Web Serials vs. TV Series (Process, Story Arcs, Length)

Although web serials and TV series are different in many ways, they also have a lot in common. What TV writing techniques do you think can be applied to web serial fiction? Do you treat chapters as episodes or scenes? Would web serials have longer or shorter "seasons" than TV shows?

Would you apply story beats to an entire season of a web serial or to individual chapters?


I definitely keep TV series and comic books in mind when writing web serial fiction, as they are the most culturally obvious forms of serialized fiction. With TSLADODF I set myself a 2 Word pages minimum per chapter, and for awhile updated almost daily. So I thought of posts as scenes and every few chapters would accumulate as an episode. I organized chapters into Books with an over-arching scene, and I definitely thought of the endings of Books as season finales. So some (chapter) scenes have mini cliffhangers like going to commercial, whereas finales concluded a theme or conflict and set up the next Book.

I tried to make individual scenes compelling with a central conflict, relationship or humour, and the pseudo-episodes transitioned to a new day with new centres. So like how a TV show will have ordinary episodes that fit into a greater arc, every few chapters stood alone pretty well but moved the story along in a greater plotline.

There are specific beats in a chapter to make it worthwhile and then greater arcs that pull the threads together into something bigger.

Obviously for Curveball I use comic books as my measuring stick--each new update is an issue, etc. But for my other stuff I think of an update as a chapter and build around a novel-length arc.

It's looking like I think smaller than all of you. :/ I've had to call my updates 'posts' instead of chapters because they're so short. If anything, they're spots between commercial breaks. Each of the post categories, however, have their own episodic feel, so that works out in the end.

Don't know what to tell you about season length. I had to put the series on hiatus after juts seven episodes :/ So instead of trying to retake the writing where I left it, I considered those to be season 1 and started season 2 introducing a parallel plot. It is working better than expected by the way, so I reckon it was a good decision.

Next Friday I'm posting my season finale and will go for a four week Christmas break. I plan to run Season 3 from mid January to mid June, with a little break around April. Then I expect season 4 to begin in September.

I frequently use ellipsis as a device and I also use cliffhangers a lot, I believe they are important to make a reader click the [continue] link at the end of each episode.

I would say my serials are heavily influenced by TV show format. Umbra: Unsanctimonious (the Umbra rewrite) is formatted similarly to how American Horror Story is, with each episode having a main focus and still furthering the plot. Each chapter is around 3/4 of an episode for it, although there are going to be a lot more than 13 episodes, if you're going by that.

FYI - there's a whole group of the "web serial as serial TV" folks around. They're just not very active on WFG or at EpiGuide where most of them used to chat quite a bit at their forums. (http://www.epiguide.com/forums/) . I think they've gotten busy because they've stopped updating their podcasts (http://epiguide.podbean.com/e/epicast-015-teaming-up/).

There are several stories (and still may be listed here) that followed the tv show episodic format, like the traditional soap opera. I still see folks posting links (from twitter) to summaries every so often so as to allow new readers to just jump in.

Also Sean Platt/David Wright/ at http://collectiveinkwell.com/ also follow the TV concept. They release like six "books" per "season" of some series. Been doing it for years.... before Amazon Serials and then outside it. I think they've blogged about this concept in the past but don't have the links handy.


More or less the webfic "genre" has all sorts of stuff that is included in it...

There are the novel type webfics.

Soap opera /serial tv webfics

Blog fics...

Probably tons more...most of these have some kind of connected, linear narrative, although one could argue that "prompt fics" also should be included. The 'prompt' (exchange) fic is more commonly seen in fandom and consist of pieces of fiction linked only by a theme (i.e., emotion, pairing).

I don't think TV series have much in common with web serials, they're disconnected from the audience (as in, as long as enough people watch, the audience doesn't matter) and don't need votes or followers.

If you're looking at just storytelling elements, then definitely cliffhangers. Otherwise, I don't think TV series are a good example for serialized storytelling. They tend to make some mistakes web authors should avoid - such as recycling villains (I'm looking at you, Heroes) and decreasing story quality the longer they keep running.

Let's players, on the other hand, rely on votes and subscribers as much as we do. They have to say entertaining things during their 20-40 minutes of play episodes, or else they lose watchers. I've learned quite a bit about how to 'talk' (write / comment) to my audience from MathasGames. I love that guy.

It depends on the serial. some feel episodic, and some like a novel split up. With phoenix and refelcetions (new years resolution, rewrite the existing chapters and restart them!) i very much tried to make it feel like a single book with chapters. My next serial once I finish one of those two, I'm building it in my head as episodic, like a tv miniseries.

What is in my head is very visual, so there is similarities to tv, and if we are being honest, my chapters are a bit more like scenes.

I believe just about anything can be structured to be episodic, and certainly the format of serial writing fits my style well, I spent quite a while trying not to write short serial fiction and it didn't work well at all.

Ultimately I don't apply much in the way of theory of tv/film to my writing, partly due to lack of knowledge. Though while I do feel that writing can benefit from mining other mediums, text fiction is not tv or film. Seems like an obvious statement, but hey, I'm happy to make the obvious statement.

Tv and film are the children of writing and writing is the child of oral storytelling. They all have their different challenges.

So, yeah there is common ground. Only natural that there would be. The trick is in finding what to take and what to convert to the world of text. This is a bit of a tangent, but in a small way, text is also visual.

You can do interesting things with placement and spacing and so on. I'm kinda veering off topic though.

Anyway the story is more than the medium.

I will say that as a reader, I prefer something episodic. Especially because I don't have the entire book in my hand, if I have to wait for two months for the next part, I want to feel as though there's some sort of progress that's been made. Writing episodes seems to force the writer to give a partial main plot or sub-plot conclusion before they end things, even if other questions were raised.

There are definitely similarities between TV and web serials -- they're long-running, broken up into smaller pieces, you can't edit as much, etc. And the great number of awesome shows that are on right now increases the desire to compare web serials to TV shows.

But, like all metaphors, saying that web serials are basically the same as TV shows ignores a lot of details.* For one, a lot of shows tend to capture their audience's attention (to a degree) for 43 minutes a week. How many web serials have chapters that it takes 43 minutes to read? Maybe Wildbow's stuff. MAYBE. Then there's the fact that TV shows are more visual, which means they can often transmit information more quickly.

I've actually found it more useful to look at serial writing the same way I look at improvisational comedy. Essentially, you start a scene and then you try finding the scene's 'game'. The 'game' is the pattern of the scene, ie whatever it is about the scene that is different, whatever it is that makes the scene relevant to the story. Then I build on that pattern, escalating the tension until it's in some way resolved. The resolution hopefully leaves room for a new scene.

But yeah, glad to see this thread because I've been thinking a lot about the web serial structure. I think it'd be interesting to try something with the Kishotenketsu style, but I guess that's another thread for another day.

* Similes are a type of metaphor, so if you were thinking about saying I'd mislabeled that simile, don't even play.

Billy, I've been fumbling for a few days because I wanted to contribute but didn't have a good way to describe what I was thinking, but you just did in a pretty great way. I tend to think per scene, and develop its own sort of narrative in miniature, the resolution of which links to a new scene and contributes to the narrative at large.

I don't think anyone would claim webfic and tv shows are the "same" for writing, because they're obviously not. There are useful storytelling elements that they share in common, however. These are just some that are available;

Cliffhangers for scenes and arcs.

Recurring characters.

Ongoing conspiracies, subplots and relationships. (Non-series fiction has to wrap up with an "ending" eventually but comics and tv shows will drag some stuff out for years. I don't even know how to follow soap operas, some stuff lasts decades.)

"Story thus far" comments, exposition or transitions.

Small stories accumulating into a greater plot.