8 Steps to Better the Story in Your Screenplays

By Ken Miyamoto · August 14, 2019

Hollywood screenwriter Dan Harmon offers eight steps that screenwriters can take to better the stories within their screenplays.

Welcome to our ongoing Learning from the Masters and Industry Insiders series where we seek out and feature excellent videos, interviews, and discussions of the art, craft, and business of screenwriting and pull the best words of wisdom, writing tips, and screenwriting advice.

Here we feature the StudioBinder video 8 Proven Steps to Better Stories, featuring Dan Harmon’s Story Circle Method. We’ll break down the eight steps and elaborate on them.

1. You

“By calling this step ‘you’, we create an active tense, which creates an active drive. This is where you establish the status quo of the film.”

This is also where you establish the protagonist in their world. For the audience to better relate to the character, it’s best to show that character within a setting that audiences can identify with.

2. Need

“Adding a ‘need’ for the protagonist begins the story.”

There should be both an internal and external need. An external need can be applied to the overall protagonist goal of the plot. The hero must save a loved one. The hero must survive a dangerous situation.

An internal need covers the emotional arc and the underlying theme of the story. For a hero to save a loved one, they must first save themselves from their addiction. For the hero to survive a dangerous situation, they must overcome certain fears.

3. Go

This is where your main character enters the chaos realm of the circle.”

The concept of your screenplay comes into play during Step 3. It’s the core conflict as the character takes action. It’s a challenge that they are forced to take on or something that rocks their world.

4. Search

“When go doesn’t work, you have to keep searching. This is where the writer has to put a host of roadblocks between the protagonist and their need.” 

It’s sink or swim time for the protagonist. They have to deal with seemingly unending conflict.

5. Find

“This step is critical. Here, protagonists find what they were looking for in Step 2, but it doesn’t quite go the way they expected. In fact, things go sideways.”

Step 5 is the turning point of the script. Although the protagonist acquires what they thought they needed, they realize either that it wasn’t truly what they needed or they will have to face severe conflicts to attain it.

6. Take

“Because once you get your hands on whatever it is that you want, you have to take it. But they may also mean that you have to pay the price.”

This is often where twists come about. It’s the second turning point of the script. This is where the protagonist will face the toughest challenges.

“You have to push your protagonists to the brink. It can’t just be something bad. It has to be something totally devastating.”

7. Return

“[The Protagonist] has returned from the chaos realm, but has suffered a heavy loss. [They’ve] returning back to the start. Altered by [their] experiences in the second act, but equipped with a new need.”

This is the beginning of the major climax of the story.

8. Change

“Change has to be made visual. This is often calling ‘testing the change’ or the final showdown.”

The protagonist must now apply the changes they’ve made, the item they’ve found, or the awakening they’ve undergone — and are now tasked to put an end to the final conflict once and for all.

Watch as the video applies these steps to The Dark Knight, complete with scenes from the movie that showcase each step. Download the screenplay for THE DARK KNIGHT here for free.

For all the latest from The Script Lab, be sure to follow us on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

And become a member of TSL 360 to enjoy the LARGEST screenwriting education content library, featuring masterclasses, deep-dive interviews, and lectures from Academy Award-winning screenwriters, TV show-runners, producers, literary managers, agents, studio executives, and leading educators – all in one place.