Another Structure: Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid

As a story structure geek, I’ve been thrilled to learn from Larry Brooks over at Storyfix.

And just as thrilled to discover the work of Shawn Coyne, by way of Steven Pressfield’s site.

An acquisitions editor for a million years, Shawn knows what it takes for a book to succeed. He knows what makes a story work, which is, as Larry keeps saying, the bare minimum, the ante, for this game. And he’s teaching it, a bit at a time, at StoryGrid.com.

The image below is the story grid for Silence of the Lambs which, though I have not indulged in either book or movie, is a classic example of story done right, according to Shawn.

… more … “Another Structure: Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid”

Compelling Premise (Story Engineering and Physics #7 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsIn the first post in this series I talked about the differences between premise, concept, and idea, and gave these examples of premise:

  • An elderly Irishman traveling in America meets and woos an elderly Englishwoman during the Irish War for Independence, and when he discovers she’s ignorant of the war, creates humorous havoc in his attempts to prevent her from learning that their two homelands are in conflict.
  • An elderly Irishman traveling abroad during the Irish War for Independence meets and woos an Englishwoman who feigns ignorance of their two country’s conflict in order to preserve their romance.
  • A young teacher in modern Chicago tells her elementary school students the story of her grandparents’ romance in an attempt to teach them the value of overcoming prejudice.

Let’s dig deeper into what makes a premise, and then talk about what makes one compelling.

… more … “Compelling Premise (Story Engineering and Physics #7 of 12)”

Writing Voice (Story Engineering and Physics #6 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsHave someone begin reading to you from the middle of a book. See if you can tell who wrote it.

When you hear a familiar voice on the phone you know who it is before they’ve said anything significant. You recognize their voice.

When you read the opening words of a book, before anything happens, before it’s even clear what genre it is, you’re hearing the author’s voice.

Think of Dr. Seuss. Raymond Chandler. James Joyce. Those are extreme examples, but it’s impossible to deny their distinctive voices.

Consider Dan Brown, Maeve Binchy, Isaac Asimov, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Again, if you read their stuff, you could probably pick out a sample of their writing just because of how it sounds.

Voice is best when it comes naturally.

Most writers ruin their voice by failing that simple test: naturalness. … more … “Writing Voice (Story Engineering and Physics #6 of 12)”

Scene Execution (Story Engineering and Physics #5 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsWhen showing a first-time guest around your home, the logical manner is to move from room to room, pointing out only the most interesting or meaningful details, sometimes just one thing in each room.

Novels are built, not from words, sentences, or paragraphs, but from scenes.

What is a Scene?

Each scene

  • happens in one physical location
  • in one time period
  • from a single point of view

New location? New scene. Time jump? New scene. Switch from Tom’s perspective at the bottom of the cliff to Alice’s at the top? New scene. (Though if we’re with Tom at the bottom and Alice simply calls out to him or interacts with him, we’re still in Tom’s perspective.)

… more … “Scene Execution (Story Engineering and Physics #5 of 12)”

Structure (Story Engineering and Physics #4 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsStories follow a pattern. In its simplest form, you might put it this way:

  1. Girl finds pony.
  2. Girl loses pony.
  3. Girl finds pony again and learns to keep the barn door shut.

A slightly more complex version has been studied, culled, and formulated by Joseph Campbell.

Campbell and others who study story structure are not creating a template for us, they are discovering an existing pattern — the pattern most stories take, have always taken.

Today, the most successful novels follow a version of this pattern. As always, there are exceptions, and as always, beginners had best learn the rules before breaking them.

… more … “Structure (Story Engineering and Physics #4 of 12)”

Theme (Story Engineering and Physics #3 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsIf you ask someone “What is The Lord of the Rings about?” and their answer could just as easily apply to The Magnificent Seven (that is, a band of unlikely heroes comes together to save some weaker realm) what they are talking about is concept.

If their answer has to do with destroying a ring, and hobbits and wizards and elves and dwarves, they are talking about plot or character.

If their answer has to do with good versus evil and how even the smallest act of good control over evil they are talking about theme.

Theme is what our story means in the big picture of life. It is, perhaps, the lesson we hope readers will take away. It is how life is explained by our story — or how our story is explained by life.

… more … “Theme (Story Engineering and Physics #3 of 12)”

Character (Story Engineering and Physics #2 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story Physics

I learned a lot about trust from a book called The Speed of Trust, written by Stephen M. R. Covey, the son of the “7 habits” author.

It cleared up some misconceptions and filled some gaps in my understanding of trust. For instance, why can we trust someone to repay a loan, but we wouldn’t ask them to work for us? Why can we take them at their word, trusting their honesty implicitly, but not ask them to watch the dog when we’re on vacation?

Answering those questions taught me about the people in my life (including myself) but it changed how I present the people in my books as well. First, some details about the psychology of trust, and then, how this informs your writing.

Trust is a Tree

Covey compares trust to a tree with four elements matching the roots, trunk, branches and leaves.

… more … “Character (Story Engineering and Physics #2 of 12)”

Concept (Story Engineering and Physics #1 of 12)

Part of a series of posts on story engineering based on the book of that title and its companion volume Story Physics.

Story Engineering & Story PhysicsIdea. Concept. Theme. Premise. Their meanings overlap.

English being a language of precision, we can speak and write with nuance.

We ought to learn writing with nuanced terminology as well.

These words all mean something different, and for the sake of this discussion, we’re going to adopt the storyfixer‘s dictionary.

… more … “Concept (Story Engineering and Physics #1 of 12)”

Where Do You Get Information and Inspiration?

catching up on our readingReading a couple of Dave Bricker‘s excellent posts and Tom Bentley‘s newsletter I realized I don’t have much of what they used to call a “blogroll” around here. Must attend to that.

Besides Dave’s and Tom’s, the three I drop everything to read the instant there’s something posted are Larry Brooks’ storyfix, Steve Pressfield, and Rosanne Bane’s Bane of Your Resistance which is one of the best blog titles on the web.

In the meantime, tell me: what blogs are on your “must read” list, your “drop everything” list, your “catch up when I have a few minutes” list?

Here’s How to Look Before You Leap into Your Book

Larry BrooksNo secret I’m a huge fan of Larry Brooks. If you’d like a huge jump start on your next novel, check out Larry’s Conceptual Kickstart Story Analysis. For fifty bucks you’ll get feedback from a master to ensure that your concept will result in the best possible book (as long as you execute the other 5 elements of story engineering and all 6 elements of story physics.

We’re moving everything we own into storage this weekend because the house we’re renting just sold, and we leave on Tuesday for a month-long business trip so ta-daa! it all has to get done now now now.

Posts here should continue as usual. They may, though, have a certain frantic or distracted tone.