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  • Anthony Hett

How to write a short film - The Dan Harmon story circle

Hello and welcome to my blog, where I offer simple and practical advice on how to write and make an interesting, engaging and hopefully successful short film.


In today‘s blog post I will be discussing the Dan Harmon Story Circle which is an interesting and accessible way to look at the structure of short form content.

(via Reedsy blog)


For those of you who are not familiar with his work, Dan Harmon is a successful American screenwriter and show runner, who is best known for creating the sitcom Community and the animated series Rick and Morty.


While his Story Circle is an eight step story structure, designed to create a complete and powerful story, over a short/limited period of time. It is a technique modelled on the heroes journey, a story structure used by cultures worldwide, that has then been adapted to work well for short content.



The eight steps of the Dan Harmon Story Circle are as follows:


1. (You) The main character also known as the protagonist, is found in their familiar

surroundings or comfort zone.

2. (Need) The characters want or need is established.

3. (Go) They leave their familiar surrounds, to go on a journey to find their want or

need, entering an unfamiliar situation in order to do so.

4. (Search) The protagonist starts to overcome obstacles that are in the way of them

achieving their want or need, heloing them to adapt to the unfamiliar surroundings.

5. (Find) They achieve their goal, satisfying their want or need.

6. (Take) In taking what they wanted/needed, the protagonist ends up paying a large

emotional or physical price for doing so.

7. (Return) The protagonist returns to their familiar surroundings.

8. (Change) Due to their experience, they return having changed in some way.


It is important to understand that this is a helpful tool, that can be used to help you write an engaging story. It is a well trusted structure, but it is not the only way to write a story. A short film often focuses on a single incident or period of time (a day in the life of a character for example). However, even then there will usually be a problem that needs to be resolved. If you breakdown most stories with a strong and engaging narrative, then you will find that they tend to closely follow the Dan Harmon Story Circle, The Three Act Structure (discussed in my last post) or the Hero's Journey (which I will talk about in my next video).


So those are my thoughts on the Dan Harmon Story Circle. I think it is a really good way to look at story structure, especially for short form content and so I hope that you found it helpful. Let me know what you think in the comments below and be sure to check out my YouTube videos. In my next blog post I will be taking a look at The hero's journey.


Ps. If you would like to hear more about the Dan Harmon Story Circle from the man himself, be sure to checkout this video here.