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.