Where did The Story Grid come from?
It began as a way to achieve a big personal ambition—how to become a successful book editor. But it evolved to solve a much bigger universal problem—the fact that there is no comprehensive methodology to teach Story Editing.
The Story Grid explains exactly what good editors know, what they do with that knowledge and how you can teach yourself their indispensable craft.
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Shawn Coyne: Back in the 1990s when I started in book publishing, there was no textbook to teach you how to edit a book. Here I was a twenty-something young guy, very ambitious, trying to move up the ladder of book publishing, and there was no resource I could reach out to and just absorb into my being. So what that stuck me with was learning how to edit books myself. Through the help of a lot of mentors over the years, I also needed to find out about the fundamentals of storytelling and genre and all sorts of stuff, so what I did was I read. It took me about twenty-five years and I’ve boiled it all down to about a hundred-thousand-word manuscript. Now I’m going to do it in video.
The Story Grid came about as a way to edit a book—to teach somebody, a writer, what is specifically wrong with their novel and how to fix it. When I was working on The Story Grid itself for years, I would hide it. I didn’t really want the writers to know exactly what I was talking about, so I’d translate the methodology of The Story Grid into very easily doable tasks to specific writers. And then one year when I was working on a book with Steven Pressfield called Gates of Fire, I offhandedly said, “That’s great, I’ll just throw the grid on it.” And he said, “What’s the grid?”
Steven Pressfield: I remember the first time Shawn mentioned the words. Shawn said, “I’m going to put the grid on it.” I had delivered a manuscript to him and I had two reactions to it. The first one was that I was completely terrified because I thought The Grid was this magical thing that was going to expose all the weaknesses and Shawn was going to be sending me back to square one for a page one rewrite. So I was terrified on one hand, but on the other hand, I thought to myself, How lucky am I that I have an editor who has a system, who has evolved some kind of a system, that’s really going to work. So he may send me back for a page one rewrite, and it may make me work like hell, but the bottom line is that in the end the thing is going to come out the best it can possibly be.
But the thing these days is that if you’re self-publishing, or if you’re indie publishing, or even if you have a real publisher—a mainstream publisher and you are assigned an editor—usually the editor is so busy with marketing and internal politics and acquisition of new material that you don’t really get an editor who is going to take the time. Nowadays you as a writer, you have to deliver publication-ready material. It’s got to be working. So you’ve got to be your own editor these days. So that’s why this book is so important. The Story Grid is so important for writers because there’s no other place you can learn this. You know they don’t teach you this at Harvard. They don’t teach you at Random House. You can’t find a book about this in the writing section of Barnes & Noble. Even if you don’t absorb 100% of this, all the technical stuff, at least you get the concept of how an editor thinks and how you have to think as a writer about your own material.
Shawn Coyne: So I ended up explaining it to Steve years and years ago, and Steve said to me, “You know, this is really important. This is the kind of document every writer is going to want to have.” Because the biggest problem he faced as a writer was after he had a finished draft, how was he going to take it to the next level? How was he going to make it better? In fact, how was he going to be able to edit himself before he actually found an editor at a publishing house to help him out? So over the past fifteen years, I’ve been working on this document and at last it’s ready to go. I think it’s in very good shape. So The Story Grid is a methodology to teach writers how to edit themselves.
Over the next few videos, I’ll be teaching how to create your own Story Grids. But before we can do that, we really need to figure out what kind of story do we really have here? And the way we’re going to figure that out is by reviewing the concept of genre. And in the next video, I will go through my entire belief system in genre, which is called The Five-Leaf Genre Clover.