I wrote about the structure of short stories yesterday so I normally wouldn't do another post on story structure but today Janice Hardy published one of the best articles on episodic story structure I've ever read: What Downton Abbey Can Teach us About Tension.
By the way, I think the information contained in Janice's post is about much more than episodic structure. Whatever story you're writing, whether it's a novel, novella or even a short story, I'm confident that something in her article will apply.
I've broken this discussion into two posts; I'll publish the second one tomorrow.
Episode One: Introduce The Problem
Introduce the Core Conflict
Everything starts with a problem. The first episode will start by setting up the Core Conflict, but every episode should start by introducing a problem, either a new problem or a complication to an existing problem.
By the way, here's what I mean by a problem: something that needs to be solved that directly impacts the main character's life such that if she fails her life will be changed for the worse.
There should also be a solution to the problem, but one that conflicts with the main character's other goals/desires.
The story question then becomes: Will the problem be solved and the main character achieve her goal? Will the main character be rewarded for her sacrifice or will she fail and have her life--and the lives of those around her--changed for the worse?
What needs to be done:
a. State/show the problem clearly.
b. State/show the plan the hero has come up with to solve the problem.
c. State/show how the plan is going to be implemented.
d. State/show the stakes. What will happen if the plan fails? What will happen if the plan succeeds? The price of failure should be something that will change not only the main character's life for the worse, but the lives of everyone she cares about.
Showing the stakes--spelling them out for the audience--helps build tension because it lets the audience see how very bad failure would be for the main character, who (hopefully) we've come to care about.
Episode Two: Complications
The hero's solution to the problem fails.
In Episode One the main character hoped her plan would work and the problem would be solved but the plan doesn't work.
It could be that the main character's plan works in part, but a major complication is introduced, or it could be that the plan was a complete and total failure and not only does the thing she feared would happen, happen, something much worse than that occurs. Ideally this would be something completely unexpected that the main character couldn't have foreseen or prevented.
What needs to be done in this episode:
a. The problem becomes harder to solve.
The problem was tricky before, but now it seems unsolvable. People were nervous before, but now they're downright terrified.
b. The stakes get larger.
Part of the reason our characters are downright terrified is that the stakes have gone up. Way up. While the payoff remains the same (or possibly has been diminished) the consequences of failure have become much more stark.
For example, if the problem was that a single mother and her newborn baby were going to lose their rent controlled apartment in two months the problem becomes that they are going to lose the apartment tomorrow. And a blizzard is raging outside. Or something like that, you get the gist.
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I have two more points to go over but I'll leave those for tomorrow.
Question: Have you ever written serialized fiction? If so, have you tried out Wattpad? I've been thinking of opening an account over there and was curious what you folks thought of it.
Other articles you might like:- Larry Brooks On The Structure Of Short Stories
- How To Get Honest Book Reviews
- What Slush Pile Readers Look For In A Story
Photo credit: "spectacular view of sunset" by Kamoteus (A New Beginning) under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.