Writer’s Desk: Characters Need to Change

When Dan Harmon was first attracting notice as the creator of the cult sitcom Community, he also frequently expounded on his ideas about story creation. In large part, the narrative framework he crafted drew in self-acknowledged fashion from Joseph Campbell, but dealt more with writerly needs (establishing audience interest, etc.).

The gist of his story structure is here:

  1. You (a character is in a zone of comfort)
  2. Need (but they want something)
  3. Go (they enter an unfamiliar situation)
  4. Search (adapt to it)
  5. Find (find what they wanted)
  6. Take (pay its price)
  7. Return (and go back to where they started)
  8. Change (now capable of change)

It is really worth digging into Harmon’s explanations of each step. But the most interesting aspect comes at the end, when your protagonist does something they never would have done at the start of the story. This is because of something they learned along the way:

Remember that zippo the bum gave him? It blocked the bullet! It’s hack, but it’s hack because it’s worked a thousand times. Grab it, deconstruct it, create your own version…

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