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:


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.


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.


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.

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…


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:


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


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


  • 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.