Chapter or Episodic Form?

3 years ago | AdamBolander (Member)

When you write a regularly updating online serial, which style do you think works better? For each chapter to just be chapters, like you would find in a physically published book? Or episodic, where each chapter is like an episode in a TV show--self-contained with its own beginning, middle, and end, but still tying in to the other "episodes" and leading towards a sort of season finale at the end of the book?

Author of The Gray Ranger, The Slayer and The Sphinx, Juryokine, Amber Silverblood, and more! Read for free on

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  1. Raven Secrets (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Part of the reason I like serials is that they're all one large unified whole, which is something no other media does. Modern TV shows come fairly close, but most of them are still fairly easily broken into seasons, even if the episodes blur together. Actual series are usually a lot worse. Each book tries to be a relatively self contained unit and the end result is a bunch of spliced together books instead of a nice monolith.

    The specific name you use for your updates doesn't really matter, but I would say that the unified whole falls more into the chapter side of things but that you should still be drawing on TV show theory for designing individual updates.

  2. Calhoun (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I think either/or is fine! It just depends what you want to write, I guess? Like is it something that would be better in self-contained pieces or do you want to serialize it a bit more? And the pacing decides a lot of it too, I think. If it's a short story format that would be different than a more extended serial.

    I write mine in an episodic-chapter mix, where each chapter (however long that chapter might be - my current chapter that just ended is 15 parts. Think chapter 1.1, chapter 1.2, etc.) is an episode and then the next chapter (and all its parts) are also a self contained episodes. I don't know if htat's the best way to do things or not, but it's how I like to write and I have fun with it.

  3. Thedude3445 (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    I like to compare serial writing less to TV shows, which have a very strict time limit per story unit and are sometimes forced to rush things out or (more often) pad things out to fit the correct time slot, and more to comic books, another hyper-serialized medium. In comics there is usually a set page count (15 for a weekly manga, 28-32 for most comic books, 64 for longer ones), but because of panel layouts, these pages can tell stories of drastically-varying lengths.

    My favorite example of this is the Star Wars comics:

    The very first major Star Wars comic in the 90s, Dark Empire, was an epic saga, designed to be as close to what Star Wars Episode VII could be as possible. Over six issues, it told the story of an entire intergalactic war, complete with an important story arc for Luke Skywalker as he grappled with falling into the same darkness as his father in order to save the galaxy. It's a bit divisive these days, but it's a HUGE story; put into a two-hour film, it'd make Alita Battle Angel look like it was light on plot. You'd probably need an entire season of 13 half-hour TV episodes to really do the story justice, and it was done all in six issues.

    Then there was a Dark Empire II that was kind of lame and people don't talk about that much, but when it came time to finish that story's cliffhanger-- a final story called Empire's End, there was a creator fallout issue and suddenly Empire's End got cut to just TWO issues. So in about 54 pages, it had to accomplish everything that the original Dark Empire had done in over 160. So the plot was extremely compressed, with huge events happening in a single panel, and entire battles lasting less than a page. It was incredibly unsatisfying, but they somehow did accomplish fitting an entire story into this short of a space.

    Then, we get some of modern Marvel Star Wars comics. The series Darth Vader ran for about 2 years and lasted for 25 issues. In that timeframe, it told a story roughly equivalent to the six-issue run of Dark Empire. I wouldn't say it was SLOW in pacing, but it certainly had a lot more space in each issue to include character musings, more drawn-out fight scenes, and big splashy art pages.

    So, applying this all to Web Serials... I would say, what kind of comic book format are your story chapters? Do you fit entire self-contained subplots within a single chapter, with six POVs? Are your chapters generally single scenes with one focused event for each? Do you like to fill your chapters with long internal reflections, or do you like to be focused on hitting the big plot points as much as possible? Or, if you're like one of those Chinese Wuxia serial writers, are your chapters, all eight hundred of them, so short that you'd need six chapters just to fill one comic issue?

    There's no right or wrong or anything. But it's fun to reflect on your own stories in this way.

    Sorry boss, but there's only two men I trust. One of them's me. The other's not you.
  4. AdamBolander (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    Personally, I write my webserials to feel as much like novels as possible, so my chapters are all continuous, each leading into each of them leading to the next. I've thought about trying a more episodic approach, but I honestly don't think I could come up with enough subplots to tie into the larger plot to make that worth it. As for the comic book approach, I've thought about that as well. Turning a longer story into a series of smaller books but, like the tv show episode style, I don't think I'd be able to make each small story self contained enough to warrant it. The closest example I can think of is a manga. They're known for telling a longer story in bite sized chunks, with each issue essentially being a chapter or episode that leads directly into the next. But even mangas are self contained, each issue having it's own plot and conflict to work through like N episode of a tv show.

    Yeah, I think sticking to a novel format is the best thing for me.

    Author of The Gray Ranger, The Slayer and The Sphinx, Juryokine, Amber Silverblood, and more! Read for free on
  5. Thedude3445 (Member)

    Posted 3 years ago

    The format you pick basically only matters to how you're going to write the story, anyway. Your audience is probably a key thing to consider; if you're writing heady hard sci-fi, your readers are probably expecting sizeably-chunked chapters, but maybe with more leeway for one-off chapters and a bunch of subplots. But if you're writing for the YA crowd with some story about a girl with special anime powers, it's probably better to go the route of quick-bite instant gratification with consistent, short updates, and in a case like that, it's better to keep it flowing continuously with one consistent storyline at a time (much like a weekly manga series).

    Sorry boss, but there's only two men I trust. One of them's me. The other's not you.


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