As most of you reading this know, I am a Certified Story Grid Editor. I love the Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid method. I use it for editing my client’s novels and for writing my own. I really get a lot out of the structure it gives my writing and the way I can identify the areas that are less exciting.
That being said, I’ve read a few books about writing, especially before my Story Grid days, and one of those books was Save the Cat Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need by Jessica Brody (Now referred to as STC for the rest of this post!).
First, let me address the elephant, or at least the large cat, in the room. Many writers claim either or both of these methods are formulaic, and that they write from their muse. That’s fine. However you write, planner or pantser or muser, that’s great that you are writing. But at the end of your first draft, you’ll undoubtably start to edit, and that’s when either or both or another method will help you to identify plot points and strengthen scenes. So I’m not here to debate how to best write your next great novel, I’m just happy you are writing. All I’m here to say is that if you want to try a self-editing method after your first draft, you could do worse than picking up one of these two books and reading what they have to say.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get on to how these two methods compare.
Developed by experienced editor Shawn Coyne, this method is a great way to analyze your scenes, chapters, acts, and whole story. The Story Grid goes deep into the scene level analysis, and I’m not going to do that here. If you are interested in that then check out my Story Grid Showrunners Podcast or one of my television series analysis or go to the source at the Story Grid website. In this post I will cover how Story Grid analyzes the overall story and the structure of the 3 acts in order to make a story that works.
First, the meat and potatoes of Story Grid is called the 5 Commandments:
The other item of importance in the Story Grid is the Global Value of the novel which depends on the core emotion the reader will elicit from reading the novel. In a Thriller or Action novel, the reader wants to be thrilled, wants to be in fear for the protagonist’s life and celebrating when the protagonist barely survives. The global value for Thriller and Action novels is Life and Death.
The Story Grid Method breaks down novels into 3 acts, called the Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff. Each one of these Acts needs to have a scene that fulfills one of the 5 Commandments where the scene turns on the life value of the Genre of the novel (As I mentioned, for a Thriller or Action novel, that would be life and death). So 3 acts and 5 commandments for each act equals 15 core scenes that make up the spine of the novel.
The Story Grid also estimates that the Beginning Hook (Act 1) will consist of about 25% of the novel, the Middle Build (Act 2) will be 50% of the novel, and the Ending Payoff will be the last 25% o the novel. These are estimations based on Shawn Coyne’s 25 years of editing thousands of novels. Does every book do this? No. But the majority of the books that work do. That’s all he’s saying.
Another part of the Story Grid is the inclusion of Obligatory Scenes and Conventions unique for each Genre type. All of these items are covered in free articles found on www.storygrid.com.
For the Thriller, the Obligatory Scenes and Conventions are as follows.
If you want to see all of the Obligatory Scenes and Conventions for the Thriller explained in detail, check out this post on storygrid.com.
That is a very brief summary of the Story Grid methodology – 3 acts and 5 commandments for each act resulting in the 15 core scenes of the novel’s spine that turn on the core value. Add to this the obligatory scenes and conventions of the genre. Do this and you will have a very good start to a story that works.
When I reread the STC book, I was amazed to notice a ton of similarities between the two methodologies.
STC also breaks a novel into 3 acts, however the estimated lengths of the acts are: Act 1 20%, Act 2 60%, Act 3 20%. So slightly different, but not by much.
Act one has 5 core scenes:
Act 2 has 7 parts
Act three has 3 parts (actually 7 because she sneaks in a 5 part finale):
As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between the two methods. I’m sorry for the hard core believers, but i believe they both have some merits and it couldn’t hurt to apply both to the massive problem of writing a novel.
The 15 core scenes of the Story Grid cross over into the 15 parts of the STC method. If you look hard enough, you can also see most of the obligatory scenes and conventions of the Story Grid in the STC method as well.
STC has some details that I like a lot, such as the theme stated and the opening/ final image. I look for that in the manuscripts I edit, and suggest to the author that it is a technique used by many successful authors and movies.
The Story Grid goes a step further by applying its 5 commandments to the individual scenes, which I find very useful when analyzing my clients’ work and helping them write better scenes and overall stories.
If you haven’t read one or either of these writing books, I would definitely recommend them. You can never learn too much about writing. Take what you can use and discard the rest.
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.
Category: 5 commandments, 6 core questions, Authors, Blog, Story Grid, WritersTags: 3 acts, 5 commandments, Cat, conventions, Jessica Brody, novel, obligatory scenes, pantser, planner, Save, save the cat, shawn coyne, writes
Hi, my name is Randy Surles and I edit Thrillers and Action novels. I specialize in Fantasy, Science Fiction, and anything with a military flavor to it.