This last year I read the “Story Grid” by Shawn Coyne and it was invaluable in a few ways. I highly recommend any writer or aspiring writer to read it as well. It absolutely helped me feel more secure in my writing and more than anything, make my story telling more efficient and more effective. Here’s how:
In “The Story Grid,” Coyne lays out the effective pattern that all stories need in order to impress and entertain the reader. He makes the case that every story, no matter the writer or the genre, has essential elements that must be present. Have you ever read a story and then told yourself it “just didn’t work?” I sure have. Coyne’s book helps to sort out those issues that keep a story from working. I felt like I sort of had those things sorted out but it was fantastic to read about those elements from an accomplished editor. Besides, the grid helped me identify one obvious problem that kept my own story, “The Sureshot,” from being great. Problem identified, fixed and now I’m less likely to commit the same mistake in future.
Coyne broke down all levels and elements of story telling and how to be a master of them. The information is invaluable. He uses several stories as examples to help the reader understand effective story telling with “Silence of the Lambs” as the anchoring story throughout. He even broke the book down by chapter and element with the speaker in each and even the times author, Thomas Harris, used italics. It was all amazing information.
Since reading “The Story Grid,” I revised and rewrote “The Sureshot,” learned to use the foolscap outline for more effective story writing and to tweak some other things I do to improve my writing. Again, if you want to be a writer, I highly recommend this book. Get serious and check out the story grid.
He also has a website with great information:
As soon as people heard that I was a published writer (for whatever that’s worth) I had a number of people tell me they too had an idea for a story and wanted to be a writer. First of all, that makes me very happy. The human heart loves stories. Its how our ancestors learned about their culture, their religion, their world. Its how we continue to communicate and seek connection and meaning. But that’s for another post. Many of the people who were interested in being writers asked me for advice. Well, ten years later I think I have some decent things to share. For this post I’ll focus on the outlining.
I admit, when I was a teenager and began writing for the first time I hated outlining, editing, rewriting and the entire writing process. I regret it a bit as I’m confident I could have done much better early on if I had embraced the writing process, but alas, I was young. When I set about writing The Sureshot for the first time I did no outlining. I just started writing with absolutely no idea where I was going. This was obviously a huge mistake. With no real direction the story just sort of meandered about. Each sentence lead to another and each paragraph inspired the next but it was not planned. The result? I got stuck many times and then had to go back and rewrite. Eventually however, I figured out I needed a map that lead to the end of a logical story; an outline.
After that experience, as I set about to become an actual writer, I did plenty of reading and research on the proper steps for completing a story. Everything I read made it plain that an outline was key. Apparently there are several writers who outline a hundred pages or more before writing; essentially creating a near first draft. Others, write simple bullet outlines of their story creating a path for the essential elements. I’m one of the latter. I like to have a logical outline that leads me to the desired completion of the story but I don’t like to create too many details because, for me, those tend to develop once I’ve begun drafting. It works.
So, if you have a story in your heart that you want to tell, my first piece of advice is to outline it. How does your story start? What conflicts arise? How are they resolved? How does the story end? The outline is your map to complete the story, without it you will be writing blindly, like a ship with no compass floating aimlessly. You may finally arrive at the desired destination but by luck more than design. You will be a much more efficient writer using outlines as tools. I’ve come upon a fantastic resource that helped me take outlining to the next level where I can use it to evaluate my story, but I’ll write about that later. For now…outline.