After winning Honorable Mention in a screenplay writing contest, I lent my screenplay manuscript to a co-worker for her to read. When she returned to me the manuscript, she said, “…the story is good, but it’s episodic…”
Hearing the word “episodic”, I immediately agreed because in my thoughts the story was also based in some episodes of a TV series, given that there are five stories running parallel to each other in one full-length narrative film.
Actually, “episodic” means the novel or story is made up of a series of events or episodes that are loosely tied together and only the main character connects them all. This is one way of constructing a plot but this technique ends up having no character change.
Episodic writing dates back even before Cervantes wrote Don Quixote. Episodic writing also graced TV series of the ’60s and the ’70s. And growing up during the ’70s and seeing those TV series, it somehow influenced the way I write.
So how would you know if you’re writing something episodic?
1. The character is reactive rather than proactive.
2. There is no story question.
3. The reactive character does not operate from his strengths
Now that you know how to spot them, what can you do to save it?
1. Give your protagonist (and antagonist) a goal.
In episodic stories, the main character is put in an adventurous situation (more likely a quest) and goes to finish it. However, the goal tends to be shallow that the reader would ask, “so what?” Therefore, you make the main character proactive, making him decide for his actions by himself and not from other characters’ influence.
2. Give your two main characters (protagonist and antagonist) significant strengths and some weaknesses.
Make them more human. Balance the strengths with a few flaws that readers can relate to. Readers would also relate to the antagonist’s motives if the characterization is done well.
3. Decide on the obstacles that the characters will encounter on their way to their goal.
Make the protagonist’s goal difficult for him/her to achieve so that the readers will start to ask, “will he/she fail or not?” Just be careful not to make it contrived or coincidental.
4. Decide how your characters will react to these obstacles.
Let the protagonist and antagonist think and react to every problem that comes their way. I remember an advice from a famous writer that we need to push the protagonist to the corner until he/she couldn’t do anything but to fight back.
5. Make sure the scenes move the story forward and logically flows from one scene to the next.
One good characteristic of an episodic writing is its being fast-paced. However, since episodic writing are loosely tied, it tends to slow down the whole story overall. Look for loopholes and tie those loose ends!
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