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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Peaslee

Learning Dan Harmon's Story Circle with Episodes of Community and Rick & Morty

Do you watch Community? Or Rick and Morty? I do. Love 'em. Community has been off the air for a while, but I still rewatch it.

I think Dan Harmon is a master of storytelling. That's part of what makes his shows so compelling.

You may have heard of Harmon's Story Circle—or maybe you haven't. It's a storytelling technique that's like a streamlined Hero's Journey, with 8 steps. It's a circle because life moves in cyclical phases: an important part of our personal journeys is the return.

As Harmon says, "If our heroes just climbed beanstalks and never came down, we wouldn't have survived our first ice age.”

So, what is the Story Circle?

Let's go over it, step by step:

  1. You—Your protagonist is in their comfort zone.

  2. Need—The inciting incident occurs, revealing the protagonist's need.

  3. Go—Protagonist goes on a journey to find what they need.

  4. Search—Protagonist encounters obstacles during the journey.

  5. Find—Success! Protagonist finds what they need.

  6. Take—Protagonist obtains what they need, but pays a price.

  7. Return—Protagonist returns home.

  8. Change—Protagonist is forever changed.

Let's examine these steps through episodes of Community and Rick and Morty.


Episode: "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," S2E11 Community
  1. You—Abed is at college, excited for Christmas because his mother is coming to visit.

  2. Need—Outer need: Abed needs to find out what's making him see the world as stop motion. Inner need: Abed needs to find out the meaning of Christmas.

  3. Go—Abed and his friends go on a mental journey.

  4. Search—Abed's friends drop out, one by one, of the mental journey.

  5. Find—Abed is confronted by the card that his mother left him, saying she won't be visiting for Christmas.

  6. Take—Abed's friends return and show him the meaning of Christmas. His relationship with his mother, however, is forever changed.

  7. Return—Abed stops seeing the world in stop motion. He resolves himself to be alone that Christmas.

  8. Change—Abed's friends turn up, showing him that he isn't alone.

I couldn't find a GIF of the episode, so this is what you get. Sorry. Blame GIPHY.


Episode: "Rickternal Friendshine of the Spotless Mort," S5E8 Rick and Morty

  1. You—Rick is left at home by himself while the family goes on a cruise.

  2. Need—Rick needs his best friend, Birdperson, back.

  3. Go—Rick goes into Birdperson's unconscious mind to rescue his conscious mind.

  4. Search—Rick searches for Birdperson, navigating various mind obstacles. He is aided by a memory version of himself.

  5. Find—Rick finds Birdperson.

  6. Take—Rick convinces Birdperson to come home with him but has to give up a secret to do so.

  7. Return—Rick and Birdperson make it back, with Birdperson's conscious mind restored and Rick back in his own body.

  8. Change—Birdperson is colder with Rick, realizing that Rick only told his secret because he had no other choice.



When you break it down like that, a story is pretty simple. It's a journey you take your readers on.

This is, of course, just one way to plan or outline a story. There are many. As always, find what works for you.

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