It's always hard to contain my excitement when I'm recommending books I love. But, I can't type while also jumping up and down on my desk, so I'm gonna try and stay calm ... Just know that I might get a little sweaty, and my voice might get a little loud.
But it's worth it. Because you have to hear about this amazing resource.
Before the recommendation, though, let me tell you why it was such an immediate hit with me.
If you've hung out on this blog for a while, you know I've been writing fiction for nearly ten years. I'm up to six novels--three standalones and a trilogy. (Woo hoo!)
I've learned enough about the craft that I know these stories of mine have potential. I know that the plots are good, the characters are pretty rad, and there are some great scenes.
I also know that ultimately, they don't work.
It isn't false modesty. It isn't that I'm holding back. I just know that they're not worth publishing yet.
There's something broken in them, which all my drafting and re-drafting wasn't solving.
Can I be honest with you? I was starting to doubt myself in a really big way.
I know I have what it takes to be a writer. I know I've got the discipline and the sheer stubbornness to get a novel done. I'm willing to work hard. I've read so many books, and I've written so many words...
So why couldn't I make these novels work?
And then. This summer, I came across an interview where Joanna Penn* recommended this book. Less than a week later, I had a copy:
YOU GUYS. This is the editing jackpot.
This is what he does when he reads a novel that's worth publishing, but isn't there yet. Something's missing; something's broken. So he plugs the elements of the novel into this system.
That process shows which elements are out of sync, what's missing, what's not balanced, what should be adjusted.
It's a massive diagnostic tool for a full-length novel.
I devoured this book. I read it straight through, and then flipped it over and started again. I considered actually eating it, so I could literally digest it, so that my cells would be better storytellers... but then common sense returned.
(I did however read it before bed every night for a while. Trying to get it deeper into my subconscious. Hopefully that helped.)
It's not that I haven't read structure books before--I have. But this is like the Grand Master Wizard Superhero of all structure books.
It deals with micro structure--the elements of a scene--in a detail that I haven't read before. And then, it looks at the macro structure in depth--and at everything in between!
There is so much information here, and it's all priceless.**
AND, for those of you who are like me, who might be, oh, prone to kicking yourself for not doing a better job, or who tend to be overwhelmed by things like a massive spreadsheet with every misstep in your plot's structure--
Coyne writes with an extremely approachable tone. He starts by laying out all his thinking, defining all the terms he uses, and explaining them in detail so that you get a really good grip on it. And then he breaks down the step-by-step of the actual process, putting it all to work.
He makes it manageable. Doable.
Taking breaks from editing? Absolutely mandatory. He keeps advising that you take the time to let your mind rest between steps. And he's super-strict about separating the tasks of the Editor from the tasks of the Writer.
It was a mega-dose of patience and grace that I definitely needed.
The best quote of the book, though, might be this one. I have it next to my computer, for those moments when I'm tempted to get really overwhelmed about how my book has jumped the tracks:
You as the writer are not the problem;
the problem is the problem.
-- Shawn Coyne
GOOD TO REMEMBER, right?
What this book will help you do is clarify exactly what kind of story you're telling, so that you can do it well. It will help you see where you might have been less-than-clear (!) about certain crucial elements in your story structure.
It gives you a way to chart an internal story as well as an external story, for a more dynamic novel. And it helps alert you to why your story might feel a little melodramatic in some places, or too contrived in others. Why some scenes feel a little dull or directionless.
I had a dozen nagging doubts about my current work-in-progress. I knew things weren't working as well as I wanted them to, but I literally couldn't put my finger on where or why.
But now, after putting everything into Coyne's Story Grid, I know exactly what's causing those problems. I'm not beating myself up about it (because he says over and over not to!). And I've just created a massive plan for my next rewrite.
A clear, step-by-step system for taking this novel to the next level.
Will it be a lot of work? Yes.
But I feel like I actually have all the tools I need. Like I can actually do this, and have a stellar novel when I'm finished. (Huge relief!!)
So. If you're writing fiction; if anything feels out-of-whack in your story; if you'll be doing any degree of editing yourself (and isn't that all of us??), get your hands on this book.
(Eating it is optional.)
*Joanna Penn's website and podcast are gold. Seriously. She's lovely, full of so much publishing and writing wisdom, and she's extremely encouraging. If you haven't checked out her blog and books for writers yet, you owe it to yourself!
**The Story Grid book itself is a little pricey if you're counting your pennies, but you can get all this info FOR FREE on Shawn's website. See the sidebar section that says "Story Grid Catch-Up (Start at the Top)"? Yeah. That's what you want. Click through those sections, and you've basically got the whole book for free.
And now you're on your way to making your novels even more awesome! Have fun!