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Writing an Episodic Ensemble Series for Television

Visualizing stories inside of stories

When presented a tapestry of stories, many find it difficult to assess structural concerns of narrative. Wanting to see the work as a singular entity they search out elements consistent throughout, yet wholly incompatible an appreciable understanding of meaning.

How does one use Subtext to write a character ensemble series that has no main character. For example, HBO’s The Wire has no main character, it could be argued that the main character is the city of Baltimore. The same with Game of Thrones, the main character there would be Westeros.

Ensemble pieces like The Wire and Game of Thrones do not treat location as the Main Character. You might read that elsewhere—that a city is the “real” Protagonist of a story, as if it somehow lives and breathes as a character, securing a vital role in the narrative structure.

This would be true if—and only if—the city in question maintained a particular point-of-view. A consistent perspective and methodology towards addressing conflict is vital in properly delivering a Main Character Throughline. A city is not a subjective character anymore than a rock is an Antagonist. A character is merely a bucket for perspective—not a persona from which one ascribes imaginary traits and characteristics.

Westeros and Baltimore are merely setting—instances of storytelling grafted onto multiple meaningful narratives.

The Presence of Multiple Storyforms

Instead of force-fitting a city into a Main Character role, imagine that several different Storyforms run at once within the context of a single story; some begin and end in a single season (the King and Ned in the first season of GoT), some take several seasons to play out (the Storyform between Jamie and Brienne), and some hold the central story of the entire series (Danerys and Jon Snow). Anytime you position two conflicting methodologies for conflict against one another and develop a meaningful relationship outside of that conflict (friendship between Ned and the King, comradeship between Jamie and Brienne, familial love between Jon and Danerys), you manifest a separate storyform.

Meaning and narrative intertwine in a circle of conscious consideration. Narrative organizes the thought of something meaningful, while meaning drives the organization of a narrative. Both are present within the context of a single functioning story.

Subtext gives you the ability to track several different narratives (Storyforms) within a single project (Story). Weaving them together remains the responsibility of a gifted and talented artist.