First Story Gridding Steps

We’re story gridding The Tipping Point.

Why are we doing this again?

The reason why we want to story grid the book is to discover how Malcolm Gladwell crafted an indelible story…one that not only sold millions of copies, but also changed the way we view our world.

Story Grids are the blueprints/CT scans that teach us how to solve problems we face in our own writing work. Pinpointing exactly where and how the masters created masterworks not only inspires our future projects, but more importantly, it teaches us that blue collar labor is the path that the professional takes on his or her creative journey.

Nonfiction story gridding allows us to witness these writers with their sleeves rolled up, with grease on their hands. We can literally see how they practically managed the narrative momentum in a book that could have easily been as dry as dust. That management requires a deep understanding of story structure. And the test that there really is a story underneath the scholarship is the story grid.

Yes, of course some of the great writers were probably born with some innate DNA-laden storytelling talent. But without the blue-collar work ethic to give that talent the freedom to express itself, we’d never be the beneficiaries of their art.

I’d wager the pantheon of literary greats is far more representative of “grinders” than “naturals.”

No one sits down and writes a perfect first draft. Trust me on this. It’s never happened. What real writers understand is that the first draft is the raw material—the slab of marble, the bag of moist clay, the bricks, the blank canvass and paint, the zeroes and ones…

It’s important to remind yourself of this fact every single day. It’s the little things, those incremental drip, drip, drips of inner bullheaded, stubborn discipline that matter in the end.

Fight that inner war doing the work you were put here to do every day and the rest will take care of itself. Seriously.

Back to the task at hand…story gridding The Tipping Point.

My end of the line destination is to create a Story Grid infographic for The Tipping Point just as I did for Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, a visual representation of the building blocks of the Malcolm Gladwell’s Story.

The second thing I remind myself is that in order to create that infographic I need to have two documents in front of me.

  1. The Foolscap Global Story Grid for The Tipping Point
  2. The Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point

The Foolscap Global Story Grid is the MACRO/30,000 foot view of the book and The Story Grid Spreadsheet is the MICRO/scene-by-scene view of the book.

While I’ve not yet written about the MICRO Story Grid Spreadsheet for The Tipping Point in these posts, I’ve already broken down the bits of the book into 51 scenes that amount to 74,139 words (an average of 1453.7 words per scene, see here for more on the Math of a Story). And I’ve begun work filling in all of the columns for each of those scenes.

Lots left to do on that MICRO front.

But the great thing about doing the work for The Story Grid Spreadsheet is that it’s fact based rather than intensely analytical. It’s a matter of reading each scene. Then answering the question posed by a column in the Spreadsheet. Filling in the blank of that column for that scene. And then re-reading the scene again to answer the next question from the next column and so on. Drip, drip, drip.

It’s like pointing bricks. Move from one brick to the next brick to the next. You finish a row, you move to the beginning of the next row and so on…

The MACRO Foolscap Global Story Grid only requires the editor to answer six questions:

  1. What’s the Genre?
  2. What are the conventions and obligatory scenes for the Genre?
  3. What’s the Point of View?
  4. What are the objects of desire?
  5. What’s the controlling idea/theme?
  6. What is the Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?

I’ve been poking around all of these questions in search of answering the very first one, What’s the Genre? 

As you know, figuring out the Genre/s is a paramount series of choices for the writer. Because Genre choices satisfy reader expectations. If you don’t set up and satisfy a reader’s expectations, your Story won’t work.

What do we know so far about The Tipping Point Genres?

  • We know that the Global Genre of The Tipping Point is Big Idea Nonfiction.
  • We know that the External Genre of The Tipping Point is Action Adventure.
  • From The Story Grid book we know that the External Value at Stake in an Action Adventure Story is Life/Death.
  • And we know that that the spectrum of value for Life/Death moves from: Life to Unconsciousness to Death to Damnation.

For more about Story values and the spectrum of value, read this.

What about the Internal Genre of The Tipping Point? What’s that?

Remember that my interpretation of the Internal Genres derives from the work of Norman Friedman and his seminal paper “Forms of the Plot” in the Journal of General Education.

They are:

  • Worldview: connotes a change of seeing the world one way and by Story’s end, seeing it differently.
  • Morality: connotes a change in the moral or ethical character of the protagonist.
  • Status: connotes a change in social position of the protagonist

As The Tipping Point is a Big Idea work of Nonfiction, it’s obvious that its Internal Genre is Worldview.

Can we categorize it further?


Worldview, has four subgenres. They are:

  • Education: a shift in view from life as meaningless to meaningful
  • Maturation: a shift in view from naivete to worldliness
  • Revelation: a shift in view from ignorance to wisdom
  • Disillusionment: a shift in view from belief to disillusionment

Of those four subgenres, it’s again obvious that we’re in the Revelation arena. A Big Idea book is one that shifts our understanding of the world from ignorance “not having enough information, but capable of comprehension” to wisdom/knowing.

Great. We now know that the Internal Genre of The Tipping Point is Worldview Revelation. We can also file away in our minds the fact that all Big Idea Nonfiction has Worldview Revelation as its Internal Genre.

That makes a lot of sense right?  A Big Idea Book is all about revealing the truth about a particular idea in such a way that the reader, by book’s end, is convinced of the controlling idea.  The Big Idea Book is by definition a revelation.

What about the value at stake in the Worldview Revelation genre? What’s that?

The value is Wisdom/Stupidity.

And the value spectrum of Wisdom/Stupidity from it’s most negative to it most positive moves as follows.

Stupidity perceived as Intelligence to Stupidity to Ignorance to Wisdom

I was reluctant to use the word stupidity as the opposite of wisdom because it has such a fuzzy feeling in the mind. We’ve heard “stupid” so many times that we lose the core meaning of the word. So it’s worth reiterating it’s core meaning:

Stupidity means that no matter the information available, one is incapable of or unwilling to understand. Stupidity is resolute.

Ignorance on the other hand is a temporary unknowing due to lack of information. Once the information is available, though, the ignorant become enlightened and gain wisdom.

The negation of the negation of the Wisdom value is the fate worse than just stupidity, Stupidity perceived as intelligence. An example of in its most obvious form would be back in the days when man believed earth was flat.

Looking back it seems silly that anyone would believe that the world was flat, but when society pushes a known “fact” on the individual from birth, few have the temerity/courage to challenge the status quo.

What it takes to achieve human progress are explorers and innovators with the nerve to weather the slings and arrows of their contemporaries while they cast their light into the darkness. Torchbearers willing to lead…to sacrifice their own lives/reputations if necessary  in order to inform the rest of us as we take our mild baby steps behind them in our own private journeys from ignorance to wisdom.

As Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said:

“There are known knowns…there are things we know we know. We also know that there are known unknowns…that is to say we know that there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns…the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

The Big Idea Book is all about those unknown unknowns and The Tipping Point is an epitome of the Genre.


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  1. gwen abitz on May 26, 2017 at 7:10 am

    AWESOME “WHAT IT TAKES” today. Shawn: First – “Fight that inner war doing the work you were put here to do everyday and the rest will take care of itself. Seriously”

    My Spin off for “the tipping point”. THE TRUMP ERA Worldview Revelation – The Big Idea Book – FACT CHECK or FICTION for POLITICS and RELIGION!!! May be the major cause for what it wholeheartedly condemns.

    The quote shared by Former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld reminds me what Robert P. Parker wrote in his book, COLD SERVICE – I.O.U.: “You need to know what you know, what you don’t know, and what you have to know. And you need to have it in mind – You need to know what part of what you want to do can be done now and what it needs to wait for.”

  2. Mary Doyle on May 26, 2017 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for this Shawn: “It’s important to remind yourself of this fact every single day. It’s the little things, those incremental drip, drip, drips of inner bullheaded, stubborn discipline that matter in the end.”

  3. Deb on May 26, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Enjoying this series immensely Shawn. I love the layered approach to learning how to story grid nonfiction–you manage to cover a lot of depth and breadth here. Your examples from The Tipping Point keep me inspired and anchored beyond the abstract. Question: Can you please provide the link again you mentioned in today’s post? I.e., “For more about Story values and the spectrum of value, read this.” The internal link doesn’t seem to be working Thanks so much!

  4. Marie-Therese on May 28, 2017 at 8:59 am

    I picked up my copy of The Story Grid yesterday. So excited! I have trouble reading from electronic devices, so having your instruction on paper is a gift.

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