How Can the Dan Harmon Story Circle Help You Write Better Stories?
Are you familiar with the Dan Harmon story circle? Formulated by Dan Harmon, the executive producer of Community (2009) and Rick and Morty (2013), this storytelling format captures all the elements you need to tell an impactful story that can resonate with audiences. Harmon derived this model from Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.” Read on as we discuss how you can use the story circle to write better stories and whether you can benefit from fiction book editing services along the way, as well.
What Does the Dan Harmon Story Circle Consist Of?
The Dan Harmon Story Circle breaks down your story into 8 steps. These are:
1. You – Your character is in their comfort zone.
2. Need – However, they want something.
3. Go – The character’s want forces them an unfamiliar situation.
4. Search – The character can adapt to the unfamiliar situation.
5. Find – The character gets what they want.
6. Take – The character pays a heavy price for their achievement.
7. Return – The character can return to their previous situation.
8. Change – The character has undergone a transformation.
To explain it further, the first thing to do in the Dan Harmon story circle is to establish the protagonist. Everything looks fine at this point. Next, you show that something is not right. This is when the character crosses the threshold and enters an unfamiliar territory. Here, we see them undergo a series of trials and tribulations as they face new challenges. However, eventually, they adapt and “meet the Goddess.” It appears that they have made it. This is when the protagonist ends up paying a heavy price for going after something new and unfamiliar and “meet their maker.” Eventually, the protagonist can overcome this final hurdle and emerge victorious. In the final stage, the character has transformed and is now described as the “master of both worlds.”
The story moves in a figurative circle here with the protagonist ending up at their lowest point just when they find what they are looking for. Then, they make their way back up and emerge triumphant.
How Does the Dan Harmon Story Circle Make Your Story Better?
If you consider movies like The Matrix (1999), Iron Man (2008), Toy Story (1995), and Taken (2008), you will note that they utilize the Dan Harmon Story Circle. There may be some modifications, but the stories in these movies follow a similar arc. Here are some of the reasons why this story model works:
It Guides Your Story Through a Compelling Arc
Every story needs a defined arc that the audience can follow. The story circle incorporates all the necessary elements required to create such an arc. It allows you to introduce the protagonist, offers a quick “hook”, forces your protagonist through a difficult situation, and builds up to a climax. You’ll find that nearly every good story follows this format.
It Is Designed to Facilitate Change
The most memorable stories are about change. There’s nothing interesting about stagnancy. Life is constantly in flux and so most stories are written on similar lines. This is where the Dan Harmon Story circle excels. The steps in this story model facilitate the character through a transformative journey.
It’s important to understand here that change is a necessary part of the human experience. However, it’s usually not a pleasant one. Most of us are always looking for ways to come to terms with the changes happening around us. Thus, when the audience sees a protagonist confronted by a situation that is largely out of their control, they can relate to him and become invested in his journey. They want to know how things turn out for the protagonist.
Simply put, by using the Dan Harmon story circle, you can appeal to the audience’s sentiments regarding the changes that are happening in their own lives too.
It Has the Potential to Inspire
Stories that inspire and present a message of hope are a huge hit among audiences. You can always opt to show grim realities, but inspirational stories that leave the audience smiling and hopeful are a classic.
The Dan Harmon story circle does this pretty effectively. It requires your protagonist to undergo a series of challenging situations but eventually find his way back. Presenting a satisfying conclusion like that can inspire audiences to tackle the problems in their own lives too.
Wrapping It Up
The Dan Harmon story circle is centralized on human experiences of pain and transformation. While it may be a tad predictable, the right climax and conclusion can allow you to use this story model and write something that surprises your audience.
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