If you have followed Fiction Vortex and/or StoryShop for very long, you've probably noticed that we're sorta into episodic storytelling. To be more specific, we're into episodic fiction. You may have wondered why? You may be wondering this exact thing at this very moment. If not, it's time to start.
Episodic fiction is a very real and growing phenomena for a handful of reasons that professional writers should be aware of.
Welcome to Mobile Storytelling
One of those reasons is being driven by technology and lifestyle. Around most of the globe, we have become a fully mobile society. We live and die by the smartphone. This includes our entertainment. And guess what? Mobile technology fits episodic storytelling like a...phone case, protective thingy.
Heck, more and more writers are creating their stories from their phones. Readers are certainly trending that way. Reading on our phones means we want shorter, faster cycles of content. We want bitesized content we can consume on the go or in the cracks of our plugged-in lives.
At the same time, we don't just want smaller chunks of a chapter, or even shorter chapters. A chapter can only be chopped up so much until it is simply a scene. And most single scenes are not satisfying as a story or even a piece of one.
And this leads us to the key difference between chapters and episodes that I constantly loop back around to in order to communicate to people the importance of episodic storytelling.
Episodes are not chapters, and chapters are most often not episodes.
Episodes have a satisfying plot resolution. An episode tells a story. It will most likely not be a complete story, but a true episode will tell a story. Of course, these days, television is the main example of this. Episodic storytelling can take on many different formulas that range from storylines such as the show Lost or the stable of CSI shows and everything in between.
Whether focused on a single character, or on a chronological timeline, or on a particular case that repeats a beloved formula, an episode tells a story. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. At times this episodic format can be stretched by using the cliffhanger device to essentially double the length of an episode. But if the cliffhanger device is overused, an audience will tire of it.
I joined the Wattpad community very early on in its evolution, sometime around 2011. I didn't realize it at the time, but Wattpad was training me to write episodically. Beyond that, Wattpad trained me to release serially and to focus on each scene as a complete unit of story. When you publish content to a waiting audience scene by scene, it's important to ensure that each scene has intentional transitions, or in other words, each scene should actually be a scene.
Scene breaks are important, and Wattpad helped me early in my writing career to figure out how to break scenes as well as episodes in a manner that was satisfying for the reader who would have to wait a few days for the next serial installment.
A chapter is most often not an episode. Most chapters don't tell a story. There is little focus on arc in a chapter. There is a ton of focus on arc in an episode. This is the key difference. These intentional, bitesized arcs are what make episodic storytelling so addiction to consume and so fun to create.
The Golden Age of television is training us to consume story by the episode.
In addition to how mobile technology is influencing us toward episodic storytelling, the so-called golden age of television is making it impossible to go back to writing fiction the way it used to be.
First came the dominance of the series. Next will come the dominance of the franchise or StoryVerse. More quietly, but equally as important, the episode is simultaneously gaining momentum as the preferred format over longer and more slowly developing novel arcs. Novels will be replaced with "Seasons."
We already embrace this new nomenclature at FictionVortex and StoryShop. In another five years, I predict the majority of genre readers will as well. All of this alludes to why learning to create fiction episodically is important for all us writers. In next week's post, we'll address how you can start doing it!