Using the Story Grid to Analyze Amazon Prime’s ‘Jack Ryan’ Series – Introduction and 6 Core Questions

For the next couple months, I’ll analyze the Jack Ryan television series from Amazon Prime.

Here we have the 6 Core Questions every editor asks when he/she reviews a manuscript, they are the core of any great novel, the key parts that make or break the story.

Haven’t Heard of Jack Ryan?

The series description from Wikipedia: The series “follows the titular CIA analyst as he is wrenched from the security of his desk job into the field after discovering a string of dubious bank transfers, which are being carried out by a rising Islamic terrorist named Suleiman“.

What are the 6 Core Questions and Why Are They Important?

For the rest of this post, we’ll discuss the 6 Core Questions based on Shawn Coyne’s book The Story Grid.

According to Shawn Coyne, an editor with over 25 years of editing experience, after reading a novel one time, an editor should be able to answer these 6 Core Questions without “having any serious head scratches”. These questions will help an editor determine where any problems are in the manuscript.

Genre

Shawn Coyne describes Genre as “the most important decisions” an author needs to make. “Those choices will tell the reader what they are in for if they pick up the book”.

The six core questions are meant to be answered after reading the book, or in this case after watching the series. Just from my knowledge of the series, I’m assuming the series is either in the ‘Action’ or ‘Thriller’ Genre, and both these Genres have similar components. For arguments sake, I’m going to assume that the Genre for the Jack Ryan series is the Action Genre. At the end of the series, we’ll revisit the 6 core questions and answer them accurately, but in order to progress through the rest of the questions we need to assume a Genre.

External Genre: Action (Sub-Genre to be determined)

External Value at stake: Life to Unconciousness to Death to Fate Worse than Death (Damnation)

Internal Genre: To be determined

Internal Value at Stake: To be determined

Obligatory Scenes and Conventions

These are the scenes in the story that will ultimately make it work, the scenes that the reader expects because of the Genre. As we go through the series, I’ll identify these scenes in the posts.

The Obligatory Scenes for an Action Genre Novel are:

  • An inciting Attack by the villain
  • the hero sidesteps responsibility to take action
  • forced to leave ordinary world, hero lashes out
  • discovering and understanding the antagonist’s MacGuffin (Villain’s object of desire)
  • hero’s initial strategy against villain fails
  • realizing they must change their approach to salvage some form o victory, hero reaches an All Is Lost moment
  • The hero at the mercy of the villain: the central event of the Action Story, what the reader is waiting for. The her’s gift is expressed in this scene
  • The her’s sacrifice is rewarded

The Conventions for an Action Genre Novel are:

  • Hero, Victim, Villain: these three roles must be clearly defined throughout the story. The protagonist must be a hero.
  • the hero’s object of desire is to stop the villain and save the victim
  • the power divide between the hero and the villain is very large. The villain is far more powerful than the hero.
  • speech in praise of the villain
  • other sub-genre specific conventions

Point of View

Here you list all the points of view within the novel. For a television series, and even a movie, it’s a little more difficult, because in a novel you will usually only have a few different points of view. On television, you may have scenes from many points of view that are not in a novel the show was adapted from, and this is necessary in order to show things more clearly since you can’t easily get into the head of the characters like you can in a novel.

For the Jack Ryan series, I imagine that most of the scenes will be done from the titular character’s POV, Jack Ryan. By that I mean, Jack Ryan will be in most of the scenes and the audience is seeing the plot unfold at the same time as the protagonist. there might be some other POVs from secondary characters. As I mentioned, we’ll revisit the 6 Core Questions after I analyze the whole series.

Objects of Desire

What are the protagonist and antagonist’s objects of desires? What do they want? What do they need? Once the series is finished, it should be very obvious. For action and thriller genres, the want of the protagonist is usually to survive, to live – especially wince the External Value at Stake is life and death. The Internal Value at Stake will usually lead to what the protagonist needs, and I don’t know that right now. The antagonist usually wants to kill the protagonist in some way, but we’ll see how this plot develops.

Controlling Idea/ Theme

Shawn Coyne describes the controlling idea as “the takeaway message the writer wants the reader/ viewer to discover from reading or watching his story”.

For this series, I imagine the controlling idea will be something like this:

Life is preserved when the protagonist (Jack Ryan) overpowers or outwits the antagonist.

The Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and the Ending Payoff

Shawn Coyne explains the math of most novels as broken into 3 parts or acts, the beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and the Ending Payoff. Generally, the Beginning Hook consists of about 25% of the novel, the Middle Build 50%, and the Ending Payoff about 25%.

Each one of these acts should have 5 commandments:

  • an inciting incident
  • a progressive complication
  • a crisis
  • a climax
  • a resolution

These 15 scenes (5 commandments for each act) make up the spine of the novel. The sixth question involves identifying these 15 scenes in the novel (or series) and creating a short description of each act. We’ll track these through the weeks and at the end, when we revisit the 6 Core Questions, we will summarize these 15 scenes.

In Summary

So over the next 8 weeks, I’ll analyze each episode of the jack Ryan series using the 5 commandments. Along the way, I’ll identify the obligatory scenes and the conventions for the Action Genre. And at the end, I’ll summarize the 6 core questions and explain why the series did or didn’t work.

Overall, as an editor, this is the process I initially go through when I review a novel for an author. I follow this up with specific scene analysis.

If you want to hire me to edit your manuscript, contact me.

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