This week, the Story Grid Showrunners fell in love with the Netflix TV Series YOU – a perfect combination of a thriller and an obsession love story that is topped by a strong Morality internal Genre that moves from Selfishness masked as altruism to pure selfishness.
Reminder: Please watch the TV-Series YOU before you listen to the following episode. We not only give away spoilers, but we talk about the global story and it’s just more valuable for you if you know what we are talking about because we reference a lot.
Mel – The villain is the hero of his own story. And it was great to get into the mind of a psychopath, especially through the first-person narrative, seeing how he leaves red herrings for whoever is trying to get him and start seeing the good guys as his antagonists while wanting him to succeed.
Parul – Another great story where we have great innovations of the Love Genre mixed with the thriller genre to give us an engaging narrative drive. Reminds me of Killing Eve.
Randy – Awesome. A compelling story, well told.
Inciting Incident: Joe meets and starts to stalk Beck (thriller) Joe meets and falls for Beck (Love)
Turning Point Progressive Complication: He lures and attacks Benji (thriller), she has a boyfriend and doesn’t reciprocate his feelings (Love)
Crisis: Will Joe kill Benji or let him go and risk being discovered for who he really is? (thriller) Will Joe convince Beck that he is the one for her? (Love)
Climax: He kills Benji (thriller), Becks finally falls for him (Love)
Resolution: Joe has to hide Benji’s body (thriller). Joe fails to please Becks in bed, is worried that he might lose her (Love)
Joe, a lonely bookstore manager, notices Guinivere Beck and stalks her, only to find that she is in a relationship with a player and has friends that aren’t good for her. At that time, he decides to save her from her bad relationship decisions because he thinks he is the one that can make her happy. He kills her ex boyfriend and uses his charm to convinces her to fall for him
Inciting Incident: Joe hears about her plans to meet the Old Captain and follows her
Turning Point Progressive Complication: Peaches confronts him in her house(thriller), Peaches becomes Joe’s love rival by her attempted seduction (Love)
Crisis: Does he attack Peaches and hide his crimes or try to placate her and risk her wrath? (thriller), Will he sacrifice himself again to keep Becks safe from her friends? (Love)
Climax: He kills Peaches, and fakes her suicide
Resolution: He gets away with the murder (thriller), He decides to let Becks go after realizing that she’s better off without him
After killing Beck’s old boyfriend, Joe and Beck begin dating and their relationship is continually assaulted by secrets (both that Beck keeps and that Beck’s friends keep), but Joe’s biggest obstacle is Peach. After killing Peach, their relationship gets better until Joe starts suspecting that Beck is sleeping with her therapist, but Beck confronts Joe and convinces him that he is the problem and needs to let her go, which he does.
Inciting Incident: He sees Beck in his neighbor whilst with Karen (thriller/ love)
Turning Point Progressive Complication: Becks knows the truth, escapes, and locks him in the room. (thriller)
Crisis (IG): Does he forgive her for locking him in or must he kill again to save himself? (thriller)
Climax: He kills her (offscreen) (thriller)
Resolution: Joe misses Beck but knows she’d be proud that she’s now a famous author. Candice confronts him in the final scene. (thriller)
After some time separated, Joe and Beck get back together and Joe discovers that Beck did have a relationship with her therapist, but forgives her. Then Beck finds Joe’s secret box of memorabilia from his victims and Joe must decide whether to appeal to her or silence her, so he locks her in the basement of the bookstore in order to reason her. Beck eventually tricks Joe, tries to run away, but Joe kills her.
Joe misses Beck but knows she’d be proud that she’s now a famous author. Candice, an ex-girlfriend that we presumed dead, returns to confront him in the bookstore.
Thriller – The TV Series YOU is described as being a psychological thriller, but it also touches on the subgenres of the Thriller: Woman in Jeopardy – because the one he loves is ultimately the one that’s in the most danger – as well as Serial Killer – because once he loves someone, he’ll take everyone out that might harm their relationship or who are bad for the person he loves. Never even realizing that their own love for them is the one that’s toxic.
Love – Clearly an obsession love story that is promised in the trailer and which is coming strongly forward already in the first episode when the protagonist Joe justifies stalking her by saying that she wants to be followed and seen.
From Joe’s point of view, this is primarily a love story. The viewer (who has sanity) sees this as an obsession love story that is so filled with life/ death that it’s a thriller and morality story. One Stalker’s love story is a rational person’s thriller.
Morality: Joe Goldberg starts as his lowest low when it comes to his internal genre. His selfishness is masked as altruism which is the negation of the negation of the value spectrum of the morality genre. And he will be punished for this by losing the one he claimed to love. This decision will set him up for a path to face damnation, literally by meeting the ghost from his past, Candace, and which sets up his want to redeem himself as trying to prove to himself he’s a good person in the second season.
Joe stays at the value of selfishness masked as Altruism that will only transform to selfishness 8choosing his life over Beck’s). Within each Season, we will see his shock to his hibernating self and his refusal of the call to change and his almost constant selection of the immoral path.
An Inciting Crime indicative of a master Villain. There must be victims.
Mel: It all depends on how we see the story. When we consider Joe to be the villain, then the inciting crime could be: When Guinevere Beck falls down on the subway tracks, Joe saves her. BUT he steals her phone which ultimately grants him access to her private life. This sets up Beck as his next victim.
If we consider Joe to be the hero of his own story, then the inciting crime might be Peach faking that she took an overdose to make Beck come over. Joe sees Peach as his main antagonist. But of course, Benji was also one of the antagonists that he needed to overcome, but there is no master villain for him.
Randy – I think the inciting crime might actually be before the series begins, it’s what he did to Candace. It’s the fact that he is a killer and not a nice but creepy guy.
Parul – I have a theory about inciting crimes. I think that sometimes the inciting crime that we see in the BH is a ‘shadow’ crime, it’s indicative of something larger that has already happened or will happen in the future. From the reader’s POV, the inciting crime is his stalking of Beck. That is the moment we understand that he is a criminal, but we don’t know the extent to which he is. Analyzing this we are thrown because we see everything from his POV. Joe is a villain, for sure. This story wouldn’t work if he wasn’t a villain. The difference is that we are seeing this story from his POV, and witnessing the growing body of evidence stack up against him.
Speech in Praise of the Villain: speech by a character, or a revelation, that praises the cunning/brilliance of the villain.
Randy: this happens in the last episode when Beck praises Joe for doing all the things he did for her (even though this is a trick to cause him to lower his guard).
Parul – every time we see Joe get away with his actions, this acts as a speech in praise of the villain, as it makes us realize his cunning and brilliance, which adds narrative drive for us because we see that Beck is in danger.
The Hero/Protagonist becomes the Victim. A scene reveals that the Villain makes his crimes personal to the Hero and the Hero becomes the primary Victim.
If Beck is the hero, she becomes the victim after she discovers Joe’s stay of victim memorabilia.
The moment that someone sees Joe for who he is – he will pursue them to death. It’s like a twisted fairy story. You know if you don’t believe in fairies, they die? Well if you DO believe in monsters YOU will die.
The Hero at the Mercy of the Villain. The core event of the Thriller, the All is Lost Moment when the Hero unleashes his or her gift.
Beck is at Joe’s mercy in the basement, but she uses her gift of writing to write a plausible story that could convince Joe to release her (and does), unfortunately, it leads to her untimely death.
There is no real hero in this story. Joe thinks HE is the hero. There is no one in this Season that is a true hero. We have a collection of women who are standing up for the victims (Candice, Peaches, Becks, PI on behalf of Peaches). Their gift is their morality – but it’s no match for the Monster. This story belongs to the villain, so the hero can never win.
False Ending (there must be two endings).
There are two false endings, the one where Beck escapes, locking Joe in the glass room, but she can’t escape and he kills her. And the return of Candace.
Beck and Joe meet in the bookstore.
First Kiss or Intimate Connection
There is a connection after Joe saves Beck, and when Beck comes looking for him at the bookstore.
Confession of love
Joe confesses his love to her early on – when he says ‘that will be us in 30 years’. He also confesses it to us all the time as he narrates his story.
Lovers break up
After Joe accuses her of having a relationship with her therapist, Beck says she needs a break from Joe.
Proof of love
Joe Kills Peach and Benji, who he thinks are bad influences on Beck. All the little things he does.
When Becks is in the cage, he tells her, I do all of this for you. She replies ‘even this?’, he says ‘yes, even this’. Every crime he commits from the thriller perspective is proof of love for Joe.
Joe and Beck get back together after he breaks up with Karen. Although Joe kills her, he believes that even after death they have a connection, he continues to talk to her, telling her that she would be proud of how he’s made her a bestselling author.
A shock upsets the hibernating authentic self.
Joe is shocked that this woman in whom he believes so much and in whom he can see so much potential is not living up to her fullest self because of the people surrounding her who are holding her back or are even using her.
Parul – This is an interesting one. I think that for Joe, the shock to the hibernating authentic self is every time he falls for a woman. This pattern will repeat itself across the second season. He meets a woman, falls and thinks that he can be his real good self. That the past won’t be repeated.
The Protagonist expresses inner darkness with an overt refusal of the Hero’s Journey call to change.
After Benji’s and Peach’s death, Joe had put Beck’s phone away to not stalk her anymore. He had wanted to trust her. He wanted to change, but he just could not change. He went to Beck’s therapist to find out if they were having an affair.
The protagonist faces an All Is Lost Moment and either discovers their inner moral code or chooses the immoral path.
Joe realizes that Beck has found out about his secret – that he has killed her friends and collected her underwear. He decides to not tell her the truth which would be the right moral decision, instead, he locks her in the cage hoping she’ll change how she looks at him.
Protagonist actively sacrifices self in service of an individual, a group, or humanity (positive) or consciously chooses to remain selfish (negative)
When Beck gets out of the cage, Joe feels betrayed. He does not consider or empathize with Beck to be able to understand the monster she sees in him. And he doesn’t let her getaway. He kills her. He chose himself over her – over the one person he claimed to have loved. Randy – So Joe consciously chooses to remain selfish.
The protagonist faces literal or metaphorical death and either loses the battle but gains self-respect, meaning and peace; or wins the battle but loses those things.
Joe has killed Beck and he could get caught by the cops if he doesn’t find someone else to blame. He uses Beck’s script about her affair with Dr. Nick to put the blame for Beck’s death on him.
But the past comes and haunts him by the reappearance of Candace. He could have avoided her wrath if he would have told Beck the truth and gone to jail.
MacGuffin: This is the Villain’s Object of Desire, what he or she wants.
Joe wants Beck, he wants her to need him.
From his perspective, he just wants to find a happy ever after. At the start of the story, he already is hiding Candice’s death, something that haunts him throughout the story.
Investigative Red Herrings: seemingly revelatory false clues that mislead the Protagonist. Beck’s emails with her father, the Captain; Joe’s attempt to change and put away his stalking to trust Beck.
Joe is setting up the red herrings – hiding bodies, suicide note, the ultimate ending where Beck’s book is a red herring.
Making it Personal: The Villain takes the Hero’s fight as a personal affront and wants to not only beat the Hero but make it painful for the hero as well.
Joe makes it personal when he kills Beck, coming to terms once and for all, that she will never see him as anything but a monster.
Clock: there is a limited time for the Hero to act; failing to act burns precious time.
There are a number of clocks, every time Joe hides someone in the basement there is always the danger that someone will find out and that someone is looking for them, in the case of both Benji and Beck. Also, when Peach’s family hires a private investigator, that starts a clock as well.
Triangle / Rivals
Joe, Beck, Peach, Benji, Dr. Nick
Helpers and Harmers
Harmers: Peach, Benji
Helpers: other book store clerk/ Mooney
Joe is the protective kind of guy while he sees Beck as the one that needs protection to be able to be the person he sees in her.
Joe is looking for a partner because he wants and needs love.
Forces can be in the couple’s control or beyond the couple’s control. Joe tries to control everything which just leads to disaster. So he can’t change the people around Beck and how they treat her. This is beyond his control but he takes over by deciding to kill them and get them out of the way.
Forces in the couple’s control are, for example, their honesty. You can always decide to be true to each other.
Beck is keeping her affair with Dr. Nick a secret.
And Joe obviously does not tell her that he murdered Benji or attacked and later killed Peach.
Joe doesn’t tell her the truth about Candice
Peach didn’t tell Beck that she’s in love with her.
One episode, they show how they get up and have breakfast each morning, and then Beck starts to write.
His ritual is to stalk her and be aware of everything she does and says. He watches her outside her window, he watches her messages.
Yes. How far would you go to protect the ones you love.
Parul – Love is an opportunity for redemption. In Killing Eve and in the Witcher love offered the characters to show us their inner self. Joe seems normal until he finds love. It reveals the monster within, it shows us his inability to redeem himself.
The despicable protagonist begins at his/her worst
Joe is obsessed with Beck and he stalks her and even kills his rival.
Joe’s spiritual mentor continues to be the ex-soviet prison guard, Mr. Mooney
Seemingly impossible external conflict.
How can he prove his love for Beck while all these other external forces harm his relationship with her?
Ghosts from the protagonist’s past torment him/her
Aid from unexpected sources
Beck writes about her therapist being obsessed with her which gives Joe a way out of his dilemma of keeping Beck locked up in a cage.
YOU is one of those few TV series that is told by using the first-person narrative with access to the thoughts of the main protagonist. They also create the narrative drive of dramatic irony by including a couple of scenes that are without him present – although we can never be too sure if he’s not watching.
If we talk about POV, there are also a few other questions you should ask yourself as a writer to decide on which POV is the best one to serve your story.
While your audience, as the writer, is the viewer or the reader, the narrator’s audience (Joe’s) could be someone quite different. Just as with the narrator, the intended audience could be a specific character, a class of people, or an unidentified presence.
So whenever you write a story – be it a book, a screenplay, or even a song – ask yourself to whom is your narrator telling their story.
This affects how the narrator tells the story, what he says and how he says it.
In this TV series, I think Joe is telling his story to a therapist. We even see him in later episodes talking to Dr. Nick. Especially when you continue watching Season 2 it gets even more evident that Joe starts to question his actions in a form a therapist would make you analyze yourself.
If the intended audience, the audience the narrator is speaking to, would be a kid, for example, Joe would tell his story differently – using different words and would probably not reveal everything. But you would tell it to a therapist.
Understanding the intended recipient, even if you don’t reveal this to the viewer, will help you make decisions.
Another important question you need to ask yourself is:
Why is the narrator telling the story?
When people tell a story in the real world, they do it for a reason. Even if you just want to entertain, there’s still a purpose as to why this story needs to be told – which obviously goes back to the controlling idea and if the story is a cautionary or prescriptive tale.
I’d like to quote another fellow SG editor here, Leslie Watts, who said about this:
“The narrator and their audience can point you in the direction of why they are telling the story. The narrator’s why is the equivalent of a character’s Essential Action or their scene goal. Just as you use what the character wants to determine how they behave in a scene, you can use what the narrator wants to decide what to include, in what order, and how. Consider whether the narrator intends to persuade, inform, or entertain, and then go deeper.”
And when you think about the narrator of your story, keep in mind what events and information your narrator has access to.
In YOU Joe can only reveal his own thoughts, emotions, and sensations, but not those of other characters.
That’s why I was so used to his Point of View that the cut to Guinevere Beck’s point of view was very confusing. They slept together for the first time and then we suddenly hear her thoughts. At first, I thought she was addressing Joe before I realized we’re in her mind now. And I don’t know if it was truly necessary to switch into her mind just to comment on the sex only lasting 8 seconds.
Mel: Joe Goldberg: WANTS and NEEDS love. He does want love at an extreme level because otherwise, he would not be so overprotective of the love he has found for this one person.
Randy: Needs someone to depend on him
Parul: Notice how Karen is too together for him, leaves him feeling bored. He needs excitement.
For the controlling idea, we have to combine the two main external genres that are driving this plot. It’S amazing when two external genres influence one another and drive the main story forward in a way that you can’t do without the other.
Here, we have a strong obsession love story that influences the progression of the thriller and vice versa. The overprotectiveness of the protagonist – when it comes to the ones he loves – allows his psychopathic tendencies to take shape.
And when we talk about an Obsession Love Story, in the Story Grid we define it like this:
“In the Obsession Love Story one of the lovers has such a shallow but intoxicating passion for the other that the Life/Death value comes into play. Obsession Love Stories are cautionary. They don’t progress beyond the Desire value, and usually end in tragedy.”
And this is valid for how the story turns out for Joe Goldberg.
His intoxicating obsession with Beck is the reason for her death.
And the reason for so many other deaths as well.
So when we think about the controlling idea, we have to take those two main external genres into account and also consider the internal genre that connects the external ones with each other. So we have the thriller, the love story as well as Joe’s Morality-Punitive story.
So here’s what the controlling idea could sound like:
When a protagonist with ambition and sophistication who does anything for the one he loves, takes advantage of opportunities and betrays his moral compass, he victimizes innocent people and receives due consequences by losing the one person he wanted to protect.
Randy: Yes it did, obviously. No contest.
Mel: Absolutely. It promised to be a thriller with an obsession love story which was clearly delivered. And the strong Morality internal genre was the cherry on top.
Parul: Yes it did, it managed to build on the tension, humor, and subversion that the trailer promised.
Since Killing Eve Season 3 is coming out now, we invite you to watch it with us. Each week, we’ll talk about the current episode providing you with the 5 commandments of each episode as well as pointing out what was done really innovative and how it all fits into the global story.
Leave your answer in the comments below.
If you want to learn more about writing a story using the Story Grid methodology, go to the Story Grid Webpage to find free videos and articles on how to implement the methodology.
These articles contain information about the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. They also give details on obligatory scenes and conventions for specific genres, such as the thriller, love story, war story, crime story, and more.
For an example of how these techniques are used, read Jane Austin’s The Pride and the Prejudice with annotations by Shawn Coyne.
Category: 5 commandments, 6 core questions, Authors, Blog, Screenwriters, Story Grid, Story Grid Showrunners Podcast, television, tv series, WritersTags: Amazon Prime, BBC, female assassin, Jodie Comer, Killing Eve, Sandra Oh, villanelle
Hi, my name is Randy Surles and I edit Thrillers and Action novels. I specialize in Fantasy, Science Fiction, and anything with a military flavor to it.