Dan Harmon is an American writer and producer best known for the NBC comedy Community. He also created the animated series Rick and Morty, which debuted on Adult Swim in 2013.
If you’ve ever seen Community or watched one of his interviews, you know that Dan Harmon has some pretty unique views on storytelling. He came up with a very original way of organizing narratives called the Story Circle.
In this guide, we’re going to go over what exactly the Story Circle is and who should use it.
We’ll also discuss how a similar technique called the Hero’s Journey can be useful when writing screenplays or novels.
dan harmon story circle
What Is dan harmon’s story circle?
The Dan Harmon Story Circle is a way to visualize character arcs. It’s a basic model for storytelling, one that’s been used for thousands of years and by everyone from Homer to Shakespeare to Pixar.
The idea is that there are eight steps to a story. You can use it creatively, as a way to brainstorm or outline your own stories.
Or you can use it analytically, breaking down the stories you love into their component parts and finding ways to incorporate them into your own work.
What Is Dan Harmon Story Circle
The story circle is a concept developed by screenwriter Dan Harmon. It provides a simple structure for building stories and shows how each storytelling device is connected.
What is the story circle? The circles show us that all good stories have a basic structure and that we can use this structure to improve our own stories.
The story circle is an easy-to-follow, four-step method for writing a great story.
Told by acclaimed TV writer/producer Dan Harmon (Community, Rick and Morty) at Story Circle 2013. The Story Circle is a model created by Dan Harmon, Community’s creator, to help writers understand the structure of stories and their role in crafting narratives.
It provides a framework for writers to use when breaking down or building up plot points, characters, or themes. The story circle is broken down into four quadrants: A-B-C-D and 1-2-3-4.
The first quadrant consists of the “A” plot and its corresponding character (usually the protagonist). The second quadrant consists of the “B” plot and its corresponding character (the antagonist).
The third quadrant contains the “C” plot and its corresponding theme, while the fourth quadrant contains a list of ideas that can be used to generate conflict in future episodes.
Movie Examples Using Dan Harmon’s Story Circle
The problem with this model is that it can be difficult to apply, especially when you’re writing a story not based on your own life. One of the best ways to apply the Circle is through analyzing movies with similar themes.
Here are a few examples of movies that use the Story Circle effectively:
First love. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy loses girl.
There are a ton of variations on this theme, but they are all basically the same. In Twister, Bill and Jo have a whirlwind romance before their relationship ends tragically.
In Carol, Therese meets Carol and falls quickly in love but assumes Carol feels nothing for her. In Sing Street, Conor falls for Raphina, who gets off with his brother instead.
These films may follow other plotlines as well — Twister may show the time Bill and Jo spend together leading up to their doomed romance, or Carol may focus more on Therese’s businesswoman mother and Carol’s relationship with her husband — but generally speaking these films follow the circle structure of First Love.Loss of innocence.
Movies about children being exposed to something dark and scary — like The Wizard of Oz — or movies about adults losing their innocence often follow this structure as well.
The Universal Language Of Storytelling
Storytelling is a universal human experience that has been used to pass on ideas and knowledge for thousands of years. It is a very natural way to convey information, and we have all experienced it in everyday life.
What do stories have to do with business? Well, whether you realize it or not, you are telling a story all the time. In fact, you are using the same tools as professional storytellers, just like the ones who make movies.
All that differs is the medium. Instead of pictures and sounds, your story will be conveyed in words and sentences.
The idea behind storytelling is that stories stick when it comes to conveying information. The whole point of a story is for the audience to retain what they are being told and be able to recall it later on.
This can be incredibly useful in business because you can use stories to get your message across clearly and effectively, whether your audience consists of one person or hundreds of people.
You might think that storytelling only applies for people in creative industries such as advertising or journalism; however, everyone has experienced storytelling at some point in their lives whether they realize it or not.
It’s something that we’ve all done since childhood: parents tell children bedtime stories; teachers tell students fables; Hollywood uses.
Closing Up The Story Circle
The Story Circle is a tool that can be used as a template when creating any kind of story, whether it’s a 500-page novel or a 30-second commercial. It provides a good way of understanding the elements of any good story and how they must be arranged in order to create an effective narrative.
The Story Circle is composed of eight points that are arranged in a circle, forming the shape of an octagon. The center point represents the protagonist and the outer points represent different stages in the story’s timeline.
Each point contains a different component:
Opening Image: This represents the opening hook for your story. This needs to pique your reader’s or viewer’s interest without giving too much away.
Theme Stated: This is an idea that you bring into your story from outside sources (such as philosophies or religions). Theme should be developed and brought into the story in order to provide meaning and direction for your characters.
Catalyst: The catalyst is what starts the events of your story into motion by introducing conflict into your character’s world. It changes the status quo, whether for better or for worse.
Debate: Debate takes place when your protagonist begins to question his or her own actions and beliefs in light of this new conflict.
How The Save The Cat Structure Works
In the world of screenwriting, there is a concept known as the save the cat formula. The name comes from an old adage that goes: “if you see a kitten fall into a well, the first thing you should do is save the cat.”
Novelist Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat structure is a guideline for screenwriters who want their work to be more marketable. It’s not hard-and-fast by any means, and you can certainly find exceptions to pretty much every one of his tips (I’ve written at least one), but it’s a good structure to keep in mind when you’re working on your story.
The first thing most people think about when they think about the save the cat formula is its introduction. The beginning of a screenplay should be exciting and hook readers early.
In other words.It should be like an irresistible kitten falling into an equally irresistible well.
However, I believe that this is only part of what the Save The Cat Method is all about. The rest of it involves beating your audience over the head with your theme until they finally get it.
Save the Cat is a book by Blake Snyder, who was a screenwriter and story consultant. This book has been used by many writers to develop their stories.
How Dan Harmon’s Story Circle Works
The story circle is a tool used by creator Dan Harmon to help him develop stories as well as the characters in the story. It has been used to create many of the hit shows he has worked on, including Community and Rick and Morty.
A simplified version of the story circle is. A character wants something (or wants to avoid something).
They have a problem. They go after it (or try to escape it), which sets off a chain reaction of events that leads to a new problem .
This one might be caused by them or someone else – and a new quest, which leads to another problem, etc. Dan Harmon’s Story Circle works in five stages:
- The Setup – introduces us to the world, the characters, and their circumstances.
- The Catalyst – creates conflict in the story’s world (a disruption) and starts your hero on their adventure.
- The Debate – your hero has now committed to their goal but there are still problems ahead; they haven’t figured out how to solve them yet.
- The Break into Two – a pivot or change in circumstances where your hero makes a decision about what they’re going to do from here on out.
- The Climax – the highest point of the story.
Dan Harmon’s Story Circle Is Missing Something Your Story Needs — Midpoints
I’ve always loved Dan Harmon’s Story Circle. It’s a great way to think about the different areas of a story, and it helps me to put my finger on what’s working (or not) when I get frustrated with my writing. The Story Circle is broken down into 6 parts:
The characters in your story can be either Ordinary or Extraordinary. Ordinary people are things like you and me, while Extraordinary people are super-heroes, wizards, or some other fantastical being from another world.
They can be facing either an Easy or Hard Task. Easy tasks are things like going to the grocery store, while Hard Tasks are saving the world from certain doom.
The characters have three ways they can react to their circumstances: they can Accept them, Deny them, or Struggle Against them.We have three areas that we can set our stories in — in the Past, in the Present, or in the Future — and that affects how we tell our stories as well.
Our characters will encounter either a Static or Dynamic Set of Forces that opposes them on their journey. A Static force is something like gravity or taxes.
I love how easy this model is to understand.It’s literally a circle with the words written out in order.
And each piece plays an important part in structuring an engaging story. But I think something is missing from the “Story Circle,” and that element is called Midpoint.