“The Story Grid”, Shawn Coyne #takeawaykeys

What your characters say they are is NOT who they are…
What they do is the key. Shawn Coyne

1. Think in 5 principles, the bricks for any successful story:


2. Learn your genre – there’s a great collection (with examples) of differences between each genre. I can’t mention them all (only some), but read further or go, grab the book!

3. Your hero.

If your story doesn’t change your lead character irrevocably from beginning to end, no one will deeply care about it. It may entertain them, but it will have little effect on them. It will be forgotten. 

People want see heroes that take on the myriad of challenges to change their lives and somehow make it through… Give them THAT!

4. Every story has:

  • Hook
  • Middle Build
  • Ending Payoff

5. There’re different kinds of plots: ARCH, MINI and ANTI. 

Arch-plot: all action stories and detective murder mysteries. Lead character (often multiple protagonists) face off with their inner demons, battles people and the natural world around him on his quest for an external object of desire.

Mini-plot: the literary story culture. Lead character passively move through the world avoiding external confrontation at all costs. These heroes are passive, not active. Inside, however, they are in a fight for their lives. It is also has an “open” ending. There is no happily ever after or life sentence of misery at the end of a Mini-plot. Questions remain unanswered. It’s open to interpretation by the reader/or audience.

Anti-plot: the rebellion against Story itself. Anti-plot breaks all of the rules.

  • There is no requirement that there be a consistent reality.
  • There is no requirement of causality.
  • There is no requirement to adhere to any time constraints.
  • The protagonist(s) at the end of the Story are the same as they were at the beginning.

The characters neither defeat nor surrender to external or internal antagonistic forces. They just remain as they ever were, like plants with voices. Anti-plot gave birth to the Absurd, Existentialism, The Beats, Meta-Fiction and so on. 


Attention! There is a reason why many short story writers never write the single Big Novel that becomes their masterwork. It’s because their entire body of work and the core themes they are exploring require precision and tight spaces. To expand a perfectly executed short Story into a novel just won’t work. So they don’t try to do that.

6. The Hero’s Journey in the book – a protagonist go on a mission at the beginning and by Story’s end, after overcoming or NOT overcoming forces of antagonism (inner, personal or extra-personal conflicts), he is irrevocably changed. That’s it.

7. Each story has 2 lines:

  • Storyline A is the external Story to achieve the conscious object of desire. 
  • Storyline B is the internal Story to achieve the subconscious object of desire.

8. Conflicts:

Inner conflict is the Hamlet-esque inside-our-head dithering that we all do whenever faced with a difficult task.

Personal conflict is provided by an antagonist character in the Story. And there MUST be a living and breathing character or characters intent on keeping our hero from reaching his goal!

Extra-personal conflict is the threat of being ostracized by society.

9. The story won’t work:

No matter what Story you are writing – a sci-fi love Story, a master detective mystery, a fantastical allegory etc – you must have compelling objects of desire for your lead protagonist. If the protagonist doesn’t want anything or doesn’t need anything, you don’t have a Story. The book won’t work.

  • What does my character want? 
  • What does my character need?

10. Any action story:

The core value at stake in an action Story is life/death. The core emotion is excitement and the most important event in the book is “the hero at the mercy of the villain” scene. 

Example of crime (subgenre):
Murder Mystery: The murder mystery is the most obvious Subgenre of crime. The Inciting Incident is the discovery of a dead body. For the most part, the end of the Story is the revelation of the murderer. Conventions of the Murder Mystery include false clues (‘red herrings’), a crafty killer who has constructed the perfect crime, lots of interviews, lots of secrets, and an intrepid investigator, usually underestimated, who proves more capable than the villain.

11. HOOK

If you have a weak HOOk at the beginning of the story, no matter the genre, there’s little that can be done editorially to make your story work. Unless you start over…

12. The character must “arc”.

What that means is that the lead character in a story can not remain the same person he/she was at the end of the novel as they were at the beginning. 

13. Advices:

Don’t write scenes that don’t go anywhere. They all must have Inciting Incidents (hero caught by villain), progressive complications (tied to a wall…), crisis (do I try and buy some time or do I break my thumb and try and free myself? Best Bad Choice), climax (breaks thumb), resolution (hero tricks villain, kills him or escapes). The scene moves from death to life. It works. 

If you get stuck and you have no idea where your story went off tracks, chances are you are either missing or over delivering (too many supporting scenes) sequences in the Story. Edit again!

Ray’s rate: In general, the book is worth checking, especially for beginners. For more info visit: Story Grid 101

And happy bloody writing!

See you next week! 💃☕️📚


Next post – “The Pearl Territory”, short reminder (ch 1-9)


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