/’skAn/ : a loosely coiled length of yarn or thread wound on a reel

Serialized Novels versus Episodic Fiction

So, I've got story ideas percolating in my head, and I've posted some of them. I'm currently working on one of them out in the open as a rough draft serial, and I'm also taking occasional pokes at this other one.

Looking my batch of podcast subscriptions, I could see myself trying to submit some of these stories, once polished and finished, to something like Escape Pod. They're one-off short stories, many circling around a shared theme. I've also considered together a limited run podcast collection of these stories, based on that theme.

But, beyond that, I've been trying to come up with something that's not so much a short story or a novel, yet generates entertaining tales for an ongoing period. If I were to do a fictional podcast, I think I'd like to do it in the spirit of a TV series. That is, a season of episodes, each self-contained but contributing to a continuing arc — like a string of pearls. To do that, I need to come up with a framework that can help anchor and support interesting short stories. It should offer some interesting features for exploration, some ongoing conflicts to revisit often, and some paths for longer-arc development.

It seems to me that there's a subtle difference between a season of a TV series and a novel proper. They both can carry a big story over a broad stretch of time, but an episodic series format appears to offer some flexibility in terms of flow that a novel can't:

  • An episodic series handles arbitrary cancellation more gracefully than would a novel that just stopped in the middle.
  • Vice versa, an episodic series handles carrying on for an arbitrary number of seasons better than a novel that just never finishes.
  • Last but not least, an episodic series offers more opportunity to make it up as you go along. For better or worse, that contributes to being able to actually release material over time without having to create it all up front.

All of this sounds attractive to me in considering the production of a podcast that I might start up, run for awhile, and then one day abandon or place on hiatus. I know this sounds like a pessimistic premise, but it's a practical one. I've moved and changed jobs enough times to know that I need to keep my options open. And, given that, it sounds like an episodic series offers the least disappointment down the road for either audience or storyteller. It sucks when your favorite show gets canceled, and maybe the longer-arc concerns are left as loose ends — but, if it was done right, at least you had the individual stories along the way.

Hmm, things to think about. I have an idea I'm working on - so maybe in the next post or so, I'll make another pitch to flesh out the idea.

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