Showing posts with label supernatural. Show all posts
Showing posts with label supernatural. Show all posts

Friday, February 3

The Structure of a Supernatural Episode

The Structure of a Supernatural Episode

I've rewatched Supernatural a few times. For giggles I've drawn up what I'll call a plot outline. This isn't intended to be an outline for each episode, or for any particular episode. The following has been drawn from a number of different episodes and pieced together. Please keep in mind that this is a work-in-progress! 

Note: Transcripts of most of the episodes can be found on the Supernatural Wiki. 

By the way, if you would like to read more about story structure, try my article: Story Structure.

The Structure of an Episode of Supernatural


Inciting Incident: Someone dies a gruesome death.

Act One

Banter: The theme of the episode is introduced as the brothers talk to each other. What they talk about is tied into the story arc for that season. As they talk, the brothers learn of the bizarre death that occurred in the trailer. They’re not 100% sure if the death is the work of a monster, but it seems like their kind of thing.

Body. The brothers stand beside the body of the person killed in the trailer. Generally, they are inside a morgue and a medical examiner is with them. They question the medical examiner and make observations of their own.

Interview: Round one. The brothers question those close to the victim as well as anyone who was with the victim near the time of their death. One of the people the brothers talk to suspects Dean and Sam aren’t what they say. The confrontation is more-or-less friendly. The brothers give this person their phone number.

Crime Scene. The brothers go to the crime scene and look around. Perhaps they’ve picked up a clue or three from their questioning so they’re not only looking for clues as to what kind of thing did this, they’re also trying to rule out theories they’ve already come up with.

Interview: Round two. The brothers go back to some of the people they’ve already questioned (they might also speak to someone new). They need to clarify a point, or they require more information, or perhaps they now know a person lied to them. 

Twist: In a scene that usually involves the brothers, the central mystery for this episode is revealed. For example, let’s say Charlie is acting all dark-side and the boys aren’t sure why. This is the point at which we find out there are two Charlies, one all brightness and light, the other pain and black clothing.[Supernatural Season 10, Episode 11]

Act Two

More banter. The banter ties the theme of the episode to the story arc for that season and does so more strongly than before. Something has changed, the stakes have been raised or perhaps the danger has become more immediate. 

The brothers’ discussion has to do with something personal, something about the conflict they’re going through that season. It is possible that the conflict raised by the story arc for the season will prove to be crucial for the climax of the episode in the sense that if Sam can’t resolve his conflict at the climax of the episode there is no chance he will be able to resolve the much greater conflict at the end of the season.

The brothers find another clue. Because of this clue, they go back and re-question some of the people they’ve already interviewed.

Midpoint. This is generally an information dump or a confrontation leading to a revelation. The brothers emerge with a hypothesis of why what is happening is happening. Research reveals the answers.

The brothers investigate something based on the new information they’ve uncovered.

The boys visit a person who turns out to be a mentor figure (or some kind of archetypal figure). Perhaps this is someone who has investigated the case before them or an expert on local lore. Before the mentor figure gives the boys any information he gives them a test, often a test of knowledge. 

The stakes are raised. The boys find the monster (or, what is more likely, the monster finds them), but they aren’t prepared. Either the monster has abilities they aren't prepared for and it gets the upper hand, or what the brothers thought was the Big Bad turns out to be the Big Bad’s helper. In any case, the brothers' situation isn’t just bad, it’s dire

Act Three

We see the monster attacking one of the people the brothers have interviewed. This will generally be someone sympathetic.

At this point the brothers have figured out the kind of beastie they’re looking for, have figured out its weaknesses, and now all that’s left is to hunt it down. The question: will they arrive in time?

Escalation of stakes: In order to destroy the monster an artifact must be destroyed, something it gets its power from. But, first, they must find it. Or perhaps one of the brothers puts himself in danger to lure the monster out so it can be utterly destroyed.

Theme tie in. One of the brothers warns the other that if he’s going to do this he has to resolve the personal conflict that was discussed at the beginning of acts one and two. Perhaps that conflict is that he has to forgive himself. 

The brothers track down the cursed artifact. They summon the monster and prepare for battle.

Act Four

Something distracts one of the brothers from protecting the other. Perhaps the police have responded to a complaint, perhaps it’s another monster, but something requires that one of the others be elsewhere.

The remaining brother is vulnerable to the monster in the same way the other victims were because he hasn’t resolved his personal conflict.

The other brother comes to the rescue in the nick of time and destroys the artifact. For a moment it seems like the monster is gone but a second later we see that the monster is still there. Something is wrong. All hope is lost.

One of the brothers uses something in an unexpected and creative way and the monster dies. For example, Dean holds a mirror up to the ghost conjured by a foolish person chanting “bloody Mary.” The ghost is affected by her own magic and dies, killed by her own curse.


Show that the endangered human is safe. If Sam’s challenge is to forgive himself then have him give this advice to the girl/guy the brothers saved. Have a short discussion between Sam and Dean which ties the events of the episode in with the story arc for that season.

* Blast classic rock music as Dean's 1967 Chevrolet Impala drives off into the sunset. *

Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

One of my favorite reference books, a golden oldie, is The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

That's it! I hope you got something out of this post. Have you ever tried to do something similar with your favorite TV series? If so, please share! 

Have a terrific weekend, I'll talk to you again on Monday. :-)

Saturday, January 21

The Tropes of Supernatural

The Tropes of Supernatural

I have a confession: I’m a super-fan of Supernatural. I’ve rewatched the entire series—twice! Each time something new would pop; I’d get a fresh insight into the rhythm, the patterns, the complex web of conflicting character desires.

For those who’ve never seen Supernatural, it’s ...

“an American fantasy horror television series created by Eric Kripke. It was first broadcast on September 13, 2005, on The WB .... Starring Jared Padalecki as Sam Winchester and Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester, the series follows the two brothers as they hunt demons, ghosts, monsters, and other supernatural beings. (Supernatural, Wikipedia)”

I’ve watched Supernatural from the very first episode way back in 2005. So, in honor of supernatural's upcoming 13th season, I thought I'd take a look at the tropes used in the show.

About tropes: The way I see it, just because a show uses tropes doesn’t mean it’s bad. It all depends on how the tropes are written.

Knowledge Broker

A Knowledge Broker “is the person who always seems to have the dirt on everybody. The person who runs an information-gathering system, with a network of informers.” The Knowledge Broker may seem “nearly omniscient. He/she always seems to have just the right tidbit of information for whoever is willing to pay their price. For the most part, he remains impartial despite his vast influence, and most people know to stay on his good (or at least indifferent) side.” (TVTropes, Knowledge Broker)


- Ice Pick from Magnum, P.I.
- Sam Axe in Burn Notice.
- Mycroft on Sherlock.

Related tropes:

- The Barnum
- Freudian Excuse
- Default to Good

Monster of the Week

A Monster of the Week story is one in which “characters fight a villain and the whole story is wrapped up at the end, never to be dealt with again.”

Cool fact: Did you know that the phrase, “Monster of the Week” comes from the writing staff of the Outer Limits (1963)?


- The Twilight Zone
- The Outer Limits
- Marvel’s Agents of  S.H.I.E.L.D.

Related tropes:

- One-Shot Character
- Mystery of the Week
- Monster Munch

Walking the Earth

This is one of my favorite tropes! From TVTropes:

“Footloose and fancy-free, we set off among the Adventure Towns, seeking the next place, rather than our fortunes. / ... The character has no home (or he/she/it in progress of finding one), no job, no money, no identification, no friends, and no visible means of support, yet is always healthy, well-fed, clean, and welcome wherever he goes.”

“When one is forced to walk the earth against one's will, this trope becomes the much darker Flying Dutchman. / If a character walking the earth has a strict code of honor and spreads justice in his wake, he's a Knight Errant. Same code of honor (and wanderlust) usually results in passing the ‘Leave Your Quest’ Test.”


- Doctor Who 
- The Fugitive
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

Related tropes:

- Adventure Towns
- In Harm's Way
- The Drifter

Myth Arc

A Myth Arc is basically a story arc—often a very LONG one. In the case of Supernatural the Myth Arc encompasses a soon-to-be 13 seasons of the show!

Cool fact: “Myth Arc” and “mythology episode” originated with the writers on the X-Files!


- Babylon 5
- X-Files
- Heroes

Related tropes:

- Continuity Lock-Out
- Story Arc
- Chris Carter Effect

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending Writing a Novel with Scrivener, by David Hewson. I use Scrivener to write everything, including these posts!

From the blurb: Bestselling “author David Hewson, creator of the successful Nic Costa series, offers a personal, highly-focussed guide to using this powerful application to create a novel. .... Hewson, a Scrivener user for years who's written five of his popular novels in the app, takes users through the basic processes of structuring a full-length novel, writing and developing the story, then delivering it either as a manuscript for an agent or publisher or as an ebook direct to Kindle or iBook.”

And that barely scratches the surface! If you want to look at more tropey goodness:

Character profiles from the Tabletop Game: Monster of the Week. Here’s another list. Lots of great character ideas!

That’s it! I’ll talk to you again on Monday. Till then, good writing.


Thursday, December 22

The Structure of Change

The Structure of Change

The Hero’s Journey and Change

Ages ago Chuck Wendig wrote an article about story structure [1], focusing on the Monomyth. It’s one of my favorite articles on the subject. I bring it up here because of one of the many compelling points he made: each story has its own unique structure.[2]

I agree! 'Breaking' your story and seeing how it compares to a universal structure such as the monomyth can be a terrific way to help writers check whether their plot has gaps, to see if their main characters could be more fully fleshed out, and so on. But it is vitally important to take any talk of universal structure as a guide, a suggestion, and NOT as rules carved into stone.

No one writes a story because they want to manifest a universal structure, the point is for each story to incorporate a CHANGE on a fundamental level. Keep in mind that the idea of a universal structure for a story is an abstraction. It’s like saying the average resident of New York owns 1.2 dogs. The statement is meaningful but we’ll never see 1.2 dogs peeing on a fire hydrant!


I’ve found it’s often best to save thinking about story structure for the editing process. I need to first let my creative self have it’s way with the story (which, for me, means writing a Zero Draft) and then, when I sit down to transform my Zero Draft into a First Draft, I break the story and to where the plot holes are, where it’s misshapen, and so on.

I find that puzzling out a particular story’s structure is an invaluable editing tool. (Shawn Coyne talks about this in his wonderful book, The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know.)

What do I think about when I’m actually writing a Zero Draft? I think about change. That’s what I try to keep in the front of my mind and (hopefully!) by so doing, incorporate change into the story on a fundamental level.

To sum up. In my view it is important to understand the Monomyth. Not because you’re going to incorporate all—each and every one—of its twists and turns, but because you will, inevitably, incorporate some.

Zero Draft: The Structure of Change

So what does this look like? What is the structure of change?

Most importantly—and Dwight V. Swain and Jack M. Bickham picked up on this in their (wonderful!) books on writing—the protagonist must do something. Which means the protagonist must WANT something. Which means there must be obstacles—both internal and external—that keep the protagonist from achieving what she desires. (After all, if she wanted something then immediately got it, that wouldn’t be interesting!)

In any case, from my recent perusal of scripts, especially TV scripts, most particularly screenplays from Supernatural, here is the story progression that occurs:


In the beginning of the story the characters are introduced. The audience sees their pain points, their desires, their flaws, their strengths, and so on. But how does this happen? In TV often the first glimpse we get of the characters is in the teaser.

In the case of Supernatural, a monster attacks someone; sometimes this person is killed, sometimes they are just taken. There is usually darkness, fear and a lot of blood. The Teaser often sets the concrete goal: hunt and kill the monster that did this.

Protagonist’s larger problem

The protagonist has a problem, a thorn in the flesh, something that runs deep, something that can’t be shrugged off. Perhaps she feels responsible for the death of a loved one, perhaps she feels wronged—betrayed—by a loved one and those ill feelings are festering. Often a deep dark secret is involved with the protagonist’s problem, a secret she actively protects for whatever reason. Perhaps the secret is of something embarrassing, perhaps the secret is simply something she wants for her own. Letting go of the secret, opening up about it, is often necessary for true healing.

State the story’s thematic premise

We’ve seen, above, that the protagonist has a problem. Because of this problem he wants something. Granted, this want can be somewhat nebulous (e.g., to be loved, to get justice for the death of a loved one, and so on). This want becomes the theme of the story. For example, in the first episode of Supernatural after the pilot (Wendigo), Sam feels guilt over his girlfriend’s death. In a dream, he visits his girlfriend’s grave and says, “I should have protected you, I should have told you the truth.” He deals with his guilt by throwing himself into his search for her killer. In the process Sam becomes uncharacteristically angry when Dean wants to help folks along the way.

In “Wendigo” the theme was explicitly stated when Dean asks Sam: What are we supposed to do? What does Dad want us to do? The answer: hunt monsters.

In “Skin,” Sam wants to keep in touch with his friends from Stanford but Dean tells Sam that’s just not possible in their line of work; his friends wouldn’t be able to understand what they do or why they do it.

In each of these episodes (Wendigo and Skin), Sam’s desire (and, perhaps, Dean’s reaction to it) sets the theme. Although, again, not every story needs an explicit theme (for example, the episode “Hook Man” isn’t as strongly themed as some of the others).

Have a specific, concrete, goal

Have what the character wants be specific. To solve a specific murder, to win first prize in the pie eating contest, to demonstrate your best friend’s innocence, and so on.

Throw obstacles, internal and external, into the protagonist’s path

An example of an external problem would be: the evil critter locked Sam and Dean in a cell. If they don’t find a way out they will die. An internal obstacle might be that, because of Sam’s guilt over his girlfriend’s death, he’s vulnerable to a certain kind of monster who is attracted to people who carry around a lot of emotional baggage.


Make it clear how your protagonist’s actions are intended to bring about achieving the concrete goal. The reader may see that what the protagonist is doing is extremely unlikely to yield the result the protagonist wants—other characters in the story may see this as well—but as long as the protagonist is convinced he will (and as long as this conviction makes sense for the character in the context of the story) it's okay.


Make it clear how your character's plan could go right as well as how it could go completely, terribly, wrong. In other words, make the stakes clear to the reader. Spell it out. Also, raise the stakes at least twice, preferably three times. And make it clear whenever the stakes are raised. Right before the climax the stakes should be the highest in the story and it should—at least for a moment—seem completely hopeless.


Often the protagonist will overcome his great flaw with the help of synthesis. By this I mean the synthesis of the theme and the B Story.

The synthesis is not something that occurs in every story; it can be tricky to pull off. Sometimes a flaw is just a flaw and the protagonist fails because of it. This failure can work well in a series where another character can save his bacon, giving the protagonist time to work out his issues. In a later story you can have the protagonist finally synthesize the moral from the B Story with the theme and emerge victorious.

If you can setup a satisfying synthesis then, in my opinion, you can construct an ending your readers will love and remember.


There needs to be an element of finality about this conflict. Perhaps the protagonist and antagonist have fought previously and both walked (or limped, as the case may be!) away, but that’s not possible this time. This time one of them is going down.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to you. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

I’ve seen the movie The Big Short (starring Christian Bale and Steve Carell) and loved it so much I wanted to read the book: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis. I have it and it has been on my To Read list for ages. Perhaps that will be one of my New Year's resolutions: read The Big Short! Have you read it? If so, what did you think? Was it as good as the movie? Better?

That’s it!


1. NSFW --> 25 Things You Should Know About Story Structure, by Chuck Wendig.

2. Another wonderful point Chuck Wendig made was that structure should adapt to the story, not the other way around. I agree! That’s something I don’t stress enough.

Wednesday, October 17

Writing Prompt: He turned and there it was, standing before him in all its glistening, chitinous, glory

Today I want to try something different for my first post so I fashioned this prompt from a writing fragment I found in my journal. I love the idea of a Hunter skulking through the jungle, pursued by something Other, something unnatural, something eminently dangerous.

Can you tell I'm a fan of Supernatural? :-)

Here's the prompt:
The forest was quiet. In the twilight greens bled to black and the scent of orchids invaded Adam's senses filling him with the memory of rotting flesh.

The Thing was close. Animals living outside civilization, animals like him, developed a sixth sense that told the mind to still, to focus, that allowed the body to prepare to face Death. The eggheads at The Firm hadn't discovered what tripped off a Hunter's radar, but Hunters could sense it, the presence of the Other, the foreign object in the body, the thing that didn't belong.

A rustle of leaves, like a whisper, to his left. He turned and there it was, standing before him in all its glistening, chitinous, glory. Adam ...
Please do share your writing genius in the comments if you are so moved.

Good writing!

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- How To Write Every Day: Jerry Seinfeld And The Chain Method
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover

Thursday, September 13

Harper Voyager Open To Unagented Submissions For 2 Weeks

Harper Voyager Open To Unagented Submissions For 2 Weeks

Who is accepting submissions:
Harper Voyager

When to submit:
October 1 through October 14th

Where to submit:

What sort of submissions:
We’re seeking all kinds of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural. For more idea of the type of books we love to read and publish, check out our authors and their titles at
How to submit your manuscript:
To submit, go to and follow the instructions to fill out the form and upload your manuscript.

Due to time constraints, we will not be able to respond to every query. If you do not receive a response after three months, unfortunately that means your story is not right for us this time.
Why is Harper Voyager allowing unagented submissions for two weeks and then only publishing ebooks?
The growth of eReaders and e-books have created an exciting new opportunity that allows us to begin increasing the number and diversity of our speculative fiction list. And speculative fiction readers are the most savvy early adopters so we’re keen to provide our readers with the best ebooks possible.
Read more here: Harper Voyager Guidelines for Digital Submission – Accepting Manuscripts from October 1st – October 14th, 2012!. Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for mentioning this opportunity.

Harper Voyager plans to release one book a month. Initially the books will be published as ebooks but if one does well a print copy will be issued.

Good luck!

Other articles you might be interested in:
- Writing Resources
- Jim Butcher, Harry Dresden and the Dresden Files
- Amazon's KDP Select Program: The Power Of Free

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