The Story Grid and King Lear

I’ve been working through Shawn Coyne’s book The Story Grid and its accompanying podcast the past couple of weeks, and it’s been creeping into my teaching.

Coyne edited novels for Random House and Doubleday for 25 years and wants to teach fiction writers how to become their own effective editors. At the heart of Coyne’s work are the five building blocks of every scene:

The five elements that build story are the inciting incident (either causal or coincidental), progressive complications expressed through active or revelatory turning points, a crisis question that requires a choice between at least two negative alternatives or at least two irreconcilable goods, the climax choice and the resolution.

I’ve started internalizing this heuristic by applying to things I’ve been teaching. When we add to this five-part structure Coyne’s idea that every longer work should have a beginning hook, middle build, and final payoff, we get this schematic for Shakespeare’s King Lear.

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screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-7-35-06-pm

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A couple of comments:

  1. The play is divides more evenly into three acts then five: banishment, reconciliation, final separation.
  2. The play’s heartbreaking conclusion (which Shakespeare famously altered from the play’s sources) is so crushing because of the reconciliation that ends the Middle Build.
  3. The Gloucester subplot works more as a two-act structure: Edmund’s deceit through Gloucester’s punishment through Edgar’s performance for his father through his final battle with Edmund.
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The Story Grid and King Lear

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