Dan Harmon's process bears many lessons for aspiring screenwriters.
With a track record spanning dozens of TV shows and movies, Dan Harmon has established a unique and successful voice as someone for young writers to learn from and emulate. Best known for his work creating hit comedies like Community and Rick and Morty, Harmon has become a cultural force in the comedy community, able to understand and manipulate story structure while subverting expectations and building characters and comedic moments that speak to broad audiences. Harmon has been highly open about his process and methods, doing extensive Reddit AMA's, and detailing the Story Circle he uses as the basis for many of his scripts. But beyond Harmon's methodologies, the man has a great deal to offer in the way that he treats his writing process as well.
At No Film School we've already covered a recent video from the YouTube channel, Just Write, which dives into Harmon's work on his show HarmonQuest, and although the video is concise, we felt someone as successful as Harmon deserves a second look at their work. HarmonQuest unites Harmon alongside a group of celebrity friends as they play a fantasy RPG under the guidance of dungeon master Spencer Crittenden, but Harmon's expertise as a storyteller makes the world into more than just a game. Just Write breaks down how Harmon approaches his character in the show and how his knowledge of storytelling makes him into a more fun gamer, and entertainer, to watch.
In the video, Just Write identifies two defining traits that every writer should take away from Harmon and his work on HarmonQuest:
- What is entertaining for a creator isn't necessarily entertaining for an audience.
- Eventually, storytelling will come naturally.
The first point is more critical for HarmonQuest, being a show wherein Harmon and his friends play a game in front of a live studio audience, but it's still a point that stands for all storytelling. The video discusses how Harmon goes out of his way to craft a character who is compelling, first and foremost, and how Harmon finds internal flaws in his characters that they need to overcome so that they may get what they want. It's a strategy that's easy to apply as a writer and follows in line with his Hero's Journey-inspired Story Circle.
And secondly, comes a point that might sound like familiar advice to many writers, but is essential nonetheless. You can't be a writer unless you write. Harmon has had a hand in hundreds of hours of produced entertainment, and the best way to hone your craft and become better at writing is just to keep doing it. The more often you create worlds and characters and stories, the more instinctive it will become, and eventually, you won't need to think about hitting specific beats within your script because all of your practice has led you to craft those requisite moments naturally. Further, by building those instincts, you won't have to worry about having so many things on your mind at once. As a writer, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the dozens of elements you need to juggle simultaneously, and by shifting your conscious focus to handling fewer things at a time, you'll only improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your writing.
Harmon has repeatedly proved that he's a force of comedic talent, and his practices as a writer can be nearly as influential as his output. If you want to learn more about Harmon's writing, you can watch more of his work on shows like HarmonQuest, Rick and Morty, or Community, or check out his podcast, Harmontown.