Mentoring Authors One Scene at a Time – Thriller/Military/Non-Fiction/SF/Fantasy
I’m still finishing analyzing Season 1 of the Hanna television series from Amazon Prime, however, since Treadstone just started (on the USA Network but also available for purchase on Apple TV), I wanted to analyze that show as well week to week. So, I’ll start having two posts a week, one for each show.
The Treadstone series description from Wikipedia
Treadstone explores “the origin story and present-day actions of a CIA black ops program known as Operation Treadstone—a covert program that uses behavior-modification protocol to turn recruits into nearly superhuman assassins. The first season follows sleeper agents across the globe as they’re mysteriously ‘awakened’ to resume their deadly missions.”
And here is the trailer on YouTube:
So, after reading the Wikipedia summary and seeing the trailer, as viewers, what are we expecting to see?
It looks like either an action or a thriller. What would separate the two? Well, they would both turn on life/ death scenes, and it looks like that will happen based on what we’ve just seen. Normally, in an action story, the hero/ protagonist doesn’t change internally. Take James Bond or Jack Reacher, they are the same tough guy in the beginning and the end of the movie/ book. They haven’t learned anything about themselves. They knew the world wasn’t a good place at the beginning and that they could make a difference, and in the end they feel the same way.
A Thriller will usually have a significant internal arc. Killing Eve is a good example. In the beginning, Villanelle is a cold blooded assassin and Eve is a not too savvy MI5 agent. By the end, after all the smoke cleared from the action scenes, both have changed. Villanelle hasn’t killed Eve, though she is obviously a threat to Villanelle’s way of life. And Eve has matured into a Covert Agent, making dangerous decisions and going against the instructions of her leaders.
Here are my initial expectations:
What will Treadstone turn out to be? It’s difficult to know right now, but it will depend a lot on the 6 core questions and, specifically, the obligatory scenes and conventions that the writers include.
Let’s hope the writers make it great!!
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 Treadstone, I imagine they will show various scenes from the POV of the sleeper agents and the bad guys.
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 overpowers or outwits the antagonist.
We don’t know who those are yet, but that’s a good guess.
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 couple months I’ll analyze the Treadstone series, one episode a week as they are released, and go over the 5 commandments for the episode as well as follow the obligatory scenes and conventions. at the end, I’ll write a summary to include the 6 editor questions and my comments on whether the story worked as a whole and if they could have made it better.
Overall, as an editor, this is the process I initially go through when I review a novel for an author.
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!