Season 1 (part 4) – Establish Core Conflict & Full Circle

Season 1

Now that we’ve covered season 1’s “dramatic structure,” let’s take a look at its…

Dramatic Pace

There are two traits to consider for season 1’s “Dramatic Pace:”

  • Establish the Core Conflict
  • Full Circle

Core Conflict

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.

Full Circle

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.