People love stories that come in episodes—just ask the writers of television. But while television tends to be the most popular outlet for episodic fiction these days, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, in Victorian Era, serialized fiction was so in vogue that it brought about some of the most famous classic novels on our shelves. Most Charles Dickens’ books were written in serialized format and appeared in magazines or newspapers weekly. Other famous serialized stories include Sherlock Holmes stories, The Three Musketeers, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Eventually, serialized and episodic fiction lost its footing in publication, but that’s not the case anymore. Today, there are more outlets than ever for publishing episodic fiction (including Inkitt!) and the form is experiencing a surge of popularity. So if you’ve ever been interested in writing a serialized novel, here’s how to get started.
Defining Episodic Fiction
So…just what is episodic fiction? Unlike other forms of fiction, episodic fiction tells micro-stories that tie into a larger plot. Many times, these stories are published before the entire work is complete (though this doesn’t have to be the case). It’s helpful to think of episodic fiction the way you would think of a television show. Each episode involves:
A protagonist, trying to obtain a goal, against a series of rising obstacles, to a rising climax, until the protagonist succeeds or fails.
Now, there may be a larger story that’s being told. Take the immensely popular television show Downton Abbey, for example. The television show was taking us through larger story arcs: the Grantham estate/inheritance question, several rounds of murder trials, love stories. However, each episode focused on a more contained mini-drama and plot within those larger stories. There’s material left over at the end of each episode (aka, the larger plot) to keep the audience coming back for more, though.
Make a Plan
As a result, if you’re going to be writing episodic fiction, it’s good to have an idea of where the story is going. I’m an advocate for basic outlines at minimum regardless, but in episodic fiction they tend to become much more handy. In fact, it’s useful to create for yourself a story “bible” if possible. It can be a notebook or computer document where you take the time to jot down information about the characters and their backgrounds or histories, world-building quirks, and the plot.
Knowing where your story ends is a vital part to episodic fiction. Think back to the television comparison once again. Ever seen a show that seems to just drag on and on, pointlessly, without much direction? Some of the best and most popular television shows, like Breaking Bad or The Wire, for example, are no more than four or five seasons. The writers made a plan for where the story needed to end and worked to that ending.
Everyone Can Be the Hero
Because episodic fiction often (not always) involves a larger cast of characters than a novel might, it’s a good idea to be sure to not make your characters compete with each other. Each episode should largely focus on one character’s problems as the central issue to that episode. Of course there can be subplots of importance, but focusing on too many makes the central issue lose importance.
If the central issue loses importance, your episode will lose tension. And tension is important! There’s a reason many episodes tend to end in cliffhangers. Writers are eager to wave some bait in the air and hook readers for the next episode.
Above all, have fun with your episodic fiction! This is a way to delve into your story world like never before. Rather than having just one main adventure in the world you create, you can have many adventures. Characters also can really come alive in these worlds, as they have more opportunities to show us who they are in a vast array of circumstances.
So if you’ve been toying with a story idea that you think would make a great, multi-part adventure, why not turn it into episodic fiction? The time has never been better.