Book review: The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know

I watched a YouTube video recently on writing a (nonfiction) book, and the vlogger was talking about this book. As an avide reader, I have been sometimes frustrated by some of the my reads’ storyline. Could this book help me?


The book is split in 8 parts, and in total 70 chapters. I’m saying this because the book was edited with the same technique that it is presenting. Well, more or less. Of course, the book is more geared towards fiction books than nonfiction ones, but the same principles apply.

After an explanation of how the book came to be in the first part, half of the book is dedicated to the actual method, and the other half shows how to apply the method on The Silence of the Lambs. The book splits the first job of editing, which is checking Genre, into 5 questions, which are what Content, what Time, what Structure, what Reality and what Style. The main drawback of the book here is that it keeps on telling that Genre requires some scenes, but it never provides the  list of these scenes!

If we look at the different types of storylines, the same problem applies, you have the examples for 2 or 3 internal or external storylines, but nothing more. So lots of the questions still need to be answered by the writer, and then extracted by the editor.

The first tool in the book is the Foolscap story grid. It’s just one page with the main broad brushes of a book. After that it does kind of a fractal on the book stories, which appeals to my mathematical side. But it’s true that all stories have these patterns in all dimensions of a book, which is the subject of the part after that.

The second tool after that is a spreadsheet that sums up the balance of the book, and then the final one is a double graph. It is then applied on The Silence of the Lambs, as I said earlier.

And that’s when I noticed the pieces coming together. I read the book at the end of last year, so it’s very fresh. It’s a page turner, but Shawn Coyne really shows how the different levels in the book come together to form a masterpiece. And now I understand why I feel that some of the books I read have a good story, but something is missing. It may be missing the payoff. Or the structure is imbalanced. Or there is just an external plot and no real payoff for the main characters. Or there is, but it’s disconnected and not part of the full story. This is what this technique shows: where the writing of a story broke.

Sometimes, the technique is not perfect, but the book still works. That’s great. But when the book doesn’t work despite having a great story, it’s probably that one of the levels is broken. That’s when the editor should come in.


I think I want to write a story now. As some of you know, I have written part of a (nonfiction) book as well as taken a songwriting course at Bath Spa. So writing stuff is something I like doing. And this book is really great at providing the framework required for making a great book from a good story.

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