For the next couple months, I’ll analyze Season 1 of the Hanna 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.
“Hanna is a 15-year-old girl living with Erik, the only man she has ever known, as her father, in a remote part of a forest in Poland. Erik once recruited pregnant women into a CIA program … where the children [were used] to create super-soldiers. When Erik falls in love with Johanna, Hanna’s mother, he rescues baby Hanna and they flee. The CIA then orders their on-site agent, Marissa, to shut down the project and eliminate all the babies. After 15 years hiding in the forest in Poland, Erik and Hanna come to the attention of Marissa, who vows to hunt them down.”
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.
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 Hanna series is the Action Genre. At the end of the series, I’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
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.
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 Hanna series, I imagine that most of the scenes will be done from the titular character’s POV, Hanna. By that I mean, Hanna 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.
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 since 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.
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 (Hanna) overpowers or outwits the antagonist.
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:
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.
So over the next 8 weeks, I’ll analyze each episode of the Hanna 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 see more applications of the Story Grid methodology, below are links to my analysis of various novels and television shows in blog posts and podcasts:
Story Grid Showrunners Podcast – Parul, Melanie, and I analyze hit TV series using the Story Grid methodology.
My blog posts analyzing other Television series – my person take using the Story grid 5 Commandments to look at my favorite TV series – Jack Ryan, Batgirl, For All Mankind, Hanna, and more.
Novel analysis – I analyze some of my favorite books using the Story Grid 5 Commandments and 6 core questions – First Blood, Old Man’s War, Waylander, and more to come!
If you want to learn more about writing a story using the Story Grid methodology, go to the Story Grid Webpage to find free videos and articles on how to implement the methodology.
These articles contain information about the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. They also give details on obligatory scenes and conventions for specific genres, such as the thriller, love story, war story, crime story, and more.
For an example of how these techniques are used, read Jane Austin’s The Pride and the Prejudice with annotations by Shawn Coyne.