Season 1 (part 5) – Thesis & Beginning of 1st Era

As stated previously, every season has its:

  • Dramatic Structure
  • Dramatic Pace
  • Dramatic Evolution

Now’s the time to turn our attention to its…

Dramatic Evolution

Before we get into the specific traits of season 1’s dramatic evolution, let’s talk a little about dramatic evolution as a general concept:

“Dramatic Evolution” really has two different meanings:

  • It’s the way in which you successfully execute the different concerns of your “Dramatic Structure” and “Dramatic Pace.”
  • It’s all about your story’s CORE CONCEPT and the specific way it evolves, season to season.

Let’s look at the first meaning:

“The way in which you successfully execute the different concerns of your ‘Dramatic Structure’ and ‘Dramatic Pace.'”

What this means, is that how you handle your dramatic structure and dramatic pace elements, creates a narrative evolution from season to season. It has to. As the story progresses, it will necessarily evolve.

For season 1 specifically, this type of evolution necessitates that you establish all the basics of your story:

  • Your main characters.
  • The central dynamics between your characters.
  • The thematic ideas of your story.
  • The basic plot.

And anything else that needs to be established.

Season 1 is the original chunk of your story. The one that everything else will either subvert or reinforce, moving forward. So you need to make those original things clear here in season 1, in order to develop them as you move forward.

Meaning number two for “Dramatic Evolution:”

“It’s all about your CORE CONCEPT and the specific way it evolves, season to season.”

What’s a “core concept?”

It’s what your long form story is all about. The meaning of your story. The reason it is being told. The point. At its heart, it is an idea which every other element in your story is meant to help dramatize.

For demonstration purposes let’s put together a hypothetical show about Spider-Man.

Your show’s “core concept” could be all about: “Power.”

Fundamentally the point of the show is this idea of “power” and what it means.

This power concept is not the plot of the show, it’s not the character’s arc, it’s not the core conflict, it is a separate, underlining idea: the “core concept.”

The core concept can be tightly related to any one of these other aspects, but it still needs to be a separate idea unto itself. They can be closely related, but not the same.

Once you have your core concept, there’s the evolutionary process your core concept goes through as your story progresses. This “evolution” process is why there are 7 seasons in your long form story and why they are split up into 3 eras.

How’s that?

Essentially, the structure of your story, pulses.

Each season does what it does, in response to what’s come before it. This is true both of the general dramatic concerns, as well as with the core concept.

The pulsing nature of your story’s dramatic evolution looks like this:

  • Season 1, establishes a THESIS.

  • Season 2, is then an ANTITHESIS of season 1.

  • Season 3, is then a SYNTHESIS of seasons 1 and 2.

Each era follows this “thesis,” “antithesis,” “synthesis” pattern.

When moving from one era into the next (ex: season 3 moving into season 4) the synthesis of the previous era acts as the thesis for the new era.

So…

  • Season 1: Thesis
  • Season 2: Antithesis
  • Season 3: Synthesis

Season 3 is also, simultaneously, the thesis for the new era.

  • That makes season 4 an antithesis of season 3.

And season 5 is a synthesis of seasons 3 and 4.

  • Season 5 is also, simultaneously, the new thesis.
  • Season 6 is an antithesis
  • Season 7 is the final synthesis.

To string it all together:

  • Season 1: Thesis
  • Season 2: Antithesis
  • Season 3: Synthesis/Thesis
  • Season 4: Antithesis
  • Season 5: Synthesis/Thesis
  • Season 6: Antithesis
  • Season 7: Synthesis

This is the dramatic evolution of any story, being fueled by different expressions of a core concept.

So what does this mean for season 1 specifically?

There are two elements to season 1’s “Dramatic Evolution:”

  • Thesis
  • Beginning of Your 1st Era

Thesis

Here you’re establishing your story’s thesis. Its establishing statement.

For our Spider-Man show, let’s say season 1 is all about:

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

That’s your establishing theme, your “thesis” statement – as far as your core concept “power” is concerned.

Simple enough, eh?

You just take a look at your core concept, and decide what your establishing thesis is going to be, with regards to that concept. Here we went with the classic Spider-Man line. It’s all about responsibility.

Beginning of Your 1st Era

Season 1 is the beginning of your first era. The first piece in the season 1, 2, 3 block.

You need to pay specific attention to the developments you’re looking to deal with in your first era.

Your first era will have a continuity in circumstance, theme, character, etc. Season 1 is where you begin these things. Season 1 is where you establish these things.

Let’s take a look at the show Prison Break.

In the beginning of season 1, we learn that Lincoln Burrows has been convicted of a crime he did not commit. That lays the foundation for the entire series. It establishes their core concept:

“Injustice.”

Lincoln being falsely imprisoned is the initial injustice, and catalyst for all the events that follow.

Season 1 also establishes the general theme for the first era:

“Prison.”

Season 1 is all about Michael Scofield planning and executing his escape from prison with his brother. It takes all season. But this prison theme is not restricted to just season 1. It’s the theme for the entire first era.

So in addressing this “Beginning of Your 1st Era” element, season 1 first establishes the overall core concept for the show – injustice. But then it also establishes the theme for the first era, specifically – “prison.” Setting it up for seasons 2 and 3 to partake in their version of this “prison” idea/theme moving forward.



Emotion: The Heart of Your Story

A theme that takes care to create an emotional experience in your audience.

This is the responsibility of your emotion cubby.

You’ve got to make them feel. They’ve got to care, they’ve got to invest in your characters and the events of your story.

How do you do this?

First, you want to choose an overall emotional concept.

An emotional theme.

The most effective emotional themes are the primal ones.

We talked about primal desires a few cubbies back – let’s take a look at primal emotions.

These are the basic, most easily understood emotions we animals feel. We’re talkin’ the kind of emotional themes that grip deep inside us.

Primal Emotional Themes:

  • Love
  • Hate
  • Joy
  • Sorrow
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Jealousy
  • Pride
  • Lust
  • Etc…

Whichever you go with, you’ve got to keep in mind:

This theme is the main thing you want your audience to feel during your story.

It’s about emotion. What do you want them to feel?

A few details:

You want to make sure you don’t get too intellectual or philosophical with your emotional theme. This cubby is all about emotion. Feelings. If you get too heady with it, you’ll lose the heart.

Also, take care to make sure your emotion line has something to say.
Pick your central emotion, but then explore the positive and negative sides of that emotion. Really dig in and get interesting with it. Push the emotion in different directions with different expressions and perceptions. Re-define these emotions as much as you can.

So how do we do it?

Choose your primary emotion – then break things down into the four act structure.

Your primary emotional theme will be present throughout the entire story. But you also want to select related sub-emotions to explore during each specific act.

Say your main theme is: anger.

  • Act 1: resentment
  • Act 2: frustration
  • Act 3: rage
  • Act 4: catharsis

Notice anger, as a concept, is ever-present. But each act gets a specific expression of anger to explore.

In the end, you want to make sure you lean on your ultimate point about anger. What are you trying to say about anger? Whatever that might be, bring it to a head in act 4.

Depending on what you’re looking for, your emotion line can be very simple or complex. Whatever you go with, the emotion line is absolutely essential.

We can’t overstate its importance enough.

A story without an emotion line is a hollow shell.



Desire: The Driving Force of Your Story

The driving force of any story is a strong desire line. What’s that?

A strong specific desire your character has, and the path forward that takes them closer and closer to it.

How do you build a strong desire line?

First, you give your main character a clear desire – a goal that they are trying to achieve.

This desire could be a tangible thing:

  • A big-ole-bag of money
  • A cure for a disease
  • A dream house

Or it could be an intangible desire:

  • Love
  • Redemption
  • Respect

The best desires are both.

Your character wants respect, and the way to get that is to win the big race.
So the clear desire is to win the race. But simultaneously, it’s about what winning that race means – the respect of his family and friends.

Desire lines give the audience something to invest in.

When the audience knows the character’s desire, they can root for them to achieve it. They can picture what it will look like if the hero succeeds or fails. And if that desire is something that hooks your audience, then they’ll be rabidly curious to see what happens in the end. Will they succeed? Will they fail? Your desire line paints the stakes of your story in technicolor.

But what makes a good desire line?

What kinds of desires do audiences care about?

Primal desires.

Primal desires are by far the most effective. Because they are inherently understood by every human being on the planet. They elicit powerful emotional responses:

  • Survival
  • Freedom
  • Love
  • Sex
  • Shelter
  • Food
  • Water
  • Sleep
  • Air
  • Sunlight
  • Meaning
  • Revenge
  • Justice
  • Legacy
  • Knowledge
  • Redemption
  • Forgiveness
  • Respect
  • Power
  • Acceptance
  • Recognition
  • Inspiration
  • Spirituality
  • Etc, etc, etc…

This is where you start. In building a desire line, nail down something primal.

The audience should never be asking themselves “why does she want that?” If it’s primal, it’s obvious. They’re deeply emotional drives and needs. No one is ever confused by why someone would want love or respect or survival. These are universal. Desired by everyone.

So start with something primal. Then give it a tangible expression.

Say: a desire for revenge.
The tangible expression: killing his wife’s murderer.

So how do we integrate this desire into the story? How do we roll it out? How do we execute the desire line?

You have one main desire that persists throughout the entire story.

And then you take this main desire and break it down into smaller, sub-desires.

An effective tool for creating these smaller sub-desires is to think in terms of “if, then” statements.

Let’s say your overall main desire is to break out of prison.

IF your main character wants to break out of prison, THEN he has to convince his cell mate to join in on the break-out plan.

Once this first sub-desire is achieved and the cell mate is on board, you move on to the next sub-desire.

IF they want to break out of prison, THEN they have to dig a tunnel… and so on.

These smaller desires act as steps towards achieving the ultimate desire.

You can think of the desire line structure as following the four act structure we’ve already discussed.

One desire per act:

  • Act 1 – Establish the main desire.
  • Act 2 – A necessary sub-desire on the path to the main desire.
  • Act 3 – Another sub-desire.
  • Act 4 – Full steam ahead on the main desire.

The audience will see the main desire achieved or lost by the end of the story.

You can incorporate smaller desires along the way if need be, but having it broken into acts this way is a good basic framework.

So:

  • Lock down a primal intangible desire.
  • Give it a tangible form that an audience can get emotionally invested in.
  • Create at least 4 sub-desires on the way to achieving it.

You’re all done.