Tuesday, January 15, 2008
EPISODIC WRITING--AN EDITOR'S DEFINITION
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.)
SOME WAYS WE CAN AVOID EPISODIC WRITING:
---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
---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:
Also, HUGE CONGRATS to the three winners of my book!