Here is a simplified version of the Story Grid’s post about storytelling mathematics. The post was good but overly complex.
First, what is storytelling mathematics?
Put simply, it is the mathematics of how your story (novel, book, screenplay, etc) breaks down. In the Story Grid version, it’s applied to commercial fiction.
What it does is allow you to:
- Calculate how much you have to write
- Establish what types of things you have to write
- Plan your story arcs to fit.
If you’re a pantser, you might be wondering how this will help you. At the very least it will allow you to work out how much you have to write.
Why learn it? Maths is your friend!
Many artists run away from mathematics while shrieking like banshees. I used to be one of them. But here’s the thing: If you have the baseline formulae for certain things, it makes creating those things easier.
The trouble is, most people try to explain mathematicss rather than to enumerate mathematics. And that’s what I ran into at Story Grid.
Explanations are a lot less helpful than basic calculations.
The Math of Storytelling, in calculation form
These calculations are all you require. Do them in this order:
(Total Word Count) * (% Novel by section) = (Words Per Section) (Words per Section) / 2000 = (Number of Scenes for that Section) (Number of Scenes) - (Required Scenes) = (Additional scenes to write)
Now you know how many scenes you need, and what types of scenes they are.
Let’s run a worked example:
75,000 * 25% = 18,750 18,750 / 2000 = 9 scenes (rounded down from 9.3) 9 scenes - 5 scenes = 4 additional scenes
This may work for other types of story, like novellas, but for short stories your scene breakdown will (of necessity) be different.
% OF NOVEL. Story Grid claims that if you analysed every book ever written, you’d get this breakdown: 25% beginning, 50% middle, 25% ending. So let’s go with that.
SECTION. The part of the book, e.g. beginning, middle, or end.
REQUIRED SCENES. Story Grid specifies 5 required scenes in every sections. They are scenes that:
- spark the action
- progressively complicate what’s going on
- create a crisis question
- create a climax
- resolve what’s going on.
TOTAL WORD COUNT. This depends on your project. Your average Commercial novel is roughly 100,000 words. However, a “novel” can be anything from 70,000 to well over 100,000.
Many artists shy away from this level of structure, believing that it will impinge on their creativity. In my experience, knowing the underlying mathematics improves creativity, because it introduces known constraints. If you’d like to read the original post at Story Grid, from which I derived the calculations, you can do so here.
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