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Another tool for theme: XY Grids

David Gane
David Gane
2 min read

This is an XY grid.

For each axes, horizontal (X) and vertical (Y), add a thematic value or statement. Returning to our Griemas square example, X could be "Others can/can't change" and Y could be "I can/can't change."

Once you have those two values, you can start plotting the values of characters on the grid. For example, which characters believe other people can change, but they can't (A)? Or which ones think they can change and others can too (B)?

Another thing to consider is if multiple characters can be placed in one corner, where are they in relation to each other? Is one more extreme in their thinking?

An XY grid can also be used in more abstract ways. Again, going back to the Griemas Square, what if we used an extreme version of its edges:

What concepts or characters fall into these edges? What does it mean if a character is living and dead? Perhaps, it means they have a life but aren't living it. Or they're dead but living it to the extreme?

Notice how it isn't about specifics. There isn't one correct answer. XY grids are visual tools to get you thinking about the themes in your story and begin to interpret the values espoused in the story.

As well the story will define the meaning. A tale with zombies may fit a value for the above idea a lot better than a costume drama (unless it has zombies).

Perhaps the grid will reveal a thematic idea you're playing with that doesn't work, and you need to search for different values.

Personally, the best approach is to place two values (for example, Safety and Privacy) on the grid. This tests the edges of a concept and allows you to ask questions about your theme, characters, and story.

  • What can be both safe and private? What's required? What's the cost?
  • If you can't have safety but get privacy, what does that look like? Also, which characters hold these values?
  • What's the worst-case scenario? What does that look like if there is no safety and no privacy? Is this a direction you can take the story? Or perhaps this is where the story begins.

The theme is not simply an idea like war, love, or security but a stance or argument with a reason: "War is bad because it harms innocent people." Using XY grids, as well as Griemas squares, is to consider the edges of these ideas visually.

Is this a tool that might help you?


David Gane Twitter

Co-writer of the Shepherd and Wolfe young adult mysteries, the internationally award-winning series, and teacher of storytelling and screenwriting.


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