Oh MFG, We’re Talking About Dan Harmon Again

Cuz it’s looking more and more like he’s found the Secret of the Universe. The genu-wine article.

Well, the Secret of the TV Writing Universe anyway.

Don’t believe us? Ask Anita Singh, the Arts and Entertainment Editor of UK’s “The Telegraph:”


Does this circle represent every TV show and film there is?
by Anita Singh

It is the formula that links Breaking Bad, Father Ted and Die Hard.

A US writer has devised an algorithm that he believes can be applied to all stories you see on screen.

Dan Harmon sets out his ‘story circle’ in a series of blog posts aimed at demystifying the writing process.

The circle is divided into eight segments, each representing a stage of the plot. A character is introduced, wants something, enters a new environment, adapts to that environment, achieves their goal but encounters problems as a result, leaves that world and changes as a result.

“I can’t not see that circle. It’s tattooed on my brain,” said Harmon, creator of the US cult series Community.

“I’m not going to bother saying, ‘There are some exceptions to this,’ over and over. There are some exceptions to everything, but that’s called style, not structure.”

Does every story fit the circle? The Wizard of Oz and Disney’s Frozen certainly do: Dorothy and Elsa find themselves in strange worlds and get what they think they want, followed by disappointment and a new understanding of what they had in the first place.

Basil Fawlty and Carrie Bradshaw may not seem to have much in common, but both conform to Harmon’s model. Witness Basil in Fawlty Towers believing he has pulled off a masterstroke in each episode only to meet disaster, then ending up back where he started. The change in him is an even great air of weary resignation, and more boiling fury stored up for the next episode.

The Sex and the City women’s quest for love followed the ‘story circle’ every week, with Carrie Bradshaw explaining the lesson learned at the end of each episode.

The formula can also be applied to a series story arc. The BBC’s Last Tango In Halifax fits the mould, with the two protagonists embarking on a romance late in life and finding happiness together, only for their children to cause problems.

One Breaking Bad fan has applied the formula to the hit US show in an online post that has attracted tens of thousands of views. Walter White is a law-abiding chemistry teacher who wants to earn money for his family after being diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and embarks on a new career manufacturing crystal meth.

The idea of a hero setting out on a quest for something and learning lessons along the way is age old, but Harmon came up with the eight-point system while watching the action film, Die Hard.

On his blog, he explains the film’s adherence to his eight rules: Bruce Willis as John McClane is introduced (1), he wants to save his marriage to his estranged wife (2), terrorists attack his wife’s Christmas party and he sets out to save her (3), he takes on the terrorists and turns out to be very good at it (4), he makes peace with his wife (5), the terrorists fight back (6), McClane defeats them (7), he has learned some valuable life lessons (8).

Harmon devotes thousands of words to the story circle idea on his blog, and says that only the final part differs when writing for film or television. In television, characters change a lot less.

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