Creating a Web Fiction Series – Episode Six: Word Limits and Episode Structure

So now that we’ve got a main character (kinda) and a cast/setting (sorta) it’s time to figure out how we’re going to format the series. Now, you might be thinking, “hey tiredhamster, shouldn’t you try to refine and deepen your ideas first so you have a strong foundation to work with?”

So anyway, there’s a number of ways to go about formatting a web serial. And by formatting I basically mean what is each installment going to look like. If you remember eons ago, we “discovered” a winning “war strategy” and one of the stratagems was to confine each episode to about 500 words or less. This is something that we can still do, or we can deviate from this.

A couple of weeks ago there was a web serial I discovered on Twitter about a private detective which seemed to parody and pay tribute to the old noir radio serials. The problem is that it wasn’t very good. Each episode indulged in every word and narrative cliché from the days of Chandler; hell, even each episode title was a cliché. However, I still kept reading. And I think one big reason is that each episode took the above stratagem to heart. Every installment was about 500 words or so and, as a result, it was very easy for me to consume each bite-sized episode and continue. But I eventually stopped because, while the reading was accessible, I was not engaging with the poorly-written text. The point is that the 500 word limit definitely has its benefits when it comes to grabbing readers, but, in the long-run, it doesn’t mean anything if the writing itself isn’t good.

“Well yeah, that seems obvious. But what does that mean for what you are trying to do?”

Well, it puts me in a conundrum. I want this series to communicate and examine various ideas. This may mean having episodes that hone in on a particular moment or image, or having two characters getting into a heated discussion. But there’s also the benefit of the 500 word limit I’ve conveyed above. And it’s hard to adhere to that limit especially if there’s something specific I’m trying to do.

As a result, here’s what I will likely do: maintain the word limit where I think it’s most appropriate to the story.

The web serial that I was reading used the word limit effectively because each episode conveyed a central idea, but then ended right at the moment where the reader starts to ask “okay, then what?” sort-of like a mini-cliffhanger. And this is something I could definitely use. For example, Burt could be in the middle of a delivery where something wrong occurs, and as he’s trying to figure out how to reconcile someone calls out his name, ending that installment with a moment of suspense.

Other than the word limit for certain episodes I was also thinking of certain episodes jumping between perspectives, perhaps conveying multiple POVs within a single episode with different font types. The series Touch not only uses different perspectives, but also uses different narrative devices. For example, the prologue takes the form of a video transcript. I could incorporate this as well as other forms such as poetry and drawings depending on the situation and character. This also goes back to “pushing them boundaries” from that strategy thing.

“Okay. That’s nice and all. But shouldn’t you have a plan? Like, is each episode going to be self-contained, or is there going to be an overarching story?”

Um…both?

I was thinking of having “season-long” story arcs, similar to the television series Dirk Gently, but also try to have subplots, perhaps in the form of individual deliveries Burt has to make, threading throughout. However, I have a feeling this might all be a bit too ambitious for me. So, next time I will focus on outlining this whole thing and see where that leads me.

Creating a Web Fiction Series – Episode Five: A World Pretty Much Like Our Own

Okay, so we’ve got our main character. And he’s amazing. But what about the other characters? They have to be interesting as well in order to enrich the narrative. Or something literary like that. And also, I also want to write episodes in my series that don’t always focus on the main character. I would also like to jump around different perspectives as well because, while Burt is going to be the main character, I also want the story to be about more than just him.

Anyway, here’s a list of some other characters that Burt has to brush against, whether he wants to or not. First, someone close to him:

Jane Romero – Burt’s sister. She has ran Romero’s Pizza ever since the death of their father, Lucas. She not only wants to keep the family tradition alive, but she also wants to expand Romero’s Pizza into a successful franchise. She is ambitious, unlike her brother, but also fraught with insecurity. She also isn’t sure about how to reconcile her two goals regarding the family business: to maintain the pizzeria’s history and identity, and to “outdo” her father and make Romero’s a successful chain.

Jane could be considered the other “main character” as well as a foil for Burt. While Burt doesn’t seem to have any ambition and has “given-up” Jane is tenacious; Burt, on the other hand, while he knows he should care about the business, feels like it’s a chain and that it’s making Jane miserable. They care for each other, but are also too different and misunderstand the other. What I’m not sure about yet, however, is whether or not she’s oblivious or in denial of the shit Burt goes through on every pizza delivery, ranging from dealing with monsters or elderly perverts.

Here’s notes for the rest of the “main cast” that may or may not make the cut:

Lucas Romero – Burt and Jane’s father; is already dead at the beginning of the series. Not sure yet how he croaked; maybe he got stuck in the walk-in freezer, or just had a heart attack, or maybe his death was the result of some greater conspiracy. Anyway, nice guy and most people in the town liked and respected him, including his competitors, but he seemed more wrapped-up in the business than in taking care of the business, especially after his wife left him. Also, not sure if he should show up periodically as a ghost or not. Yeah.

Linda Romero – Burt and Jane’s mother; still very much alive, but a bit broken since the wake of her husband’s death and has become something of a hoarder. Burt and Jane debate about what to do about her “condition” while Linda herself fails to see what is wrong with her, if anything.

Mitch Henderson – A loser and NERRDD who hangs out at the pizzeria and spouts of conspiracy theories. Was also one of Burt’s friends from high school. They’ve however grown apart over the years as Mitch has become a manchild steeped in conspiracy theories. A comedic relief who is boisterous about his beliefs and, at least claims to, doesn’t care about what others think. Also lusts after Jane.

Charles Henley – Another of Burt’s former high school friends who has since won the lottery and has become a major business owner in the town. Almost has become a Jay Gatsby-esque figure who believes doesn’t deserve his wealth.

Roach – A shadowy figure who is linked to the recent rise in drug use in the town. There is debate about whether he (or she) is even real at all.

 

And there are other characters that will populate the world. The world being a small town in the desert called Weaverton. Nothing really notable about the town and it’s not going to be the “cliché charming small town with a dark secret.” It’s just going to be like anything other town (but with the occasional ghost or monster lingering about) that will serve as a microcosm for human civilization. With these characters and the town I’m hoping to address issues ranging from the political to the universal. Because while this fiction series will be on the silly side I’m hoping to also say something with it as well. Basically Weaverton is going to be to this series what the real city of Baltimore is to The Wire. I want this world to seem singular and real while also reflective of the rest of humanity.

I’ve written some notes for the characters and the setting and will likely do more research, before I start the series and as it progresses.

Creating a Web Fiction Series – Episode Four: So, Who’s the Main Guy?

More important than plot is character. This is because if a character is interesting or compelling, it doesn’t really matter what the plot is. The story could be about the character shopping for clothes or having a troublesome shit. If the character is interesting people will read. And while this series, so far, will feature various strange happenings, I still want the reader to be invested in the main character. Because even a plot featuring car chases, explosions, and crazed Cthulu monsters trying to devour the world would eventually become dull spectacle without an interesting protagonist at its center.

First, let’s refer to the synopsis that we came up with for the web fiction series.

Burt Romero, a college dropout and recovering alcoholic moves back home to work in the family business: a pizzeria. Burt tries to get his life back on track, and mend his relationship with his family and the people he left behind. Oh, and there’s also spirits, extraterrestrials, and other strange phenomena that he has to contend with daily while delivering pizzas. Life isn’t so easy for Burt, but hey, he just has to take each day…one slice at a time…

So, we already have a name. We already have an occupation and a situation. But who is this person? What does this person want? Maybe I can develop the character as I write. He will likely change or deepen as the series progresses, but we probably need some sort of foundation, otherwise the character might end-up a vessel subservient to the needs of the story. I also don’t want the character to be “zany” or “wacky” either, Jesus Christ.

First, I’m probably going to move away from the alcoholism or, at the very least, it won’t be a focus point. This is because I don’t want to fall into the usual cliches of an alcoholic, depressed, deadbeat character. If alcoholism is addressed, it will be more about the why. I’m also thinking of making the character more passive as he finds himself in strange situations and is forced to react. At the same time, I don’t want him to be an empty husk.

In order to help narrow things down I’ve written a brief character summary to help build something of a foundation for the character.

Burt Romero, 28 (or whatever), just wants to have a normal, quiet life with as little conflict as possible. However, he’s getting frustrated with his job delivering pizzas for the family business. He used to have dreams and ambitions, but as he’s gotten older he’s realized his limitations. As a result, he just wants to have a very basic life, but fears that he will never be truly content. But, he tries to do his best not just for himself, but for the family business as well, because there’s no point in drowning in your sorrows now is there?

So, this is our hero. Well…that’s fun. How can you not be excited to read this?

Anyway, next I will focus on the cast and setting for this series. Auf wiedersehen.