Season 1 (part 3) – Old World

Season 1

Dramatic Structure:

There are 3 areas of concern:

Let’s turn our attention to:

Origin

When we say “origins” we’re talking about any events that occurred before the present day of your story. Anything from the past that you might call “history.”

This “origin” idea is something that seasons 1, 3, 5, and 7 all deal with in their own way.

Season’s 1’s origin theme is expressed as:

“Old World”

This means that season 1 will spend time establishing and exploring the old circumstances, the old locations, the old relationships of your characters, etc. Season 1 will incorporate elements from the events that occurred before the “new world” was entered into.

There are two common ways that long from stories tend to express this “old world” theme in the context of origins:

  • Old Circumstances and/or Old Location
  • World Change

Old Circumstances and/or Old Location

Here you show the audience what the old circumstances and old location were like.

At the very beginning of Battlestar Galactica – (2004-2009) our characters had to flee their home planet due to a Cylon attack. Through the course of season 1, we get an idea of what our character’s lives were like before that tragedy. We get enough information to understand what their old world was like. This is important, as it helps define who they are now, and what their new life is like, in contrast to how the world used to be.

We see something similar on Veronica Mars. Throughout season 1, we get an idea of what Veronica’s life was like back when she was part of the popular “09’er” crowd. Back before she was a P.I., before her friend Lilly was killed, and before she herself was sexually assaulted.

World Change

The “world change” is that moment when your “old world” fully kicks over into the “new world.”

It’s a defining moment in your story. It’s the moment the rest of your story will grow out of. The catalyst that sets everything in motion.

In The Walking Dead, this world change happened off screen while Rick was in a coma. The story didn’t dramatize the walkers overrunning the world. But it most definitely happened – kicking off the rest of the story.

In Alias, the world change was when Sydney’s fiancé was killed and she discovered the truth about SD-6 and her father. Her old world of believing she’s working for the real CIA is over, and she’s in the new world of working as a double agent to bring down SD-6.

Both solid world changes.



Season 1 (part 2) – New World

Season 1

Dramatic Structure:

There are 3 areas of concern:

Time to look at the:

Positive

What does this mean?

It means season 1 (in addition to seasons 3, 5, and 7) has a pervasive positive theme. And this positive theme is specifically expressed in season 1 as:

“New World”

In season 1, you’ll be weaving in elements of entering a “new world.” And you want to take care to come at this concept from a positive perspective. If your story is pretty dark and dour, that positivity will be subtle, but you still want to come at it from a generally positive tone.

There are two common ways, in which long form stories tend to express this “new world” idea in the context of positivity:

  • New Circumstances and/or a New Location
  • Fresh Start

New Circumstances and/or New Location

This means you literally have your characters entering a new city, a new industry, a new stage of their life, etc. Typically, you want to do this right at the beginning of season 1. It’s a great way to start your story – a major change to kick off your tale.

In the show LOST our main characters crash land on a mysterious island – a very different setting from their lives back home. The island is a literal “new world.”

We see something similar on The O.C. Ryan moves to Orange County, a place very different from his rough and tumble roots back in Chino.

Fresh Start

You create a “fresh start” by having your main character(s) leave their baggage behind and start over.

Notice this is distinctly different from the “new circumstances/location.” With a new circumstance or location, you’re just seeking to enter a new place, or a new setup.

With a fresh start, you’re entering a new place/setup/phase specifically unencumbered by your past. Or at least taking steps to leave it behind. It’s about releasing what’s come before and establishing the beginning of something else, something new.

In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, our main character starts season 1 having just moved from Los Angeles, to Sunnydale. She got expelled from her old school and starting at Sunnydale High is her fresh start to get her life back on track. She’s looking to start over, start fresh. Leave her life in L.A. behind.

In The Sopranos, our main character Tony Soprano starts therapy. It’s a fresh start to address his psychological issues and find a way to balance his life. He’s actively trying to take control of his life and move in a positive direction.

The new circumstances/location and the fresh start usually go hand in hand because they complement each other so easily. But they don’t have to. If need be, the two ideas could be executed separately.

Like a main character who’s a professor at a university. He moves departments (new location/circumstance) but his fresh start is all about his love life.

The new circumstances/new location is about changing the environment your character finds themselves in. The fresh start is about a character leaving their past behind.

These two elements come together to create a positive start to your story.



Season 1 (part 1) – Identity

Season 1

Let’s take a look at its…

Dramatic Structure:

There are 3 areas of concern:

Here, we’ll be focusing on:

Connection

In season 1, there is a pervasive general theme of connection.

Seasons 3, 5, and 7 have it as well. Each with their own unique expression of this connection idea. But here in season 1, this connection theme is expressed through:

“Identity”

There are two common ways, in which long form stories tend to express this “identity” theme in the context of connection:

  • Establishing Your Character’s Old Identities vs. Their New Identities
  • Establishing Character Roles

Old Identities vs. New Identities

When we first begin a story we need to explore the differences and similarities between who a character was before the story began, and who they are now after the story has started.

By contrasting their new identity against their old, you’re establishing a stronger connection, for the audience, to this new person that they’ve become.

You have all of season 1 to demonstrate to your audience who a character is, and who they were. Take your time, let it all unravel until you have a dynamic, multi-layered, individual.

In Breaking Bad, we’re shown a kindly high school chemistry teacher. In the very first episode, he discovers he has cancer. He turns to cooking meth to afford his cancer treatment – to stay alive and provide for his family.

His actions with cooking and selling meth contrast highly with his everyday facade as a law-abiding husband and teacher. Who he was. This contrast connects us, as an audience, to the person Walt has become now that he’s dying of cancer. We connect to and follow this new identity – this man willing to cook meth to make ends meet.

Let’s put our peepers on Mad Men. They did something similar, but in a different way.

In Mad Men, we spend season 1 getting to know Don Draper. Establishing his identity as the stoic and talented advertising man.

At the same time, we are also exposed to flashbacks of Don’s history. His given name isn’t even Don Draper. It’s Dick Whitman. He grew up poor and has a half-brother named Adam. A brother Don now wants nothing to do with. All of this is a demonstration in contrasting the new identity that we primarily spend time with in season 1, with the old identity from before the show began. Don Draper vs. Dick Whitman.

These dueling identities will persist throughout the run of the show, so it has to be established right here at the beginning – in season 1.

Character Roles

Stories have a whole roster of characters.

When you’re first starting out and introducing all of these characters, it’s a great idea to establish for them a specific role they serve in the story. A role they play in the group dynamic. This role connects them in a unique way to the other characters.

Once you’ve established a character’s role, their “identity,” you can then play with that identity later on down the line in other seasons.

We see this clearly in Sons of Anarchy.

Each character has a specific role to play in the club. This role defines them in a lot of ways. These roles establish the dynamic within the organization.

In season 1:

  • Clay is the President.
  • Jax is the V.P.
  • Tig is the Sergeant-at-Arms.
  • Bobby is the treasurer.
  • Aspiring members are labeled “prospects.”
  • The real girlfriends and wives are called “old ladies,” while club groupies are called “crow eaters.”

In a story like this, we see very clear roles defined for the different characters. They’re slotted into those roles. Those identities.

In a less clear-cut way you see the same ideas at work in a show like Entourage.

In season 1:

  • Vincent Chase is the famous movie star.
  • E is his business manager.
  • Johnny Drama is his older brother/less successful fellow actor.
  • Turtle is his driver/hanger-on friend.

Within the group, everybody knows where they stand. And for the audience, it gives them a base-line understanding of these characters’ identities.

In season 1, you want to dive in and deal with your character’s identities.



The Seven Seasons

Now that we’ve covered the method for structuring short form stories, aka “cubbies,” – let’s get down to the big daddy of storytelling:

The Seven Seasons

This is the method for structuring long form stories.

You ready!?

The “seven seasons” refer to the seven distinct chunks that comprise a multi-part story. We’re talking about a T.V. series, a book series, a series of films, you name it.

You’ve got seasons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

We’re using the term “season” here in a similar way to the use of the term “act” in a film’s structure.

An “act” is a specific chunk of story with certain narrative elements. The same holds true for these “seasons.” They are chunks of story defined by their specific concerns. Their particular needs and traits, unique from the concerns of other seasons.

What these specific needs are, will be our main focus when we take a look at each season individually. But when they all come together, the seasons create a large sprawling narrative, greater than the sum of its parts.

Let’s take a look at this seven season beast:

When you really look at it, from a top-down view, your entire long form story can be broken up into three overall…

Eras

The first, second, and third eras of your series.

  • Seasons 1, 2, 3 = 1st Era.

  • Seasons 4, 5 = 2nd Era.

  • Seasons 6, 7 = 3rd & final Era.

We’ll get into more detail later about the specific qualities of these “eras.” But for now, just know that they’re there. They’re an important part of the larger structure of your series.

Movin’ on!

Each season, in the grand structure of your series, has three levels to consider.

Three layers:

  • Dramatic Structure

  • Dramatic Pace

  • Dramatic Evolution

“Dramatic Structure” itself, has three different areas of concern:

Dramatic Structure

  • Connection/Separation

  • Positive/Negative

  • Origin/Deviation

These three areas of concern alternate between the seasons, as your story progresses.

Seasons 1, 3, 5, and 7 are of the first type:

  • “Connection,” “Positive,” and “Origin” focused.

Seasons 2, 4, and 6 are all of the second type:

  • “Separation,” “Negative,” and “Deviation” focused.

This alternation creates the pulse of the drama in your long form story.

You can’t mess with this pulse. It’s the heartbeat, the rhythm of your series. You lose that, it’s hard to recover from. It pulses this way for each of the three “dramatic structure” areas of concern:

Connection/Separation:

  • Season 1: Connection.
  • Season 2: Separation.
  • Season 3: Connection.
  • Season 4: Separation.
  • Season 5: Connection.
  • Season 6: Separation.
  • Season 7: Connection.

Positive/Negative:

  • Season 1: Positive.
  • Season 2: Negative.
  • Season 3: Positive.
  • Season 4: Negative.
  • Season 5: Positive.
  • Season 6: Negative.
  • Season 7: Positive.

Origin/Deviation:

  • Season 1: Origin.
  • Season 2: Deviation.
  • Season 3: Origin.
  • Season 4: Deviation.
  • Season 5: Origin.
  • Season 6: Deviation.
  • Season 7: Origin.

We’ll get all up in the specifics of this pulsing when we discuss each season in turn. Each season has its own unique expression of these three areas and their ideas.

Dramatic Pace

This deals with the pacing of your story, how the seasons flow from one to the next, and how they relate.

Our discussion of “eras” will become important when talking about the “dramatic pace.” Again, we’ll get more into the details when we approach each season in turn.

Dramatic Evolution

This is all about how your story evolves over time.

The things you need to do to change and grow your story organically as time progresses. Again, we’ll dig into the deets, as we discuss each season individually.