Thanks Dan

Lately, I've been obsessed with the TV show Community . . . it's a sitcom satirizing traditional TV Tropes (and if you haven't been to the TV Tropes web-site, block out a few hours and check it out) and creator and writer Dan Harmon, in an interview in Wired magazine, explains his method of organizing beats, scenes, episodes, and entire seasons of the show; he calls his graphic organizer an "embryo" and he ensures that the elements are present at every step before he moves on . . . and so last week, while I was teaching narrative writing in my composition class, preparing kids to write their college essays, I told a number of stories (not that I don't tell stories the rest of the year) and I found that my stories subscribed to Harmon's organizer, as did the narrative models we used from the text (Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" and "Salvation" by Langston Hughes and "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris) and so here is Harmon's embryo, in case you want to try it out:

  • 1.  A character is in a zone of comfort
  • 2.  But they want something
  • 3.  They enter an unfamiliar situation
  • 4.  Adapt to it
  • 5.  Get what they wanted
  • 6.  Pay a heavy price for it
  • 7.  Then return to their familiar situation
  • 8.  Having changed

and while all stories don't conform to this pattern-- especially once you get modern and post-modern and characters never adapt (Kafka) or fail to get what they want (Hemingway) or do not pay a heavy price (Nicholson Baker) or remain static during the course of the story (Camus)-- I think that the most satisfying stories-- whether your talking Into The Wild or Moby Dick-- usually do follow this archetype.


    Whitney said...

    I remember we read Vogler's The Writer's Journey right after we wrote one of our screenplays. His story pattern had 12 steps (much like AA) and our story hit nearly every one of them. Didn't help us sell the thing.

    Dave said...

    maybe a better verb is grazed . . . our story grazed the 12 steps and we needed to join AA.

    A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.