Outlining Your Book With The Story Circle

What is Dan Harmon’s Story Circle?

The major writing contribution writer Dan Harmon has made to the world, besides his much-loved show Rick and Morty, is the story circle. The premise isn’t hard to grasp, and it draws heavy influences from the work of academic Joseph Campbell, but its simplicity is where it shines.

The story circle encompasses a narrative that we can find in all major myths, movies, and books. Dan Harmon believes that it can be applied to ANY good movie or book ever made. An adventurous claim, but once you venture into the Story Circle, you’ll start to see the light.

The narrative is simple. A character starts in his home, ventures out to get something they need, and returns, having changed forever. Harmon lays these out in eight different plot points:

  • A character is in a zone of comfort
  • But they desperately want something
  • They enter an unfamiliar situation
  • The adapt to that unfamiliar situation
  • They get what they wanted after much effort
  • Knowingly or unknowingly, they pay a heavy price
  • They return back to their zone of comfort
  • They’ve been changed forever

The difference between Harmon’s way of outlining and most other ways of outlining is that it’s character-focused. It’s easy to outline and apply to a wider range of stories.

Let’s break down the story circle in the best way possible, using a blockbuster movie everyone (hopefully) has seen, The Lion King.

Zone of Comfort

Simba is a young lion cub and heir to the Kingdom of Pride Rock. He lives a privileged life as a lion as well as a prince in his homeland.

Need

Simba is eager to become King but also to prove himself to his father, Mufasa. He disobeys his father once and even brings his soon to be wife to the elephant graveyard and must be embarrassingly rescued by his father from a pack of hyenas.

The enter an unfamiliar situation

Simbas father is murdered by a stampede staged by his uncle Scar. Simba is blackmailed by Scar to leave the animal kingdom and has hyenas sent after him to hunt him down.

They adapt to their situation

Simba escapes the animal kingdom and is rescued by a meerkat and a warthog, Timone and Pumba. These two teach Simba how to live and turn from his lion ways and refrain from hunting other animals. Simba internalises their philosophy to shield against his trauma and the years pass away.

They get what they want

His old friend and former betrothed Nala comes and finds him after years. The two rekindle their romance. Simba argues but is finally convinced after seeing a vision of his father to return to Pride Rock and take his place as king. Markedly to stop running from his past trauma.

A heavy price is paid

Simba returns to Pride Rock and has a fight with Scar. Simba confronts his fear and confesses his part (accidental) in his father’s death. Scar does as well. This leads to a showdown where he is forced to kill his Uncle.

Return

Simba walks up to Pride Rock and roars loudly, signaling to the animal kingdom that he has returned and has taken his place as king.

Change

A few years pass and Simba and Nala have a cub of their own. The circle of life is re-emphasized and Simba has accepted his place in it.

Why is it called the Story Circle and not the Story Flat Line? Harmon explains that it’s because of the rhythms of biology, psychology, and culture. We move cyclically through phases of life, death, consciousness, emotions, and the general passage of time.

story circle

The Story Circle has helped many writers get a kick-start on their writing and it’ll help you to. Visit livingwriter.com and select the Story Circle template to get started as quickly as possible writing your cyclical, next best-seller.

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