Episodic Three Phase (part 2)


The basic three phase structure:

  • Exposition
  • Execution
  • Resolution

The five different types of premises:

  • Goal premise
  • Problem premise
  • Mystery premise
  • Dilemma premise
  • Situation premise

You take one of these 5 premises and develop them through the three phases of the structure.

Goal Premise

Your main characters are trying to achieve a specific goal.

Phase 1: Set up the premise, the specific goal.
Phase 2: Try to achieve the goal.
Phase 3: Succeed or fail at achieving the goal.

Let’s bust out an example:

PREMISE: “Rescue our team member.”

We’re on a special ops team and the premise is that we’ve gotta rescue one of our own.

PHASE 1: Exposition.

Here we’re setting up the premise. Setting up the goal. This is usually accomplished through some kind of catalyst. What’s a catalyst? Something specific happens, that causes our main characters to start pursuing the goal. With our example here, that’s pretty straight forward.

CATALYST: Our buddy gets kidnapped. That’s what kicks off our goal of rescuing him.

PHASE 2: Execution.

In this phase, we use some kind of specific methodology to try and achieve the goal.

We’ve gotta rescue our team member, so how are we gonna do it?

METHODOLOGY: We’re going to break into the bad guy’s fortress, grab him, and blast our way out.

PHASE 3: Resolution.

Our main characters come to some kind of conclusion at the end of the story. They either succeed or fail in achieving their goal.

CONCLUSION: We broke in, we killed some henchmen, got our guy, and we all got out alive. Goal achieved.

Problem Premise

Your main characters are tackling a specific problem.

Phase 1: Set up the problem.
Phase 2: Try to solve the problem.
Phase 3: Succeed or fail at solving the problem.


PHASE 1: Exposition.

You set up the problem.

The bad guys ran us off the road, destroying the car. That’s the catalyst.

We’re stuck in the middle of nowhere. With no phone, no vehicle, no food, we’re screwed.

PHASE 2: Execution.

You try to solve the problem.

Can’t get the car started. Can’t find a phone. With no other choice, we start walking. These are all specific methodologies we’re using to try and solve the problem.

PHASE 3: Resolution.

You either succeed or fail at solving the problem.

After hours of walking, we’ve finally made it to a farm house. We make it inside to find no one lives here. It’s completely empty. Not much help, but at least it’s shelter for the night.

That’s a conclusion, which resolves the current problem of being stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Notice the conclusion doesn’t have to be a neat, clean, happy ending. It just has to be some kind of resolution of the premise.

This problem premise could end with our characters hitching a ride into town and going back to their normal lives. Or it could end with them aimlessly wandering deeper into the woods, and completely running out of food and water.

Each of those is a conclusion, but they take your story in very different directions.

Mystery Premise

Your main characters are trying to solve a mystery.

Phase 1: Establish the mystery.
Phase 2: Try to gain insight.
Phase 3: Succeed or fail in solving the mystery.

PHASE 1: Exposition.

Establish the mystery.

We’ve got a dead body here – definitely murder.

PHASE 2: Execution.

Try to gain insight.

We work the case, chasing down leads.

PHASE 3: Resolution.

Succeed or fail in solving the mystery.

We solve the murder mystery – it was the babysitter.

That’s pretty pat.

When actually putting a story together, let’s go for something more messy:

PHASE 1: Establish the mystery.
You come home from work and your spouse is missing.

PHASE 2: Try to gain insight.
You don’t involve the police. You track him down yourself.

PHASE 3: Succeed or fail in solving the mystery.
You find him at the county morgue. Yikes.

Even though that resolution leads to lots of new questions… it still concludes our immediate mystery.

Dilemma Premise

Your main characters are faced with a dilemma.

Phase 1: Establish the dilemma.
Phase 2: Characters explore their options.
Phase 3: They make their choice.

PHASE 1: Exposition.

Establish the dilemma.

I’ve got two great guys who both wanna marry me.

PHASE 2: Execution.

Our main characters explore their options.

What would my life look like with suitor #1?
What would life be like with suitor #2?

PHASE 3: Resolution.

They make their choice.

Gonna go with suitor #1, because he’s my true love.

That’s a classic love triangle example. But the dilemma could be about anything:

  • Should I move to Boston?
  • Should I have the surgery?
  • Should I help this organization when the opportunity is great, but their morals seem dubious?
  • Etc, etc, etc.

Anything that’s a hard choice to make – that’s a dilemma.

Situation Premise

Any kind of premise that doesn’t fall under the heading of:

  • Goal
  • Problem
  • Mystery
  • Dilemma

It’s a catch-all.

It’s the type of premise you see every once in a while – where it’s just an opportunity to do some general character development.

Phase 1: Establish the situation.
Phase 2: Provide insight into the situation.
Phase 3: Make your point.

PHASE 1: Exposition.

Establish the situation.

Grandpa and grandson both can’t sleep. They meet in the kitchen for a late night chat.

PHASE 2: Execution.

Provide insight into the situation.

Grandpa talks about what’s on his mind. Grandson does the same.

PHASE 3: Resolution.

Make your point.

As storytellers, why were we spending time on this? What was the meaning or significance?

Grandpa’s got some demons from his war days and they parallel his grandson’s troubles with the mob. Grandpa gives him some solid advice on what he should do.

Set up the situation, provide insight, make your point.

Exposition, Execution, Resolution.

Episodic Three Phase (part 1)

We’ve covered the seven seasons – the method for structuring a long form story.

We’ve covered the cubbies – the method for structuring a short form story.

Now, we’re taking a quick look at…

Episodic Three Phase

The method for structuring a mini form story.

A “mini form” story would be a single episode of a T.V. series, or a single chapter in a book, a single issue of a comic book, or even a single scene in a film.

Why call it “episodic three phase?”

Because by and large, this structure is used for writing an episode of a T.V. series.

The structure goes like this:

Start with a “premise.” And develop it through three phases:

  • Exposition
  • Execution
  • Resolution


Sets up the premise. This first phase establishes what the premise is. Usually by way of some kind of “catalyst.”


Plays out this premise. Usually by way of some specific “methodology.”


Brings the premise to a close. Usually by way of some kind of “conclusion.”

That’s the basic idea. Take a premise and move it through these three phases.

Exposition, Execution, Resolution.
Catalyst, Methodology, Conclusion.

Now what kind of premise can you use?

There are five main types of premises:

We’ll talk about the specifics of each of these in a moment, but these are the basics to get you started.

Cubby Wrap-Up


Let’s take a look at what we’ve covered:


It’s the beginning of your story. A “what if” fantasy that will be explored through four distinct phases:

  • Neutral (you’re just establishing that “what if” fantasy)
  • Positive
  • Negative
  • Resolution

These four phases will directly coincide with the four acts of your story.

  • Act 1 = neutral, established, fantasy.
  • Act 2 = positive aspects of your fantasy.
  • Act 3 = negative aspects of your fantasy.
  • Act 4 = resolve the fantasy.


Your main character, and your major supporting characters, should all have a collection of traits:

  • Individual flaw – a weakness that affects just the character.
  • Moral flaw – a weakness that affects other characters.
  • Arc – the character changes over time, from one thing to another.
  • Ghost – something from the character’s past that still haunts them.
  • Passion – something the character really cares about.
  • Identity – how the world sees the character.
  • Essence – who the character really is, under the surface.
  • Emphasized cubby – a part of the story that is being exemplified by the character(s).
  • Character web – all the characters will share a common trait, connecting them in a web.


The world of your story has four concerns:

  • Location (with a metaphor)
  • Reality
  • Time Period
  • Duration

Where’s it take place?
What’s the reality of this place like?
What’re the limitations the time period puts on it?
How long does the story span?


When making a moral argument you have three different methods:

  • Pro/Con
  • Inverse
  • Four Point Alternation

Pro/Con – you argue the positive, and the negative, of one particular idea.

The death penalty’s bad.
The death penalty’s good.

Inverse – you argue one statement and its opposite.

Guns should be universally banned.
No they shouldn’t.

Four Point Alternation – you basically argue one idea vs another.

You do this by focusing on a particular statement for idea 1, as well as its opposite. And a particular statement for idea 2, and its opposite.

Marriage is the natural state for humans.
No it isn’t.


Bachelorhood is the natural state for humans.
No it isn’t.


One main primal desire, that is then broken up into sub-desires.

One sub-desire for each act of your story. These sub-desires act as stepping stones on the path to the main desire.


There are four different categories of conflict:

  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Self
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Man vs. Society

You should have one main overall conflict:

Say: “Man vs. Man.”

Then sub-conflicts that incorporate the other three categories. One sub-conflict per act.

Main conflict: Man vs. Man

  • Act 1 = Man vs. Self emphasized.
  • Act 2 = Man vs. Nature emphasized.
  • Act 3 = Man vs. Society emphasized.
  • Act 4 = Man vs. Man emphasized.


There are three different methods of revelation:

“Question and Answer” Method:

A specific question is raised, with a limited number a possible answers, and then that question is answered.

Will he take the job?

Possible answers:

  • yes
  • no

Eventually a decision is made.

“Mystery and Reveal” Method:

A mystery is established, with unlimited possible answers, and then that mystery is solved when the answer is revealed.

Who is the killer?

Possible answers:

  • Sue
  • Michael
  • Billy Bob
  • Joanna
  • Cyrus
  • Etc, etc, etc.

Eventually the killer is revealed.

“Unknown Surprise” Method:

Shocking information is revealed, without any previous indication.

“I’m moving to France!”

Then there are many different types of revelation:

  • Character revelation: a revelation is presented to a character.
  • Audience revelation: a revelation is presented to just the audience.
  • Self revelation: a character has a revelation about themselves, as part of their arc.
  • Story twist revelation: a revelation that is so massive, it changes your entire perception of the story up until that point.

You should have one major revelation near the end of each act, ideally at the turning points.

Your main character’s “self revelation,” should be in act four to coincide with the end of your character’s arc.

“Story twist” revelations are usually saved for act four, but they can be moved if need be.


There are eight different genre tones:

  • Comedy = happy
  • Tragedy = sad
  • Drama = serious
  • Farce = silly
  • Action = exciting
  • Horror = scary
  • Romance = idealistic
  • Erotica = sexy


An emotional theme that is primal, yet complex.

You want to explore both the positive and negative sides of this emotional theme with sub-expressions. Smaller emotional ideas that are related to the overall theme.

One sub-expression for each act, while the main theme runs through the entire story.


An intellectual theme based in a stimulating and thought-provoking idea.

You then want to explore this theme through sub-expressions, one per act.


Most stories have an “A” plot with a smaller “B” plot. But you could also have a “C” or “D” plot.

What are the specifics of your narrative’s traits?

  • Perspective?
  • Scope?
  • Stakes?
  • Timeline:
    • linear or non-linear?
    • If non-linear, then are you using any of the following:
      • Flashbacks?
      • Flashforwards?
      • Montages?
      • Co-Current Timelines?
        • If so, then you want to use an anchor.
  • Storytellers:
    • If so, is it a narrator or an internal monologue?
      • If a narrator, then is it in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person
      • Is the narrator inside or outside of the story?
      • Is it justified or unjustified?
      • Is it speaking in the past tense or present tense?
      • Is it verbal or text?


The particular way in which you execute the other cubbies of your story.

It gives your story its unique identity. A useful short hand is the “fill in the blank” method:

Your story is a:_____________.


25 steps total.

ACT 1:

  • Set up
  • Inciting Incident
  • Raise the Dramatic Question
  • Debate and Decision
  • Turning Point 1

ACT 2:

  • B Plot Introduction
  • Plan
  • Shenanigans
  • Commitment Confirmed
  • Turning Point 2

ACT 3:

  • B Plot Convergence
  • New Plan
  • Destruction
  • Point of Desperation
  • Turning Point 3

ACT 4:


Symbols are when you use one thing to represent something else, or a constellation of other ideas.

There are three different types of symbols:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Action

Visual symbols = something you see.
Ex: mailboxes representing home.

Auditory symbols = something your hear.
Ex: rushing water means impending danger.

Action symbols = something that happens.
Ex: the act of playing catch means two people are connected like family.


Moments create a sense of reality. Making your story feel real, instead of manufactured.

Two main ways of creating moments:

  • Intentional Flaws
  • Extraneous Beats

Intentional flaws = any imperfection on the part of a character that makes them seem more human.
Ex: bumping into a door or misspeaking.

Extraneous beats = a beat added to your story that isn’t absolutely necessary to the plot, but makes your characters feel more real.
Ex: having a character check to see if their gun is loaded three times, just to make sure.

You want to have one major moment that defines the soul of your story. It’s the moment in your story that captures the essence of what this entire tale has all been about.
Ex: father and son fishing on the lake at sunset.

That’s it Animals! All of the cubbies in one go!

Narrative Part 2: Storytellers

A “storyteller” is a character in a story who is actively participating in the telling of that story.

You’ve heard of a few – a “narrator,” for instance.

If you’ve decided to utilize a storyteller, there are a few things to consider. Questions you need to answer:

Narrator? Or internal monologue?

What’s the diff?

A “narrator” is a character speaking over the events of a story.

Usually divorced from the normal flow of time. We see narrator examples in Fight Club and The Shawshank Redemption.

An “internal monologue” is when the audience can hear the thoughts of a character, as they happen, in real time.

We see internal monologue examples in Adaptation and Dexter.

If your storyteller is a narrator…

Are they speaking in first, second, or third person?

First person – a character talking about his or herself.
“I have a pervasive fear of weddings. But when offered free booze, my ailment becomes manageable.”

Second person – a character talking to a “you.”
“You never seem to remember which kid is which. But you always seem to get it together when Kelly’s in town.”

Third person – a character talking about someone they’re indirectly involved with.
“That big guy over there is Johnny Macaroni, named after his love of elbow shaped pasta smothered in cheese.”

Establish if your narrator is inside or outside of the story.

Are they an active character in the story? Like what we see in Interview with the Vampire?
Or are they outside of the story as an omniscient voice? Like what we see in Vicky Cristina Barcelona?

Is the narration justified or unjustified?

“Justified” would mean there is a reason within the story that the narrator is saying what they’re saying. They’re writing a memoir, pouring their heart out in a diary, or telling their life story to someone on a park bench. We see these types of narrators in Stand by Me and Forrest Gump.

“Unjustified” would be when there is no justification for the narrator speaking, they just are. Like in Spider-Man or Savages.

When deciding between the two, justified always seems a bit better.

Is the narrator speaking in the past tense? Or the present tense?

It’s a small difference, but it communicates to the audience whether the story is over and done with – or if it’s happening right now.

Does the narrator acknowledge the audience directly or indirectly?

Directly acknowledging the audience, would be like what we see in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He’s speaking straight into the camera, talking directly to the audience.

Indirectly acknowledging the audience, would be like what we see in American Psycho. He isn’t directly speaking to the audience, but he is speaking as though someone is listening. He’s not talking to himself.

Is it verbal or text?

Most narrators are verbal – we hear them speaking to whoever their intended audience is. But some narrators can come in the form of text. Especially prologues and epilogues.

A classic example would be the opening text crawl in Star Wars.

Whatever form your storyteller takes, they can be a very important and necessary part of your story.

Any story with a large sprawling scope, that spans a great deal of time, usually needs a storyteller to tie it all together.

Or, if you’re looking to create a particularly intimate connection between a character and your audience – utilizing that character as a storyteller themselves is a great way to go.

Just keep in mind that storytellers can be tricky. It’s real easy to screw it up. The storyteller device is most often utilized in novels. So when bringing it to screenwriting, you’ve got to have a subtle hand to pull it off.