With the posting of Episode Three on Monday, I’ve reached the halfwayish point in my novel release project. (If you are just now joining us, it’s not too late to start in on the first three episodes. If you’re speedy you’ve still got time to read all of them before Episode Four drops…)
The big headline for what I’ve learned up to this point in the project is this:
Putting the novel into episode form has revolutionized my plotting and editing processes.
That’s a little hyperbolic, but stick with me. When I did my first chapter sorting into episodes, I arranged the chapters so that major plot points and/or cliffhangers would happen at the end of episodes. For the rest of the novel chapters, I just made sure the word count was approximately the same for each episode, around 10-11k. All done, right?
As I was editing specific episodes, I quickly realized each episode needed to leave the reader wanting more. (Not a revolutionary idea in retrospect, but I really thought I all needed to worry about in that department was a bang-up climax.) I couldn’t afford to have an episode that was full of description and character development, but didn’t raise any burning questions in the reader. If it left them feeling, meh, then they likely wouldn’t bother to download the next episode. That lead to some serious rearranging of plot points and an overhaul of the timeline of the narrative’s events.
During that overhaul, my ideas about the flow of the whole novel changed. There had been a few lulls in the narrative I didn’t know how to fix in my first couple edits of the novel. Important information happened in them so I couldn’t cut them out, but I didn’t know how to keep the reader from getting bogged down and bored.
Episode editing changed that. As soon as I got used to hitting around the same word count for the episodes and have interesting things happen in that amount of words, I realized that maybe even a non-episodic novel needed to pique the reader’s interest every 10k words or so.
Since the episodes can be read in a session around the length of a cable channel or PBS hour of television, I think it’s probably a good idea for a full-length novel to have something interesting or critical happen in around the same amount of time. Now, I’m not saying you need soap-opera-action-flick levels of twists and turns every 10-11k words just to keep people interested. But I think the momentum of the plot needs a boost of intrigue around the one hour mark of a reading session to compel the reader to come back for that next reading session, finish the book, and wait impatiently for your next release.