Story Shamans Podcast – Episode 3 – The Shield


The Shield, The O.C. kinda…, Game of Thrones kinda…


Related Shamans Videos to Check out:

Resolution of the Core Conflict

Core Concept

Impossible Decision

Season 4

Season 5

Season 6

Season 7

Cubby Wrap-Up


Let’s take a look at what we’ve covered:


It’s the beginning of your story. A “what if” fantasy that will be explored through four distinct phases:

  • Neutral (you’re just establishing that “what if” fantasy)
  • Positive
  • Negative
  • Resolution

These four phases will directly coincide with the four acts of your story.

  • Act 1 = neutral, established, fantasy.
  • Act 2 = positive aspects of your fantasy.
  • Act 3 = negative aspects of your fantasy.
  • Act 4 = resolve the fantasy.


Your main character, and your major supporting characters, should all have a collection of traits:

  • Individual flaw – a weakness that affects just the character.
  • Moral flaw – a weakness that affects other characters.
  • Arc – the character changes over time, from one thing to another.
  • Ghost – something from the character’s past that still haunts them.
  • Passion – something the character really cares about.
  • Identity – how the world sees the character.
  • Essence – who the character really is, under the surface.
  • Emphasized cubby – a part of the story that is being exemplified by the character(s).
  • Character web – all the characters will share a common trait, connecting them in a web.


The world of your story has four concerns:

  • Location (with a metaphor)
  • Reality
  • Time Period
  • Duration

Where’s it take place?
What’s the reality of this place like?
What’re the limitations the time period puts on it?
How long does the story span?


When making a moral argument you have three different methods:

  • Pro/Con
  • Inverse
  • Four Point Alternation

Pro/Con – you argue the positive, and the negative, of one particular idea.

The death penalty’s bad.
The death penalty’s good.

Inverse – you argue one statement and its opposite.

Guns should be universally banned.
No they shouldn’t.

Four Point Alternation – you basically argue one idea vs another.

You do this by focusing on a particular statement for idea 1, as well as its opposite. And a particular statement for idea 2, and its opposite.

Marriage is the natural state for humans.
No it isn’t.


Bachelorhood is the natural state for humans.
No it isn’t.


One main primal desire, that is then broken up into sub-desires.

One sub-desire for each act of your story. These sub-desires act as stepping stones on the path to the main desire.


There are four different categories of conflict:

  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Self
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Man vs. Society

You should have one main overall conflict:

Say: “Man vs. Man.”

Then sub-conflicts that incorporate the other three categories. One sub-conflict per act.

Main conflict: Man vs. Man

  • Act 1 = Man vs. Self emphasized.
  • Act 2 = Man vs. Nature emphasized.
  • Act 3 = Man vs. Society emphasized.
  • Act 4 = Man vs. Man emphasized.


There are three different methods of revelation:

“Question and Answer” Method:

A specific question is raised, with a limited number a possible answers, and then that question is answered.

Will he take the job?

Possible answers:

  • yes
  • no

Eventually a decision is made.

“Mystery and Reveal” Method:

A mystery is established, with unlimited possible answers, and then that mystery is solved when the answer is revealed.

Who is the killer?

Possible answers:

  • Sue
  • Michael
  • Billy Bob
  • Joanna
  • Cyrus
  • Etc, etc, etc.

Eventually the killer is revealed.

“Unknown Surprise” Method:

Shocking information is revealed, without any previous indication.

“I’m moving to France!”

Then there are many different types of revelation:

  • Character revelation: a revelation is presented to a character.
  • Audience revelation: a revelation is presented to just the audience.
  • Self revelation: a character has a revelation about themselves, as part of their arc.
  • Story twist revelation: a revelation that is so massive, it changes your entire perception of the story up until that point.

You should have one major revelation near the end of each act, ideally at the turning points.

Your main character’s “self revelation,” should be in act four to coincide with the end of your character’s arc.

“Story twist” revelations are usually saved for act four, but they can be moved if need be.


There are eight different genre tones:

  • Comedy = happy
  • Tragedy = sad
  • Drama = serious
  • Farce = silly
  • Action = exciting
  • Horror = scary
  • Romance = idealistic
  • Erotica = sexy


An emotional theme that is primal, yet complex.

You want to explore both the positive and negative sides of this emotional theme with sub-expressions. Smaller emotional ideas that are related to the overall theme.

One sub-expression for each act, while the main theme runs through the entire story.


An intellectual theme based in a stimulating and thought-provoking idea.

You then want to explore this theme through sub-expressions, one per act.


Most stories have an “A” plot with a smaller “B” plot. But you could also have a “C” or “D” plot.

What are the specifics of your narrative’s traits?

  • Perspective?
  • Scope?
  • Stakes?
  • Timeline:
    • linear or non-linear?
    • If non-linear, then are you using any of the following:
      • Flashbacks?
      • Flashforwards?
      • Montages?
      • Co-Current Timelines?
        • If so, then you want to use an anchor.
  • Storytellers:
    • If so, is it a narrator or an internal monologue?
      • If a narrator, then is it in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person
      • Is the narrator inside or outside of the story?
      • Is it justified or unjustified?
      • Is it speaking in the past tense or present tense?
      • Is it verbal or text?


The particular way in which you execute the other cubbies of your story.

It gives your story its unique identity. A useful short hand is the “fill in the blank” method:

Your story is a:_____________.


25 steps total.

ACT 1:

  • Set up
  • Inciting Incident
  • Raise the Dramatic Question
  • Debate and Decision
  • Turning Point 1

ACT 2:

  • B Plot Introduction
  • Plan
  • Shenanigans
  • Commitment Confirmed
  • Turning Point 2

ACT 3:

  • B Plot Convergence
  • New Plan
  • Destruction
  • Point of Desperation
  • Turning Point 3

ACT 4:


Symbols are when you use one thing to represent something else, or a constellation of other ideas.

There are three different types of symbols:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Action

Visual symbols = something you see.
Ex: mailboxes representing home.

Auditory symbols = something your hear.
Ex: rushing water means impending danger.

Action symbols = something that happens.
Ex: the act of playing catch means two people are connected like family.


Moments create a sense of reality. Making your story feel real, instead of manufactured.

Two main ways of creating moments:

  • Intentional Flaws
  • Extraneous Beats

Intentional flaws = any imperfection on the part of a character that makes them seem more human.
Ex: bumping into a door or misspeaking.

Extraneous beats = a beat added to your story that isn’t absolutely necessary to the plot, but makes your characters feel more real.
Ex: having a character check to see if their gun is loaded three times, just to make sure.

You want to have one major moment that defines the soul of your story. It’s the moment in your story that captures the essence of what this entire tale has all been about.
Ex: father and son fishing on the lake at sunset.

That’s it Animals! All of the cubbies in one go!

Genre: The Tone of Your Story

Here at Story Shamans we have our own, specific, definition of genre. We find it more useful than the ones you typically run into.

We define “genre” by tone, not content.

While others might call something a horror story because it’s got monsters, blood, or screams in it…

We’re calling it a horror story if it’s meant to scare.


There are eight different tones that a story can have:

  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Drama
  • Farce
  • Action
  • Horror
  • Romance
  • Erotica

Every genre has a different set of expectations.

It’s these expectations that define them:

  • Comedy is happy.
  • Tragedy is sad.
  • Drama is serious.
  • Farce is silly.
  • Action is exciting.
  • Horror is scary.
  • Romance is idealistic.
  • Erotica is sexy.

Genre is a lens that your story is projected through.

No matter the events of your story, the genre – the tone – will determine how these events are portrayed to an audience.

Misunderstand or mishandle genre, and your story will collapse.

If your action story is not exciting, it’s no good.
A horror story has to be scary, or it’s a failure.
Comedies are happy. They need to be lighthearted and funny or they have failed on a fundamental level.

So when constructing your story, pay attention to the intended genre. Pay attention to the context you’re creating. The tone you’re setting for the actions of the story to take place within.

The same exact story event could unfold within the eight different contexts to very different effect. Same stuff, different tone.

Say two characters take a ride on a ferris wheel. It could be exciting, or scary. It could be silly, serious, or sad. It could honestly be idealistic or even sexy. Clearly, it could also be any mix or variation of these tones.

This is how the events of your story need to be constructed – from the inside out. What’s that mean?

The events of the story are here to service the tone, not the other way around.

If you’re putting your characters on a ferris wheel, then you’re doing it specifically to instill fear, or produce excitement, or joy, or whatever you’re going for – given your desired genre.

A few more notes:

Some genres mix really well together and others are direct opposites.

Comedy, farce, action, romance, and erotica all mix nicely together because they all have a positive tone – they complement one another.

The same goes for drama, tragedy, and horror because they’re all negative tones.

That’s pretty simple, right?

  • The positive tones mix with the positive.
  • The negative tones mix with the negative.

Besides belonging to the positive camp, or the negative camp, some genres are inherently complementary.

  • Romance and Erotica.
  • Action and Horror.
  • Comedy and Farce.
  • Drama and Tragedy.

They go so well together because they hit some of the same notes.

You put action and horror together and you get the common “thriller” story. A “thriller” is just an exciting story (action) that veers into scary town (horror).

The direct opposites – like drama and farce, comedy and tragedy – are the hardest to mix. Because they’re on different ends of the spectrum. They don’t bleed into each other in the same way the complementary genres do. In cases like this, you’ve got to carefully craft the juxtaposition or it won’t work at all.

Regardless of difficulty though, they can all be mixed together if you put the work in.

So how do we do this?

How do we make sure we’re doing right by our genre(s)?

Every story needs a dominate genre that incorporates the subordinate ones.

A great example of this is the so-called “romantic comedy.”

Really, these stories should be called “comedic romances,” because that’s what they are. They are romance stories first, that then incorporate comedic elements.

Make sense?

“The Wedding Planner” has comedic elements. But the story is first and foremost, a romance.
“Wedding Crashers” on the other hand, is clearly about the laughs first, and romance second.

That’s a big difference.

You’ll notice, it’s always easier to add comedy to another dominant genre, rather than adding another sub-genre to the dominant comedy.

Just take a look at action comedies.

If you set a baseline of action, it’s real easy to add humor. You have an exciting story, then throw in jokes along the way to lighten the mood here and there.

But if you have a primarily comedic story, and try to add in bits of real action – it’s going to be tonally off. It’s doable, but quite a bit harder.

Why? Because action is exciting, and excitement is more serious than silly.

The audience will have a hard time taking a story seriously when the baseline is silly and comedic. So when the action comes in, it’ll be hard to fear for the stakes involved.

It’s always easier to lighten the mood with a joke, then turn a comedic situation serious all of the sudden.

In the end, understanding genre is really about understanding the differences and the similarities between the eight different tones. The more familiar with them you become, the more effortlessly you can utilize them in your stories.

Most of the genres are self explanatory. But to clear up any confusion…

Let’s take a look at “romance” and “erotica.”

First thing to consider, is that “romance” does not strictly mean “love.”

“Romance,” in the genre sense of the word, means to accentuate, focus on, and admire all the positive qualities of something while generally ignoring the negative. This is why we say it is “idealistic.” It focuses on the positive, and ignores the negative.

This idealism could be applied to love or a romantic relationship. But it could just as easily be applied to a job, or a city, or a sport – anything really. You can romanticize anything.

“Erotica” on the other hand, is all about sexuality. Not romance, but sexiness. The two can go together of course. There’s probably a healthy dose of sexy in your idealized romantic relationship. But they don’t have to go together.

“Erotica” has its own identity – sexually charging any situation.
“Romance” is all about idealizing any situation.

When constructing your story, it’s almost impossible to stay in one genre the entire time. So you want to control the mix.

Set a main genre, then incorporate sub-genres along the way.

The main genre will dominate, setting the overall tone for your story. Then you can add in as many other genres as is appropriate within the main genre.

Like our other cubbies before it, genre will follow the four act structure.

Say the main genre is: action. That’s the genre that will run through the entire story.

  • Act 1 could focus primarily on the action.
  • Act 2 could then lean on say: comedy.
  • Act 3 pumps some horror into the mix.
  • Act 4 pays some attention to romance.

Remember that these genres are based on tone, not content.

So when we say act three pumps the horror, this just means that it leans into what’s scary. Whatever that means for your story. It doesn’t have to mean gore or monsters or serial killers. It just means whatever’s happening is playing to the designs of creating scares.

Genre is so fluid that it can change from scene to scene, or it can change a few times within the same scene. You want to embrace this variety. Utilize it to bring out the full tonal potential of your story.

Pick a main genre, pick some sub-genres to explore during the different acts, then it’s over.

Easy peasey.