Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Have you ever received contest feedback, or even a rejection letter or a revision note where the editor mentioned "episodic writing"?

I have. Problem was, I didn't know how to fix it because I didn't know what it was.

I recently sold my first novel on proposal to Harlequin. For the first time, I faced the challenge of writing the rest of the entire book instead of simply revising the full manuscript.

When my (WONDERFUL!) editor (Melissa Endlich...pictured above with me, and with other Love Inspired authors at an RWA lunchean) and I discussed the synopsis, she cautioned me to be mindful as I finished the story "not to write episodic."

I admitted I didn't know 100% what that meant because I've heard differing things. She explained it so I could FINALLY understand what it meant.

I've talked to many other authors who've received judge feedback mentioning "episodic writing" and they had no idea what it meant either.

So today for my post, I'm sharing my editor's definition in hopes it will help those of you whose manuscripts have been deemed "episodic."

She said (paraphrasing) episodic writing is when one scene happens then another and another and so on but there is really no point to the scenes. They end up trumping the overall story arc but do nothing to move the plot forward.

In my case, my overall story arc running through the book is Pararescue Jumper Ben helping the heroine who is down and out financially and has recently been evicted. Her car breaks down in Refuge, and Ben is determined to befriend and help her.

Yes, this is a romance, and the romance arc must be front and center, but as far as character story goals and plot arcs, the main one that should run entirely through the story is Ben helping the heroine.

My editor went on to explain that episodic writing means loose writing where the author is just getting the characters from one scene to another (such as ending one scene with dinner and starting the next scene at breakfast) without anything really significant happening in the middle or at the hooks in and out to raise the stakes or increase the tension.

She said to make sure the stakes are constantly being raised and that there is tension in every scene and always a forward movement of plot...which comes from conflict. Also, the pacing needs to stay on track.

So, with her explanation, I gathered that non-episodic writing is tight writing where there is sufficient conflict and where the stakes are continually raised. Tension is present in every scene and every scene has a vital purpose. There is always a forward movement of the plot.

Hmm...that sounds eerily like some of the elements on contest scoresheets and feedback forms.

So, can we gather from this that acquisitions editors really DO care about internal and external conflict, pacing, tension, plot, tight writing and every other element on most contest scoresheets?


If you've been marked down on "Conflict" on contest scoresheets, it is possible that your writing is episodic. (My words, not the editor's.)

So...In Summary.....

---Don't let your story be merely a stream of pointless scenes. Give it direction
---Don't let a series of random scenes trump your overall story arc
---Have AT LEAST one vital reason for every scene
---Write tight
---Hold true and fast to the overall story arc
---Continually build tension
---Constantly ramp conflict
---Characters must have clear cut goals and growth. Constantly challenge those goals.
---Constantly up the stakes
---Put tension in every scene
---Always have forward movement of the plot and not just "episodes" or stagnation
---Maintain smooth scene transitions so the story flows in logical progression. (In one long running arc instead of reading like a bunch of episodes or scenes stringed together.)

I hope this helps!

Below is a link to other article on Episodic Writing that you might also find helpful:


Happy Contesting!!

Also, HUGE CONGRATS to the three winners of my book!


Cheryl Wyatt


Ausjenny said...

Thanks so much for offering you book as a prize. I am looking forward to receiving it and reading it now i know the pj's are not what were aussies call pajamas!

Janet Dean said...


Love Melissa, her good advice and you, kiddo! You've nailed conflict and underscored how vital it is when seeking publication or contest wins. Your checklist on how to raise the stakes in every scene is right on.

But not easy to do.

I've written scenes that showed character, but they didn't fly with my critique partner because they didn't further the plot or raise the stakes. Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel workbook is great resource for applying these principles.

Thanks for the post and the picture, a reminder of the fun lunch we had with Melissa.

Pammer said...

Very helpful information. Thanks for sharing.


Julie Lessman said...

Wow, Cheryl, I could have used this a while back!! This is GREAT info for all writers. And I didn't know what "episodic writing" was either until just now, EVEN though I've done it!!


Tina M. Russo said...

This is HUGELY helpful, Cheryl. I have printed it off and for my files. (read-->editor told me my writing was episodic here)

Thanks for sharing this.

I am hoping next post you are going to share the secret handshake, but if you can't I really understand.

Gina Welborn said...

Raise the stakes, increase the tension.

Love it! As I was reading your article, my brain kept straying to my WIP and wondering if any of my scenes could be classified "episodic." While I can't think of any, when I open my WIP in a few minutes, I am going to skim though.

Anyhoo, excellent post. Thank you for sharing.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Yea! Thanks for the book and Amazon gift certificate! But man, I want to win that critique! Can I get that lucky two weeks in a row?

I didn't know what that meant, either, and my mind went right to one certain as you were explaining it. Hmmm. I'd wondered forever what was wrong with that scene. It provides info, but not sure if it's carrying its weight.

Thanks for the great tips!

Melanie Dickerson said...

My mind went right to one certain scene. Scene. Ugh. Why don't I proofread my posts?

Mary Connealy said...

Cheryl, honey, are you saying that solving all my sagging moments by shooting at someone isn't the right way to liven up a scene?
Episodic huh? This is explained really well and, must as I fight it I'm thinking...ow...ow...ow no, stop.......aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!

My atrophed brain might have just wrapped itself around that.
You know how hard it is for me to learn new stuff. Honestly, my braind has been full since...I think it happened around 1987.
Since then I can't learn anything new without forgetting something.
I am so kicking myself for memorizing the preamble to the Constitution in high school. I could really use that space, but noooooooooooooooooo!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

When I say sagging moments it is not a reference to ... uh ... foundation garments.

Ane Mulligan said...

Melissa's definition is exactly right. I sent a manuscript to Jeff Gerke back when he was with Strang Communicaitons. He told me while he liked my writing very much, the book was episodic.

And a light went on for me. I saw what he meant.

My story lacked the goal and motivation that creates a thread that pulls the lead character through the plot.

Like a TV show, each chapter was its own episode. A reader could put the novel down and come back two weeks later. Nothing pulled them from chapter to chapter.

Each character’s goal should cause conflict for the other or in other words the protagonist’s goal should cause conflict for the antagonist and vice versa. If it’s a romance, the hero’s goal should cause conflict for the heroine. That way, each scene complicates things, carrying the plot forward, and that makes the reader turn page after page to find out what happens next.

At least that is my interpretation of episodic. But I sure learned how to plot a novel through that.

Sclew said...

Thanks, Cheryl, this explanation is helpful to me. I've heard the term but really didn't understand it.

A term may be understood and used often by one person and yet it may be an unfamiliar term to another person.

There is so much to learn and I am thankful for people like you who will take time to clarify terms like these.

Donna Moore said...

Thank you so much for explaining what "episodic writing" is. The information was very helpful. I can use this information in improving my craft.

Cara Putman said...

Great tips, Cheryl!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cheryl, you didn't make fun of anyone!!!!!!!!

What in the world were you thinking?

Here you write this delightful post, full of good advice, sharing Melissa's expertise and wisdom, yet not once did you make a snarky remark about me or Mary or better yet, Pam.

Young Grasshopper, haven't I taught you the rules of out-of-the-box fun?

To be able to one day walk the ricepaper, one must be in complete balance, Yin and Yang, good and bad, right and left, up and down.

Not even a snarky reply to Mary.


We must return to the classroom, young Grasshopper, so that you too may walk in peace and harmony amongst us angsty old women.



Sandra Leesmith said...

Great information Cheryl, I've never been accused of episodic, but when you described it so clearly, I'm seeing it in some of my writing. yikes. What a helpful gemstone of info. Thanks for sharing.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Congratulations to Julie Lessman, whose book, A Passion Most Pure, was just voted the ACFW Book Club's selection for the month of March. Go, Julie!
Now you all need to join the book club so you can support Julie and help us discuss this great book.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Ooops. I'm such a blockhead sometimes. Julie's book, A Passion Most Pure, did get the most votes, but she is going to be in a run-off with the next-highest vote-getter. There were a lot of books to vote on this time, 7, I think, and even so, Julie's book got 42% of the votes. Soooo, that just means you all should hurry up and sign up for the Book Club so you can vote for A Passion Most Pure! That way I won't feel so bad for jumping the gun. :-)

Patricia W. said...

Never heard of this but then I haven't submitted to any of the contests for feedback yet.

So thanks for the heads up. :)

Pammer: I need your mailing address. You won a copy of Cheryl's book over on my blog. Send it to pwriter1 at yahoo.

Pam Hillman said...

The first time I heard of episodic writing, I didn't really understand what it meant. Maybe I still don't, lol, but it's sinking in. It's almost like scenes of the characters lives that don't propel the story forward in a linear manner.

Thanks for sharing this with us, Cheryl.

Suzanne said...

While I hadn't heard of episodic writing before this, I am very grateful to have this information. I will be starting work on a children's book sometime soon and will ensure that there is always some conflict to move the reader on from chapter to chapter.

This was a great post - thank you!

Cheryl Wyatt said...

LOL Jenny on PJs being pajamas. Today, someone on the ACFW loop put out a notice asking how to write PJs plural...
She was talking PAJAMAS and my mind logged in Pararescue Jumper. LOL!


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Janet, you are right...raising the stakes isn't easy.

When I was reading Camy Tang's Sushi for One....I was thinking all the way through it how her book could be a poster model for how to constantly ramp tension and conflict.

Just when I thought things couldn't get worse...worse happened. She continually upped the stakes and it had my stomache in knots. LOL!

So, for those of you who haven't yet read Camy Tang's debut novel, it would be a GREAT study on how to constantly up the stakes.


Cheryl Wyatt said...

You're welcome, Pammer..

Julie...ME TOO!

Now I'm paranoid as I write my book...this little voice in my head keeps whispering: isitepisodic? isitepisodic? isitepisodic? LOL! Though Melissa said she didn't think I tended to write episodic, my synopsis read in such a way to make her concerned my contracted book would turn out that way.

So her advice is timely for me, too.


Cheryl Wyatt said...


The secret handshake. Sigh.

Can't share it because it's....it's...it's.....



You know...we don't have a secret handshake...but I'm thinking we all need to come up with a SEEKER HANDSHAKE.

Come on Seeker brains and Seekerville visitors....I'm sure you can come up with one...



Cheryl Wyatt said...

Gina and Melanie...I know what you mean.

Sorry I'm late here commenting...I've been busy working on trying NOT to write my contracted novel episodic. LOL!

I'll let you know the verdict once I turn it in.


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Mary....the only thing I know to do for a sagging middle is OD on situps...oh! You meant the novel sagging middle...

Yeah...my motto on that is:

Blow something up-exploding pants works best

Kill someone off

Flip my plot on its head

Bring a character's worst fear to life

Insert a natural disaster or national emerency

I just love torturing defenseless characters....LOL!


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Ane, I'm SO glad you shared that...it's very clear and helpful.

Everyone, check out Ane's comment for more info on another editor's take on Episodic Writing! It all ties in. Good stuff.


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Schlew, Donna, Cara...you're welcome...

I'm still learning myself...right along with the rest of you.


Cheryl Wyatt said...

RUTHIE! You're not teachin me very well....

oh master of funnery--you!

Besides...if I poke fun at someone else...you may pull out your juicy arsenal of snippets of some of my old Barclay entries.......



Cheryl Wyatt said...

Sandra, Patricia, Suzanne, Pam,

Glad it helped...
Sorry if I missed anyone...

I've been MIA trying NOT to write an episodic novel...LOL!