July 12, 2020, 05:17:33 PM

Author Topic: The Episodic Series Format  (Read 1643 times)

Offline Yora

The Episodic Series Format
« on: April 30, 2018, 08:56:36 PM »
The format of an episodic series has a great appeal for me, primarily because of practical considerations than narrative ones. It allows the author to add new episodes at whatever pace, lets you get from planning to release fairy quickly, and does not tie you into obligations to give a answers to questions left open in the previous episodes. Planning a series of three, five, or ten books is a commitment I am not able to take. I'd most probably end up never releasing a single chapter.
Being able to write one story at a time, and if I feel like it, write another one whenever I want, seems to me like the only realistic way to get my big vision on the page.

But I am also very much struggling with this format as my concept becomes more concrete.Making the stories not build on each other makes it very difficult to have the events having a meaningful impact on the character.There are three works that are using this format that made me become interested in. The Conan and Kane stories and the Indian Jones movies. I think Conan and Kane are both characters who don't really learn anything or grow in meaningful ways. Conan has a slightly different temperament in his youth than in his age, but that's about it.
He doesn't really want anything but to show of his prowress. Once he impressed or intimidated people in one place, he goes in search of adventure somewhere else where he can show off. And Kane is an unrepentant evil immortal who has been at the same game of refusing to escape his eternal torture in death for houndreds or even thousands of years. Refusing to change is the essence of his character. I enjoy reading both character's stories a lot, but when you try to define them they are really shallow and I always have a hard time to figure out the real stakes.
Indiana Jone is different. The movies don't much build on each other and the character doesn't show any sign of change, but the two movies that are universally regarded as the best by far are really carried by their subplots of Indy trying to salvage his broken relationships with Marion and his father. The main plots about snatching a magic artifact before the Nazis do neer have any real stakes that would be interesting. But how often can you pull that off? The movies did it twice but then the formula is worn out.

In a strictly eoisodic series, how can you integrate peronal stakes and make events impactful to the protagonist?
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Skip

Re: The Episodic Series Format
« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2018, 12:07:12 AM »
I would look to detective stories. There are any number of these that have multiple books and the character really does change over time. My favorite is Easy Rawlins (author is Walter Mosley), but arguably even more popular is Michael Connelly and his Harry Bosch series. But there are many others.

I could certainly see this being done with a fantasy character, but s/he would need to have a role. Mercenary or soldier is one possibility. Wizard would be another. Probably not a wool merchant. :)

Offline cupiscent

Re: The Episodic Series Format
« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2018, 06:19:55 AM »
Character growth across a series--especially an episodic series--is key, to my mind.

Mysteries are definitely good episodic series to look at. Lindsey Davis' Falco books spring to mind--mystery of the week to solve, self-contained (though sometimes later stories make reference to things in earlier ones) with a book-to-book arc on character development.

For a fantasy equivalent, perhaps take a look at Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels? They're stand-alone stories, but all about the same character(s) in the same broad settings. The author notes that he tried to write them so they could be read in any order (though some work less well than others as a first book to read in the series).

I'd also call Terry Pratchett's Discworld episodic. Each book stands alone, though some build on the same characters as previous entries.

Online Peat

Re: The Episodic Series Format
« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2018, 11:00:18 AM »
What Skip and Cupiscent said. Detective fiction is chock-full with episodic series in which character growth and continuity are not the main draw.

To use the Falco example - things are kept personal and impactful because every book, there's a fresh reason why it affects him on a personal level. Most of the time, it involves a direct threat against him or his family, but sometimes it involves avenging a wrong that he takes very personally.

A good straight up fantasy example would be David Gemmell's Drenai series, particularly the Druss and Waylander sub-arcs. There isn't a huge amount of growth to either character and the books, while drawing on the preceding, are rarely direct sequels in the sense that they don't continue the plot of the last book but start afresh with a new one. How does it work? Their character doesn't change much, but since they always have a consistent internal struggle between the violent and more caring aspects of their nature, they're still interesting without growth and resolution. And something always happens to make it personal.

Honestly - and I've been half-thinking this for a while - Yora, I think you need to stop trying to conceptualise every part of these journeys before departure, and get moving and trust yourself to find the way when you get lost.
This is the blog of Peat - http://peatlong.blogspot.co.uk/

Offline NedMarcus

Re: The Episodic Series Format
« Reply #4 on: May 02, 2018, 02:53:59 PM »
It's an idea that could work well.

Being able to write one story at a time, and if I feel like it, write another one whenever I want, seems to me like the only realistic way to get my big vision on the page.

But if you want to make it a commercial success, you'd need to either be good at keeping to deadlines or write a lot of it in advance, and then release it regularly.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: The Episodic Series Format
« Reply #5 on: May 02, 2018, 08:07:45 PM »
The stories and tv/films of the 40s - 60s that the Indiana Jones films all reference were mostly serialized. Writing a serialized piece is an excellent idea because it forces you to end chapters and scenes with cliff-hangers, to keep the focus tight, and use your space like a short story writer. Even if you abandon the idea, the parts are (or should be) easily assembled into a single work.

The Green Mile was published serially (perhaps Shawshank Redemption as well?) and one could argue the narrative is objectively better for it.
The Gem Cutter
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Offline Yora

Re: The Episodic Series Format
« Reply #6 on: May 02, 2018, 08:21:34 PM »
I think using Conan as my template might have been holding me back. These stories generally have all the action take place in a single location. But "go to place, do stuff, leave place" might actually be quite difficult as a structure. In particular regarding development and progress through the story. It's an artifact of the submission guidelines of a publishing modl from 80 years ago. When you go with a serial, you can do one location per chapter and string them together.
Being heavily inspired by 2 hour movies, doing a combination of the two might work: Self-contained episodes that are each structured in a serial fashion with 3 or 4 chapters. Like the format of True Detective. It's an intermediate form between the full novel and a short story collection. I think The Copper Promise reads like it was written that way.

Regrding stakes, I think one field with a lot of potential would be relationships with secondary caracters. Having a well established cast of secondary characters makes everything much more meaningful for the protagonist. Even when you know that the protagonist can not die, how the relationships with the secondary characters will look like at the end of the story is completely open. Friends can become enemies and enemies friends, and all of them can die or suffer other terrible permanent fates. If the readers already know characters from previous stories and they have been entertaining to read, their investment becomes even higher. You can only make a story about reconciliation with a relative and former lovers so many times, but you can have an unlimited amount of well developed secondary characters with lots of different types of relationships to the protagonist.
Tome some degree, you can also threaten the protagonist's most prized possessions, like magic items or a ship. Losing that resource will affect future stories without really changing the character. But readers would know that this particular resource will no longer be of help in the future once it's gone.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline ChirpyAnn

Re: The Episodic Series Format
« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2018, 06:10:26 PM »
I would look to the television series, Supernatural. I think it's a great example of the evolution of plot based story telling to character based or even a really good balance.

The first couple seasons of Supernatural were all monster of the week, with a thin thread pulling it all together. But the side missions had such immediate urgency, they had to forget their greater mission to complete the episode. Now, each season has an arch and there's a longer thread pulling all the seasons together. They are still doing monster of the week episodes here and there, but the show has taken a hard turn toward focusing on the characters. And while the stories strain and test the relationships between the characters and they go through some changes, somehow, they are still the same characters we know and love from the beginning. Only more grown up.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just a stupid fan girl, but there has to be a reason they've made 13 seasons and have no sign of stopping. They have to be doing something right. lol

I'm not sure that was helpful or not. I'm doing my best to make up for it, but there's a huge gap in my life, absent of reading and writing. During that gap, I watched a crap ton of movies and television. So, that's where most of my storytelling knowledge comes from when I write.

I think episodic stories would be a fun thing to dive into. I hope you find your way!  ;D
“Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”
- Frank Herbert, Dune



Offline S. K. Inkslinger

Re: The Episodic Series Format
« Reply #8 on: May 26, 2018, 03:47:49 AM »
I'm never a fan of the episodic series format (don't hate me please::)), so how the writers kept me interested through the next season, and then the season after that are new and wonderful surprises to me.