- Act 1
- Act 2
- Act 3
- Act 4
- All Videos In Release Order
- Dramatic Evolution
- Dramatic Pace
- Dramatic Structure
- Season 1
- Season 2
- Season 3
- Season 4
- Season 5
- Season 6
- Season 7
- Season 8
- Seven Seasons
- story shamans podcast
The Shield, The O.C. kinda…, Game of Thrones kinda…
We spoke about long form storytelling in the sense of it being a seven season structure. Seven seasons to tell your story, and then you’re done.
But what happens when you go beyond season seven? Plenty of shows do it. What then?
When you go past season 7, the whole seven season cycle starts over again.
Season 8, is just a new season 1.
You’ll deal with all the attributes of season 1 again:
- Establish Old Identities vs. New Identities
- Establish Character Roles
- New Circumstances/Location
- Fresh Start
- Old Circumstances/Location
- World Change
Then, as you move forward:
- Season 9 is a new season 2.
- Season 10 is a new season 3.
- Season 11 is a new season 4.
- Season 12 is a new season 5.
- Season 13 is a new season 6.
- Season 14 is a new season 7.
If you’re getting crazy and you go past season 14, then the cycle repeats again. Season 15 would be a new season 1, etc etc etc…
So what exactly do we mean by “a new season 1?”
We mean that you’re going to take a look at all of the things a normal season 1 does, and do those things again here in season 8. But notice, what you’re establishing in this season 8, should be done in stark contrast to what’s come before – in the season 1-7 cycle of the show.
If season 8 is truly a new season 1, then you’ll have to have a world change, a fresh start, a new world, etc. And this new world should be markedly different from the world of seasons 1-7. As different from them as season 1 was from the “old world” that existed before the show started.
So season 8 is in a strange position.
It is, essentially, two things at once:
- A separation/negative/deviation season, when looked at in the context of the show from season 1 onward.
- A connection/positive/origin season when seen in the context of the new cycle of the show being established (seasons 8-14).
This season serves two masters.
In a perfect world, every season 8 you see would play out this structure and serve as a new season 1.
But the world is rarely perfect, so you’re gonna see a bunch of shows that do something a bit different.
Typically, when a season 8 isn’t a new season 1, then showrunners make it a generic separation/negative/deviation season.
They’re continuing to pulse the seasons between connection/positive/origin and separation/negative/deviation in an effort to keep the narrative alive.
They treat their season 8 like a new, different, version of season 2, 4, or 6. In place of any specific traits for their season 8 (identity, new world, old world, core conflict, etc.), they just do thematically relevant stuff that would fit in any season 2, 4, or 6.
Is this a great idea? No.
By definition it makes for a pretty generic season. There’s no real change or development. The narrative is now spinning its wheels, pumping out a new season without building toward anything.
Let’s look at some examples:
House, season 8!
At the end of season 7, we saw House drive his car into Cuddy’s living room. Season 8 picks up with House in jail. Foreman gets him out on conditional release and back working at the hospital. Foreman’s actually taken over Cuddy’s position as Dean of Medicine, because she’s split town. Back at the hospital now, House is starting over – putting together a new team. Including new characters Park and Adams, and reuniting with Chase and Taub.
So there’s “separation” – in that Cuddy is gone and House has empty seats to fill on his new team. There’s “negative” – in that House is heartbroken and on probation, one screw-up away from going back to jail. And there’s “deviation” – in that these circumstances deviate from previous seasons.
With all of these things in play, it’s definitely a new era. And it should be. The season 6/7 era is over, so it’s time for a new one.
This is not a new story. It’s not a new season 1. Notice, we’re not starting over. House is still doing his differential diagnosis work at the same hospital with a cobbled together team. The world and location haven’t changed. The core conflict hasn’t changed. We did some character swapping but those who’ve stayed have pretty much the same identities as they did before. Things have changed (in an “era” sort of way) but this is definitely not a new season 1. They’re just squeakin’ out one more year before taking their bow. Squeakin’ out one more season.
Let’s take a look at another example:
Smallville ran for 10 seasons. They did treat season 8 as a new season 1.
We’ve got the new world/location: Clark moved from his home town of Smallville, to working and spending most of his time in Metropolis.
We’ve got the new core conflict: Clark spent the first seven seasons hiding his alien origins and his abilities. In season 8, the core conflict is now all about using those powers, but actively hiding his identity as “The Blur.”
- “Will they discover that Clark is an alien with super powers?”
- “Will they discover Clark Kent is the super powered ‘Blur?'”
It’s a subtle change, but significant.
Our characters get a roster change: Lex, Lionel, Martha, and Kara are all out (for the most part). Oliver Queen, Tess Mercer, and Davis Bloome (aka Doomsday) are all in.
And we’ve also got new identities for those characters stickin’ around:
Clark is now a reporter at the Daily Planet and masquerading as “The Blur.” When we see Lana Lang again she’s used Lex’s Prometheus technology to gain super-powers. She’s a hero of her own now.
Not everyone gets a new identity, but thematically, the season has plenty of focus on this (new) season 1 “identity” idea.
Structurally, Smallville’s season 8 is really solid.
So when building your season 8, go for a whole new season 1.
Start a whole new cycle of your show. You can squeeze out another mediocre year if you want, but really, that’s the bland, boring, way to go.
If you’re gonna go for season 8, really go for season 8. Do it right.
- Resolution of the Core Conflict
- Point of No Return; Geographically
Resolution of the Core Conflict
Way back in season 1, as part of the dramatic pace, we established a “core conflict” for our story. A sentence, typically formulated as a “can” or “will” statement. This statement embodied the central conflict that ran through the entire story.
Now, here in season 7, it’s time to resolve that “core conflict.”
How did The Shield do it?
Back in season 1, the “core conflict” was established as: “Will Vic Mackey get away with all the things he’s done. Will they get him?”
At the end of season 7, we get the definitive answer to that question. The answer is yes, he does get away with it all.
He managed to manipulate his way into an all-encompassing immunity deal. He’s free from prosecution for any of the crimes he’s committed, as long as he admits to them on tape and then well-behavedly rides a desk for the next 3 years at ICE, writing up reports on gang activity. It’s not ideal, but far better than jail.
Notice the subtlety though. Vic has avoided jail, but:
- Lem was murdered.
- Shane killed himself.
- Ronnie is going to jail.
- Mackey’s family went into witness protection to get away from him.
- He loves working the streets, but now he’s chained to a desk.
- He lost his badge, his reputation, and his power.
So did he really get away with everything he’s done? Yes and no. For a series about moral grey areas this is a solid resolution to the core conflict and the story as a whole.
Point of No Return – Geographically
Close out the era, and the story, with a massive physical change.
If season 7 is the end of your series (which ideally it would be) then you want to end it with a geographic change – to really seal the deal and bring everything to a crystal clear close.
Back in season 1, we started with a “new world.”
Season 1 was all about starting the story of this new world. Seasons 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and now 7 all told the tales of this place. And now that it’s coming to an end – it’s a good time to leave this place behind. Physically. Geographically.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it. They literally turned Sunnydale into a crater in the Earth. They can’t stay in Sunnydale anymore, there’s no town to stay in.
This big change is easier to do when season 7 is the definite end of your series. All things are possible at the true ending of your story. But even if you plan to continue on to a season 8 – utilize the geographic change anyway. The location shift will only help your story move forward in bold and exciting ways.
That’s what Smallville did. After season 7, Clark moved from small-town Smallville to the big city of Metropolis. Their show’s even named after the original location, but they still moved after season 7.
Smallville has its faults, but it did some things perfectly.
So when crafting your season 7, be sure to respect your dramatic pace by resolving your core conflict and being sure to execute a point of no return, geographically.
Now that we’ve covered season 1’s “dramatic structure,” let’s take a look at its…
There are two traits to consider for season 1’s “Dramatic Pace:”
- Establish the Core Conflict
- Full Circle
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.
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.