How I Write A Story Using The Story Grid
I've have been trying to write fiction all my life. What I discovered in 2018 changed my writing life. I've been a Pantser my entire life until I discovered The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. Once I learned about the value of knowing how stories are put together under-the-hood it made figuring out these kinds of writing questions much, much easier.
I begin by figuring out what my Content genre is, the kind of story it is under-the-hood. (This is different than Marketing genre, where you find books on store shelves.) We've all seen many movies and probably read many books. We have an idea of what to expect in broad terms for each kind of story. I learned you can get a real leg up if you figure out your genre as soon in the process as you can. That's where the Content genres come in.
For example, I'm writing a Fantasy / Noir about an 8' blue clay golem who is thrown into investigating a high profile missing-persons case and eventually fights the evil Archmage for the safety of the people. Under-the-hood, it's a Thriller, and I looked up the conventions and obligatory scenes.
Conventions are elements in the Story that must be there or the reader will be confused, unsettled, or bored. Without them, your story won’t work. Conventions, unlike obligatory scenes, are specific requirements for a story’s characters or methods of advancing the plot. They can be turning points and implemented in any order.
Obligatory scenes as “must-have scenes for paying off readers’ expectations are set up by the conventions of the genre.” If you leave out an obligatory scene, you’ll have a story that doesn’t work.
Once I realized I had the conventions and obligatory scenes for a Thriller, I realized the Inciting Incident should be a crime, so I knocked off the mage who brought my golem to life. From there, I made sure I had a MacGuffin, a scene in praise of the villain, red herrings, a false ending, a scene of the hero at the mercy of the villain, and a climax where my hero lost his magical power and had to defeat the Archmage using his wits and his special gift.
You can do this with any genre. Let's say I wanted to write an Action story. This is how I'd find the conventions and obligatory scenes for that. (You can Google 'story grid action' and you'll find the genre. That's how I find these links.)
The Conventions for an Action story are:
The protagonist’s role as a hero must be clearly defined throughout the story. Their object of desire is to stop the villain and save the victim.
The victim’s role must be clearly defined throughout the story. The victim requires the hero to save them from the villain. The victim is much less powerful than the hero or the villain.
The antagonist’s role as the villain must be clearly defined throughout the story. The villain is much more powerful than the hero and the victim. The villain uses their resources to stop the protagonist and harm the victim.
There is a speech in praise of the villain. At some point, a character must point out how the antagonist appears unbeatable.
The plot is fast-paced, with action and excitement throughout the story. Characters are put in extreme situations and forced to take risks.
There is a clock which establishes a limited time in which the protagonist must act to save the victim.
The Obligatory Scenes of the Action Genre are:
The Inciting Incident is a life-threatening attack by the antagonist or environment. The attack can be causal or coincidental.
Following the inciting attack, the protagonist avoids the responsibility to take action against the antagonist.
Forced to take action (after avoiding responsibility to do so), the protagonist acts out.
The protagonist discovers or gains an understanding of the antagonist’s want (also referred to as an object of desire or a MacGuffin). Alternatively, (when the antagonist is a monster, animal, or environment), the protagonist gains an understanding of the antagonist’s nature or purpose.
Having decided to act, the protagonist’s initial strategy to overcome or defeat the antagonist fails.
The protagonist gains an unexpected ally.
The protagonist reaches an all-is-lost moment and realizes they must change their approach to overcoming or defeating the antagonist to salvage some form of victory.
The climactic and central event of the Action story is where the protagonist is at the mercy of the antagonist, and the protagonist must express their gift to save the victim (and usually themself as well).
In the ending pay-off of the story, the protagonist is rewarded for their sacrifice to save the victim.
And so on for the other genres. There are pages which show how to write Crime, Horror, Romance, Worldview, and a host of others.
To recap, what I do is find out what genre I'm writing in, I look up the Conventions and Obligatory Scenes for that genre, and that gives me a bunch of things to hang a story on.
There are a series of five short free videos here which give you a quick overview of how all this works.
To wrap all this up, after nineteen failed beginnings, this is what I ended up with:
"I wasn’t always a golem, and I haven’t always been a detective, but you have to start somewhere."
I hope this helps.