Season 4 (part 4) – Even Trade of Characters & Promotion

Season 4

Dramatic Pace

Has two traits:

  • Even Trade, for your roster of characters
  • Promotion

Even Trade

In season 2, our previous separation/negative/deviation season, we had a change in our roster of characters with “new blood.” That meant we were bringing in new people – explicitly adding to the story’s roster of characters.

For an “even trade” in characters, this means…

We’re gonna lose some, and gain some, in equal measure.

What does this look like? Let’s take a peek:

In season 4 of Friday Night Lights they traded show regulars:

  • Street
  • Lyla
  • Smash
  • Tyra

for

  • Vince
  • Luke
  • Becky
  • Jess

That’s 4 for 4. That’s a straight even trade.

Glee did the same thing. After season 3, most of the glee club graduated. And while we kept up with some of them, like Rachel, Kurt, and Santana – others fell by the wayside, only making the occasional appearance, like:

  • Mercedes
  • Quinn
  • Mike

With a lot of the group having graduated, the club needs new members. So in come:

  • Jake
  • Marley
  • Ryder
  • Kitty

Generally speaking, that’s an even trade. Out with the old and in with the new, as life goes on.

An even trade of this size works best on large ensemble shows. The smaller the cast, the smaller the trade.

Promotion

What this means, is a little difficult to pin down. But basically:

The quality of your show has to go up. The show has to get better.

You’re giving your story a “promotion” in the eyes of the audience. The show was good before, but now it’s really killin’ it.

Why? Why do we need to specifically make the show so much better than before? Well, it’s been 3 full seasons now. Most shows don’t last even that long.

If your show is going to go for a second era, then you’ve got to show your audience that there’s more story to tell. You’ve got to open up the story to bigger and better things. You’ve gotta show them that the best is yet to come.

Let’s take a look at a story that really nailed the promotion:

LOST.

For the first three seasons, LOST was doing fantastic things with the stranded-on-an-island idea. But to “promote” the story, they moved past the mysterious island angle and opened up the story to bigger and better things. We’re shown that in the future, some of the survivors get off the island. Things get weirder, more complex, as mystery upon mystery teases itself into the future. More intricate mythology, and deeper, wider reaching questions, about not just the island, but: Why these people? Why go back to the island?

This is what we mean when we say “promotion.”

They even took it one step further in promoting not just the story content of the show, but the format as well. Season 4 ditches the flashback format from the previous era, and instead utilizes the flashforward format in the new era. That’s a definite promotion. Good work, LOST.

A more subtle example would be something like Dexter.

Season 4 pushed the quality of the show to new heights. The first three seasons were quite good, but season four really hit its stride and arguably achieved the series’ high point: Rita’s death.

Now, we understand this “promotion” idea can be fairly subjective. Especially when one of its main components is:

“Hey, make it ‘better.'”

But keep in mind, the general idea of the promotion is to open the show up to greater possibilities. Breathe new life into the overall story by leaving behind what’s already been explored – search out new vistas. Specifically new, cooler, more interesting vistas. Season 4 should feel like the meaningful culmination of everything that’s come before.

It’s like reinventing the show in a way. By season 4, you need to communicate to your audience that not only is there more story to tell, but better story to tell.

But what if you don’t promote. What’s the harm? Well, then you’ve got what we call a:

Slump

If the quality of your show was solid all through seasons 1, 2, and 3. And then you stick to the same general level of quality in season 4, then you’ve “slumped.” The show can’t stay the same level of quality. Because even if they don’t consciously realize it, the audience unconsciously needs things to get significantly better after the first era’s over.

Promoting isn’t an option, it’s a necessity for the longevity of your story.

If season 4 doesn’t take the story to new heights, then it’s no longer building with forward momentum, it’s sliding backward into inferiority. The best days of the story will be behind you and your audience will feel it. They will lose interest and stop watching. They’ll be thinking:

“The show peaked, what’s the point?”

It makes sense right? The first chunk is over, and they want the next chunk to be that much cooler. They want it to be an improvement upon the foundation set by the first era. If it’s just more of the same, they’re going to lose interest.

A lot of shows have suffered a slump in their season 4, and then never really recovered from the lost momentum:

  • Nip/Tuck
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • Rescue Me

They all had more seasons, sure. But the quality of the show never really recovered. Nobody really loved the show as much as they did previously.

They all coasted too much in season 4. These season 4’s weren’t necessarily worse than seasons 1, 2, or 3. But not explicitly better either. As a result, you’ve got no “promotion,” but a “slump” instead.

You can recover from a slump, but it’s an uphill battle.

Arguably The Sopranos did it. Season 4 was not great. It was too much of the same from the past 3 seasons. The circumstances weren’t very different, no real shake-up, nothing bigger, badder, more interesting, higher stakes. It was just continuing on from season 3, still playing out things that probably should have been wrapped up last season. As a consequence: it’s a slump.

Not a huge one. But a noticeable one.

Season 4 was arguably their weakest season, when it needed to be one of their strongest. But, season 5 got things moving again. It’s arguably one of their strongest. It picked the quality back up, and things worked out in the end.

What if your season 4 isn’t the same level of quality, but noticeably worse?

Oh boy…

What if you’ve “run out of ideas” and season 4 is worse than any part of the season 1, 2, 3 era? That’s a true slump that’s very difficult to recover from. A noticeably bad season 4 is a show breaker.

So when putting together your season 4, make sure to swap out an even number of characters for new ones. And go out of your way to up the quality of your show. Open it up to new ideas, grand new story threads, and a general sense of everything getting more meaningful and even better than ever before.



Season 3 (part 4) – Fallout & Point of No Return: Circumstantially

Season 3

Dramatic Pace

Season 3 has two traits:

  • Fallout
  • Point of No Return; Circumstantially

Fallout

The events that take place in season 3 as a natural and direct result of the events that occurred in season 2.

You don’t just start all new material in season 3. Instead, you want to dig into the fallout, the repercussions, the effects of all that occurred in season 2. If you did season 2 right, then you did a lot of major stuff: your “meaningful death,” “dragonslay,” etc. The “fallout” of these events are played out in season 3.

At the end of Supernatural season 2, Azazel, aka Yellow-Eyes, succeeded in opening a Devil’s Gate right before Dean shot him. When the Devil’s Gate opened, a whole bunch of demons escaped. Season 3 is then spent trying to take out these newly escaped demons. The Winchesters spend season 3 trying to clean up the “fallout.”

But it doesn’t end there, the end of season 2 also saw Sam getting killed, and Dean made a deal with a crossroads demon to bring him back. Dean has one year until that debt is collected and the hellhounds come for him. Season 3 is spent trying to get Dean out of this deal. More “fallout.”

Breaking Bad has an interesting amount of fallout in season 3.

Season 2 culminates with the death of Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane. Her distraught father is an air traffic controller, and his grief causes him to crash two planes into each other. Season 3 plays out the aftermath of this plane crash as pieces of the wreckage literally fall out of the sky. We’ve got some literal, and metaphorical: “fallout.”

Jesse checks himself into rehab trying to deal with his grief and his part in her death. That’s more “fallout.” Walt deals with his part in what happened. He could have saved Jane, but deliberately chose not to. While he does seem to be struggling with that choice (fallout), he’s doesn’t feel any real guilt. Maybe just a debt to Jesse.

The biggest form of “fallout” we see is with the Salamancas. In season 2, Hank killed Tuco the crazy drug dealer. In season 3, Tuco’s cousins come looking for Hank, to settle the score. That’s some big time “fallout.”

You get the idea.

Point of No Return – Circumstantially

Season 3 is the end of the season 1, 2, 3 era. And at the end of an era, you’ll always see a “point of no return.”

The moment that closes out the era.

A way of defining what’s come before, from what comes next.

For season 3, this “point of no return” is specifically about “circumstance.”

The first 3 seasons have some kind of unifying circumstance. At the end of season 3 you need to close out this era by leaving that circumstance behind. Like graduating high school or quitting a job.

At the end of House season 3, Dr. House fires his diagnostic team: Foreman, Cameron, and Chase. Up until this point, it had been the four of them solving medical mysteries. Their partnership had defined the first era. But now that House has fired them, he’s changed everything. It’s a circumstantial “point of no return” for the show.

At the end of LOST season 3, we see a flash to the future, and learn that some of the survivors eventually make it off the island. This is a big deal for the story. The show’s narrative then transitions from the flashbacks of the first 3 seasons, to flashforwards that will be used for the next era. For the show, it’s a “point of no return” in not just the events of the plot, but also the storytelling narrative itself. Impressive work.

So when pacing your story, make sure season 3 deals with the “fallout” of what’s come before, and lands on a solid “point of no return; circumstantially” in the end.



Season 2 (part 4) – New Blood & Dragonslay

Season 2

Dramatic Pace

It has two traits:

  • New Blood
  • Dragonslay

New Blood

“New blood” refers to your roster of characters.

In season 2, you want to introduce new characters.

Add some new blood.

Usually, you’ll see these characters acting as agents of the different season 2 themes. Characters are brought into the story to supply a stress test, or a meaningful death, or any other form of contradiction.

Say there’s a death in the family – maybe an authority figure. Say a main character’s father. Upon his death, Uncle So-and-So comes to town and plans on sticking around. Here you have one character satisfying several different needs for season 2.

Or maybe two of your main characters break up at the end of season 1, and in season 2 they both have new love interests. These new love interests, would typically be your “new blood.”

Let’s look at some examples:

In LOST season 2, we finally get that hatch open and find Desmond inside. He’s some definite new blood, that will be sticking around for the rest of the story. We also meet the “Tailies” – specifically Ana Lucia, Libby, Bernard, and Mr. Eko. Not to mention the mysterious “Henry Gale” aka Ben Linus, who’s pretty much the leader of “The Others.” All new blood – some sticking around longer than others.

LOST has a lot of characters already, but in season 2 they add a half dozen new ones. That’s a lot of new blood.

In season 2 of Grey’s Anatomy we see the addition of Addison – Derek’s wife, Derek’s best friend Mark “McSteamy” Sloan – the guy Addison cheated with, and towards the end of season 2, we see the addition of Callie Torres, a love interest for George. All significant characters that remain on the show for many years to come.

New Blood. Add new characters in season 2. You get the idea.

Dragonslay

What’s a “dragon?”

Anything that wasn’t resolved in season 1, and specifically wasn’t contradicted in season 2.

It just stayed the same, playing itself out throughout seasons 1 and 2. That’s a dragon. And it should be slayed, and resolved, by the end of season 2.

Why call it a “dragon?” It’s the beast that’s remained. The beast that keeps growing and thriving until your kill it.

What does this look like in practice?

A Bad Guy your main characters have been fighting since season 1. Maybe you didn’t take him out in season 1. He’s still here in season 2. He’s a dragon. And you better slay him by the end of season 2, or you’re dragging it out too long.

“Dramatic pace” is all about the pace of your story. If something has persisted through season 1 and season 2 and hasn’t really changed, then it’s time to finish it.

How about a different example of a dragon:

You could have a couple who’re engaged in season 1. In season 2 you didn’t contradict it, they are still engaged. By the end of season 2, you should hit that wedding. Or the end of the engagement. If you don’t, you’re dragging that piece of story out too long.

How about some real examples:

In Supernatural, your dragon is the all-powerful demon “Yellow-Eyes” aka “Azazel.” He’s been the big Bad-Guy the Winchester’s have been chasing since day one. And in the season 2 finale, Dean puts a magic bullet in his chest, killing him for good.

Not too long, not too short – that’s a solid pace.

In Alias season 2, we see SD-6 finally get raided and shut down by the real CIA. SD-6 was the dragon, and in season 2 we see it slayed.

So whatever dragons you have lingering around in season 2 – slay ’em.



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.