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The Circle of Arcs

Emma_Clare at 12:00AM, March 9, 2018

For this week, I wanted to begin a new series of articles inspired by the most recent podcast “JUST DO IT!”. Part way through our discussion, the topic of creating stories came up and I, quite clumsily, tried to explain the theory of narrative circles and arcs as told by Dan Harmon, creator of Community, Rick and Morty and the YouTubeRed show, Good Game, which was released mid last year.

As my way of inspiring and encouraging webcomic creators to have more confidence in their stories, I brought up the idea that an audience innately knows when they are experiencing a good story as it follows a certain structure even if the story isn’t necessarily “unique”. We, on a basic level, search for and recognise patterns. And this is where we begin.

Dan Harmon explains in his article on Story Structure 101: Super Basic Shit” that a story begins when you take a circle, divide it in half vertically and then again horizontally. You then place the numbers one to eight in a clockwise direction and viola! You have your structure.

From there you begin to work your way around to come full circle.

I offer no apologies for that.

Mr Harmon describes the structure thusly:

“1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
2. But they want something.
3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
4. Adapt to it,
5. Get what they wanted,
6. Pay a heavy price for it,
7. Then return to their familiar situation,
8. Having changed.”

Or to make it simpler:

“1. When you
2. have a need,
3. you go somewhere,
4. search for it,
5. find it,
6. take it,
7. then return
8. and change things.”

This is your basic level theory on Dan Harmon’s narrative arc and I highly recommend you go read the rest of his article on how he structures story as there is some very interesting ideas he expands on that can help add layers to your work. Plus, you may need it for next week’s article for I’ll be going into “Arc-ception – A Circle, Within a Circle, Within a Circle.”

In the meantime here’s some homework. Look at your story as it is now. Can you apply the Circle of Arcs to your narrative? If not, think about if doing so would strengthen it. Let us know how you go! Till next time!



AmeliaP at 12:30PM, March 9, 2018

Great article! Dan Harmon’s narrative arc isn't so different from (Exhaustive, formulaic and... working like a charm) Campbell's theory, eh? Similar, but simplified. Peter Russel (screenwriter) said all the same tools are applied to a movie and a TV show, except in TV shows the hero "continues bleeding" (his words. it means she doesn't change) while in a movie, the hero changes in the end.

Banes at 8:32AM, March 9, 2018

Excellent stuff!

bravo1102 at 6:07AM, March 9, 2018

Just think about the movements of the "William tell overture" The arcs also work in understanding symphonies. And the circle within a circle; each movement could be its own arc within the greater circle of the symphony. My writing is too chaotic and awful to even try to put it into arcs even if I do understand all the theories.

Ironscarf at 3:15AM, March 9, 2018

Let's see: 1)A couple of guys at home. 2)They want to host a murder mystery evening. 3)A real murder attempt throws a spanner in the works. 4)They adapt by trying to solve this genuine murder mystery instead. 5)They get what they wanted by solving the mystery. 6)A heavy price is paid by putting their own lives in danger. I won't spoil it by giving away 7 and 8 but yes, the structure fits (I borrowed it)! Interesting post, I'll check out the article.

Ozoneocean at 12:19AM, March 9, 2018

Awkward but works in the other direction I think. Makes an interesting variation.

Ozoneocean at 12:18AM, March 9, 2018

I wonder if that will work in reverse?: 1. Character is in a comfort zone; 2. They leave their comfort zone; 3. They gain a lost friendship or sense of innocence (or something else that would have been "the price"); 4. They loose something they thought they wanted; 5. They start the journey home, missing the thing; 6. They return home; 7. They're unsatisfied now that they don't have that thing in their lives; 8. They're home and comfortable and forget the thing.

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