For the past few weeks, we've been talking about some of the great wisdom other people have given me on my writing journey. Today's topic: episodic writing.
I've known several writers whose books have been rejected because of episodic writing. I once had an editor read a synopsis of mine and tell me she was concerned the book might be too episodic. It's one of those terms that we hear as writers, but it's difficult to know exactly what the editors are seeing and how to fix it.
Think of a sitcom like Friends. Each week, there's the same cast of characters with a different problem. On one of my favorite Friends episodes, everyone is supposed to be getting ready for Ross's museum benefit. Joey and Chandler are fighting over a chair, and Joey puts on all Chandler's clothes. Ross is mad at everyone for not being ready on time and yells at his girlfriend, Rachel. In the end, Ross drinks the fat to make it up to her and they all leave for the event. It's a great episode!
But it would never work as a chapter of a novel because in the end, nothing changes for the characters. No decisions were made or actions taken that would propel their stories forward. It's episodic writing.
To avoid episodic writing, every scene must thrust the characters forward in the story. Each scene needs to move them closer or further from their goals. Every scene needs to build the tension and raise the stakes. Even if one problem is solved, the solution or the decisions made to solve the problem needs to cause new problems for the characters.
Let's go back to our lesson on writing the synopsis and the difference between "and then..." and "because of that..." Episodic writing is full of "and then..." If a scene could be read as its own episode and doesn't propel the reader into the next scene, the next problem, the next action, then it's episodic writing.
Were you familiar with the term episodic writing? What's your favorite Friends episode?