As a teacher, this is my breakdown of Dan Harmon's Story Circle, and how it is useful for both pantsers/Gardeners and outliners/Architects, rephrasing each of the points as a question to make each point stand out a bit more.

Travis Sullivan

I’ll start off with I’m more of a pantser/Gardener than an outliner/Architect. That being said, going in with nothing basically leads to a host of problems and incomplete stories. But I hate outlining. I hate knowing exactly how the story will end, because then I don’t feel like I need to write it. But using the Story Circle, I’ve found that it gives me enough basic details to let the story flow and keep me on track, but not so constricting that I knew every last detail and feel like I don’t need to write the story. For outliners, this is just step one, and you can further refine and define this once you get the basics down.

Try it out. Even as a pantser/Gardener.

Below is the write up of the prewriting stuff I’ve been doing these last few weeks. It’s based on Dan Harmon’s Story Circle.

And a video about the story circle that breaks things down in a more simplistic form

My write up focuses more on coming at the Story Circle from a teacher’s perspective, asking questions rather than just explaining the points. So, try it with your story this Nano. Post it if you feel like it, and we can exchange feedback and brainstorming to help refine it if you would like.




1. How are you going to introduce the character and setting to the reader? How are you going to show what kind of character the main is in an active way that gives the character agency?  (To show us agency, just make sure the character has a goal, motivation to move towards that goal and that there is a conflict that is stopping them from reaching it.)

* Things to think about: Who is your character? What is special about them? What is special about the world/setting? What are some of the flaws in the character, society and the world?

-In Dragon Ball Z-Cell saga, Goku returns home and shows off his new power.
-In Star Wars, we start with the space battle to introduce the setting and then zoom in on our main character to see Luke doing stuff on the farm and tech stuff. 


2. What does the character find that hints at something being off/that could set off the plot? What info does the character gain that threatens to change their life/the world? And what do they try to do about it inside their own comfort zone, but fail to do so, often making it worse? 

*Things to think about: How does this info/revelation affect the character’s old life? What kind of implications does it have on the world as a whole? What kind of foreshadowing does it give to the reader? What new goal does this give the character, aka a plot goal? 

-In Dragon Ball Z-Cell saga, Goku learns of the Androids, but tries to beat them on his own, and falls to heart disease.
-In Star Wars, Luke finds the message for the princess and takes the message to old Ben, and after he hears old Ben’s story, but his solve is to just give old Ben the message and turn down old Ben’s offer to become a Jedi. 


3. This is an external event. This is the point that moves the character from a zone of comfort to an uncomfortable situation. What event is going to happen that forces your character to move on? What does it do to the character mentally? How does it affect them? 

*Things to think about: What does this do to how the character sees the world? How will the character’s goals change? How does this alter the plot goal gained in part 2?

-In Dragon Ball Z-Cell saga, Goku has to be taken out of the fight, and forced to be a sideline character.
-In Star Wars, this is where Luke returns home to find his family murdered by the empire, forcing him to leave home, and he is so distraught that he ends up in a bar fight before getting on the falcon. 


4. This is the training montage … lol. What does your character do to adjust to the change in their world? What kind of try/fail cycles do they go through to improve, to show that they are getting better/improving?

*Things to think about: What does the character try to do to adjust? What kind of trials must they endure? How much do you want to show? How will they try and fail while setting up a major point to come?

-In Dragon Ball Z-Cell saga, Goku recovers and begins training to beat androids / Cell, while staying in the Krillin-zone, aka a side character. From here, he trains in the room of spirit and time despite all the problems Cell is causing.
-In Star Wars, Luke is training on the Falcon to be a Jedi, learning how to fight with a lightsaber and being caught by the death star.


5. This is the internal point that gives your character the 1st piece of 2 pieces that they need to successfully win/complete the final goal in part 8. What choice do they make, and what does that choice end up granting them? What do they get that they didn't know they would get that helps them see the goal in mind? 

*Things to think about: How does this solve the plot goal/problem in part 2/3? How obvious is the actual gain of the 1st piece that the character receives?

-In Dragon Ball Z-Cell saga, Goku discovers that he is not strong enough and chooses to pass the torch to Gohan, who shows his inner power.
-In Star Wars, this is where they discover the princess is on the death star, and Luke choses to rescue her rather than completing their mission as stated. This gives them access to the rebellion and the death star’s plans. 


6. What does that choice cost the character? This is the 2nd piece of the final solution where combined with what they gained from their choice in part 5, allows them the final victory in part 8.

*Things to think about: How devastating is to the character? How do they recover? How do they recover? What do they do to move on? How obvious do you make the 2nd piece to the final solution?

-In Dragon Ball Z-Cell saga, Gohan isn't ruthless enough to finish Cell quickly, so goku has to sacrifice his life to save the planet.
-In Star Wars, old Ben dies because the Falcon needed to escape, but he became one with the force, showing Luke to trust in the force. Old Ben’s death and trust in the force allows old Ben to speak to Luke from beyond, helping him make the choice to also trust in the force. 


7. This is another external event, and basically the big battle, showdown, climax or major event. What is the final big conflict that happens before the very end? 

*Things to think about: Sometimes, part 7 isn’t what we think it is. Sometimes, the big battle is just the background and not the actual external conflict. What part 7’s conflict turns out to be is often dependent on the connections between parts 5, 6 and 8.

-In Dragon Ball Z-Cell saga, Cell comes back, stronger than ever, and there is an epic battle where Goku sits on the sideline, mentally connecting to Gohan to give him the strength to win.
-In Star Wars, this is just the big space battle where no one can hit the exhaust port, all while the Death Star is moving into range to destroy the rebellion. 


8. What is the final point in your climax where your character combines what he gained/learned from parts 5 and 6 to squeak out a victory? 

*Things to think about: Is this story a tragedy? Comedy? Happily ever after? What emotional tug do you want this final victory to have on the reader?

-In Dragon Ball Z-Cell saga, Dead, Goku has the power to reach Gohan on an emotional level, and that gives Gohan the power to win, fully marking Goku as a side character.
-In Star Wars, this is where Luke has the plans, knows where to shoot and hears old Ben telling him to use the force. He trusts in his training and uses the force, winning in the end. 

9. There is no real 9 in Dan Harmon’s original version, but I added it (or basically separated it out into its own part). What is the final image, the final payoff that you want to leave your reader with? 

*Things to think about: What emotion do you want your reader to put your book down with? How do you want to leave your characters? Is the end-end of your story, or only the end of a part of a longer story?

-In Dragon Ball Z-Cell saga, this is where Goku says he doesn’t want to be wished back, and the rest of his group use the Dragon Balls to return everything else back to normal.
-In Star Wars, this is the medal ceremony that ends with the characters going their separate ways.


Doing this for multiple POVs is a bit tricky the first time, and my suggestion for getting a wrap on that is to take a story you just read that you enjoyed, and break that story down into its 9 points for each character, then place each of those points in a time line. Some points will merge and be split up while others are clumped together. Doing this will help you get a hold of how the book you just read pieced it together, and give you an idea about how you would do it. I did this for The Shadow of What Was Lost (The Licanius Trilogy Book 1), but I will not post that here because spoilers. That book had four povs, and part 4 was the part that was split the most while part 7 was more clumped together than I thought it would be.


**I don’t read much romance, but I would be grateful if someone who did read a lot of romance (or a different genre of story than the ones listed) would break down a story they like into these 9 parts and mail it to me so that I can expand the examples for each part and help more writers out with this.**

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