#45: Story Structure: Dan Harmon, Vol. 2 | The Tree of Life


They couldn’t stop drawing circles! Ryan, Michael, and Timmie return in Vol. 2 to test Dan Harmon’s tricks of the trade on an episode of Community and Terrence Malick’s, The Tree of Life. There’s dungeons, dragons, and dinos!

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I. Intro

A. R’s Carl Jung Addendum (Sometimes Vol. 2 is nice) [00:03:39]
B. When We Last Left Our Heroes…Brief Summary of Vol. 1
C. Let’s Rewind Before Moving On

  • 8 Steps

  • Quadrants and Breaking a Story

II. Breaking A Story [00:09:50]

A. Writing for Film: Can be a lonesome activityraccoonquadrants
B. TV Writing: Is often done as a group

  • Writers rooms seem like fun, but exhausting places

C. Either Way: It starts by mapping out ideas

  • Testing their validity

D. What is Dan Harmon’s Story Breaking Process?

  1. First step is a good idea
  2. Make a circle with charged dichotomies
  3. Test ideas
  4. Figure our your 8 step process

III. Community: Another Testing Ground [00:18:11]

A. Does Community Get Past Step 4?
B. Some Fans Claim That Every:

  1. Character
  2. Episode
  3. Season
  4. Arc
  5. Whole Series

Uses The Story Circle

C. “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” as an Exampledungeonsanddragonsquadrants

1) How do we think this circle might go?

  1. You | Jeff
  2. Need | Wants to help Fat Neil
  3. Go | Enters Dungeons and Dragons World
  4. Search | Gets Used to the Game
  5. Find | The Game Is Now Real
  6. Take | Loses Control of the Game to Pierce
  7. Return | Allows the Game to Resolve on Its Own
  8. Change | Accepts that Sometimes He’s the Villain

2) What Are the Quadrants?

  • Upper Half | Altruism
  • Lower Half | Guilt
  • Right Side | Control
  • Left Side | Lack of Control

IV. The Tree of Life [00:40:09]

A. Why This Film?
B. Putting Story Circle to Test: Structurally Difficult Film
C. Ideas that May Have Launched the Story

  1. Snowflake Method
  2. Similar to DH’s structure
  3. Using dichotomies: GRACE/NATURE
  4. Either way, moving Macro to Micro

D. Does The Story Circle Apply?treeoflifequadrants
E. Why Tell This Story Out of Order?

  • Memory/Dreams are never in chronological order

F. The Tree of Life Story Circle

1) How do we think this circle might go?

  1. You | Adult Jack
  2. Need | Wants to reconcile his conflicted state of being
  3. Go | Relives his childhood with adult eyes
  4. Search | Mentally relives and processes the events
  5. Find | He is more like his father than he wants to be
  6. Take | Accepts that he has to deal with it
  7. Return | Goes about the rest of his day
  8. Change | Accepts his dual nature and mortality

2) What Are Our Quadrants?

  • Upper Half | Grace
  • Lower Half | Nature
  • Right Side | Innocence
  • Left Side | Knowledge

G. R&T Love The Tree of Life!

V. Mini Segments [01:25:17]

A. What’s Michael Watching?: Summer Heights High
B. Ryan Finally Finished Cosmos: “Will Aliens Ever Hear NJAM?”

C. NJAM Sees It: Museum of the Moving Image
D. Monday Night Is Doc Night!
E. Podcast Recommendation: Harmontown

V. Conclusions [01:36:26]

Original Music

The music found in this episode was written and performed by the talented Jesse James.

Audio Editing

This show was edited by Ryan Jacobi.


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