A Quick Guide to Understanding the grok Approach

In Discovering the Soul of Your Story, the principles and practices that comprise the core ideas of the book are presented in three parts:

This article reproduces the short-tour summary provided at the end of "Part One—The grok Approach."


Plot derives from character, not the other way around. In every well-told story, the action revolves around a core ensemble of central characters who perform the primary functional roles that advance the story and give it emotional heft. Of all the characters in the core ensemble, one is more important than the others and occupies the special role of main character.

The main character performs four major tasks in the telling of the story. Specifically, she:

  • serves as a vehicle through which the audience member can ride along and experience the world of the story;
  • generates the story events by means of her intents and actions;
  • provides the audience with an indicator of story progress; and
  • expresses the theme of the story by means of her decisions, actions, and ultimate success or failure.

The motivations of the main character are best described not in terms of what she wants, but in terms of what she intends. Wants are static and do not require action. Intents demand action and prompt the main character to pursue the satisfaction of the wants.

The overall journey of the main character in any story is best described in terms of a vector of intent and condition of value. The vector of intent can be expressed in one of three ways—to:

  • gain a condition of value that has never before existed;
  • regain a condition of value that existed at one time but was lost, taken away, or destroyed; or
  • keep a condition of value that currently exists and is under threat of being lost, taken away, or destroyed.

The vector of intent determines the direction of the story and the means by which the audience will gauge its progress. It also clarifies the underlying motivations of the main character, establishes the plausibility of events, promotes consistency in character actions, reveals the story time frame of concern, and helps define points of structural reference.

The storyteller can identify the main character by performing a simple thought experiment to find the condition of value the magical granting of which will stop the story in its tracks. And the thought experiment can also be extended to determine the vector of intent for the main character by assessing her feelings upon receipt of the magical gift. Specifically:

  • If she feels enriched, she is a gain character.
  • If she feels restored, she is a regain character.
  • If she feels relieved, she is a keep character.

All conditions of value are subjective and each is defined strictly according to the main character with whom it is associated. The significance ascribed to any condition of value might align with a sense of conventional worth but is not required to do so.

Some conditions of value are external and observable by any spectator of the story world; others are internal and can only be inferred from the behaviors of the main characters who possess them. Most conditions of value are associated with outer goals that stem from inner goals. The outer goal for any main character illustrates her tangible target; the inner goal represents the feeling that she anticipates possessing if she succeeds in her attempt to attain the outer goal—or fears possessing if she fails. We-the-audience look to the outer goals to gauge story progress. We use the inner goals to judge the story with respect to its meaning and theme.


For More Information

For details regarding these concepts and terms, see the Discovering the Soul of Your Story—Overview video and the glossary. For more resources, visit the Resources category.

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