Story Shamans Podcast – Episode 6 – The O.C.


The O.C., Veronica Mars kinda, Mad Men kinda.


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!

Moment: The Soul of Your Story

The moment cubby gives your story realism and soul.

How’s that?

When an audience experiences a story, part of the ritual is: suspending their disbelief.

They know they’re watching a large screen in a theater, or a bright screen in their living room. They know that the people on that screen are actors playing out scenarios designed and determined by a whole fleet of other people. Everything is polished and perfected before being put in front of that audience. It’s not real life, and they know it. They suspend their disbelief.

The moment cubby, is all about purposely and specifically injecting some “less-than-perfect” into your story.

Putting some humanity back in.

There are many ways to accomplish this. But two of the easiest are…

  • Intentional Flaws
  • Extraneous Beats

Intentional Flaws

These are mistakes.

You are purposely putting mistakes, flubs, missteps, into your story. But these aren’t just any kind of mistake.

These are mistakes that specifically do not move the story forward in any real sense.

Damn near useless, in pushing the narrative along.

What’s that mean?

You’ll commonly see mistakes used in stories for an important story purpose.

Like the best friend accidentally tells someone a secret. Oh no! Everything’s ruined! It just slipped out!

That’s a mistake. But it’s the kind of mistake you see all the time in stories. The kind that is there to advance the story. If the best friend doesn’t spill the beans, then the girlfriend never goes to the secret meeting, and the story doesn’t move forward.

What we’re talking about here, with intentional flaws, is a different kind of mistake.

We’re talking about a character saying “when’s the lime getting here?” instead of “when’s the limo getting here?”

Does that advance the story? No. Does it feel like the kind of flub people make in real life? Yes. And it’s endearing. It’s unusual. It feels real. Like suddenly you’re not watching a polished practiced performance. Instead, these people are authentic in a way they weren’t just a moment ago.

I’m sure you can think of examples from your favorite movies. But if you can’t, here’s one:

Boogie Nights – William H. Macy’s character (Little Bill) finds his porn star wife having sex with another performer in the driveway.

A friend tries to talk to him about purchasing a zoom lens for the film shoot the next day, but is irritated that Little Bill seems distracted.

Little Bill:
“My fucking wife, has an ass in her cock in the driveway Kurt, alright?”

He flipped the words around. That’s 100% moment cubby material. It’s not there to advance the plot, or the story at large. It’s just a very human screwup in the words being used. It’s great.

Be creative.

Intentional flaws don’t have to be just dialogue. They can be actions too.

Maybe your character backs up into a chair, knocking it over. Maybe they scoop their ice cream with a fork on accident. Maybe they stoop down to pick up a pen they dropped, to realize they didn’t actually drop anything.

Get weird with it.

When you add intentional flaws to your story, you’re adding a bit of much needed authenticity to your story. You’re roughing up the edges. Making it feel real.

Extraneous Beats

These are similar to intentional flaws, in that they too do not advance the story in any appreciable way. But extraneous beats are more about…

Giving attention to a moment that is typically skipped over in other stories.

It’s a moment that just… is.

Like a character excusing themselves to the bathroom during a stressful dinner. They get to the bathroom but don’t really do anything in there, they just take a moment to themselves. Breathe.

Or maybe you have the audience witness the main character eating an entire cupcake in one sitting. No talking, no real facial expressions communicating feelings – just your character. Eating a cupcake. Then they’re done.

When crafting your story, you’ll ideally want your moments to follow some kind of theme.

Perhaps all your moments are comedic. Maybe they’re all intensely private. Maybe they’re all about emotional outbursts, whatever.

Then there’s the central moment of your story. The big one. The major moment.

What’s that?

It’s the one moment that defines your story as a whole. The core. One image, one line, one idea in action.

This, is your story’s soul.

That quirky, unique moment that really encapsulates what your story is, at a fundamental level.

Like an old man and his granddaughter holding hands as they stroll through the park. You let that moment breathe, let it expand. Because that moment, is what your story is all about.

THE moment.