Unpacking EYEWITNESS Using The Story Grid Toolbox

Johne

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I've written about the Story Grid before. This is the teaching I found that transformed me from a Pantser to a Plantser with a deep appreciation for story structure. I"ll add to this original post as they unveil future episodes in this short series. In this series, four of my friends use Story Grid tools to unpack the short story EYEWITNESS by Ed McBain: editor and author of the Story Grid Shawn Coyne, SG Publisher Leslie Watts, Creative Academic Officer Danielle Kiowski (my friend and my Fantasy editor), and SG CEO and executive guinea pig Tim Grahl.

  • The first episode is The Genre Five Leaf Clover: The In-depth Process for Understanding Genre in Your Story. It's helpful to know the content genre of our stories so we can look at the protagonist's Global Life Value shift and how that plays out in the Conventions and Obligatory Moments. (When I say this is helpful, I mean it. I wrote the first draft of The Blue Golem in 2014 for NaNoWriMo, and it was an ambitious mess. I'd gotten all the way to the climax and then stalled. I'd envisioned this grand fight scene with armies clashing on an open field, but it felt really wrong, and I couldn't write it. I spent four years with indecision before I found the Story Grid and discovered I was trying to write an Epic Action climax for what is, at its heart, a Thriller story. That'd be like putting ice cream on pizza–both are delicious, but they just don't mix well. I realized one of the essential components to most Thrillers is the 'Hero At the Mercy Of The Villain' scene, and I had one that occurred right before the big battle scene that wasn't working, so I could the stuff that wasn't working and expanded what I did have, it worked so easily and so well that I began to kick myself for wasting all that time. I'd been a lifelong discovery writer up to that moment, but instead of fighting the idea of story structure, I gave myself over to it, and it changed my writing life. I went from writing sporadically (when the Muse visited) to working on my novels every day in one way or another. Since 2018, I've written 12 drafts of my main novel (and am doing a final edit before sending it to Beta readers) and have edited half of a sprawling swashbuckling/steampunk/space opera trilogy (that I hope to publish as a boxed set in one swell foop next year). So this stuff works.
  • EP 2 is called What If? - Crafting the Pitch for Your Story, and I was fascinated by how they determined who the Protagonist is for the Ed McBain story that is the basis for this series.
  • EP 3 is Narrative Device: 3 Questions to Nail the Point of View of your Writing. In it, Leslie Watts gives what I think is a brilliant overview of what she describes as 'story as communication.' A story is a signal of the Controlling Idea of the story (the message the writer wants to share with their audience), and we deliver that through the Proposition of Possibility, which creates the problem space for the story. She talks about how the Narrative Device is how the author delivers the story to the reader. It's important to understand the problem you want to solve, and that helps us pick what scenes, what tropes, what beats sentences and words we include in the story. This helps us decide what's relevant. In the first episode, we saw how vital it is to know our genre, but if all genre stories were alike, that would be really boring. In my notes, Narrative Device is ‘a situation you invent that helps you tell the story.’ The Narrative Device is a tool the author uses to determine which scenes belong, and which beats to use to build them. When looking at the global story, the Narrative Device is a scenario or a situation, where someone is telling a story to someone else at a certain time and place, and for a particular reason.
  • EP 4 is called What happened in your story? (Part 1). There are four story analysis questions you must answer for every scene in your story:
    1. What are the Avatars literally doing?
    2. What are the essential tactics of the Avatars?
    3. What universal human value has changed for one or more Avatars in the scene?

    4. What Story Event sums up the scene’s global value change?
    In this episode we make it through the first three! Next week is a whole episode on the fourth question.
  • EP 5: What happened in your story? (Part 2)
    Listen as Shawn Coyne, Tim Grahl, Leslie Watts, and Danielle Kiowski work through the 624 analysis for the the short story EYE WITNESS by Ed McBain: https://www.amazon.com/McBain-Brief-Ed-ebook/dp/B01KFBQEY4/
    There are four story analysis questions you must answer for every scene in your story:
    1. What are the Avatars literally doing?
    2. What are the essential tactics of the Avatars?
    3. What universal human value has changed for one or more Avatars in the scene?
    4. What Story Event sums up the scene’s global value change?
  • EP 6: Five Commandments of Storytelling - Part 1. In this first of a three part episode series, we cover the Five Commandments of Storytelling: - Inciting Incident
    - Turning Point Progressive Complication
    - Crisis
    - Climax
    - Resolution
  • EP 7: Five Commandments of Storytelling - Part 2.
  • EP 8: Five Commandments of Storytelling - Part 3.
  • EP 9: 624 Overview + Tropes and Beats Introduction.
 
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M. D. Boncher

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Dec 9, 2021
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The story grid is an essential tool for an author to understand the base concepts. I can't recommend it highly enough. The fun part for me was learning the more "science-y" way of looking at a lot of things I did by instinct thanks to decades of running Role Playing games for 30 years. I've got it in the back of my hand with every chapter I write, and every scene, but I don't do the steps "physically" religiously. I use them to confirm whether or not I've been keeping them in mind while I create. So far, it's been working great for me. If you can find the podcasts. They are some fantastic dissections and discussions especially to watch Tim Grahl's journey into the book he finally ends up with. It's pretty amazing really.
 

Johne

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Added EP. 5 to the series (see the original post, above).
 

Johne

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Added EP 7 to the series (see the OP above).
 

Johne

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Added EP 8 to the series (see the OP above).
 

Johne

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For EP 9, they wrapped up the initial 624 analysis of Ed McBain's short story EYE WITNESS. In this episode, Leslie does a quick review of the 624, and then Danielle does an introduction for Tropes and Shawn follows up by introducing Beats. They put up the full 624 analysis for this story for people to reference:
 

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