The Story Grid is a graphical approach to editing that uses a comprehensive view of all the scenes in a story, with line graphs of changes in character arcs imposed over them. The grid is a tool developed by editor Shawn Coyne to identify problem points within stories. As I read it, The Story Grid broke into three acts.
In Act I, Coyne dedicates his book to the hard-working writers who are looking for ways to make their stories better. He describes how he went about building the story grid as an editing tool, and how it can be used to make existing WIPs better and how it can be used to help plan a story that hasn’t been written yet. At the end of Act I, I was very encouraged that the grid would be a tremendous aid in whipping my plots into shape.
That optimism didn’t last long once I started Act II. There are several inputs – questions you need to answer – before you can use the story grid to its fullest potential. In Act II, Coyne introduces concepts like Arch-plot, Mini-plot, Anti-plot, external content genre, internal content genre, obligatory scenes…well, you get the idea. Some of it is common sense, but a lot of it is complicated. Despair set in as I got deeper and deeper into Act II – I didn’t think I’d ever be able to get to a point where I’d actually be able to use the grid.
I had just about given up hope when I started Act III, where Coyne sets up a story grid using The Silence of the Lambs. Seeing the story grid in use gave me back all of the enthusiasm that I’d lost in Act II. Making a story grid is not a quick process (I’m thinking 2-3 weeks in a best-case scenario), but for visual thinkers and mathematically-minded writers and editors it can be a great way to strengthen plots.
If I had read The Story Grid a year ago, I don’t think I would have gotten nearly as much out of it – at that point in my writing life my mind wasn’t prepared for what Coyne had to say (and to be honest, that still might be the case for some of the material in Act II). Reading through Coyne’s analysis of the “A” and “B” stories from Silence of the Lambs also inspired a couple of new ideas that I can incorporate into my current WIP.