Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Story Notes - Episode Endings vs. Chapter Endings (and a change in Ep 5)

Yesterday, Episode 5 of The Case of the Misplaced Baroness got posted with a place holder for the last line.  I corrected it in the morning, but some of you likely only saw the original, so I'll mention it here.

In the orignal, Plink informs Mrs. Lister that she needs to talk to Antonio.

The line now reads that she needs to run off with Antonio.

The line was wrong because Blogger went gazookie last night, and I ended up fighting technology rather than finishing the last go on the story.  I was up until four, my brain was no longer functioning, so I left the place holder.

It was not a big difference, but it was in the last line, and for a serial, that is important.

Pulling a "George Lucas"

They say that in the script of Return of the Jedi, during the fight between Luke and Vader, there was a spot which read: "Vader says something to get Luke really mad." They didn't have an actual line, so they put in a place holder.  They finally came up with what he should say on the set.

I do that sometimes.  Okay, I do that often.  Most of the time, it doesn't matter much.  It's a set up for a joke, or a transition.  A great line in those situations will make the punchline or new direction shine, but it's not something you dwell on.  An approximation will do the job.

And if I come up with a better word or line or phrasing when I'm editing, I'll stick it in later, without mentioning it.  Or just put it in the book version during the editing and formatting stage.

More Important Than a Cliffhanger

With a serial, there is one place where the right detail or line can really matter: the end of an episode.

This is especially true of a short episode serial such as I write here.  With a longer episode, a writer has a whole scene to set things up for the next episode, put in a cliffhanger, and otherwise make promises for the next episode.  With a short episode serial, that last line is what you leave the audience to think about for three or four days.

I don't always come up with that perfect end line.  Sometimes, I am left with the option of just haivng Vader say "Yeah, and you're ugly too!" and getting on with it. 

When that happens, I can make it better in the novel version. But here's the unexpected thing:

That great episode ending is not nearly as important for a novel as for a serial.  With a novel, you actually can end a chapter abruptly, and it doesn't matter, because the audience can flip the page.  And the fact is many/most readers do check the first page of the next chapter before putting a book down.  (I don't remember where I read that, but I know that I do that.)

With a novel, the audience gets to decide where they take their breaks.  They can, and often do, end a session on a note of satisfaction. They can read until they see the next direction of a story, and then stop.

With a serial, the breaks are not optional.  And that is more than an accident of the form; the breaks are what a serial is about.

So it's actually less important with a serial to leave the reader in suspense.  With a novel, if you  leave Jim the Adventurer dangling over a pit of zombie alligators, that will make the audience want to turn the page.  Great!  Because they can have instant gratification with a novel.  With a serial, you need to give them something that lasts for days or weeks; something to actually think about.

I heard a bit of an interview with a reader of serials who had discovered that the serial format forced her to stop and think about the story between episodes.  That turned out to be a real pleasure for her.  The gap between episodes was the best part.

It made me think about how people react to TV shows -- especially on shows which have some sort of overarching story to the whole series.  The thing that gets people to talking about the show between episodes is not exciting peril, but rather that something changes, making the future uncertain, or something is revealed that gives a whole new meaning to what went before. Things, in other words, to think about.

Mastering this for short episodes is tough. I don't know how well I do it, but it makes for a great goal in writing the story.  

In Episode 5, the fact that Plink wants to talk to Antonio doesn't mean much.  The audience doesn't know enough about him to anticipate anything or think about it.  Sure, yeah, he was at the party.  So maybe he knows something.  But...  The fact that she has just spent a couple of episodes trying to convince people to take her story seriously, and that it isn't a prank or joke or accident, makes her suggestion that she carry out a joke that would make people take her even less seriously -- that's more of a question.  It's something to hmmmm about.

Therefore, I think it is a better to put it at the end of one episode than at the beginning of another.

See you in the funny papers.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Placeholders are very handy! I use them for a variety of reasons when I write...sometimes because I don't have a good character name yet, and will do a John Doe name in the meantime.

Interesting thoughts on serials. I love that this form has come back into fashion!

The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks, Elizabeth!

I have to watch out for placeholder names, otherwise I'll end up thinking of the character that way.