Foolscap / Story Grid

ColGray

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Anyone use the Foolscap method for plotting a book? I recently read the Story Grid and found it completely overhauled A) how I thought about genre and b) how I approached editing. (I'm not affiliated in any way with them) I have not done any of their seminars or other stuff -- and find some of the scene level discussions to be... meh? It feels very thriller-genre specific, and maybe even specific to a different time in publishing? But the breakout of internal/external plot, genre tropes, expectations and thinking of inciting incidents, stakes and payoffs has been very helpful when editing.

As I'm gearing up to write something in a totally new setting, I'm trying the Foolscap method for planning. I'm wondering if others have done that and found it useful/limiting/controlling/incredible/???

(Full disclosure, I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer who uses improv rules: nothing exists until it's on the page, but once it's on the page, it exists and goes in my notes document)
 

HareBrain

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I'd never heard of it before. I Googled it quickly but the gist of it seemed to be "condense until you can fit it on one side of foolscap". Is there much more to it? And you mentioned in a recent post finding it "stifled" you. Were there specific issues you found with it?
 

ColGray

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It's a structured way to break down the story where you explicitly determine the critical bits for the story BEFORE you write anything. Steve Pressfield talks about it at length (
). It's a way to give you guideposts for beginning hook, middle build and payoff where you know, inside a 3 act structure, what the main points are. It also gives you a target to hit -- e.g. I know I'm ending THERE so whatever I write needs to aim towards that goal.

From an editing standpoint, i think it's incredibly helpful. I did it on a complete novel and it helped me determine what was, and wasn't, working to support the plot.

From a writing standpoint, I've found it stifling because not knowing the ending and kind of... finding it on the page is just how my brain works. I wrote my first full novel over about 2 years. I knew, roughly, where it ended from a character development perspective and had a couple of ideas of where it could end plot wise but not having a precise target let me find mini plots and develop things as I found them. I did the same thing with a stand-alone in the same world and the direct sequel and it worked very well.

As I've sat down to write something total separate, I tried plotting it out with Foolscap and... I have a roadmap and plot points and things to hit and BLANK PAGES. Knowing where I'm supposed to go has kind of killed the ability to invent and write and it's throwing me for a loop.
 

ColGray

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I'll add that Story Grid is even more planned out. One of the things I really liked from the book was the mantra of "genre isn't a dirty word". Genre is how your audience knows what to expect. The author of the book is a life long editor who ran the thriller imprints at a bunch of Big 5 and his take is basically, If you tell me you're writing a thriller and you fail to have obligatory scenes that the audience of a thriller expects, your story doesn't work.

TLDR, his breakout is External/Internal genre, External/Internal stakes, Obligatory scenes, Controlling Idea and then the breakout by section-- Beginning Hook, Middle Build, Ending Payoff. Each section then has an Inciting Incident, Complication, Crisis, Climax, Resolution.

Like i said, I found this incredibly helpful when editing -- Does this scene/chapter support one of those sections? Does it support the stakes? Could it do that better?

It is killing my on-page creativity, though.
 

Wayne Mack

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I think one needs to be realistic about personal goals when writing. If one wants to be a professional writer who regularly churns out screen plays or a novel a year, then a formulistic approach is probably advisable. I write for my own pleasure. While it is a nice dream to have something I've written get published, failure has no dire consequences.

I am simply not a plot first writer. Even taking a single sheet of paper writing out a beginning, middle, and end is beyond me. Maybe I could do it, if I had to, but I don't really want to. What seems to work best for me is to identify a protagonist and start writing. I will then usually focus and throwing a major problem at the character. Later, I will identify an antagonist. At that point, I have the pieces needed to get a vague feel for the conclusion. I've also done a fair bit of writing at this point, so the interesting part is driving the story to the conclusion while being consistent with the constraints that I have already written.

If laying out the plot first works for someone, I say go for it. If it doesn't resonate, do whatever seems to work best. There is no one true way.
 

HareBrain

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Genre is how your audience knows what to expect. The author of the book is a life long editor who ran the thriller imprints at a bunch of Big 5 and his take is basically, If you tell me you're writing a thriller and you fail to have obligatory scenes that the audience of a thriller expects, your story doesn't work.
This idea of "the story doesn't work unless it follows a set of rules I have arrived at" sounds incredibly restrictive, and also self-fulfilling: gatekeepers will let through content that's structured in ways they feel comfortable with, and audiences will be trained to identify these structures as "correct". My instinct is that this will result in stories that feel satisfying at the time, because we are pattern-recognising creatures, but they won't stick in the memory.

Save the Cat is much the same. It even goes so far as to say (I can't recall exactly, but something like) "on p78 (of the screenplay) the movie's theme should be stated outright".
 

ColGray

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Lol, yeah, i remember reading something years ago for screen writing that described the main character as, Guy Who Needs Something.

I may be describing this poorly, so, grain of salt. It's not so much that you MUST do A, B and C, but rather, understanding that the audience has expectations. If you write scifi and it's vanilla today, that audience is going to say, This isn't scifi.

If you have a thriller and there's not an antagonist who's more powerful than the protagonist... it doesn't work. Or, If you have a thriller and there's no confrontation, it doesn't work. It's basically saying, If you write in a genre, there are certain audience expectations around what they will read, and if you don't deliver on them then the story doesn't work. The challenge isn't in foregoing expected scenes; it's in delivering those expected scenes in an inventive way.

FWIW, he uses Silence of the Lambs as the full examplar map. It clicks.

All this is to say, I feel like I'm defending something that isn't working for me and it's because I want it to work for me. I feel like it would save me weeks of editing and re-writes if I could write with specific beats in mind, rather than going back and adjusting to add/remove/move those beats. I'm wondering if anyone has used the methodology successfully and there's a mental switch or something to get it to click.
 

HareBrain

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I'm wondering if anyone has used the methodology successfully and there's a mental switch or something to get it to click.
I wish I could help, but I can't seem to get story structure theory to stick in my head. I *think* I have a decent working knowledge of what works, but it's on a "know it when I see it" basis.

But I think this is also true of most readers. With a couple of my stories, I became convinced that they did have significant identifiable structural flaws. It worried me a lot, and I asked everyone who read them whether they agreed. Not one person did. But I suspect (admittedly without real evidence) that someone trained in structure would have seen them. I think it's mostly professionals who notice such things, rather than readers who are swept along by a narrative. This doesn't really help, because you it's professionals you need to get interested in your story. But it might be worth thinking about these more detailed "rules" as not inherent features of good storytelling, but industry codes of practice. It's not a failure of storytelling not to be able to instinctively adhere to them. Maybe.
 

ColGray

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Good thoughts.

Speaking of pro's, I really love Comedy Bang Bang and listen to the Scott (Aukerman) Hasn't Seen companion podcast where he's watching famous movies he hasn't seen (it's a real basic premise! :sneaky: ) . It's really interesting to hear someone who has a lifetime of comedy and story writing break down a movie's plot and structure and highlight that does/doesn't work. The points he identifies right out of the gate are often times like, Oh that's why I bumped on that.

It's a different mindset and maybe it's just about spending enough time/working with it long enough.
 

Brian G Turner

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TLDR, his breakout is External/Internal genre, External/Internal stakes, Obligatory scenes, Controlling Idea and then the breakout by section-- Beginning Hook, Middle Build, Ending Payoff. Each section then has an Inciting Incident, Complication, Crisis, Climax, Resolution.
Sounds very similar to Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, a book I regularly recommend here. Basically, a focus on structure, key plot points, and character internal conflict.
 

ColGray

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Yep, absolutely similar but more focused on novels than screen writing (STC does novels, too, but the initial focus is clearly screen writing)

It's interesting to me that none of these tools do much of anything with a multi-pov style. They all seem deeply focused on the single narrator/pov style or, at most, Single POV with 80% of the narrative and then the remaining 20% split between others. Something like Game of Thrones (many characters with 10-15% of the narrative POV) or the Expanse (3 characters with 75% of the narrative POV and others filling up the remaining 25%) or a lot of Sanderson (POV time split between 3 characters) seems to defy the structure and form of these tools.
 

HareBrain

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It's interesting to me that none of these tools do much of anything with a multi-pov style. They all seem deeply focused on the single narrator/pov style or, at most, Single POV with 80% of the narrative and then the remaining 20% split between others. Something like Game of Thrones (many characters with 10-15% of the narrative POV) or the Expanse (3 characters with 75% of the narrative POV and others filling up the remaining 25%) or a lot of Sanderson (POV time split between 3 characters) seems to defy the structure and form of these tools.
I think that's partly because writing guides make their money from sounding authoritative, and you can't put together an authoritative-seeming set of guidelines to account for the number of variables you get in large multi-POV novels.

But also, beginners, at whom those guides are largely based, would be wise to start with something less complex anyway.
 

ColGray

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That's very true.

Also, i am that dumbass that went hard multi-pov with my first novel, so, yep, right here.

Uphill! In the snow! Both ways!
 

HareBrain

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I avoided that temptation, but probably only because I didn't think of it. I did, though, aim for a trilogy. If I'd finished it, it would (I think) be the longest single-POV third person narrative I know of. Woot.

Thing is, though, why wouldn't you aim for something that excites you? Why would you put in the hundreds of hours of work on something that doesn't, just because it's "wiser"?
 

ColGray

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100%! If i'm not enjoying the thing i'm writing, hey, turns out, I'll stop writing it! I know! I've seen me do it!

Totally off thread, but i think multi-POV is both more challenging and more freeing. Having now written both single and multi, there are narrative tricks i can do with multi that are basically impossible with a single pov. Single POV relies more on ignorance (of both the reader and POV character) to build tension. Multi POV can build tension by highlighting knowledge disparity with the reader knowing/suspecting something a character doesn't know. I also realized it is basically how every TV and movie is shot: our modern narrative expectation is multiple POV's.
 

HareBrain

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i think multi-POV is both more challenging and more freeing.
True, though you could also say the same about single -- it's more challenging to generate the tension and get across information, as you say, but more freeing in that you don't have to consider when to swap the POVs or how often, which can be a headache.

There's also another factor. I wrote two volumes of my aforementioned never-likely-to-be-finished trilogy, so about 250k words, and reading it back recently I found that despite the difficulties, its single POV promoted greater immersion in the main character than I think you tend to get with multi. POV changes are one of the most obvious examples of narrative decision-making, or authorial intrusion -- so without them, the author tends to fade more into the background and the story perhaps seems more real rather than a work of craft. And not quite in the same way as first-person, because that has a different feel.

Having said that, I think the advantages of multi are often extensive, and you're right that we're trained to expect it.
 

ColGray

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That's a really good call out and i agree. Part of why i think Kingkiller and SunEater have both landed so well is their use of the 1st person, single person POV. The reader can really get inside the mind and person of Kvothe or Marlowe and it is a cool place to inhabit.

And you're right on the challenge as the author with single POV -- building tension that way IS hard. I wonder if its mindset/comfort level, though? Having stared with multi-pov, did i find single pov tension building harder because i was used to being able to jump? If i'd done it in the reverse order, would i have found multi-pov harder for tension building? I dunno. Intersting to think about, though.
 

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