Literary Television Episodes

When I first discovered the Internet, one of the things that I immediately took to was the many different ways you could use it to disseminate information. Stuff like Wikipedia is great, and the fact that I could theoretically find out how to make just about anything by looking it up is stupendously awesome. If you’re interested about the basics of woodworking, or the finer points of baking, or studying mythology in different ways, there’s a place on the internet for you. If you learn by reading, or watching, or discussing, then you can find an article, video or community that suits your needs. It’s truly awesome.

It didn’t take me long to find that you could play around with how stories are told as well. Back when LOST was first airing, there was an alternate-reality game centered around the passenger manifest of Oceanic Flight 815. It was absolutely engrossing, a way to bring you deeper into the world in a way a TV show never could. LOST was one of the very first television shows to bring in the interactive element, and I can tell you now it was one of the reasons I became so terribly addicted to that show. To this day, I’ll go to the mat to defend it — mainly because the story it told took advantage of new technologies to push my buttons so, so well.

The internet has changed how we take in information and stories quite a bit — at least, for those of us who spend a good chunk of our lives here. Alternate-reality games are all over the place, and it’s almost expected for a TV show or movie with any sort of geek interest to have an interactive element. Even for those of us who are primarily writers, the Internet offers us a great opportunity to stretch the form of storytelling in ways we never would have thought about before.

One of my favorite things about this isn’t anything quite as out-there as ARGs or blogs and websites that blur the line between fiction and reality. (Though those are almost always really interesting.) The thing that really gets me excited about online publishing is the rise of serialized fiction, and how feasible, even easy, it is to get stuff like that out there.

I confess that serialized, episodic storytelling is one of my favorite forms. It’s something that’s been played around with in the sci-fi/fantasy genre for a little while now, but I don’t think it really hit the big time until LOST came around. Tying character journeys around a big, over-arching mystery that takes years to complete is a fascinating process, and it’s something that people have taken and run with to create some truly great fiction. There’s The Sopranos (heck, just about anything on HBO), Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, The Shield. Each season is treated like a novel, with episodes comprising chapters in that novel. There’s an arc and a theme for each one, and the premise of the show turns a little bit (or a lot, depending) at the end of every season. You get invested in the journey of these characters over the long-term, and there’s enough growth from year to year that it doesn’t feel like anyone’s treading water. That is, if you do it right. It’s complicated and difficult, holding that many moving parts all at once, but when you pull it off there’s nothing better.

One of the things I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time now is take that format and apply it to short stories or small novels. You come up with a setting or a group of characters, you plot out a ‘season’ of stories to tell with them, and you release them one a week at the same time and place. I even have two or three scenarios where that would work fairly well, and I’ve arced out some character arcs that might actually do. The only trouble is, of course, that I have a devil of a time finishing anything I start.

But that’s an entry for a different time. For now, I’d like to ask you guys if you’ve found anything like what I’m talking about — a great story that’s been broken up into different episodes, like a television show. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them around, but I’m curious what other people have found out there. Share, share!

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