Here I am guest blogging for writer/director Charles Harris. Part 2 of my musings on story structure.

The concluding part from guest blogger Yvonne Grace on story structure for TV series and serials, Creating Story Legs. Yvonne is an experienced writer, script editor and producer of TV series and serials, and the author of a brand new book on writing TV series – details of the book and her own sites at the end of the blog.

Read Part 1 here…

Along each episode story line – or story arc, there are ‘jagging points’. Here there can be a reflection made by a character; it could be a mini flashback we see, or an aside from another character that leads to a tangental moment or two between the protagonists that teach or suggest to us, something new about the character we are currently investing in.

Orange Is The New Black: Story Structure with legs

This is also where Back Story is often used to promote further understanding or create more questions in the mind of the audience, to be resolved later.

The Back Story

This to my mind, is the accumulation of moments and events; epic and miniscule, that form the person we see here now, on our screens.

Everyone has a history; their own story; the individual beats of which informs and influences the person we grew into. Dramatic characters are no different. This back story is not a dry list of historical facts and information such as where they were born and what school they went to; we have character biographies for that, and biogs have no place in the drama on our screens.

The Back Story is used to dramatically inform the audience about something we need to know now, about a particular character and it is also synonymous with that character’s subtext. For what is in the past often forms that which drives a character through their present day; and will form the motor which pushes a character along their storyline.

Examples of Back Story Informing Character

The structure of Orange is The New Black is shot through with Back Story.

Each episode has a non linear story line structure; flipping backwards and returning to the present day, bringing information about each individual cell inmate to the fore.

A defining moment for scary prison cook Red is framed nicely for us, as we see in flashback her chagrin at being rejected from her tight-knit Ukrainian female walking group.

We are told, that Piper likes keeping clean. The present day image of her in the shower in prison cuts quickly to two flashbacks (one flashback further back in time than the other) here Piper is getting clean; one with a woman in a shower (whom we don’t know yet) and the second with her established boyfriend in a bath. The fact that she likes being clean is obviously secondary to the fact that her sexual orientation is intentionally being kept unclear.

Examples of a ‘jag points’ or moments in a story line

Jag points add texture to a character’s story line and also to the scene in which the story sits at this given point:

Celia in Last Tango In Halifax ignores the presence of her grandson as she shares personal information about her dead husband to her daughter Caroline. The fact that she does this is not alluded to in the dialogue, it is just there, in the scene, for us to note and from which draw a conclusion.

Piper’s friend worries that Piper will not be able to keep her eyebrows shapely in prison. This is both flippant, but also intentionally telling about her present high maintenance life and friends.

These ‘jag points’ are not new acts, or plot twists, they are moments that add detail, they add layering and they add complexity and clever television writers use them all the time.

The milestones in an episode mark the big changes in your story line. They add weight and they will stretch your story line too. Here the plot goes off at a tangent for a good many scenes, or turns back on itself and we go to flashback, or we jump in time and the story line becomes non linear  and jumps between time frames.

Story Milestones mark something changing, something ending, something beginning. They mark the journey of your protagonist(s) as clearly as the moments (those smaller, jagging points in the story line) mark that journey with texture.

Examples of a Story Milestone

The Syndicate – Kay Mellor.

When the Syndicate wins  the lottery, this is their first milestone (and is also the jumping off point/The Inciting Incident for the series.)

In Happy Valley, the moment Tommy learns where Ryan lives. In Catherine’s house. This changes everything.

Each episode of television needs to have a story line  that delivers:

* At multi-act format

* A story line that contains multi plot  twists

* A story line that contains big milestones of change, deviation and revelation

* A story line that is peppered with moments of interest, observation, reflection and suggestion.

That way, you ensure you have created a story line that can carry. A story line that has ‘legs’.

Back to Part One

I hope you enjoyed Yvonne’s guest posting. If so, please post a comment or question. And if you want to write for television and learn more; there are a few ways Yvonne can help you:

Check out her website

Like her business page on facebook

Join her excellent group on facebook

Buy her book: Writing for Television; Series Serials and Soaps from Amazon

Follow her on Twitter: @YVONNEGRACE1