by Anne Robb
(Grand Prairie, Texas, USA)
Question: I was wondering if you have any tips on writing stories in a more episodic format. I'm writing scripts for a comic book series that my friend is drawing, and we want to have a format in which there is an over arching plot line, made up of smaller, individual stories.
I found this site years ago, and the Dramatica theory has worked wonders for me in the past with my personal projects, but I'm wondering if you have any tips as to how I could possibly use it in this format.
Thank you for your time.Answer:
There are basically three approaches.
First approach: You can apply the theory to each episode, to make each one a complete story. Your overarching plot will have its own story structure, and you simply find opportunities to tell a little bit of the overarching story in each episode.
Second: You plot out the arc for the entire series. Certain issues will be events in this overarching story. Other episodes will be separate tales used to explore other themes or character backgrounds.
Third: The beauty of Dramatica is that it is recursive. Any event or signpost can be turned into a sequence of smaller events with its own arc. For instance, if you are using the Dramatica software and you have created a structure for the overall series, take a look at the Plot Sequence report. This report breaks down each signpost into a series of four stages, which you can think of as 1) setup, 2) complication, 3) climax, and 4) resolution.
For instance, let's say your story goal for the overall series concerned Obtaining, and that the four signposts for the overall arc were Understanding, Doing, Obtaining, and Learning. If you were doing a 4-issue series, each of these signposts would become the story goal of one issue/episode. Issue 1 would be about a new understanding or misunderstanding. Issue 2 might be
about doing something complicates the plot. Issue 3 might be where the characters get/lose something, and Issue 4 would be about learning something that resolves the story.
However, let's say you wanted to do more than four issues. Turning to the Plot Sequence report, you might see that the first signpost, Understanding, breaks down into four stages: Truth, Evidence, Suspicion, and Falsehood.
You can then create four stories, making each of these topics into the story goal for a standalone story. Do this with each signpost, and you now have goals for 16 stories.
The beauty of this approach is that each issue is an episode within a larger story arc, which is in turn one act of the overarching series story, so it all hangs together. The readers want to get the next episode to see what happens next in the overarching story. Yet, you can still tell a complete story in each issue, so the reader gets a satisfying experience.
You could take this a step further. For instance, let's say you take the time to design a separate story form for Act 1 (or season one), which is about Understanding (or misunderstanding). You would make Truth, Evidence, Suspicion, and Falsehood the four signposts in the overall throughline for this act. If you turn to the Plot Sequence report for this act, it will break down Truth into four stages. Same with the others. Now you have story goals for 16 issues within this Act. Repeat for the other acts and that's enough for 64 issues.
Even if you don't have the Dramatica software to guide you, you can take this same approach on your own. Break your series into 4 acts, each act into its own 4-part arc, and each of those into a 4-part sequence, etc. Each part is an issue.
There are other ways to break down signposts into sequences, but this is the simplest.
Best of luck.