The past few weeks I’ve been happily buried in various writing tasks, though they are distractions to applying late edits to the thriller I am determined to get out in some form. After finishing one SF novellette, I wrote the final episodes in another, serialised, story and then went back to turning the serial into a novellette.
Curiously, I found the changes needed to the episodic story were heavier than I realised.
In writing to a given format there are always changes or adjustments to the story and process to be made. I’ve tried flash, short-shorts (up to 3K, say), longer-shorts (up to 6K), novellettes (<20K) and novels and find something different in each. In some format characters are limited, plot scope is tightly constrained or narrative must be controlled. The episodic tale is no different in its uniqueness: it’s a like a very-heavily-connected series of short-shorts (approx 1K) but in each you can rely on what has gone before.
However, in each episode of a serial a recognisable sub-story still has to be told. The episode still has to have a start and an end and be coherent, but threads have to be maintained from previous episodes. It also has to leave something for future episodes. When linked together, this means that the flow appears to be a bit strange: as a result, whole scenes might have to be moved around in what was previously an apparently coherent tale. Dialogue also needs changing as the characters sometimes have to say something in an episode that they can rely on the reader having understood or read earlier in the novellette.
For me, distraction or not, the exercise was an interesting journey of discovery. It was also an opportunity to ‘fix’ a few things that I thought might have been done better in the published episodes (what writer doesn’t think that?), though I tried to resist the temptation to change too much. The overall story still has a shape – normality, challenge, trials, transformation – but is much more satisfying to put together than the individual episodes and, for me, more satisfying than shorter formats.
Whilst the novellette format still does not have the scope of a novel (I had to drop loads of plot details), it allows much more solidity in scenic and character detail, more interest and, frankly, more fun.
The lesson for me? Find the formats I like and enjoy.
Have fun, everyone.