Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Victoria Lucia

What is a Story Grid?

There are many different techniques and approaches to help writers tell their stories. Have you ever heard of a story grid?

A story grid helps writers decipher how their story works – or doesn't – so they can figure out how to fix structural issues.

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Keep reading to find out what is a story grid and how to utilize it to write your next novel or screenplay!

What is a Story Grid?

What is a Story Grid?

A story grid is a tool created by author and editor Shawn Coyne to help writers and editors analyze a story. It helps writers figure out what structural parts of their story work and what parts don't. The Story Grid claims to hone in on exact points where a story isn't working and reveals what work needs to be done to fix the issue.

The story grid is a technique that challenges you to look at a written work in a new analytic way. It includes a gridding concept that looks at a story at a macro level, called a Foolscap Global Story Grid. It also includes a gridding concept that narrows the story to a micro level, called a Story Grid Spreadsheet.

Coyne's website is a great place to delve deep into exploring all the facets of how to utilize the story grid technique.

The story grid technique can get pretty involved sometimes, so I'll try to break down how you use the technique to write your own screenplay or novel.

How to Use a Story Grid to Write a Novel

Certain aspects of the story grid concept can be helpful when plotting out how to write your novel.

The Foolscap Global Story Grid can be useful when you're in the prewriting stage, attempting to get your story organized. This grid can be a good way to see if your story is sound. The Foolscap Global Story Grid aims to outline a story on one sheet of paper. The Foolscap breaks down one page of paper into four sections:

  • Global Story: tasks you with looking at the story in a macro way; what is the specific genre of the story, and what expectations does that genre have?

  • Beginning Hook

  • Middle Build

  • Ending Pay Off

Each section has space for you to describe moments in your story under the five commandments of storytelling.

The five commandments of storytelling, explained by Story Grid, are as follows:

  1. Inciting incident: The event that alters the protagonist's life and sets them on their journey.

  2. Various turning points: The protagonist tries to restore order and bring things back to how they were before, but every attempt fails, further complicating the story.

  3. Crisis: When the protagonist's attempts to rectify the inciting incident fail, they are met with a crisis. The crisis is the choice between two incompatible things.

  4. Climax: The climax is when the protagonist decides and acts based on the choice raised by the crisis.

  5. Resolution: The resolution occurs because of the protagonist's choice decided during the climax.

Using this tool to help plan out your novel can be a quick way to see if your story planning has holes.

How to Use a Story Grid to Write a Screenplay

The story grid spreadsheet can make for an incredibly thorough outline for screenplays. Some screenwriters outline every scene using screenwriting software or writing them out by hand on index cards. This in-depth approach reminded me of the story grid spreadsheet.

The story grid spreadsheet has you break down individual scenes and input them into an Excel spreadsheet. The scenes are assigned 14 categories to help assess them. The categories are scene number and word count, story event, value shift, polarity shift, turning point, point of view, period of time, duration, location, names of onstage characters, number of onstage characters, names of offstage characters, and number of offstage characters.

You can learn more about the categories and how to interpret them here. The categories are meant to display various aspects of the scene clearly. With the scene splayed open, it should be easy for the writer to determine if something isn't working.

Story Grid Templates

Download a Foolscap Global Story Grid template here!

Story Grid Examples

For an example of the Foolscap Global Story Grid, check out this one mapping out "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.

A great example of the story grid spreadsheet in action is this spreadsheet of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by J.K. Rowling.

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In Conclusion

Hopefully, this blog could shed some light on the story grid technique and how to use it. There are many ways to approach writing and editing stories, and the story grid is only one of them. The story grid is a highly involved and analytical writing approach that might not suit everyone. If you try it and like it, then that's great! A writer's journey involves trying many different writing techniques until you find what works for you. Keep trying new things, and happy writing!

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