Shawn often talks about the microscope and telescope versions of writing. We can go deep and look at individual scenes, or even beats within a scene. We can also pull back and look at the story in a macro view, as a whole. Switching back and forth can often break us free of problems we’re currently facing.
Over the last nine months, Shawn and I have worked through my manuscript in a very linear manner. Scene 1, then Scene 2, etc. In this episode we land on a different tact. It’s something I think will be helpful to you as you work on your own story.
[00:00:00.3] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host Tim Grahl and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne, he is the creator of Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid, and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.
In this episode, Shawn and I continue working through the ending payoff of my book, and I keep getting stuck at what to do next, and so the solution come up with is pretty interesting. I think it will be helpful for you in your own writing. I also want to mention two things here before we get started. The first is after we stopped talking and finished the episode, we continued recording and we continued discussing different aspects of the story.
So I’ve added that on to the very end of this episode as like an epilogue. If you want to continue listening, all of that is there. That’s why this episode is a little longer than normal. Also, at the end of this episode, I have a really cool announcement. Shawn and I are doing something this coming fall that you may want to be a part of. Make sure you listen to the end and I’ll announce what it is and how you can find out some more information.
Let’s jump in and get started.
[00:01:17.3] TG: Shawn, last few days ago, I came into my office in the morning and I thought, “You know what? I should really do so research before I write these scenes.” I watched a good chunk of The Godfather, but it was research. I did not enjoy it. It was merely research.
I went back and — What’s funny is, because it’s been a while since I’ve watched that movie. I thought the scene where he shot the guys in the restaurant was towards the end of the movie. That was like in the first third of the movie.
[0:01:52.1] SC: Yeah, it’s end of the beginning hook. It’s the transformation of Michael. The internal genre of The Godfather is it’s a disintegration plot, meaning Michael moves from a positive to a negative by the end of the movie. It’s not punitive because he doesn’t get in trouble and suffer for it. He actually rises in stature.
At the beginning of the movie, Michael is the only good egg in the family and he’s vowed to Kay, “You know, Kay, that’s my family. That’s not me.” Then, after the godfather, Brando, is shot, Michael is the only one, he realizes, Michael realizes he’s the only one capable of getting vengeance.
When he makes that decision, it’s that beautiful moment in the library, Marlon Brando’s library, which is where the very beginning of the movie begins. Michael sitting to the side of the desk where the don sits, and it all gets very quiet and he explains exactly how he’s going to kill Sollozzo and the police detective. It’s just so — I am getting chills just talking about it. Then, he goes down with Clemenza to learn how to actually fire the gun, hear the sound so he doesn’t get all fidgety in the restaurant itself.
Anyway, I interrupted you. That is one of the greatest beginning hooks of a movie of all time, because it’s almost — It feels like the end of a movie. It feels like the climactic moment of the ending payoff of some incredible gangster movie. At the end of the beginning hook, you’re like, “Oh my gosh! This is just the beginning. There’s another hour. I can’t wait.”
[0:03:58.0] TG: Yeah. I watched that whole scene and then I watched — I kept watching it. I’m like, “Oh man, this is good.”
[0:04:03.8] SC: Yeah, then he goes to Italy and he tries to run away from his problems, and he finds the love of his life there, and he’s decided, “I don’t have to go back to America. I’m going to stay here in Italy,” and they come after him. Then, he’s like, “All bets are off. I’m coming home.”
[0:04:26.0] TG: Yeah. I did start with the scene in the basement and it just reminded me of how a good movie just moves so effortlessly, but they really don’t waste a single moment, a single word. There’s no extra. It’s just exactly what the scene needs to be. Then, I slipped into despair that I’ll never be that good, and then I come back and I try to write something.
It ended up being two scenes, because I have one scene with everybody in the room and then one scene with just Randy and Jessie. The first version, I kind of made Randy kind of an ass and pushing them and telling them they’ll never going to do it. Then, I felt like he’s still got this act that he is the wronged one and he’s just trying to help.
I rewrote the scene much softer from his point of view as if, “Look. I’m going to push you guys hard, but I’m trying to help you. This is what you’ve got to know.” Then, I tried to end it with kind of a — He mentions. They talk about how he kind of leaves the hanging thread of he won the threshing, but he’s still not going to tell you.
Then, the second is with just him and Jessie, and that’s where I tried to — Because I realized I hadn’t revealed yet that Lila was 86, or 83, I keep forgetting that number.
[0:06:08.3] SC: I think it’s 83.
[0:06:09.5] TG: Okay, 83. I try to reveal in there without directly saying it that she was 83, and then also gave another clue into what Randy is setting up by saying they’re going to lose the next threshing in order to get the — That’s their only way out.
Anyway, what do you think?
[0:06:31.3] SC: I thought both scenes works, and what I think you really did do a nice job with having Randy be tough, but vulnerable at the same time. He still has to get around in a wheelchair and his hair is all gone. He’s obviously has some strength back, but he’s not this marine-like drill sergeant pressing these people.
I also liked the way you put in some of the parameters of what the threshing is all about, and that there are three acts in the threshing, and Randy describes the setting of the threshing that he was involved in and he refers to the bombed out city when everything went terrible so many years ago.
Again, I think you’re using exposition as ammunition in a really nice way here. We’re expecting to learn more and more about what this society is, where did it come from, how did it happen, and having these details dropped in at the moment was the right choice to make. I also like the way Randy has sort of lost complete interest in one of the coders who will be in the threshing. I think his name is Craig.
[0:07:57.9] TG: Yes.
[0:07:58.4] SC: Right. That’s a nice set up for something. I’m not sure what that is, but as a longtime reader, I’m saying to myself, “Oh, Randy is setting up Craig to do something to serve his purposes by manipulating him in a way that makes him think that Randy doesn’t like him and that he —”
[0:08:21.1] TG: I’m kind of picturing Craig as the red shirt in Star Trek. You always know the guy that’s going to die in the scene of Star Trek, cause he’s just the red shirt guy that showed up, you’ve never seen before. I figured at some point, he’s there, but mostly is canon father.
[0:08:38.1] SC: Yeah, but I would use him as canon father in a unique way. What you’ve set up with that dynamic is that Randy is manipulating Craig to do something. He’s going to somehow get Craig to be so interested in earning his approval that he’ll be able to have a side conversation with him before the event and say, “Oh, by the way. In the second act of the threshing, there will be this moment, and this is when you need to do this.” Something like that.
Now, we’re not privy to that conversation, but you can reveal and pay that off, that conversation off, in the actual action moment of the second act. You’ve also set yourself up for three really tight action scenes as your ending payoff. You’ve got act one of the threshing. You’ve got act two of the threshing, and act three of the threshing. Also, you’ve set up this thing, like, “Hey, here’s the secret. We’re going to lose.”
Now, the reader is a little bit confused in a good way, because they’re expecting Randy to explain to Jessie how they’re going to lose and how it’s going to work for them, which you may or may not do on the page. Then, Jessie also has to pretend that she’s in there to win it. Az is in there to win it too, and so as Craig.
What you’ve established with these two scenes — Of course, they’re not perfect, and you can — They’re not Michael Corleone and Clemenza in the basement.
[0:10:22.9] TG: Yeah.
[0:10:25.9] SC: With that said —
[0:10:28.1] TG: Come on!
[0:10:30.5] SC: What they are, are great — You’re moving the pieces forward and you’re building to the ending payoff in a very good way, because you’re basically saying to the reader, “Hey, you have no idea what is coming, and neither does Jessie, neither does Craig, neither does Az. The mastermind here is Randy. Randy has an agenda that is going to either succeed or fail in this threshing. Jessie is going to become either the vehicle for him to get his goal, or the one who stops him from getting what he wants.”
That is a crucial bit of information to remind the reader, and the way you’ve done that is very, very good, because you need to remind the reader, “Somebody has an agenda. The McGoffin — We don’t know what Randy McGoffin is. We don’t really even know yet if Randy is the ultimate bad guy. We’re still seeing the president as the bad guy.
The one note I would give you, and you can mull this over, but I do want you to keep sort of moving forward, is let’s keep the president, Marcus, on the stage as much as possible so that the reader can continue to believe that he is the bad guy, because Marcus is serving as the bad guy of this first novel, and we can do this later on in another round of editing. We need to establish Marcus as really not such a good guy. We know what Marcus’ goal is. Marcus’ goal is to win the threshing so he can remain in power and he’ll do whatever is necessary to make that happen including using Randy and Ranyd’s sister to win this next threshing.
[0:12:40.1] TG: You’ve said from the beginning that the villain is the one that drives — He kicks the story off. He drives the middle build. The villain is the thing.
[0:12:53.0] SC: Yes.
[0:12:53.7] TG: Looking back through, I could easily — We’ve set it up with a few tweaks. We could really drive home Marcus as the villain from — We’ve set it up in scene one.
[0:13:06.4] SC: Yes.
[0:13:09.0] TG: I feel, like you were saying with the scenes at the end of the middle build, where if I set up that it’s going to be this super action final severing and then if I set that up more, the payoff is even better. I’m thinking, with this, if I really drive home Marcus as the villain, it will be an even better payoff when Randy is the villain.
[0:13:33.0] SC: Right. Randy’s revelation as being the mastermind, the real villain who really put Jessie’s life in mortal danger and he used her for his own purposes. That revelation is the thing that’s going to push the reader into book two, because Randy is somehow going to get away. He’s going to be released from his virtual and his real chains by the events that take place in the threshing, and Jessie will inadvertently be the mechanism in which brings him freedom.
I’m not trying to get too confusing about this, but where you’ve taken the story is a place of really high-pitched uncertainty, and that’s exactly where you want to be heading into the climactic action of the story. That’s all very good news. Again, it’s not difficult to massage these characters on a second, third, or fourth draft. We haven’t gone — Ironically, we haven’t even started editing this thing yet. We’re just trying to get a first draft, but we’re trying to get a very workable first draft so that — Go ahead.
[0:15:01.1] TG: The picture that keeps popping in my head is when you’re doing a thousand piece puzzle and you pour out the pieces and the first thing you got to do is turn them all over and you find the edge pieces, then you find all the green pieces, because those were the trees, and all the blue pieces, those are the water. You just kind of get everything into a place where I can actually, now, work on. That’s the picture that keeps coming into my head, is you’re like, “Well, this isn’t what it needs to be, but it’s got enough of the pieces that we can keep moving forward. Then, later, we’ll have to come back and actually put together that piece of the puzzle.” That’s been the metaphor in my head for a while.
[0:15:46.7] SC: That’s a good one. That’s a good one. The other metaphor — It’s not exactly a metaphor. The other way to think about the global story is — Again, I’m going back to the five commandments of storytelling. What do we have? We have the inciting incident, we have progressive complications, we have a crisis, a climax, and a resolution.
The beginning hook of a novel serves as the inciting incident for the entire book, and in your case, an entire series of books. The beginning hook of this novel is doing that for us. What it does is it also raises complications. Once we get into the middle build, progressive complications arise, and they sort of take center stage. That’s why it’s called the middle build. We progressively complicate the story in the middle build until we reach a crisis, and the crisis for Jessie was — What was her crisis in the middle build? Can you answer that?
[0:16:53.1] TG: I have to remember the middle build. Hold on. The crisis in the middle build, the decision is it that she’s actually going to fight to win this thing.
[0:17:06.3] SC: I think the crisis arose when she was in the second severing. It comes to pretty much the midpoint of your story. When she was in the second severing, she freaked out. Remember? She was in that room and reached a crisis moment where she didn’t know what to do, she didn’t know — If she continued in the game, she would probably lose in herself. If she didn’t continue in the game, she would be zapped, or what is it? Scrambled. Then, her co-players; Alex and Ernst, would suffer. She had a terrible irreconcilable goods crisis as well as a best bad choice crisis going on at the same time. It’s in that moment that you chose to bring in the magical element of Randy pulling her out of the game.
Her crisis was averted by almost a supernatural event. What that event did was it gave her — It reconfigured her thinking into believing that, “Oh! Now, I have to press on, because then I can get my family back together. Randy is alive. He’s found me. All I have to do is do what Randy tells me.” That is sort of this crisis that arose, but the climax of that crisis was in her continuing to move forward. In the hopes that there was another force that would give her the answers to the test.
That middle build was about progressively complicating to this crisis moment when she freaks out. Then, the climax of that crisis moment is that this magical — It’s the meeting of the goddess, meeting with the goddess sort of scene, where Randy explains to her, “You’ve got to hang in there. I’m going to get you back. You’re going to win the second severing.”
Then, she’s empowered, and then she moves into the third severing, uses her wits to beat the other two players. Then, she ends up dying in the game, and she’s now reawakened and she’s back, Randy is back, she feels as if she’s working with Randy for some larger goal. The reader is sort of not sure if she’s kidding herself or not kidding herself. That answer will be revealed in the ending payoff of this story, which is really this massive crisis of the final, final confrontation; does she trust her brother, or does she not trust her brother?
Anyway, I don’t know why I went through that, other than to say that you are abiding the five commandments of storytelling in the global structure of your story, each one of your pieces, the beginning hook has the five commandments. The middle build has the five commandments, and we just have to make sure that the five commandments are very clear in this ending payoff, because we’re pushing it all into an irreversible action at the very end of the story. She’s going to blow up the virtual world, which is going to have catastrophic problems for everybody for the rest of the people in the society. It’s an irreversible change. Until somebody goes back and rewires and reconstructs this grid, all of society is going to be into chaos.
That has been from the beginning, from what you’ve told me, your goal of this first novel is to get us from a sense of tyranny and order to chaos. Okay. What are you thinking about for your next couple of scenes? Do you have a sequence involved? Do you think there’s — What do you think?
[0:21:31.5] TG: I have no idea.
[0:21:34.1] SC: There’re a couple of things that you have to do. You have to reveal how Randy won the first threshing. How are you going to make that revelation clear? How are you going to use it in a way that will help you? Are you going to reveal that in the actual threshing itself? You could literally move, if you wanted to, directly into act one of the threshing right after this chapter. Whether you do want to do that or not, it’s another question. You might want to — Jessie just basically woken up. She’s been through some training. Randy has told her, “Don’t hold a grudge against Lila 83. She had to do what she had to do.”
What you could do now is move back and reveal what that note to the rats was all the way back in the beginning hook. You could bring in the rats and the mentor figure from the one who speaks some biblical phraseology, or you could just go into act one of the threshing and just get right into it. If you’re going to do three acts of the threshing, that’s three scenes and you’re going to have to sort of bump up the volume in each and every one.
[0:23:04.3] TG: My thinking was I have — The reason I’m not talking too much is I’m trying to figure out if it’s my resistance that’s keeping me from wanting to just jump in the threshing — My thinking is I need to arrange my chess pieces a little bit more with bringing in the old characters and kind of getting everything to a point where Jessie can move all the pieces during the threshing.
I also was thinking if should there be something where — Because Randy’s plan is still on track, and he hasn’t really had a hiccup in that plan yet. You had talked about having something at the beginning with Jessie be a hiccup in the plan. I guess her coming back was a hiccup in the plan. I was thinking of he wanted to keep hiding it and then, finally, maybe Marcus revealed how he won it without — And he kept trying to hide it or — I don’t know. I don’t know what I should do next, because I’m trying to decide — I don’t even know what pieces I’ve got to put in place to get to that final ending payoff.
[0:24:24.3] SC: Sometimes it’s a good idea to move forward without having the answers, and this might be one of those times. I was just thinking as you were talking, how do you set up the actual threshing itself? There’s got to be almost — This is what The Hunger Games was so great at doing, is that Suzanne Collins who wrote it, was she was really great at setting the scene. She had the television coverage. Katniss — I forgot the male lead in that. They’re interviewed. It’s this entertainment program for the masses.
[0:25:07.2] TG: Yeah, because they also have that thing where they come in, almost like the Olympic ceremony where they all come in and showoff who they are and then they get interviewed. Then, there’s that final scene where they actually get put into the severing — Into the thing where they take her — I don’t know. The guy that helped her through the — Her mentor through that process.
[0:25:32.7] SC: You got to think, this is a moment where you could almost go very global third person omniscient in a way by using a narrative device where you have the three presidents of the three factions get together in the threshing control headquarters. Between the three of them, they’ve each devised their own final threshing scenario. It’s almost like a football game. It’s almost like the coin toss.
These three presidents go into a room and they figure out, “Okay. Here is my proposed threshing setting. It will start here. The goal is for them to do this. The final one standing — The final team standing will get the credits. Maybe you bring in those super—” What are they called again? The scramblers, or the people —
[0:26:41.4] TG: The reapers.
[0:26:42.1] SC: Yeah, the reapers. You could have almost like a sporting event narrative device where the three factions and three teams on each faction. You basically have nine players; you’re having the Asian faction, the Euro-Russians, and the Americas. You have nine players.
What you do is you kind of walk this back and just start banging stuff out. Give yourself a narrative device to goof around with, pretend that you’re a sportscaster and just narrate what happens in the first act of the threshing. Do the pomp and circumstance before the thing, then the kickoff starts. Then, bang! They’re all logged in, they’re all locked in with the cords in their back of their heads, et cetera. You could take it from the point of view of Ernst, or Alex, the medic, and the translator, or whatever, the coms-guy.
This way, you can sort of peel around and have some fun knowing that you don’t specifically have to know how exactly everything is going to play out. This is the moment when you kind of let your subconscious goof around. You’re not going to solve all the problems, but what you will find is some kind of setting, or some interesting setup that you can build on. Right now, you’ve build this threshing into such a huge event that you’re now avoiding writing it.
[0:28:40.3] TG: I think I’m tracking with you. I have a couple more specific questions. One is if this is such a big event, I do need to show how it impacts the greater world as far as, are they paying attention? I also wonder if she should — Wouldn’t she do a final phone call to her parents before she goes into this? It could happen in the virtual world, where she basically goes to them and it’s like — They’re talking about everybody in the town, getting ready for the threshing, and she’s talking to them about this.
Maybe even the rats are in the room. Because there’s always the moment when they go back home before they go to the final thing. She goes back virtually to say — To kind of do a goodbye without saying goodbye. Then, I was even wondering if they all physically go to the same location. I don’t know. I don’t know. I can work that out.
[0:29:59.5] SC: Yeah. What you just described is a perfectly valid scene, but I would suggest you not write that scene yet. Instead, start — You got to get in to the ring with this big, bad scene. What you can do is once you sort of construct this — It’s probably going to be somewhere between four and 5,000 words, this climactic battle, and that’s probably three to four scenes.
After you get a feel for that, and it doesn’t have to be perfect, then you can go back and put in the details that — You can say to yourself, “I’ll let Jessie take advantage of some rat trick in the threshing. I’ll have Jessie use something out.” Then, later on, you can go back and write the warrior right before he goes to war scene where he gets to go home for leave for a day.
You might conceive of an interesting idea where you use some element of historical battle. Back in the early ages of battles, people used to take picnics, and they would have a picnic on the lawn, and down below, the Russian army and the French were fighting it out. They would watch them have their battle and then they would clean up their picnic and go home. It was a certain kind of strange thing today we would never consider.
I’m thinking like the Franco-Prussian Wars, or if you did some Google work to find were there moments of battles beyond — Also, there’s the Roman Colosseum where it would fill and people would kill each other on the grounds. It’s a form of entertainment that — The great thing about The Hunger Games was the exploitation of children as a means to serve as cautionary tales for the population while also providing entertainment.
Thematically, that’s what a tyrant would do, is you have these great spectacles in order to scare the bejesus out of the population and also excite them at the same time. They’re getting a double dopamine rush, “Oh my gosh! This is so exciting and thrilling to watch. Thank God it’s not me. I’m not going to mess with things, because I could end up down there.”
Isn’t it exciting anyway? In many ways, that’s what the National Football League is today. We enjoy watching these guys beat the hell out of each other. Thank God, it’s not me.
To think of the threshing as this Super Bowl of this society is really the direction you want to go in. I’m not saying you want to duplicate what Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games, but to think of it in terms of what’s the purpose of the threshing. The purpose of the threshing is for the people in power to maintain power by providing entertainment and caution at the same time.
If that’s the purpose of the threshing, how would they best present that to the three factions struggling to not eat up all the resources of the planet that are left? The reapers are using the threshing as a means to control people’s appetites. The other way they’re doing it is by using virtual reality.
[0:33:59.0] TG: I see. I haven’t seen it as a cautionary tale as much as there are limited resources and reapers control them, but they’re doing it under the guise of, “We’re trying to just care for everybody in the world. The only way we can figure out how to divvy this stuff up without you guys killing each other is if we control it and you guys do a virtual battle.” It like this agreement to stop the fighting.
If we’re looking at Hunger Games, it’s them keeping everybody down and all of these — I forgot what they’re called. The eight different places people live. Where this is more like — This was the agreement under the treaty. This is how we handle things. This is how we handle our dispute, is once every four years, we come together and we battle for the resources. There’s not that many anyway, and we’ve trusted this other power to maintain that for us.
[0:35:08.9] SC: Yes and no. The reapers are acting — They’re using a rational argument to keep the people under control. There’s only so many resources. Those who can get more of them, we want to encourage people to become better thinkers, more active physical beings, so that we will reward the most fit among the three factions with a higher percentage of resources.
They’re encouraging each of the factions to better themselves so that they can overcome, eventually, the limitations of their environment. They are basically playing a game of evolution. It’s a survival of the fittest sensibility. They believe we will have each faction boil down to three people, and those three people are representative of the best thinkers, physical specimens, et cetera, of that faction. Then, they will compete with the other three people from the other two factions. We have these nine person winner-take-all kind of battle.
Then, the other two factions, they’re on half rations. While the winning faction is on double rations, or whatever it is. You need to have — You could have this setup scene where the reapers historian — It’s like the beginning of The Olympics, “Back in Ancient Greece, city states used to get together and have a competition.” We’re using that as a story in order for us to have this event that will make a lot of money on television. That’s what The Olympics is. It has nothing to do with anything but ridiculous national — I’m probably digging myself a huge hole here. It’s just nationalism with television profits. There are cheating scandals. It’s silly. It’s nothing like the original Olympics.
To think of the threshing as some sort of quasi-Olympics versus Deathrace 2000 versus anyone of these dramatic moments in time where very limited number of the society have to represent their entire faction in order — Everybody relies on their success or failure for their survival. That’s kind of the message you need to impart in this threshing, and you need to set it up so that the reader completely understands what’s at stake here.
The idea of having her going back to her town for a night is a good one. Again, I think if you do that scene too early, you’re just going to have some cheesy reconciliation between her and her parents, and instead of setting up she’s going home, most people go home from that thing to relax. She knows, “I’ve got to go home to get my ducks in a row for this threshing, because I’m going to use the resources that I have at home for when I’m in the battle somehow. Does that make sense?
[0:38:47.0] TG: Yeah.
[0:38:48.7] SC: You do need to set up the importance of this threshing and how this is — Everybody stops. The threshing has a limited time. It has a clock. It can end at any time, but who’s ever standing at the end of act three win.
[0:39:08.7] TG: This is even making me wonder, and this isn’t to do now, but once we get to the end of this, that will be stuff I need to add earlier in this story too is dripping out how important this is. Because I’m thinking, “Oh, you know, I have not even considered the society at whole as I’ve written this first draft.”
[0:39:29.9] SC: That’s really fun stuff that you can pepper in later in dialogue and also many little asides and all that sort of thing. Don’t worry about — You can build up this thing. You can find the moments in the story to do that later. Don’t beat yourself up, because you haven’t painted in all the brushstrokes yet. As you said, this is a big piece of puzzle. It’s going to be vague at the end. We know what the scene looks like.
[0:40:02.5] TG: I’m just going to jump ahead to the threshing. Once we get through that, that will inform on the couple of scenes I’m going to skip for now. You think I should just go ahead and dive in?
[0:40:15.0] SC: I think so. I think — Look. The first act of the threshing in the first third, or whatever, you might even not do the acts. You haven’t even figured that out yet. What’s great is that there aren’t many limitations in what you’re doing other than you have to set up the moment, you have to set up the game, and then you have to get her in the game with a strategy of some sort. You also gave yourself some ideas about how to do the setting with Randy discussing the last threshing, which was a really good idea.
They put us back — I pictured some war-torn zone, because of my age, I think of Vietnam in 1974, the fall of Saigon, and just this burned out city and people are trying to get out of it. That’s where they put the threshing people back and have them negotiate, taking each other up.
What’s the goal of the threshing? That’s the other things you have to establish? Are they supposed to kill the other people, or scramble them? How do they do that? Is it a game where they have to seize something before somebody else? They have to get some rings somewhere, or some magical — They have to go find Hitler’s gold. I don’t know.
Is it a kill game, or is it a retrieval game? The first one who gets the locket wins. You have to make that decision. It’s probably going to be — This is a life and death thriller, so it got to be a kill game, I would think.
[0:42:03.8] TG: I could probably weave together both.
[0:42:09.4] SC: You should think of it as a video game. What do you do with video games? You try and get armor and that will protect you from the dragon’s breath. Something like that. Where there are these little Easters egg in the world where they can find and they can get a certain protection. The ultimate goal is to be the last man, or last woman standing.
It’s similar to The Hunger Games payoff, or maybe it’s not. The great thing at this moment is that you can make up whatever you like, and that’s also the limitation, because it’s frightening, because there’s no — You know, Jessie has to win, or lose, or both.
[0:42:59.2] TG: I just think in a heist movie, you know from the beginning, the ending payoff is going to be them trying to get into the bank. With this thing, there’s really no thing that I know I’ve got to do as far as — There’s no setting that’s already in place. I’ve just got to come up with something.
[0:43:24.0] SC: The other thing to think about — Again, this isn’t the moment to panic about that, because we can always add that stuff in later. We can add in these little things explaining what the ultimate threshing is in another draft. It’s okay that you’ve gone this far without having this perfectly laid out plan.
One thing that could be interesting is maybe there’s another purpose to the threshing beyond just distributing resources. It could be that there was a moment in time where — It’s almost like that movie with Tom Cruise a couple of years ago where he keeps going back to fight the same battle.
[0:44:14.9] TG: Yeah, I know what you’re talking about.
[0:44:17.8] SC: I forgot. It was like Live, Die, Repeat, or something.
[0:44:20.8] TG: That was the —
[0:44:22.5] SC: The catchphrase, or whatever.
[0:44:24.1] TG: Yeah. I’ll have in just a sec.
[0:44:26.7] SC: It could be something like that where —
[0:44:30.3] TG: Edge of Tomorrow.
[0:44:31.1] SC: Yes, Edge of Tomorrow. Where they go back to this specific moment in time when everything fell apart. The goal is not just to be the last man standing, but to solve the problem that destroyed the earth. Maybe it’s a reversible problem, or maybe there’s some action that could stop things from falling apart in the way that they have.
[0:44:59.9] TG: Like the 12 monkeys type — Was that the name of the movie?
[0:45:03.4] SC: I think so.
[0:45:03.8] TG: That Brad Pitt movie?
[0:45:04.7] SC: Yeah, that’s long time ago. I don’t quite remember. It could be something like that, or not.
[0:45:14.7] TG: I’ve been so focused on figuring out what the action scene is. Should I be thinking bigger and globally bout these type of things about having some kind of hidden thing that — Because my thought has been too that the way every other threshing besides Randy’s was won by last man standing. Randy’s was one, because he ripped open a hole in the grid and they called it, basically. That was why it was so different, was that he did something that was never done before.
With this, my plan was to have her rip open, take that initial tear that he did and just finish it. That’s what shuts everything down. That could expose a bigger secret of what’s really going on under the surface. Is that the type stuff you’re thinking?
[0:46:21.2] SC: I think so. I think having the payoff be, “Oh! Randy wasn’t the only who survived. Lila has survived too.” I don’t know. I think that works as long as we understand what this rip in the digital world actually means. The difficulty with dramatizing on the page with language, a rip in the physical universe is that it’s very difficult for the reader to envision. You sort of have this magical moment where thunder and lightning happened and all of a sudden there’s a rip. It’s like the moment in Indiana Jones at the end in the Arc of the Covenant, where they close their eyes and all these supernatural thunder and lightning come down.
I guess that’s okay, except it’s not as viscerally exciting as witnessing something based in reality. I’m explaining the very difficult elements in creating a supernatural, horrific monster too. How many monsters are really — You have your vampire, you have your zombie. You have these traditional monsters; you have your alien. “What does the alien look like?” “Oh, gees! Let me think. It looks like a rat.”
That’s part of the challenge of creating this climactic moment, and the way Suzanne Collins got around it is she made it last man standing game and then use the brilliance of Katniss to sacrifice herself and — I forgot the male partner again. The two of them agree to eat the poison and both die so that there’s no winner, which makes the powers that be have a very bid dilemma. They use this power of love in order to beat the evil of the tyranny.
Everybody can relate to love. That’s why the love ending of Hunger Games, the first one, really worked, because we’re like, “Oh, yeah. These two really love each other and they’re willing to die.” It goes all the way back to Romeo and Juliet and the poison. I wouldn’t doubt, Suzanne Collins was like, “How can I Romeo and Juliet this? I know, I’ll have them eat poison together.”
It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think of the famous solutions to these kinds of problems, and then put your own twist on it. In fact, that’s called innovative creativity, is looking at what other artists have done in the past, and then putting your own twist on it. I know I’m not being specifically helpful, but I’m trying to get you in the reasearchy king of helpful. What’s your favorite Scooby-Doo and how did they solve one of these problems? Can you twist it?
[0:49:47.1] TG: Yeah. Okay.
[0:49:50.4] SC: I do think now is the time to start battling this monster. This big threshing — Your novel is called the threshing, or that’s the working title for it, and so you got to deliver something. There’s no pressure right. You’re really cooking. You’ve done a great bunch of work. Allow yourself to make a lot of mistakes and think it globally, and then think about it locally. Start writing something. If you get stuck, step back and say, “What am I supposed to accomplish here? Oh, yeah. Right.” Then, get back to it.
The most important thing is to not despair to the point where you stop working. Remember, you’re not going to solve this sitting down for three hours. That’s just not going to happen. It’s going to take a lot of showers, around of running around the block. A lot of walking the dog. A lot of making pancakes for your kids. All those moments when your brain is doing something else, it will be churning on this problem.
Now is the time to start churning on it and trying some scenes, trying some set ups, trying some inciting incidence. Think about the goal of the society in this threshing. Think about the goal of Jessie in this threshing. Think of the goal of Randy. Think of the goal of the president. All that stuff. Then, just start goofing with some inciting incidence and see where you can go.
[0:51:21.3] TG: Okay. I can do that. All right. I have no idea what I’ll have ready to turn into you, but I’ll send you whatever I have and we’ll go over it next week.
[0:51:33.2] SC: Okay.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:51:34.0] 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.
So I mentioned at the beginning of the episode two things; one is there’s about a 20-minute epilogue where Shawn and I kept talking after we ended the episode and we got that recorded, and so that’s coming up in just a minute here. I also wanted to mentioned something Shawn and I have been working on.
One of the biggest requests we get from people is wanting to get help applying Story Grid to their story. I’m the lucky one that actually gets to talk to Shawn every week and gets him looking at their story, but not everybody gets that chance, obviously. So how do you get somebody to actually help you do the Story Grid method for your own writing?
What we’ve decided to do is start in editor certification program, where we’re going to bring in editors, teach them how to do the Story Grid method, teach them how to edit it through so that they will be available to anybody that needs help getting their story edited in the Story Grid system.
If I said that and you are an editor and your ears perked up and you’re interested in learning how to do this, how to become a certified Story Grid editor, we have a page up just for you. If you go to storygrid.com/cert, we have an application there along with some information on how you can become a certified Story Grid editor.
We really want to continue to grow Story Grid, make it available to more people, make sure more people can have access to the help they need to get their story from not working to working. Of course, Story Grid is the best methodology to do that.
So if you are an editor looking to grow your business, if you are an editor looking to learn the Story Grid in a much more deep and detailed way, if any of that interest you, go to storygrid.com/cert, fill out the application, and then we will get back to you as we continue to put final details on this.
I’m just really excited about this. I think it’s going to be really helpful, because again, this is the question we get from you. More than any other question is people wanting help applying Story Grid to their own writing. Hopefully, pretty soon, that’s going to be a reality. Again, go to storygrid.com/cert if you are interested in becoming a certified Story Grid editor, and we look forward to hearing from you and moving forward on that project.
As always, if you want to support the show, you can do that by leaving a rating and review on iTunes and, of course, telling your author friends about it. If you want to reach out to us, you can do that on Twitter @storygrid. Thanks, as always, for subscribing and being a part of our work here at Story Grid. We love working with you and putting this out every week. We will see you next week.
[0:54:55.5] TG: Yeah, I was thinking too, the other thing that they want is to constantly find the people and destroy the people that will mess with their hold on society. That’s where the numbered come from, is there are the ones that could break the grid that they can’t control, and so they kicked them out of the grid.
There’s something too around — This threshing is a way of control over the factions, because they want to maintain their control. Marcus wants to retain his control over his faction, and so they are playing them against each other so that they won’t ever fight the reapers.
What makes Randy so scary is came really close to imploding the whole thing. To me, there might be some kind of twist in this one, or the reapers are just scared of Randy as Marcus is, but for different reasons. When they find out that he’s involved, there might be something there. Yeah, when you were saying at the end, thinking through the individual people, what they want. Also, it was so helpful to finally pinpoint where the real conflicts are. That helped a couple of episodes ago.
Thinking through what is everybody afraid of? What is everybody want, and where is their biggest pain point right now that they’re trying to solve? That’s going to tell me what is happening. Because now I’m wondering — If we’re thinking about why — In Hunger Games. Why did they have these children fighting to kill each other? Like you said, it’s the show that they have power and to show what happens when you mess with them? They’ll kill your children.
[0:57:15.3] SC: Right.
[0:57:15.5] TG: Then it provides entertainment. The actions they’re taking inside —
[0:57:21.0] SC: What you’re basically saying is that these reapers are trying to find the most innovative people in their society so that they can fight amongst each other so that they don’t turn around and destroy the reapers power. They reward — They’re basically getting the most — The Steve Jobs’ and the Elon Musk’s and all those people in this society to fight each other in this threshing.
They’re supposed to feel so grateful that they are the heroic elements of their society, and they’re bringing back the extra rations so that, basically, buys them out. They’re emotionally attached to being heroic figure. Whereas Randy, Randy was the bug in the system. When he won the threshing, he didn’t really win the threshing, he broke the machine.
[0:58:26.8] TG: Yeah, and that’s why it ended on act two, and it’s never ended on act two before.
[0:58:31.0] SC: Right.
[0:58:32.0] TG: He was the bug. Yeah. He was the guy that should have ended up a numbered, but he ended up in the threshing instead.
[0:58:38.8] SC: Right. He won the threshing and he was supposed to get a hero’s welcome, but because he broke the system, he was imprisoned.
[0:58:47.5] TG: Right. That’s what makes him so angry, is that he didn’t get the thing that he deserved, in his mind.
[0:58:54.2] SC: Right, and he would have been happy being the hero if they had just let him go home. The big mistake they made was to imprison him and not give him his heroic rewards. Whereas, Jessie, she wants to bring down the entire system, or she doesn’t know what she wants here.
[0:59:13.8] TG: What she wants is — What she’s going to end up wanting is to stop her brother from getting what he wants, because that’s what she’s going to realize is what he wants as evil, but then she’s going to make it worse.
[0:59:35.3] SC: No. I think what you could do is have her innocently think that Randy is a victim.
[0:59:44.5] TG: That’s how she’s starting, but then she has to decide — I thought we were going to set it up where Lila or somebody is going to be like, “He almost had your body burned. I’m so glad that never happened to you,” and that’s when she’s going to be like —
[0:59:59.3] SC: Huh? What? Right.
[1:00:00.9] TG: Yeah.
[1:00:03.4] SC: You could do that at the very end. You could make that almost like the bad news. She does this incredible thing. She wins — She breaks open — I don’t know. She breaks the machine. She wins the threshing. People are free, but her brother is gone. She thinks that if she can accomplish all those things, she’s going to go back to happyville at home with her brother and her family.
[1:00:35.8] TG: Yeah, but then she never has her crisis of deciding to stick with her brother.
[1:00:39.6] SC: Yeah, you’re right.
[1:00:42.0] TG: Then, we missed that whole thing where he’s going to try to kill her in real life, because she turns on. What I’m trying to figure out is when she turns on him, what is she going after then? Maybe the speech is — Okay. She’s got to want — When she switches, she’s got to, now, want the opposite of what Randy wants. What Randy wants is Marcus’ job.
He wants everybody still locked down, but he wants to be the one in charge. What she does is say, “Both of you are evil. I’m letting everybody go.” That’s when she undoes the entire thing. What she doesn’t realize is by doing that, she undoes the entire power structure and now there’s a void that needs filling that her brother is going to happily try to step into.
[1:01:37.8] SC: Okay. Yeah.
[1:01:39.9] TG: She’s at some point going to be like, “This is wrong, that any of us are attached to the grid. It’s just your system of keeping us control and keeping us down. Marcus is no longer in charge. Randy is not going to be in charge. We’re going to be in charge or ourselves.” Then, she does the thing.
[1:02:00.3] SC: These are decisions that we can’t completely make yet until you start playing with the big scene. Her crisis is she has — The crisis for the heroic figure is, “Do I do what’s good for me, or do I sacrifice myself for the good of everyone else?” She has to come to believe that she will sacrifice herself to free everyone. It’s through that sacrifice that ends up breaking the machine. She doesn’t die and everyone is free. Right?
[1:02:39.3] TG: Yeah. That’s why we’re going to have Randy attacking her in real life, because she’s not afraid any longer of dying in the system.
[1:02:48.6] SC: Right.
[1:02:51.2] TG: She has to have that moment where she decides to let him keep hacking at her in real life and she’s not going to stop what she’s doing in the digital world.
[1:03:00.9] SC: Right. That’s good. That works.
[1:03:03.6] TG: Because there’ll be a moment where he’s like, “If you stop, I’ll stop.” She says, “No.” Whether she says it or not, it doesn’t matter. That’s the crisis moment, is, “If you stop. I’ll be in charge. I’ll bring my mom and dad to the capital. You’ll live here with me. We’ll finally be together. You can trust me. I love you. da-da-da-da-da.” She does it anyway, right? Says, “Fine. Kill me. I don’t care. I’m going to do this, because I’m doing this for the rats and I’m doing this for Ernst and Alex, and I’m doing this for Lila, and I’m doing this for my actual real family.”
[1:03:54.9] SC: Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. Yeah. You got that all written down, right?
[1:04:00.5] TG: Well, we’re recording. That’s why I don’t talk to you about this stuff without recording it.
[1:04:09.1] SC: I think that’s good. I think that’s really good. Her moment of realization is that family is not genetic, it’s environmental.
[1:04:20.5] TG: Right. There’s got to be that moment where h makes the promise to give her everything she wants, and she says no, right?
[1:04:26.6] SC: Yeah, because she’s already been told. He tried to kill her with the incineration.
[1:04:31.5] TG: Yeah. He’ll deny it and all that kind of stuff.
[1:04:34.1] SC: Right.
[1:04:34.3] TG: We’ll have the prologue that she’ll refer back to right there.
[1:04:38.9] SC: Right.
[1:04:40.1] TG: That’s why Randy let himself get cornered in that basement, because he knew that’s the spot to unravel everything. When he did that, they shut down the whole threshing and made him the winner, because he almost got into the system. Now, he knows how to get in there, and he tells Jessie how to get in there. Once she’s in there, she can make a decision to — What is that decision —
[1:05:10.5] SC: The decision is that she can win the same way Randy did and shut down the game, or she can just destroy the game.
[1:05:18.2] TG: What have the reapers done to make sure that never happens again? Right? Because if that happens —
[1:05:24.2] SC: That’s when Az will do his sacrificial moment. They have some failsafe down that they put in that Az inadvertently attacks and sacrifices himself for the win, not knowing that he’s just enabled her to —
[1:05:43.7] TG: Now, she’ll feel guilty for his loss, because he sacrificed himself to help them win, but he actually sacrificed himself to help them lose.
[1:05:54.9] SC: Right.
[1:05:55.7] TG: Because there’s got to be sympathy for him at the end.
[1:05:58.2] SC: Yeah. She can just be like, “I’m sick of people dying for pointless principles.”
[1:06:04.7] TG: Once again, somebody got hurt on her behalf.
[1:06:07.0] SC: Right.
[1:06:09.2] TG: Which we established in the beginning hook.
[1:06:11.5] SC: Right.
[1:06:12.6] TG: There will also have to be a moment there too where, somehow, when he makes all the promise — When Randy makes all the promises, she’s like, “What about Ernst, and what about Alex?” He’s like, “Well, we can’t have them hanging around.” Because she’s doing this to save them.”
[1:06:31.3] SC: Right.
[1:06:34.1] TG: They’re probably trying to attack him to save her right at that moment.
[1:06:40.3] SC: Right.
[1:06:41.6] TG: I don’t understand why these are so hard, because this is the moment when everybody’s fears, wants, conflicts, all fever pitch at once and they bump in to each other.
[1:06:53.6] SC: Exactly. This is the big —
[1:06:55.7] TG: Have you watched that new show called Patriot?
[1:06:59.7] SC: No.
[1:07:00.8] TG: Okay. It’s one of the best shows I’ve watched in a while. It’s an Amazon Prime Show.
[1:07:07.5] SC: Okay.
[1:07:08.1] TG: And it’s so on the money Story Grid, and it’s 10 episodes, but it’s really just one long story. It’s like the season. The way he, whoever did the movie, build the middle build, is just lovely. He sets up all these tiny little things that happened in the first episode or two, that just they build and they build and they build just slowly through all of the episodes until there’s this scene in the second to last episode where they all just converged on him at the same time, and it’s just like, “I have no idea how he’s going to get out of this.” It’s so good. It’s that moment when everybody in the entire show, all of their wants and desires and fears all converged on the protagonist at the same time.
[1:08:05.1] SC: Yeah. That’s a real skill, man.
[1:08:10.5] TG: That’s what I’m trying to do is take Marcus, Randy, Ernst, Alex, Lila, Az, Craig, the reapers, everybody in all of the towns, her parents, all of that, and they have to all lean on her at the same time.
[1:08:27.6] SC: That’s exactly what she want, and her decision will affect every single one of those people.
[1:08:33.8] TG: In that show, his friend kills himself — Spoiler alert. You won’t know which friend though. His friend kills himself. Another guy, his life falls apart. Bad things happen to good people, because of the decisions he makes.
I’ve been so struggling with, “What am I even trying to accomplish in these things?” What’s been ringing around in my ears is when you said the plot of Silence of the Lambs is bad guy gets caught by a cop.
[1:09:15.4] SC: That’s right.
[1:09:17.4] TG: But it was like all of these things building through the entire thing to this — I’m not realizing, and you tell me this all the time. I’m just starting to see what you mean by, “I’ve got to have all of these Fever Pitch and hit her at the same time. That’s when she makes the final decision of what she’s going to do.
[1:09:40.7] SC: That’s right.
[1:09:41.8] TG: Spending time, like you said, thinking through each character, what they want, their conflict, what they’re afraid of. Getting that all down and looking at that will help me make these decisions.
[1:09:54.7] SC: You can also just have each one of those characters almost jump in and tell her what they want, “But, Jessie. What about —” Thematically, not necessarily literally. Having Alex and Ernst in the room trying to save her so that she’ll save them and also because they care about her. Those are her brothers. Those are her real brother —
[1:10:22.0] TG: Once again, if I get that right, the setting doesn’t really matter that much, because that’s what we’re reading for.
[1:10:30.8] SC: Oh, yeah. That’s the subtext that really gives the emotional power is her choice to protect the rats, and the numbered, and Alex, and Ernst, over her fantasy of reuniting with her brother and her family and literally saying, “You’re not my family. They are.”
[1:10:54.7] TG: Should I write that scene now and then we can back up from there, back into the other acts and the other —
[1:11:01.2] SC: Yeah. Sure.
[1:11:04.4] TG: Because I figure if I can get that scene right, that answers all of these other questions of the four or five scenes leading up it.
[1:11:11.6] SC: That’s true. You’re basically writing the climactic scene of the final threshing, where she goes into the belly of the beast, or the machine, she’s ripped through some kind of time thing. She’s gone through the hole, and Az follows her. Craig’s dead.
[1:11:37.0] TG: I figure Az will be dead by then too, because Az will die in the scene before that.
[1:11:41.9] SC: Oh, yeah. That’s true. Yeah. Go ahead. Yeah.
[1:11:44.2] TG: That will be the resolution of the scene before that.
[1:11:49.3] SC: I think if you can get a general feeling of how you’re going to bring this thing to fever Pitch and pay it off, then the rest of this stuff will be easier to walk back.
[1:12:04.2] TG: Okay. I’m going to work on that.
[1:12:06.2] SC: Yeah, you should. You’re ready for it.