The Story Structure of Tangled: The Animated Series

The Story Structure of Tangled: The Series

As some of you know, I worked as a story consultant on the Disney channel’s animated series Tangled: Before Ever After. The work involved listening to the various ideas for character, plot, and theme and converging them into singular storyforms for both the series and individual seasons. I explained the process in the article Outlining a Television Series with Dramatica

The season finale just aired this morning and the reaction from fans is incredible–most of it a reaction to the first season telling a complete story–a complete storyform:

Wow, a season-ending cliffhanger! i LOVE season-ending cliffhangers, but didn’t expect it from a children’s show! I’m pleasantly surprised and can’t wait to see what Rapunzel and Eugene’s adventures in season 2 will hold! I’m glad that finally Rapunzel is going to be able to…

The rest of this fan’s reaction is here, though I might wait if you haven’t seen the show yet.

The “cliffhanger” he mentions works because:

  • the first season told a complete storyform–setting up the Audience’s expectation for more
  • the start of the second season storyform actually begins in these final moments
  • the storyform for the entire series ties both of the first two seasons together–they’re related to each other by virtue of the series’ first two Signposts

I will have more to say about it in the future, but I thought it might be fun to see if those who know and understand Dramatica might be able to identify the storyform for the first season.

That “I can’t wait to see the next installment” is a reaction to complete and as-yet-to-be completed storyforms. You hook them with the promise of meaning.

One fan already identified the actual Main Character Problem driving the entire series! (Instinctively–I’m sure they’ve never seen the Table of Story Elements).

Tentpole Episodes

The first season consists of 26 half-hour episodes. You don’t necessarily need to watch all of them, though I would strongly suggest it if you’re looking to see how a single storyform works within the context of a television series. The key episodes, the one’s pertaining specifically to the season’s central Throughline are:

  • 1,2 (Pilot)
  • 13,14 (“Queen for a Day”)
  • 24,25 (Finale)

The channel let the creators combine these six episodes into three “Specials”, an idea that I think worked great considering the format and Audience expectation. Remember that this was planned out three years ago–years before binge-watching and multiple streaming services were a thing. The format and planning would likely change nowadays considering the appetite for serialized storytelling.

A Context for Storytelling

The television series Tangled is an interesting case study. I was there in the beginning and various stages of development along the way. I helped set the storyforms (without really calling them “storyforms”), then stepped away to allow the individual writers to do their thing. If I had been there day-in and day-out, I likely would have found ways to weave in Plot Sequences and additional sub-storyforms into the other twenty episodes. But if this series proves anything, it’s that you don’t need to over complicate a narrative or encode every last story point in order to connect with your Audience.

And really, that’s all that matters.

Give them a meaningful structure that says something, and they’ll respond with appreciation and gratitude. This first season of Tangled, and the seasons to come, showcase the kind of impact intentional storytelling (figuring out storyforms etc.) brings to the final work.

If you have any questions about how this all works, or how you can apply it to your own series (television or novel), I’d be happy to answer them.

Enjoy the show!


Thanks for sharing. I’ve been really interested in how dramatica works for series and serialized stories. And congratulations for having it work so well.

I’m curious how would you approach the structure of each episode. I assume it’s kind of like treating the episode like a short story. So it can feel complete but also tied into the overall narrative.

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If I were the Story Editor or the showrunner I would treat different episodes as if they were different “scenes” within the storyform of the season (and occasionally drift over into the series). I don’t think it’s important to hit every single last storypoint within the storyform. The writers behind Tangled didn’t worry about it at all, just followed the storyform set for the first season, and came out with something that worked pretty well.

The X-Files is a great test case for what you’re asking for. They have several “monster” episodes that are complete storyforms on their own. Beyond the Sea is one that comes with Dramatica and we actually have storyforms for two other episodes, one I just found in the archives that I’ll be uploading this week. These don’t have anything to do with the series’ long “myth” arc, but work on their own.

There really is not set rule how to approach it - it’s all about your intent. Do you want to make a story out of a couple of episodes? Do you want it to apply to the larger storyform or the season-long storyform? It’s really more about what you want to do, what your artist’s intent and purpose is, rather than a function of what you have to do to support the storyform.

A storyform is a mean of communicating Author’s Intent. If you don’t know your intent, you really don’t need a storyform.

I wrote up a giant article on Tangled: The Series and my work on it. You can read it here: Unravelling the Story Structure of Tangled: The Series.

I put the storyform for the first season of Tangled up on the Atomizer. It’s engineered to support storyforms within storyforms, so as soon as I can I’ll get some examples up there of how they work within one another. Boardwalk Empire or Westworld might be better examples of this. Game of Thrones for sure. And of course, any other TV series in production now that use this approach…well…they’ll be up there too someday :wink:


Hello Jim,

Been working on my grand series and I’m stuck in the outline phase. When crafting the entire story I’ve zeroed in on one storyform. My question is that for each book in the series, can I have a different storyform exploring a different domain ? Say the OS in the entire series’ storyform is in Universe; can I have the first story in Psychology, rather than have the books beneath in different domains?

I feel it would be possible but is it advisable?



I would certainly say it’s advisable. The Empire Strikes Back has one storyform in Psychology, and another in Physics.


I actually don’t know the answer to this but I think Empire Strikes Back is interesting. The two storyforms are in two different Domains, but the Concerns of the two stories are in the same quad (Being/Doing/Preconscious/Progress). And the Domains of the two storyforms are in a dynamic pair. Does this matter? I have a feeling that it makes the work have a more unified feeling – two parallel stories, exploring inner and outer…


So I’ve been playing with this thing and in my Overall Series Storyform, the first signpost is Learning. My thinking is that since Dramatica storypoints can be encoded in a spectrum, it could mean they either learn what they need to or do not learn what they need to and so I can either have it as a goal or a consequence in the storyform for book 1.
Right now I’m leaning towards having it as a consequence and so this leaves the OS domain for book one in Psychology. I’m actually fine with this, as the story was meant to be a mystery anyway.

Hope it works tho. :slight_smile: