Eric May – Media Consultant




Long form stories are different.

They have special demands, and are much more difficult to create.

Consider the structure of a typical story:

• Character
• Conflict
• Resolution

Now look at the structure of a longer form story (in television terms, anything longer than five or six minutes up to 60 to 90 minutes):

• Character
• Conflict 1
• Conflict 2
• Conflict 3

• Conflict 4

• Conflict 5 +...

• Crisis/breaking point
• Resolution

Long form stories are topic-driven

Unlike shorter form stories, where the focus of the story on is the character, the longer form story is driven by a topic or theme. 

Any topic or theme chosen for a long form story must be strong enough to support this demanding structure. Not many topics can deliver on that, and that’s why so many long form stories fail. 

To bring an audience through a long form story, recognize that long form stories are structured very deliberately, with specific demands on both topic and character.


Conflicts get progressively worse

The topic must be deep enough to have several inherent conflicts. The conflicts themselves are very special: they get progressively worse as the story unfolds. As each new conflict is introduced, the stakes keep rising, putting increasing pressure on the character. 

Crisis/breaking point

By the crisis or breaking point, the situation for the character is unbearable, with the highest possible stakes. The outcome is very much in doubt until the last moment.

The tension is constantly ratcheted up until the breaking point, with the final outcome truly in doubt. Only then is the story resolved. 

Long form stories are about failure

For the character, each conflict is a “test”, for example a task that must be fulfilled. And each time the character faces the test, he fails it. Each failure is followed by a new conflict, and a new failure. By the breaking point, things should seem pretty hopeless for the character. How will he ever get out of this?

Long form stories mirror life

Long form story structure is appealing to audiences because it is true to life, in the sense that to be a human being is to fail at something. Most people’s own stories are about struggle and failure.

That’s why, if the topic is deep enough, and the character is strong enough, and the conflicts are organized well enough, audiences are compelled to go all the way, to find out what really happens in the end.