everybody at one time of their life. If you showed this scene and you make it — you do it interestingly, people will relate to it. We go, wow, I love this, because they’ve been through this before and they know how it feels to be Jessie.

 

You’re creating an empathetic, sympathetic situation for the reader and your protagonist by doing that scene that way. The trick is to make it — you do this through the fantasy world that you’ve created — is to make it interesting. It’s fascinating to watch the scene in Mad Men because you learn the way of advertising agencies in the 1960’s through the approach of that scene.

 

The same thing can happen where you can talk about well, the threshing’s coming up in seven weeks, and this is obviously the best — if you look at the scoreboard here, and this is updated every 12 seconds. You can load in so much great exposition that isn’t going to feel boring to the reader, because they’re in the shoes of the protagonist. There you have a scene that makes a lot of organic sense to your story that could begin your entire middle build, and you’ve kind of figured that out, and then you would say, “Well what would happen the next day to Jessie?”

 

Is there a scene that would happen to her the next day that I should put in the book? These are the kind of questions you would ask yourself. What Austen does in Pride and Prejudice is that you get a feeling that you’re in time, and you’re watching very intense days proceed, and then all of a sudden she’ll write something like, “A fortnight later,” meaning it’s two weeks later, and it doesn’t upset you because you’re so perfectly in the hands of the writer that you just move two weeks ahead, but it doesn’t feel like time has elapsed that much.

 

If you’re an editor freak like me, and you go back and you look at every single time she mentions time, you’re able to piece together this perfect calendar of events. You can put Elizabeth in any place that she’s in in the novel every single day of that 15 months, and you can do that for every character in the book. That’s not a coincidence, so using the year is a very good beginning for you, and another element of the setting that you can use is the levels of conflict.

 

You’re wisely beginning this middle build scene with a level of conflict that is personal. It’s not the whole faction is — she has to deal with the entire society. IT’s just one person who is walking her through the environment and sort of teaching her the way things — this is the way things work here.

 

The analogy to the work you know, the first day of work is great because that’s exactly what happens. “Now, there’s the break room and there’s where we get our coffee and you know, we all take our break at 9:47, not earlier, not later. Using those very identifiable personal moments in your middle build is good because you need to establish this magical world as quickly as possible in a very organic way which means that the scenes are going to be a little — you’re not going to have people pulling out knives or shocking anybody until much later on.

 

If you were to plot a sequence of scenes to begin your middle build that you could title something like, “Jessie Acclimates to the School”, and you give yourself four or five scenes to really do that very well, then okay, you got four scenes sort of a check list of four scenes that you have to write, and you could either start writing those or you could plan another sequence.

 

After she acclimates to her school then what happens? How many scenes am I going to need for that? Now let’s see. Then you can sort of plan going deep and coming out again a trajectory of say 25 scenes that will encompass your entire middle build, and you’re going to know that at the end of your middle build, Jessie has to move from the newbie to the chosen one. At the end of your middle build, she’s got to be ready to kick ass and take names. Well, at the beginning, she’s scared, not sure, all that kind of stuff.

 

[0:32:20.6] TG: Right.

 

[0:32:21.8] SC: If you know the beginning and the end of your middle build, your middle’s going to be that critical moment when she turns, when she starts to understand that she has a power.

 

[0:32:34.4] TG: You know, I was just watching this thing earlier today, actually, where it’s another take on the hero’s journey and all this kind of stuff, and they’re talking about how, if you look at the hero’s journey, and there’s a horizontal line where they leave the ordinary world, they go into the extraordinary world, and then they always come back home to the ordinary world changed and with a gift.

 

At one point, because I’m going to go back and reference this again, but he said there’s a vertical line too that’s the internal shift where they move — their attitude shifts, and it’s at the halfway point instead of at the quarter point. He talked about like, that’s where John McLane in Die Hard moves from stubborn to not stubborn. Then walk through like, how something happens at the middle that shifts the attitude to where they’re now willing to be a different type of person, and then that’s what allows them to kind of lead into the rest of the book.

 

There’s always a big climactic moment there. That got me thinking about… because what my current plan is to have her find, or meet up with, or whatever the brother, and whatever he reveals is what shifts her attitude form this kind of stubborn, I’m only here because I have to be and I just want to go home, to now I’m here to help people. I’m here to fix this, to right this wrong.

 

[0:34:12.0] SC: He could be the mechanism to do it, but the key important thing that you have to remember, you sent me that link, and I watched it, and I thought it was terrific, so I think you should put it in the show notes, because it really — especially what I love about it is that it talks about the conscious and the unconscious in a way that I think really works, and it uses a house in the basement as a way to — it’s a metaphor for that.

 

Anyway, what you’re talking about in my sort of terminology, and a lot of other people’s terminology is the “all is lost moment”, which usually happens at midpoint, or even a little bit later in midpoint depending up on the choice of the writer, of course. You also have to remember, the hero’s journey circle and the horizontal and vertical axis; they’re models. Meaning you can, as long as you have the obligatory scenes and conventions of your genre, and you follow that sort of global trajectory.

 

You don’t necessarily have to be spot on middle of your novel to have the all is lost moment. What you will discover, though, is that a lot of them are at the middle. Pride and Prejudice is at the middle, Silence of the Lambs is at the middle, and the all is lost moment is the moment when the character, the protagonist, recognizes that they can no longer bullshit themselves. They have to change.

 

Their attitudes are wrong. Their world view is inaccurate, and a lot of evidence throughout the middle build sets up this all is lost moment. Now, in Pride and Prejudice, the all is lost moment is when Elizabeth gets a letter from Mr. Darcy explaining his point of view over what has preceded prior to this moment. Mr. Darcy, up to this point, she cannot stand this guy.

 

She thinks this guy is the most arrogant, prideful person she’s ever met in her life. He’s a snob, she’s a country girl, he’s a rich city guy who owns Pemberley, which is incredible place in Derbyshire or whatever. However they pronounce it in England. It’s at that moment where she reads this letter, and of course, the first reading, she finds him even more arrogant, but then like all of us, she can’t help herself, and she keeps reading the letter over and over again, and she discovers that the guy is right.

 

That his world view is far more accurate than hers. Everything that she thought up to that point was a lie, that she jumps to conclusions, that she’s a reverse snob, that her world view is not accurate anymore, and then the rest of the story is how she reconciles with that all is lost moment. When your worldview, and I love to use the word worldview, because it’s global enough, but specific too, because we all have worldviews that shift all the time.

 

Like when you believe a certain thing, and then you discover that your belief system and what you thought was correct is wrong. That’s a world view shift. It’s a change moment. It’s a time when you discover that you don’t know everything. That the way you’ve been dealing with things is inaccurate and wrong. Usually, the big moments in our lives, the ones that make us cringe are those all is lost moments. That’s when we make a huge mistake and we have to redeem ourselves. It’s when something extraordinarily great happens and we discover it’s not as great as we thought it was going to be.

 

That is a good place, is the middle of the middle, to have that moment, but it has to happen to the character, and you’re right, it’s the moment at the very bottom, the very bottom of the internal deception, because we all lie to ourselves all the time. The all is lost moment is when we discover a lie that we’ve told ourselves and we recognize it for what it is, it’s a lie.

 

[0:38:39.4] TG: Will Jessie’s be finally realizing she can never just go back home, or she’s never going to repair her family?

 

[0:38:48.1] SC: I think it will, because we go back to the genre. When you have a question about the all is lost moment, always go back to your global genre choice, and inevitably, that global genre choice is going to give you the answer. The global genre choice that you’ve made for this story is coming of age. It’s a maturation plot of the 12-year old girl.

 

Because that is the case, and she believes that if she does all of this things the right way, she will be rewarded and will be able to go home, and then things will get back better and better again, and everything will be fine, and she’ll be safe, and her family will go back to normal just like it always was.

 

Yeah, her all is lost moment has to be the place where she understands that that is never going to happen. She is never going to get a nice mom, she’s never going to get it a courageous father. She might never see her brother again, and it’s that moment when she makes that realization that she has to make a choice to change.

 

How will her behavior change after she comes to that realization? She might change for the negative, she might say well, the hell with it then, I’m never going to get my family, I’m just going to do whatever the hell I want. Nobody cares about me, I’m just going to get what I want. That might be her choice, I don’t know. It doesn’t necessarily mean that, because she’s the hero of the story, that she always has to make positive choices.

 

[0:40:24.4] TG: I feel like her choice will be she’s just going to burn the whole thing to the ground, because that’s what I’m currently planning on her. She’s going to blame her faction and the whole system for tearing her family apart. When she realizes she’s never going to get her family back…

 

[0:40:42.9] SC: That’s cool. I think that works because yeah, the external subgenre which is powerful part of your story is thriller. She’s going to make an active external choice, she’s going to act out her internal disappointment.

 

[0:40:58.7] TG: Since we’re talking about kind of, we’re back to talking about the global where we’re going with the story. One thing that stood out to me in that video, and again I’ll put it in the show notes, is the whole coming back home thing. He talked about how like in Star Wars they go back home to the rebellion, and then they rejoined forces and go get the Death Star.

 

I had always had it kind of in my head that the going home moment was at the end, after the entire story was over, so like when Frodo goes back to the Shire at the end of the Lord of the Rings. I have trouble with abstract thought, and so I’m thinking the going back home is you literally have to go back to the same exact location for it to be back home, and what he was saying was like no, it’s just coming back to your home base, whoever those people are.

 

[0:41:59.9] SC: Yeah.

 

[0:42:00.9] TG: I started thinking if right before the threshing, everybody gets a week leave to go back home and say goodbye to their families. What she does is she goes back home and she recruits the numbered to help her bring down the faction, because remember the numbered are the ones that were anomalies in the system that the faction couldn’t control, right? They look for anomalies in the grid, the ones they can control, they bring in and train and the ones they can’t, they plug them up so they can’t get back in the grid, and they put him in his number. You have a lot of crazy people, like the — I forgot his number, the guy, the crazy guy.

 

[0:42:43.0] SC: 61.

 

[0:42:44.3] TG: Yeah, that are really good at what they do, but they can’t be controlled, so they’re sitting down there. Jessie brings them in to the fold to help her bring everything down.

 

[0:42:55.4] SC: I think that’s a whole second novel, but I think that’s a possibility, I’m not saying no to that, and I’m not trying to throw cold water on your thinking, but I do want to say that in this first novel, if you’re going to do more than one, the thing about the thriller is that it has two endings. I talk about the false ending and the real ending. I talk about this in the Story Grid book, which is dedicated to the thriller, and the Silence of the Lambs, and there’s a clear false ending in the Silence of the Lambs before the very superbly dramatic climax of the entire novel at the very, very end.

 

What I’m thinking of, because your subgenre beyond the coming of age is thriller, is that the convention in the thriller is your hero goes it alone. They are alone when they have to fight the big dragon. They don’t get any help. The guys that they think are going to depend on them aren’t there. That’s a very important part of the thriller, because thrillers are all about fear and they are — we love thrillers because they give us some hope that faced with extraordinary circumstances, anyone of us can defeat them, even if we’re all by ourselves.

 

Jessie coming back and recruiting help is okay, but ultimately she has to be — it’s got to be mano y mano, her against the epitome of evil in this story, and there has to be a false ending. One way to do a false ending in your ending payoff is to have her come home on this leave, thinking this plan is going to be great, and then just as she’s about to get her gang together, she’s called back or something. I can’t quite figure out nor should I, what that double ending would be…

 

[0:45:07.6] TG: Well the double ending, because we talked about this a little bit because what I want the double ending to do is setup the next two books. I talked about Brian Sanderson’s series, I always forget the name of it, the Mistborn series, it’s a trilogy where at the end, they win, they beat the bad guy, but by beating the bad guy, they unleash something worse.

 

[0:45:32.0] SC: Right.

 

[0:45:34.3] TG: My thought was, because isn’t that the false ending, which is yay, we won, the book’s over, awesome, and then there’s this whole new thing that comes out of nowhere.

 

[0:45:44.5] SC: Yeah, that works. That’s not a false ending though, that’s the resolution of your story.

 

[0:45:51.9] TG: What’s a false ending? To me a false ending is like, one of the movies you had me watch with Nicole Kidman on the boat, what was that?

 

[0:46:03.1] SC: Dead Calm.

 

[0:46:03.8] TG: Yes. To me the false ending was yay, we killed him. He’s gone. And then he comes back and they have to kill him one more time.

 

[0:46:11.6] SC: Yes, exactly, that’s the false ending. In the Silence of the Lambs, the false ending is when Starling is in Belvedere, Ohio, and she’s meeting with the dead — one of the dead girl’s fathers. She calls the FBI to check in, and the FBI operators say “Hey, it’s totally cool, we’ve got Buffalo Bill. Agent Crawford’s on the way to break down his house in Illinois, you can come back now.

 

She’s faced with… she just went off the reservation to go to Ohio, and now she’s not going to be the hero. She has a choice. Do I go to this house where this girl used to be friends with this guy who was a sewing guy? A seamstress or a seamster? Or do I just go home? The reader thinks it’s true, because the way Harris set up the storytelling is that we’re following Crawford as he’s chasing down this Jame Gumb and we think they’re about to break in to Jame Gumb’s house in Chicago.

 

When he suddenly switches, and Clarice Starling knocks on the door of the real Jame Gumb in western Pennsylvania or in Ohio, and she’s all by herself. That is the false ending. It’s like, “I’m disappointed that she’s not going to be the hero. My gosh, she’s all by herself with the killer.” That’s the art that you’re going to have to bring to this.

 

Jessie has to get to a place where she thinks, “My big plan to take down the faction is over, because they escaped” and then she goes into the cafeteria, and there’s the head of the faction. Something like that. That’s really bad, but I think you get the feeling. The more thrillers that you look at, and the more ways you understand the way other writers solve the false ending problem, the more inspired you’re going to be to solve your own.

 

Anyway, I just want to back up to go to the very first question you asked at the beginning of this episode. Your question was, I’ve been working, and then we just hit this wall, and I don’t know how long. I’m not going to finish this thing until 2018, what gives? My answer to your question was, use the work that you’ve been doing over the past three weeks on your setting, and your world, and especially the duration of your time period, and walk back your thinking so that you can outline sequences and scenes to get your 20 to 25 middle build scenes, and your ending 10 scenes, and see what you come up with.

 

Because I have a feeling that after you do that, you’re going to have a really strong outline, scene-by-scene outline that’s going to really energize you to the point where you’re going to be bang out maybe even a scene a day. Anyway, that’s — I wanted to back that up so that you understand this is not going to be a story that’s going to haunt you until 2018 in my opinion. We are flying a little blind but I confidently think that.

 

[0:49:39.6] TG: Okay, that sounds good. I’ll take all this work and start mapping out the next few scenes and we’ll go from there.

 

[0:49:48.2] SC: Great.

 

[END OF EPISODE]

[0:49:49.2] 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.

 

 

8 comments on “This is Not Normal

  1. mlibdoyle says:

    Another helpful discussion – and Shawn, I’m going to reread Pride and Prejudice. I last read it as an undergrad and I don’t want to admit how many years much less how many decades ago that has been! As always, thanks!

  2. How long is this going to take? Well, it is commonly understood that to reach a high level of proficiency you need to invest two things at least – talent and ten thousand hours. Both are required.
    How long is this going to take? Count yourself lucky. I’m dying and my daughter’s partner keeps asking, how long is this going to take? Inheritance impatience outbids finishing a novel impatience. Maybe he just needs validation. I’ll try it.

    1. Tina says:

      Never mind your daughter’s partner. Get that poison out of your system.

  3. Shawn, I look at the “how long will this take?” question another way. Do we ask a piano teacher, “how long will this take?” Do we ask a physical therapist, “how long will this take?” Do we ask a social media list-building expert, “how long will this take?” No. Personally, I can’t imagine asking a developmental editor that question. It’s a never-ending process, really, and we, an author and an editor, eventually make a decision to stop. The truth is, we’re dealing with works of art that can never be completed 100%. It’s impossible. That’s how creation works, biblically, scientifically and every other way. You are truly a generous human being, Shawn, and I am very grateful to enjoy your book, your posts and your podcast.

  4. Tim, here’s a cure for writer’s block: read fringe science articles or watch controversial/ fringe science YouTube videos. The fringes of science are where many of the real breakthroughs have originated throughout modern history. Knowing obscure, controversial things that you suspect are accurate gives you a feeling of wanting to share your knowledge with readers, and suddenly your brain is inserting this new information into your fiction, (hopefully in more artistic ways than I usually come up with on first drafts). This makes you feel excited about writing again because you have something to share that genuinely pulls you into your work.

    Also, paying attention to (describing) the minute details of your protagonist’s physical environment and how she feels about them (a scratchy throat, the softness of the bedspread, the aura of an impending migraine headache, etc.) can have the effect of pulling you back into your emotional writing zone.

    Keep writing, dude! You’re living everyone’s dream working with Shawn. 🙂

  5. Jennifer Gan says:

    As always, thank you so much for your generosity in sharing this process. It is incredibly valuable.

  6. Dave H says:

    Like the others here – I’m finding this series among the best resources *anywhere* for learning ‘along with Tim.’
    Loving it.
    Sorry if I didn’t look in the right place – but this episode mentioned a video (a take on The Hero’s Journey) that I think Tim was going to post in the show notes. Thanks for any tips on locating that.
    Keep up the great work.

    1. Dave H says:

      I did find the link — on a different page for the podcast (where it’s titled, “How Long Will This Take?”) Sorry – now I know about the other place to look.
      Still glad for the chance to voice my support for this great series, though.

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