In an excellent post about Episodic Writing, Alayne Kay Christian sums up some of the key aspects that comprise episodic writing and how to avoid it.
But first, what is episodic writing?
Episodic writing is when a story is comprised of seemingly unrelated events whose purpose is to escalate conflict for the reader’s entertainment.
There is no primary goal for the MC or plan for how the MC will get there.
The character is reactive, and there is no change or growth.
The story lacks a clear path that takes readers from A –> B in a linked sequence of events.
Now, why does this matter? As Alayne says:
[In episodic writing] The scenes feel erratic, and even though the scene itself might have some tension, it doesn’t add tension to the story as a whole. The story might be moving forward, but the reader has a sense that she is not getting anywhere.
As a writer, you are asking your readers to invest their time and emotional energy in your story. In exchange, you promise to take them somewhere meaningful.
The key is meaningful.
One does not find meaning in random acts of conflict or high-speed car chases. And one can only be entertained by chaos for so long. At some point, readers (rightfully) demand a nugget of wisdom or at the very least a drop of soul.
So, how do you avoid writing episodic stories?
Alayne has a few great questions in her post and a lot more information in her Art of Arc course (which I highly recommend):
- does it matter where each scene appears in the story?
- are scene goals related to the story goal/larger plotline?
- is the rising action simply rising chaos?
- do the MC’s challenges have significance for the bigger story?
- is there a meaningful goal driving this scene?
- do the scenes inform the reader?
Do yourself a favor and check out the whole article. There’s a lot of writerly goodness in there!
Karla Valenti writes books about and for children. She also offers professional manuscript critique and editing services. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter.