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.

Revelation: The Intrigue of Your Story

The intrigue of your story.

It’s what keeps your audience interested and keeps them guessing. It’s that progressive mystery. That rolling out of information that hooks ’em and simultaneously keeps ’em curious.

“Revelation” is all about surprising your audience, while moving the story forward.

There are three main methods for executing revelations in your story:

  • The Question and Answer Method
  • The Mystery and Reveal Method
  • The Unknown Surprise Method

Question and Answer Method

What’s that look like?

You raise a question, then you answer it.

The level of suspense is determined by how much ambiguity and time you put between the initial raising of the question, and the eventual answer.

Example: Will he take the job offer?

The question raised, is obvious. There’s a job on the table – will he take it or not? That’s the mystery. When he makes that decision, that’s when we have our answer.

Question. Answer.

But the general level of mystery here is limited. He’ll either accept the job offer or not. We know that much. There are really only two choices.

Sure, there’s maybe a convoluted third choice – where he bargains for a different job at the same company, etc. But by and large the question raised is clear, and the answer can really only be one of two choices. Because of that, the audience already has a 50/50 shot of guessing correctly what the answer is going to be. This makes the method simple, but still very useful.

Mystery and Reveal Method

What’s that look like?

Here you establish a mystery, then reveal the answer.

Example: Who is the killer?

Now this mystery is established here in the form of a question – just like the question and answer method, but notice the answer is not a simple binary choice.

“Who is the killer?” actually has a near-unlimited number of possible answers. The killer could be anyone. This is what causes the mystery reveal method to feel more complex than the question and answer method.

You establish a mystery with an abundance of possible answers. The audience is left guessing as to who in the world the killer could be. They sit in that uncertainty looking for clues. Primed and ready to accept red herrings along the way. Then, when you’re ready, you reveal the true answer.

Establish a mystery, and eventually reveal the answer.

Unknown Surprise Method

Revealing the answer to a question that was never actually asked.

Example: A character busting into a room and announcing:

“I’m Moving to France!”

Boom. It’s like a slap in the face. It comes out of nowhere. It’s a complete surprise, but a revelation none the less.

This is the simplest form of a revelation because you weren’t building toward it in any obvious way. You just revealed information, with no set-up. And because there was no set up, the unknown surprise method tends to feel a bit false unless done just right. Be careful.

Each method can be used to different effect, go ahead and utilize what’s best for your story.

The different types of revelations:

Character Revelation

This is the most common type of revelation. This is when the revelation is specifically experienced from a character’s perspective. The character learns something new and so does the audience, at the same time.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Harry is told by Hagrid that he is a wizard.
Batman Begins – Bruce Wayne learns the true identity of Henri Ducard.

Audience Revelation

The audience learns something that a character does not.


The Lion King – the audience sees Scar intentionally kill Mufasa while young Simba is oblivious to this fact.
Iron Man – the audience learns that Tony’s friend Obadiah Stane is betraying him long before he does.

Character’s Self Revelation

Which, as we’ve seen with the character cubby, is an intimate part of a character’s arc. The character learns something about themselves and grows.

This type of revelation is more of a concern for your character cubby and plot cubby. But it’s still a revelation, so we’re bringing it up now.


The Matrix – Neo has the self-revelation that he is in fact “The One.” He never believed it before and the audience was kept in a limbo state of uncertainty, but now, as he rises from the dead, both he and the audience learn the truth.

Story Twist Revelation

This is where the revelation is so massive that it changes your entire perception of the story up until this point.

In fact this type of revelation is so massive and story-altering that we could just say the story’s title and you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about:

Fight Club or The Sixth Sense.

Audiences love a good mystery, it gets their mind racing, trying to solve the riddle that’s been laid out before them. It’s fun and mentally stimulating.

The interesting thing about a revelation line is that it can only truly be experienced the first time. Once you know the answer, the riddle is never the same.

The structure for your revelations looks a lot like your desire line and conflict line.

Have a major revelation for each act.

Set it up at the beginning of your act, spend the act building towards the reveal, then end the act with that reveal.

Notice that this set-up gives you the opportunity to try a few different types and methods of revelations throughout your story. Mix it up. Try not to use the same type of revelation each time.

Keep them guessing.

If your revelations are predictable, then they have failed on a fundamental level because they did not build intrigue. A failed revelation can seriously backfire – instead of sitting on the edge of their seats, your audience’ll be rolling their eyes.