Thursday, March 5, 2015

Episodic Storytelling - A New Type of Book

There’s a new form of story-telling that is slowly gaining popularity. I'm going to call it episodic fiction. These stories are not novels or short stories. They’re something else. These stories are based on the sensibilities of television. Terms such as episode and season tend to be used. You have a cast of characters that appear in each episode (essentially a novella). Each book can be its own story but they combine together to tell a larger story arc. This is more than just serialising a novel in pieces. The episodes combined do not follow the same structure of a novel. They follow the structure of a television season.

I think there are two factors that have inspired this kind of story-telling. The first is the eBook revolution. Novellas were not popular for a long time. It was not financially sustainable to print and sell them on shelves - but they are perfectly suited for electronic media (not to mention the shorter attention span of busy modern people). The other factor is what has come to be known as the ‘second golden age of television’. We are seeing a lot of well-written scripted stories appear on TV. This charge seems to be being led by the premium cable networks in America. These stories have inspired writers to pen the same kind of fiction in written form.

Two of the pioneers of this type of book are Sean Platt and Jonny B Truent. Some examples of their series are the fantastical and somewhat comical Unicorn Western (yes you read that right), and the extremely edgy cyberpunk thriller The Beam (big content warning for this one).

 

Christian authors are also getting in on the action. In the speculative arena you’ll find multi-author series such as Colony Zero and No Revolution Is Too Big. Each author will generally be ‘cast’ as a character and write their episode from their character’s point of view. It’s not all speculative though. Christian author Tracy Krauss has released a series she calls Neighbours (no not the Aussie TV show) which follows the exploits of a group of people living in an apartment block.

   

It seems to mainly be indie authors who have blazed the trail with this type of story-telling, but some bigger names are now getting in on the act. Big name Christian authors Bill Meyers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt and Alton Gansky are currently working on a supernatural thriller series called Harbingers.

 

Episodic storytelling offers some interesting new opportunities for Christian writers. Novels generally have a single protagonist. In a Christian novel a spiritual journey is often part of the protagonist’s arc. This type of arc can sometimes come across as 'preachy' to non-Christian readers, no matter how much we might argue that it isn't. The Christian message is perhaps too front-and-centre for them to handle. Interestingly, recent TV shows like Falling Skies and The Walking Dead have shown that mainstream audiences will happily accept Christian characters in the mix of a larger cast. This gives us an opportunity to do the same. Not every episode need be "Christian fiction" but through one or two characters we can bring a Godly worldview and perspective into a story.

I have actually been interested in this type of episodic writing for decades. I just didn't realise that readers would accept it in written form. The pioneers of these stories have shown that they will. I am currently developing a series that I call The Remnant. It is an episodic space opera featuring a mix of characters living in an extraordinary and difficult situation. I'm targeting the story at a general audience, but like everything I write it will still be influenced by my Christian world view. I'm in the midst of writing the pilot episode as we speak and it’s proving to be a blast. I'm still working on my novel, but this new frontier offers up just another way to express ourselves creatively, and that's always a good thing.


Adam David Collings is a writer of speculative fiction from Tasmania. His novella Lynessa's Curse is soon to be published in the Medieval Mars anthology.

He hosts a show on youTube called Stories with Adam Collings.

Connect with him at adamdavidcollings.com

10 comments:

  1. Hi Adam, thanks for a fascinating article. I love your point about having multiple protagonists can help non-Christians to relate to the story better. Your premise for The Remant sounds interesting. I had a go at some connected short stories on my webpage last year (tying it in with a Scavenger Hunt) http://jeanetteohagan.com/nardva-files/more-stories/fever-by-jeanette-ohagan/ and am also considering expanding this into a collection Tamrin Tales as well as another series of connected short stories in Barrakan Tales. Great to see that this is an area that is gaining some traction.

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    1. I remember having a quick look at your scavenger hunt stories but them I got busy. Must go back and check them out. I experimented a few years back doing the same type of episodic writing on a blog but I've found people generally prefer to have a story on their e-Reader (even if they have to pay a few dollars for it) than reading a web page from the computer, so expanding your stories into a collection sounds like a great idea.

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  2. Thanks for that Adam. I think it's a great idea too. I was watching the new TV series, Grantchester last night which seems to be modelled on Father Brown, which seemed to be modelled on the old series, Ballykissangel; all with a minister/priest who becomes the slouth or private investigator or general go to in a small town and inevitably brings in a God perspective. Love these stories and what a great opportunity to do a similar thing in written form. All the best with it.

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    1. Thanks Carol. A minister/detective is a great idea. Sounds like it would work well in either filmed or written form.

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    2. Hi Carol, I do believe that Father Brown (TV series) is actually based on the Father Brown books by G K Chesterton (29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936) - published between 1910-1911 - Chesterton based his character on Father John O'Connor (1870–1952), a parish priest in Bradford - long predating Ballykissangel.

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  3. Hi Adam - Thanks for that informative post. I haven't heard of episodic fiction before, but it makes good sense. I really like your comment that " mainstream audiences will happily accept Christian characters in the mix of a larger cast". That's a great point. Good luck with The Remnant. Be sure to post a message on CWD when the pilot episode is out.

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  4. Very interesting Adam. Thank you for that. I love the idea. I'd love to write that kind of novella. After all, our own lives are like that. Chapters brought together to make a whole beautiful story weaved into the common story of God. Sounds like something to explore.

    Congratulations on your novella that will come out shortly. Very exciting indeed. Well done.

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    1. Thanks Anusha. You're right. Our lives are an ongoing series of events.

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  5. Hi Adam, sorry I missed this very pertinent post.

    I love episodic fiction. And I think we'll definitely see it become bigger in the future. Takes us back to Dickens' day when he released his novels chapter by chapter in the newspaper. Yes, I appreciate that's different again to what you've described but kinda fits in a similar vein.

    BTW, I've read the 2 Harbinger novellas. Peretti's is good as one would expect from a master story-teller. I'd never read anything by Bill Myers nor Angela Hunt so it's a good way of being introduced to new authors without having to spend a lot of money.

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