Story Grid 101: The Five First Principles of the Story Grid MethodologyWritten by Shawn Coyne
Edited by Leslie Watts and Shelley Sperry
What are the first principles in writing a story that works?
At Story Grid, it’s easy to get distracted by the tools, spreadsheets, commandments, macro lense, micro lense, and on and on. However, all of this eventually comes back to five first principles.
In Story Grid 101, Story Grid founder Shawn Coyne distills 30 years of experience working with writers to build their stories into five principles:
- Stories are made up of distinct parts, or units.
- Stories are about change.
- The change that happens in stories concerns Universal Human Values, the things that most people would say are necessary to survive and thrive in the world—or alternatively, the things that keep us from surviving and thriving.
- Each unit of story has a Story Event, a one-sentence distillation of what’s happening and what value is changing.
- Within each story unit we find a pattern of change we call the Five Commandments of Storytelling.
Also inside of Story Grid 101, Shawn also introduces you to the fundamental tools:
- The Foolscap and Editor’s Six Core Questions
- The Spreadsheet
- The Infographic
- The Four Core Framework
- Story’s Boundaries
Story Grid 101 is for anyone new to Story Grid who needs a primer on how we approach our craft.
Shawn Coyne is a writer, editor, and publishing professional with over 30 years of experience. He has analyzed, acquired, edited, written, marketed, represented, or published 374 books with many dozens of bestsellers across all genres, and generated over $150,000,000 of revenue.
He graduated in 1986 with a degree in Biology from Harvard College, with a distinction of Magna Cum Laude for his thesis laboratory research work at the Charles A. Dana Laboratory of Toxicology at the Harvard School of Public Health. After Coyne left the laboratory, his findings were acknowledged and served as the inspiration for Mandana Sassanfar and Leona Samson’s Identification and Preliminary Characterization of an 06-Methylguanine DNA Repair Methyltransferase in the Yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae publication in the venerable The Journal of Biological Chemistry (Vol. 265, No. 1, Issue of January 5, pp. 20-25, 1990).
In 1991, early in his publishing career, Coyne began an independent investigation into the structure, function and organization of narrative, which he has since coined Simulation Synthesis Theory. His synoptic integration of Aristotle’s Poetics, Freytag’s The Technique of the Drama, Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, McKee’s Story, among many other story structure investigations with contemporary cognitive science, quantum information theory, cybernetics, evolutionary theory, behavioral psychology, Peircean and Jamesian pragmatism, Jungian depth psychology, Theologian and Philosopher Paul Tillich's conception of "ultimate concern," and fighter pilot John Boyd’s OODA loop serves as philosophical, scientific and spiritual foundations for his teaching.
In 2015, he created Story Grid Methodology to begin teaching and further developing Simulation Synthesis Theory. Since then he has given lectures on the origin of story, the integration of storytelling and science, and the necessity of telling complex stories to thousands of students all over the world.
In addition to The Story Grid and Mentoring the Machines, he’s authored, coauthored or ghost-written numerous bestselling nonfiction and fiction titles. His most recent lecture series, “Genre Blueprint” applies his Simulation Synthesis Theory to popular works such as The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Matrix by Lara and Lana Wachowski.
Leslie Watts is a certified Story Grid editor, writer, and podcaster. She’s been writing for as long as she can remember: from her sixth-grade magazine about cats to writing practice while drafting opinions for an appellate court judge.
When the dust settled after her children were born, she launched Writership.com to help writers unearth the treasure in their manuscripts. She believes writers become better storytellers through practice, and that editors owe a duty of care to help writers with specific and supportive guidance to meet reader expectations and express their unique gifts in the world.
SHELLEY SPERRY is a Story Grid Certified Editor, writer, and researcher based in Alexandria, Virginia. She used to work at National Geographic, so she thinks every book is better if it has a cool map, a dramatic landscape, or a lot of penguins. As a writer and researcher, Shelley works with nonprofit and business clients on environmental, labor, and education topics. As an editor, she specializes in nonfiction, helping authors tell true stories about the world. She agrees with Barbara Kingsolver, that “revision is where fine art begins.” You can find her online at SperryEditorial.com.