Your Own Worst Enemy

A few years ago, a very talented line-by-line writer came to me for help.

A publisher I respected had recommended her to me. The publisher believed (rightfully) that the woman had what it took to write bestselling thrillers. The publisher had passed on a number of her books…not because he didn’t find them compelling, but because ultimately they “didn’t work.”
The writer asked me to work with her from first idea to final draft. That is, she wanted to start from scratch…seek my opinion about the right kind of character to feature, the particular genre of thriller that I felt was the most underserved and to basically engineer a new novel from start to finish using The Story Grid.
She could not afford to pay my usual editorial fee, but I too believed in her, so we came to a profit-sharing relationship. We would be business partners, just like a couple of scientists figuring out how to create a new kind of light bulb. I’d done this sort of thing before with narrative nonfiction as well as fiction and while the work requires a multiple year commitment, I’ve never regretted taking it on. I always learn something new.

We got to work.

I walked her through The Story Grid, how I work, etc. and she was over the moon. It turned out that she was as much of a story nerd as I was. She had read and studied many of the same Story experts I had so we spoke the same language. She immediately understood my principles and jumped right in to the process.

We began by both agreeing that she’d write a contemporary thriller that would introduce a brand new series character, a woman with a Jason Bourne-like ignorance of her past. While the external genre was “spy thriller,” the internal genre of the book would be a “disillusionment plot.” (More on this later) Coincidentally, she told me that she had a draft of a book she’d written with a similar character in her closet.

She suggested that we begin with that draft to see if there was anything salvageable from it.

This is when I started to get nervous. But I relented. Maybe the manuscript could give us some direction…never say never, right? Why reinvent something that has already worked?

I read her abandoned book and it had some really great moments. Innovative turns of phrase, some seriously frightening scenes. Overall, it gave me even more confidence in her abilities. But it most certainly did not work. It never paid off the promise of the hook in an inevitable, yet surprising way. She did not disagree.

I ran it through The Story Grid and then we sat down to go through the places where it went off the rails. Weeks later, I thought we had a very clear understanding that the new lead character for our reverse engineering project would not be based on the character from her previous unsold novel. Rather we’d use a few of the scenes from the novel that really worked and perhaps adapt them to suit as major turning points for the new novel. I left her with a working map of about 60 scenes/chapters that included all of the conventions and obligatory scenes of the spy thriller form (more on this later on). I thought the conventions and obligatory scenes that we’d sketched out were uniquely twisted and innovative to a degree that would delight a thriller fan.

I even cold pitched the story, like Hollywood screenwriters do, to a few friends who held very high editorial positions at Big Five publishing houses. These friends had purchased millions of dollars worth of stories from me before, so I knew they had zero interest in humoring me. They wanted me to give them the first crack at the book for their publishing houses, so they were happy to give me quick notes and/or tell me what worked and didn’t work from their point of view. This is what happens at agent/editor lunches sometimes and it’s the only reason I still occasionally have them.
I was now finished with my job as the  “creation editor/agent” and now it was time for my business partner to do hers.
We shook hands and she walked away with the road map to complete the novel.

Keep in mind that it took us a good nine months to get to this point. We debated scene after scene until we both felt it was the best solution we could come up with at the time. Were they turning correctly? Were we mixing up the positive and negative resolutions enough? Did we progressively complicate the Story effectively? Did we pay off the hook?
We both recognized that there would be a very great chance than what we anticipated to work, would need to be completely re-thought after we had a draft in hand, but as a reference guide to write a workable thriller, it was spot on.

She came back six months later with a book far closer to the original manuscript she pulled out of her closet than I thought possible. While scenes were changed, the very problems that made it unworkable a year and a quarter before riddled the narrative. And an obligatory scene—the hero at the mercy of the villain scene, crucial to nail in a thriller—was gone entirely.

I took a deep breath and went through her draft scene by scene again and confronted her about the lack of the crucial obligatory scene.

“Well, I wrote it, but then I didn’t like it, so I cut it,” she said.

I explained that it was fine to do the scene differently, but without it, the book wouldn’t work.

“That’s not true, I read THE LATEST BESTSELLING THRILLER BY BESTSELLING AUTHOR X and he didn’t have that scene…why do I have to?

So here’s when I knew this project would never come to fruition. I now knew the reason why this very talented writer kept getting to the one-yard line and was never able to score a touchdown—a working thriller. Instead of dedicating herself to nailing the form of the thriller/story, she decided that she was above it. She wanted the fruits of the labor (bestsellerdom) more than the labor itself (writing a brilliant and innovative hero at the mercy of the villain scene no matter if the book was published or not). She wanted to be a bestselling thriller writer so badly, that she decided that doing what BESTSELLING THRILLER WRITERS did was more important than abiding by centuries old Story form.

In her mind, conventions and obligatory scenes were all well and good but because a BESTSELLING THRILLER WRITER was able to ignore one or two in his novel and still become a bestseller, she felt she must do that too. No matter how hard I tried to explain that she couldn’t copy what a BESTSELLING THRILLER WRITER did and get the same result, she refused to change her mind. Over and over again, I told her that there was no Formula, just Form.
Her argument of course was that if a BESTSELLING THRILLER WRITER was able to break the conventions of the form, she should be able to too.

Here’s a hard thing to grasp and I’m sure I’ll go to my grave trying to explain it. Just because a book becomes a bestseller, it doesn’t make it something to emulate. There are myriad of reasons why some books become bestsellers and still don’t work as Stories (See The Emperor’s New Clothes phenomenon). Sometimes, there’s just a hunger for a particular kind of book (Vampires, Zombies, BDSM novels) based on some ephemeral need in humanity’s collective unconscious that drive sales. Trying to write one of those books that get swept up in the tide or even, the ultimate for some, a book seen as the cause of the tide is folly. It’s like selling your house and putting all of your money on number 7 at the roulette table because you have a feeling #7 is going to hit!

Chasing the vagaries of the bestseller list (believing in formula and not form) is the mark of the amateur. That’s putting the by-product of the Story (money, fame, etc.) ahead of the Story itself. Your contempt for form and lust for formula may even give you what you want. You write the next huge thing that makes you hundreds of millions of dollars.
Now what? That kind of writing is equivalent to winning a lottery.

Why not just play the lottery?

The truth is that I don’t think my business partner really had contempt for Story form, I think it scared her. She had the stuff to write a terrific Story that played off of century old themes, but to do so requires adherence to fundamentals. Not formulaic rules. Despite all of their desire to live by their own lone wolf ways, ironically what amateur writers really want is a recipe. And certainty. And guarantees.

Form scares the big bestselling writers too. That’s why they often do write books that do not abide the obligatory scenes and conventions of their genres. But just because they have a wide audience of people who will buy whatever they write and make those books bestsellers, does not mean that they wrote a story that worked.

In our desire to be unique and powerful, creative people become their own worst enemies. To abide by “rules” seems antithetical to why we’re artists in the first place. So when presented with things that look like rules (form) we unconsciously rebel. We resist it with everything we have. And even when we talk ourselves off of the “I’m not going to write that scene because it’s stupid” cliff, it’s really hard to actually see the form for what it really is—an opportunity. Form gives you the place to throw down your best stuff.

Take the Hero at the Mercy of the Villain scene. It’s been done to death. Try not picturing Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson chained to a pipe and being tortured when you hear “hero at the mercy of the villain.” How do you not write that set up? But instead, innovate it and still deliver the form?

Thomas Harris did it in The Silence of the Lambs. He didn’t run away from it. Instead, he probably wrote two hundred versions of it and none of them worked. He probably didn’t really figure it out until his tenth draft. What’s important to remember is that he didn’t quit until his thriller WORKED. And working means abiding conventions and obligatory scenes of genres.

The writer/business partner and I never did get on the same page about her thriller and we parted ways. Unfortunately, it’s five years later and she still hasn’t been able to get a publisher to take her on. I think about her every day and have faith that she will one day set aside her Resistance to form and create something remarkable.

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.

40 comments on “Your Own Worst Enemy

  1. Jeff says:

    ” While the external genre was “spy thriller,” the internal genre of the book would be a “disillusionment plot.” (More on this later) ”

    Can’t wait for more on this!

    I also got a lot out of the idea of fulfilling the obligations while avoiding the cliche. Reminded me of this Hitchcock interview with Peter Bodganovich:

    Q: How did you get the idea for the plane sequence?

    A: This comes under the heading of avoiding the clichés. The cliché of that kind of scene is in The Third Man. Under a street lamp, in a medieval setting, black cat slithers by, somebody opens a blind and looks out, eerie music. Now, what is the antithesis of this? Nothing! No music, bright sunshine, and nothing. Now put a man in a business suit in this setting.

    Hitchcock didn’t jettison the scene he did the hard work to reinvent it, and created the famous crop dusting scene for North By Northwest.

    The problem is that that kind of reinvention is hard. Really hard.

    My question is, in a PoMo world of hydrbidized genres, how much does the genre blend help to reinvent scenes by changing context and frame?

    Have you ever worked with hybrid genres, Shawn?

    For instance, one of today’s popular fantasy / sci-fi authors is Jim Butcher, who got started with The Dresden Files by pitching it as “Dirty Harry Potter” — a hybrid between hardboiled detective and urban fantasy. Having read the series, it seems like Jim was able to reinvent a lot of the obligatory private eye scenes because of his unique genre blend.

    Is that one way to get the job done?

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Hi Jeff,
      That’s certainly one way of handling innovation. And yes hybridized genres (The Horror Love Story or The Redemption War Thriller etc.) are definitely food for thought and in play today. What’s really fun is when you have a clear understanding of the primary genres (much much more to come on genre, I promise) and their conventions and obligatory scenes, then you can play around to your heart’s content mapping out a course to write one with The Story Grid. Robert McKee told me that Vince Gilligan pitched Breaking Bad as Mr. Chips meets Scarface.

    2. Jeff, I’m not Shawn, though I fully intend to play him in the TV series, but I wanted to comment on your comment.

      A fun thing I’ve seen much of lately is that genre blending. It’s YA, but Johnny B. Truant’s “Unicorn Western” is a stellar example. Yes, we have all the scenes you’d expect in a western, except, y’know, Clint rides a unicorn named Edward. A magic unicorn, of course.

      Tangent, from which I promise to return: in the early days of computers my dad used to tell a story about a computer so powerful (something like 64k of memory) that they thought it could translate languages. Russian being an appropriate target, they translated the phrase “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” into Russian, and then back to English.

      The final translation was “the meat went bad but the booze is good!”

      I’m thinking we take that 3rd Man scene, transmogrify it into, dunno, anime, Jerry Lewis, western, or musical — and then shift it back again, right to the genre where we started.

      I’ve often discovered, playing with visual effects in graphic design and audio effects in music recording, that once-over-and-back can do amazing things. When it doesn’t totally break stuff.

      1. Jeff says:

        Shawn and Joel, THANKS! Both answers offered lots of food for thougt. Appreciate it.

  2. We confuse fear of real danger with fear of the unknown, and react incorrectly. It’s good to fear the oncoming train, the hungry lion, the knife-wielding thug in the alley.

    It’s pointless to fear the new, strange, unexpected. In fact, the proper reaction to those fears is to move toward them, quickly and with determination, if possible.

    I burned 30 years of not writing because I feared my lack of accreditation, validation, documentation. If Story Engineering, the Story Grid, McKee and Wieland and Robert Olen Butler will help me tell a better story by showing me the principles of the form, bring it on; the student is way, way ready.

    Tip a phone conversation I had with Seth Godin: remember the lesson we learned from Charlie the Unicorn — shun the nonbelievers. These folks don’t want this truth right now. Find the folks who do, and spend your time teaching them. (Hey, I think that’s what you’re doing right now, eh?)

  3. Crys W Williams says:

    So. It feels like you just pushed me out of the way of a looming train.

    I have a story that grew out of a dream—not a daydream, an actual sleeping dream. A fun and tense romantic thriller full of kidnaps and false identities. My favorite. I got 50,000+ words written for it in NaNoWriMo that year, been working and whittling on it ever since. Would love for it to be a great story someday.

    Now: Your Story Grid. I haven’t seen it, already trust it 100%. But hell if I would shift a single sentence in my story to suit it. It pains me to say that but it’s good to know. The story’s been held too tight for too long.

    But that’s okay. About a month ago a story idea appeared on the edge of waking and I used Steve’s Authentic Swing to assemble the foolscap. It’s fresh. It’ll wait until you publish the Grid… 🙂 #wellbegunishalfdone

  4. This is great. I’ve enjoyed this as much as the rest of the posts. I’ve been reading every single one, taking in and absorbing everything, ever since Steven Pressfield mentioned this site, and you, a few weeks ago.

    This post especially, is extremely helpful. I find myself doing the same thing as that woman. I do want to rebel against the normal because in a way it feels, “boring,” and I think that is one of my bad habits. When bored, I want to change everything around. Yet luckily [I think] I have stayed on the correct course with Story. I stick to the fundamentals, even when they feel boring at the time because you’re right. It’s what works. Just because someone else has a bestseller out there with a formula that is against the grain, it doesn’t mean that it will work for each of us, who aren’t anywhere near that bracket yet, or in general.

    Really appreciate these posts. Thanks for doing this. I can’t wait to read more about this. In the past two years I have been working my butt off, trying to become much better at self-editing, overcoming many bad habits I picked up with writing, as well as my writing in general, so I will be following along. I usually don’t comment on blogs (mostly because I forget once I start working), but do read them all. Keep up the great work. 🙂

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Thanks for chiming in Ariana. I’ll keep posting. I could talk and write about this stuff until I’m blue in the face.

      1. Ulla Lauridsen says:

        Please do!

        1. Nikki Jackson says:

          Seconding Ulla’s comment!

      2. Jule Kucera says:

        If you give us gems like, “Form gives you the place to throw down your best stuff,” before you are blue in the face, and you could write about this until you’re blue in the face, then I am looking forward to you going blue in the face. Please keep going. “We need you to lead us.”

  5. Faith Watson says:

    Shawn, perhaps this going into spoiler territory, but I have to know: are we going to *see* the Story Grid, or bits of it, ever? Is it your proprietary “product” (marketing person here) that we will someday be able to purchase… or will you be signing on coaching clients… or will Bruce Willis wriggle free of the binding on the water pipe and come to save me from the treacherous half-manuscript holding me hostage? 🙂

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Of course you will. I’ve had a number of similar emails over the last couple of weeks and obviously I need to think of a way to get the book together as soon as possible.

      If you want to know what the final result of all of this will be, look at The Story Grid in the resources section of the website. That bunch of squiggles etc. represents the novel The Silence of the Lambs. To get to that place where you will understand everything that is going on in that grid will take time. Heck, it took me twenty years to figure it out. There are two intermediate steps before you’ll be able to create a story grid for your own work, which represent the micro view of a global story (The Story Grid spreadsheet) and the macro 30,000 foot view which is a single sheet of paper that outlines an entire novel. I call this the Foolscap Global Story Grid in honor of my friend Steven Pressfield and his mentor Norm Stahl.

      You’ll then use those two documents (spreadsheet and foolscap page) to generate the big picture infographic.

      I’m not being cheeky. I’d love nothing more than to put up a price tag on this thing and start taking orders, but I want to do it the right way. And that will require me to not just wrap up my TENTH DRAFT of the book (I’m in the homestretch) but to figure out how to integrate quite a bit of artwork into the book too. So I have to get price estimates from printers, consider the right trim sizes etc. Hang in there.

      Down the road I also plan on doing Story Grid Study Guides for the major books in particular genres. These would be trade paperbacks that walk the reader through the same analysis for say TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as I use for THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. And yes I am also waiting on the paperwork from U.S. Patent and Trademark office to protect my work.

      Thanks for the feedback! And I promise the first people to get their hands on the final book will be everyone who signs up here.
      All the best,

      1. Faith Watson says:

        Shawn, while I was being a little cheeky, I meant to ask with the most sincere interest. Not to suggest the work should be rushed just to appease your audience or to make a buck. I’ve been following S. Pressfield (and you) for some time, and am enamored by your move to permission marketing as well as the direct conversation you’re having here with us, In my opinion, you have an incredible amount to offer compared to most others in this same space. You also have a lot to do, right? Shame on me for pushing on the thing I know all too well–you have to be a worker bee on your thing and a CEO of getting your thing out there and host to the visitors. Let’s give you a minute as you prepare the launch pad.

        And also shame on me for not clicking on Resources. Thank you! I blame my effort to, ahem, Do The Work, and not spend too much time on websites grabbing tools and the like. Here’s my peek. And your plans sound awesome. You are going to help us, exponentially. I think your readers can feel that, so that’s why you’re getting emails and questions like mine. You’re solving a real problem for dedicated, perhaps intense, possibly hungry, probably stuck, people. So we can hardly wait.

        Good position for you to be in too by the way! This is cool and thanks for keeping us in the loop.

        1. Sinakhone Keodara says:

          Hi Shawn,

          Can you clarify for me if the Story Grid, The Story Grid Spreadsheet and Infographics are specifically tailored toward novel writing as opposed to screenplays? I was waiting to catch up with all your writing before I apply all three of your resources to my script. I’m kind of new at this so any clarification would be great.

          Thanks for what you’re doing!

          1. Sinakhone Keodara says:

            And I should add the Foolscap method thingy.

          2. Shawn Coyne says:

            Hi Sinakhone,
            You can use all of this stuff for any story form, including screenplays.

  6. Mary Doyle says:

    This post was both maddening and humbling. The lottery analogy is apt given that the writer wasn’t willing to win unless it was on her own terms. I hope I would never squander such an opportunity — follow Form and bring it to fruition. I envision Form as a map of the territory, and Formula as the one route everyone is forced to take. There are lots of routes to get from where I live in Arizona to California, but at the end of the day I need to head west – where’s the argument in that? I’m heading west and trying to find my way.

    I’m grateful to have found out about this site from Steven’s blog and I’m looking forward to reading more about Story Grid. Thanks Shawn!

  7. Patrick says:

    I’m a huge fan. Thanks for sharing your work. In fact you replied to my brain zapping/Balzac comment on Steve’s site with such goodness that you’ll have my ears from here on out.

    Here’s my dilemma. I’m writing again, fits and spurts, but almost enough to ease up on the self loathing “you’re not a writer, you barely write for Pete’s sake, 17 legal pads, 9 pages in each, bah.” Although like Donald Miller, I felt inspired but overwhelmed by Story after leaving Mckee, like looking under the hood of the Space shuttle. And I’m supposed to build that?

    I’m as amateur as amateur gets. Do I foolscap–>story grid, trusting my conscious mind to figure it out beforehand or do I allow sentence to lead to sentence allowing for something more organic (you already see the programmed bias) which I can then shape? Whatever you do, just don’t ask how that organic technique has been working for me!

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Map out your whole story using the foolscap method and then peel back the additional tasks you’ll need to complete to get from A to Z.

      I’ll soon get to my deeper tweak of Steve’s method which will pose quite a few more questions for you to answer. I think you are like a lot of writers in that you know you have it inside you to do the work, but you just don’t know how to break down the work. I’m going to give you very practical work to do. Needless to say, I’m massively indebted to Robert McKee and a slew of other Story experts before me. It has been my approach to take all of the rich information out there and boil it down to doable tasks. That is what The Story Grid is about. You can use it to edit your finished work. But you can also use it to inspire yourself to write a full length work with very clear goals.
      Stay tuned.

  8. Shawn,
    I look forward to your book. My cat is writing his memoir now. He dictates I type. And I see the need to follow the story form in the cat’s story. What is the conflict, the resolution?
    The cat, Pooh Hodges, is very keen to read your book.
    Pamela and Pooh

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      I actually have quite a good record with Cat as protagonist books. There’s a whole subgenre of mystery called Cat Cozy that kept my mystery line in the black years ago. Thanks for reading. More to come.

      1. Thank you Shawn,
        I will look up the Cat Cozy books. Thank you for your suggestion.

        1. Shawn Coyne says:

          Try Lilian Jackson Braun and Marian Babson. Also Peter Gethers wrote some terrific cat books too, The Cat who Went to Paris et al.

  9. Ulla Lauridsen says:

    If you need any fodder, please read Parsons The Murder Bag. I would love to understand how that book ever got published. I just translated it, and it has holes in it as big as … I don’t know. For instance, it is never explained how the murderer ever got into the place where he committed the first murder, or back out. The victim didn’t know him, but somehow allowed this very peculiar individual into his highly secured office. And that’s just one of the problems. What possesses an editor to publish something like that?

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Hi Ulla,
      Great to have you on the site. My inclination is not to begin by pointing out the deficiencies in published work, but to find those great novels that epitomize a particular genre or genres and look at how those writers created those master works. I spend enough of my professional time critiquing creaky stuff. And God knows I’ve written enough creaky stuff myself. For fun, I’d rather look under the hood of the Ferraris and Volkswagen Beetles of books to see how they stay on the road.
      My short answer to why a publisher publishes flawed Story material is that it is probably packagable and of some sort of entertainment value to an easily identifiable marketplace. Bills have to be paid and if you can generate some cash with a flawed book in the right here and now, sometimes you have to do it.
      All the best,

  10. Ulla Lauridsen says:

    Actually, what makes a writer write something like that?

  11. Isobel McDonald says:

    Thanks for your post. Just about to continue with my doctoral revisions. Lesson -‘Nail myself to the form’.

  12. Joe Sixpack says:

    This notion that you have to follow a “story grid” is pure bullshit. The reason books get published today is that some gatekeeper (and there are only a handful and not all of them are that smart) likes it for some personal reason. There is no formulaic magical incantation to follow. Editors make up a”story grid” as a sales pitch to convince amateurs to pay for their editorial services.

    1. Hey, Joe Sixpack, thanks for showing up late to the party and being rude to everyone without even finding out what’s going on.

      Shawn hasn’t pitched his services to anyone, and if you don’t see the structure of story in virtually every successful book, TV show, and movie, even an excellent teacher like Shawn probably can’t get you to see it.

  13. Sonja says:

    I’m late to comment because I’m trying to keep my Internet surfing (i.e. reading my favorite blogs to a minimum). I’m hardcore writing lately, but this post had me riveted…I thought it would have a happy ending. She listened to you and went on to publish her thriller. Heck, I was expecting a buy button to amazon just so I could see how it finally came together. 😉

    I guess we all fight different forms of Resistance, but man, to squander an opportunity to work with you and not LISTEN! Crazy. I’d “kill” for a session like that.

    Keep up the great work, Shaun. I’m all ears.

  14. Kris Spero says:

    As a voracious reader of story and the craft of writing books, I simply cannot wait to read The Story Grid. It’s what I have been looking for and have not yet found.

    It’s such a simple premise that not all best sellers work, yet I often get caught up in wondering HOW did this book become a best seller?! It’s obvious when it’s a well-known author with a loyal following, but when it is an author out of nowhere? I’d never thought of it as that author just won the lottery because she wrote what the masses were hungry for at that moment. That idea itself comforts me. Because I believe in form and structure and I do want a story that works — more than I want a best seller. Thank you. I’m inspired and intrigued to read more!

  15. Jeffrey L. Taylor says:

    If you are writing because you don’t want anyone telling you what to do, you have a hobby, not a business.

  16. Jon Dalee says:

    Shawn, found your blog through Seth. This is a really good post.

    It reminds me of concept that Scott Dadich wrote about recently in relation to art in the most recent Wired Magazine. He was talking about harnessing the power of imperfection. He made a really interesting observation towards the end of the article when he said, “Once I realized what I’d stumbled on, I started to see it everywhere, a strategy used by trained artists who make the decision to do something deliberately wrong. Whether it’s a small detail, like David Fincher swapping a letter for a number in the title of the movie Se7en, or a seismic shift, like Miles Davis intentionally seeking out the ‘wrong notes’ and then trying to work his way back, none of these artists simply ignored the rules or refused to take the time to learn them in the first place. [Here’e the important part that lines up with what you’re saying here] No, you need to know the rules, really master their nuance and application, before you can break them.”

    Anyway, you might enjoy the article, it’s in the current issue of Wired, or you can read it here:

    I look forward to exploring more of your site. Thanks for all you do.


    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Great stuff, thanks for the link. I couldn’t agree more with you. Lots more to come. And Seth is one of the major figures who inspired me to get all of this stuff down. Steven Pressfield, my business partner and longtime friend and colleague, is the other.

  17. Larry says:

    Shawn, don’t know if you read new posts to the older blogs, but I just got here. I was taken by Sonja’s comment: “this post had me riveted…I thought it would have a happy ending. She listened to you and went on to publish her thriller. Heck, I was expecting a buy button to amazon just so I could see how it finally came together.”

    Could you go meta on your anecdote, and Storygrid or Foolscap it? (Still learning what those are).


    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Hi Larry,
      It’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. So many others to Storygrid than those that never made it to prime time.
      All the best

      1. Larry says:

        Not sure I was clear. I’m not looking to analyze the story that never made it, but the Story you told about the story that never made it.

        Without all your tools, it looks to me like a failed Quest —

        Beginning hook: A Knight receives a request to help a Damsel In Distress.

        Middle Build — The Knight encounters the Damsel and leads her through many twists and turns (with some setbacks) through the Labyrinth.

        Final Payoff — The Damsel refuses to follow the Knight, insisting on her own path, and so never leaves the Labyrinth.

        The final payoff doesn’t seem to be what is promised at the beginning, hence Sonja’s comment.

        So, as an anecdote in your book, this ends up, not as a Quest Story, but as a Cautionary Tale.

        Just wonder if there are any other insights about the anecdote, and about how you use them on general to construct _The Storygrid_ book.

        1. Shawn Coyne says:

          Okay I see what you mean.

          The little story you’re referring to is a performance (business/art/writing) external genre crossed with, depending on what the reader takes from the story, a Morality/Punitive or Morality/Testing or Status/Pathetic internal genre. Beginning Hook for performance is the prospect of performance (Rocky’s shot at the title…in this case the writer’s shot at big time publishing). So it would be the agreement between the two parties to work together to create a work of commercial art. The middle build would be the progressive complications of the working relationship until the ending payoff when the writer decides not to move forward because of inner weakness (unwilling to change behavior to create something she’d never created before).

          The Story Grid book is a work of Big Idea Nonfiction. My Big Idea is that by using my methodology, you can analyze Stories and create incredibly instructive single page infographics to show artists how a particular Story “works.” Knowing how other Stories work, like knowing how a car “works” or a cellphone “works” or a legal argument “works” is an indispensable skill for a writer/business person/performer/human being. The only way we improve is through critical and productive analysis of our work.

          The external genre THE STORY GIRD is admittedly a not all that compelling action adventure story merged with a performance genre. I tell the reader early on about my career and the path I needed to navigate to learn this stuff (a little backstory “action”) and then throw down the ending performance of the “Big Idea Infographic” and promise to explain how I came to it. And then the middle build is all the knowledge bits followed by the ending payoff which is the analysis of TSOTL using the methodology.

          And the internal genre is Worldview revelation. Again not all that compelling. By design. The core audience (writers/editors/aspiring storytellers) in my estimation would want less overarching Story and more “in the bit by bit” Story so that they could put the book down any time they got bored (after reading a particular chapter) and come back to it without really losing any narrative thread. This is why I put so many little self contained anecdotes in the book. To drive the reader to the end of the chapter. Not necessarily the end of the book immediately…like one tries to do when writing a novel.

          I don’t expect that many people read THE STORY GRID straight through. I did not construct it to be a “page-turner” rather a non-pedantic/mini-story driven text book.

          Hope that makes sense.

          1. Larry says:

            Makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

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