Season 2 (part 2) – Meaningful Death

Season 2

Dramatic Structure:

Time to address the:

Negative

Season 2 expresses this negative theme via:

“Meaningful Death”

Someone’s going to die. And it has to matter, in big and important ways.

Ideally, it will be a close friend or a family member of a major character. But you have a few other choices if you want to get more subtle. You could kill off a major enemy, or even kill off an important dream of one of your main characters. Get creative.

Friend

In Roswell season 2, we see the death of Alex. A close friend to our main players, and a regular cast member on the show. Killing Alex was a huge deal, for both the characters on the show and the audience. It was undoubtedly meaningful.

Family

In Rescue Me season 2, we see the death of Tommy’s young son Connor. In a world where firefighters are constantly in danger, where it is accepted as “just part of the job,” this death hit the hardest. So unexpected and tragic. It was the most meaningful death in Tommy Gavin’s life.

Enemy

In Dexter season 2, we see the death of Doakes. The man who always saw through Dexter’s facade and spent season 2 trying to catch him. He was a regular on the show, he’d been a major part of the story since day one, and he dies. Even in a show where people die in nearly every episode, you’ve got your meaningful death.

Stranger

The character who dies doesn’t always have to be someone we know well. It could be a stranger.

Maybe one of your main characters hits a stranger with their car and peels off. It’s a hit and run! Season 2 could then play out the ramifications of this event. We see this very thing happen in season 2 of the new 90210 – (2008-2013).

Or you could do something like what Friday Night Lights did.

Towards the end of season 1, Tyra got attacked by a guy in a parking lot. A few months later, in season 2, the attacker returns. But this time her buddy Landry comes to her aid and hits the stalker with a pipe, killing him. Instead of going to the cops, they freak out and dump the body off a bridge. Season 2 then sees them struggling to keep what they did a secret and hold themselves together, as they deal with the gravity of what they’ve done.

These are examples of a different way to exploit the meaningful death. The meaningful part is played out in the repercussions of the killing or the death.

Let’s keep digging.

What else could we do for a meaningful death?

Maybe you wanna go big and do what Prison Break did. In their season 2 we see a unique and extreme application of this meaningful death idea.

Throughout season 2, we see FBI Agent Mahone tracking down and killing many of the show’s supporting cast of characters. There isn’t just one meaningful death, there are a bunch, in the escalating chase to catch the escaped convicts Scofield and Burrows. The death is meaningful partly because characters we know are dying, but mostly because of how many are dying. The meaning is being underscored by the quantity of the death.

In choosing your meaningful death, you’ve got a lot of options to play with. But someone is going down. Ideally it’ll be someone very close to your main characters – to pack the most dramatic punch.

So when writing your season 2 you’ve gotta decide:

Who’s gonna die?



Season 2 (part 1) – Stress Tests

Season 2

Dramatic Structure:

There are 3 areas of concern.

Just like season 1. But the areas themselves are different:

Let’s focus on:

Separation

This separation theme is specifically expressed in season 2 through:

“Stress Tests”

A “stress test” is when you actively stress a relationship between two characters.

You put their relationship through an ordeal. You really want to test the strength of their bond.

You typically see stress tests applied to:

  • Romances
  • Friendships

Though you could experiment with other relationships as well. Go nuts.

Romances

In season 1 of Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith Grey and Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd meet and start dating. Season 1 is all about their romance. At the end of season 1, Derek’s estranged wife shows up, throwing a serious wrench in the works.

Season 2 is then all about Derek giving his wife, Addison, a second chance. They are technically still married, and he thinks he owes it to her to give it another shot. For the Derek/Meredith relationship, this is a huge stress test.

In Mad Men season 2, Don is having an affair with Bobbie Barrett. Eventually, Don’s wife Betty finds out and she kicks him out of the house. They spend the good majority of season 2 on the outs, emotionally, and literally, separated. This is a substantial stress test for the Don/Betty relationship.

Friendships

In Nip/Tuck season 2, Sean learns that his son Matt, is actually the biological product of his wife Julia, and his best friend and business parter Christian, having an affair.

Sean is devastated. He feels betrayed by his best friend. He takes steps to officially disband the business partnership, and his friendship, with Christian. This is a huge stress test for the Sean/Christian friendship.

In Angel season 2, Angel fires his team. He doesn’t explain to them why. He’s going down a dark path in his one-man war with Wolfram & Hart, and he needs his friends to get gone. They go their own way, and start their own, new, investigation business without him. For the friendship between Angel and the members of his team, this is a total stress test.

So, in season 2 you want to stress your primary relationships. You do this with any kind of separation. Whether it be emotionally, circumstantially, or physically, it doesn’t matter. You just want to stress out those relationships.



Season 1 (part 5) – Thesis & Beginning of 1st Era

As stated previously, every season has its:

  • Dramatic Structure
  • Dramatic Pace
  • Dramatic Evolution

Now’s the time to turn our attention to its…

Dramatic Evolution

Before we get into the specific traits of season 1’s dramatic evolution, let’s talk a little about dramatic evolution as a general concept:

“Dramatic Evolution” really has two different meanings:

  • It’s the way in which you successfully execute the different concerns of your “Dramatic Structure” and “Dramatic Pace.”
  • It’s all about your story’s CORE CONCEPT and the specific way it evolves, season to season.

Let’s look at the first meaning:

“The way in which you successfully execute the different concerns of your ‘Dramatic Structure’ and ‘Dramatic Pace.'”

What this means, is that how you handle your dramatic structure and dramatic pace elements, creates a narrative evolution from season to season. It has to. As the story progresses, it will necessarily evolve.

For season 1 specifically, this type of evolution necessitates that you establish all the basics of your story:

  • Your main characters.
  • The central dynamics between your characters.
  • The thematic ideas of your story.
  • The basic plot.

And anything else that needs to be established.

Season 1 is the original chunk of your story. The one that everything else will either subvert or reinforce, moving forward. So you need to make those original things clear here in season 1, in order to develop them as you move forward.

Meaning number two for “Dramatic Evolution:”

“It’s all about your CORE CONCEPT and the specific way it evolves, season to season.”

What’s a “core concept?”

It’s what your long form story is all about. The meaning of your story. The reason it is being told. The point. At its heart, it is an idea which every other element in your story is meant to help dramatize.

For demonstration purposes let’s put together a hypothetical show about Spider-Man.

Your show’s “core concept” could be all about: “Power.”

Fundamentally the point of the show is this idea of “power” and what it means.

This power concept is not the plot of the show, it’s not the character’s arc, it’s not the core conflict, it is a separate, underlining idea: the “core concept.”

The core concept can be tightly related to any one of these other aspects, but it still needs to be a separate idea unto itself. They can be closely related, but not the same.

Once you have your core concept, there’s the evolutionary process your core concept goes through as your story progresses. This “evolution” process is why there are 7 seasons in your long form story and why they are split up into 3 eras.

How’s that?

Essentially, the structure of your story, pulses.

Each season does what it does, in response to what’s come before it. This is true both of the general dramatic concerns, as well as with the core concept.

The pulsing nature of your story’s dramatic evolution looks like this:

  • Season 1, establishes a THESIS.

  • Season 2, is then an ANTITHESIS of season 1.

  • Season 3, is then a SYNTHESIS of seasons 1 and 2.

Each era follows this “thesis,” “antithesis,” “synthesis” pattern.

When moving from one era into the next (ex: season 3 moving into season 4) the synthesis of the previous era acts as the thesis for the new era.

So…

  • Season 1: Thesis
  • Season 2: Antithesis
  • Season 3: Synthesis

Season 3 is also, simultaneously, the thesis for the new era.

  • That makes season 4 an antithesis of season 3.

And season 5 is a synthesis of seasons 3 and 4.

  • Season 5 is also, simultaneously, the new thesis.
  • Season 6 is an antithesis
  • Season 7 is the final synthesis.

To string it all together:

  • Season 1: Thesis
  • Season 2: Antithesis
  • Season 3: Synthesis/Thesis
  • Season 4: Antithesis
  • Season 5: Synthesis/Thesis
  • Season 6: Antithesis
  • Season 7: Synthesis

This is the dramatic evolution of any story, being fueled by different expressions of a core concept.

So what does this mean for season 1 specifically?

There are two elements to season 1’s “Dramatic Evolution:”

  • Thesis
  • Beginning of Your 1st Era

Thesis

Here you’re establishing your story’s thesis. Its establishing statement.

For our Spider-Man show, let’s say season 1 is all about:

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

That’s your establishing theme, your “thesis” statement – as far as your core concept “power” is concerned.

Simple enough, eh?

You just take a look at your core concept, and decide what your establishing thesis is going to be, with regards to that concept. Here we went with the classic Spider-Man line. It’s all about responsibility.

Beginning of Your 1st Era

Season 1 is the beginning of your first era. The first piece in the season 1, 2, 3 block.

You need to pay specific attention to the developments you’re looking to deal with in your first era.

Your first era will have a continuity in circumstance, theme, character, etc. Season 1 is where you begin these things. Season 1 is where you establish these things.

Let’s take a look at the show Prison Break.

In the beginning of season 1, we learn that Lincoln Burrows has been convicted of a crime he did not commit. That lays the foundation for the entire series. It establishes their core concept:

“Injustice.”

Lincoln being falsely imprisoned is the initial injustice, and catalyst for all the events that follow.

Season 1 also establishes the general theme for the first era:

“Prison.”

Season 1 is all about Michael Scofield planning and executing his escape from prison with his brother. It takes all season. But this prison theme is not restricted to just season 1. It’s the theme for the entire first era.

So in addressing this “Beginning of Your 1st Era” element, season 1 first establishes the overall core concept for the show – injustice. But then it also establishes the theme for the first era, specifically – “prison.” Setting it up for seasons 2 and 3 to partake in their version of this “prison” idea/theme moving forward.



Season 1 (part 4) – Establish Core Conflict & Full Circle

Season 1

Now that we’ve covered season 1’s “dramatic structure,” let’s take a look at its…

Dramatic Pace

There are two traits to consider for season 1’s “Dramatic Pace:”

  • Establish the Core Conflict
  • Full Circle

Core Conflict

A “core conflict” is one of the most important aspects of a long form story.

What is a core conflict?

A central conflict at the heart of your long form story.

A kind of enduring dramatic concern that sits at the very center of the story you’re telling.

This conflict will remain, in different forms, throughout the length of your story. So make sure it’s broad enough to accommodate the changing and evolving it needs to do throughout the different seasons. But also take care to make it clear and visceral – so your audience has something to really connect with.

When formulating your core conflict, you can make it easier on yourself by expressing it as a single sentence with a “will” or a “can” in front of it.

For a show like The Shield the core conflict is:
“Will Vic Mackey ever go down for the corrupt things he’s done?”

Remember though, this is just a tool to clarify the core conflict for yourself. Your core conflict doesn’t have to actually fit into this sentence structure. It’s just easier and cleaner to crystalize your core conflict into a simple statement, that clarifies what your story is fundamentally about. It’ll help keep you on track.

So, right at the top of season 1, you want to establish the core conflict. Ideally as soon as possible. Do it right from the jump, right there in the first episode.

In Sons of Anarchy, the show’s core conflict is:
“Can Jax have the club without the violence?”

This central question is right there in episode 1. It’s the main thematic concern Jax wrestles with throughout the first episode and the rest of the series. Good work.

Full Circle

The end of your story, should thematically tie together with the beginning.

You should bring it all full circle. The end of your season, loops back towards the beginning of your season.

How can you do this?

Bring back character attitudes, jokes, locations, anything you can think of, that you set up at the beginning of the season. Have any of these early elements reappear at the season’s end, to give the entire season a sense of connectedness. Of closure. A sense of the whole season being one large unit.

Some shows do this really well, with great effect.

In the first episode of The O.C. Sandy drives Ryan from Chino, to his home in Orange County. They drive by the coast, the nice homes, and a little later on Ryan meets Marissa as she’s standing in the driveway next door.

At the end of season 1, Ryan leaves Orange County heading back to Chino. Marissa stands in the driveway as he leaves, he passes the nice homes, the coast.

The season’s end, is replaying the beginning of the season, just in reverse order. This gives the season a sense of unity and closure. It’s a full circle.

We see something similar in Nip/Tuck.
The first episode has plastic surgeons Sean and Christian running into trouble with Escobar the drug lord. It seems they just helped an enemy of Escobar’s disappear by changing his face. Escobar tracks this guy down and has him killed. Leaving Sean and Christian with the body.

Near the end of the season, Escobar returns!
And forces our doctors to remove heroin implants out of the women he’s using as drug mules. In the end, they make a deal. Escobar is on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Sean and Christian give him a new face, in exchange for being left alone. But what Escobar quickly finds out – is they gave him the face of another man on the most wanted list. Sean and Christian started the season being terrorized by Escobar, and they ended it by putting him in jail.

This “full circle” idea doesn’t have to be saved for just the end of season 1. You can use it many times throughout season 1. You could also repeatedly have the episodes of your season refer back to previous episodes. These would be small, “mini-circles.”

The O.C. did this a lot in its first season.
As season 1 progressed, episodes would continually loop back to elements from 2 or 3 episodes previous. The entire first season was doing these little loops, all season, as it progressed forward. Another utilization of this “full circle” idea.

The “full circle” is really important to season 1, because season 1 is the bedrock of your long form story. It’s the foundation. And by utilizing this full circle idea, you’re solidifying the first season as one cohesive unit. A solid base, for the rest of the story to be built on top of.

So make sure, in season 1, to establish your core conflict, and bring it all full circle in the end.