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What Can Writers Learn From Rick and Morty | Dan Harmon's Story Cycle

For over a decade, writer Dan Harmon has been known to break the stories he's working on with a structure he's identified as “The Embryo", “The Dan Harmon Story Circle” or just “The Story Circle.”

It's a strategy that has been adopted by many other writers since then.

There may be no better example of this system in action than the sci-fi comedy series that Harmon co-created, Rick and Morty.

What is the Dan Harmon Story Circle?

What Harmon did was simplifying the standard plot points to eight measures. What are the underlying motives, behavior, and consequences of humans, which he sets out in a circle:

  1. A character is in a zone of comfort,

  2. But they want something.

  3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,

  4. Adapt to it,

  5. Get what they wanted,

  6. Pay a heavy price for it,

  7. Then return to their familiar situation,

  8. Having changed.


Begin thinking about as many of your favorite films as you can, to see how this formula applies to them. However, like any story structure, this Circle Theory of Story from Dan Harmon works well in perspective, but it does not always appear to be valid in the end or during the writing process.

Harmon confesses that the ultimate structure doesn’t exist. Harmon's, however, is clearly a simpler approach between his, Campbell's, and Vogler's, that applies to so many stories.

It's easy. And to establish your own structure and method, you just need to add your own alterations.

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