TOP 10 MISTAKES NEW FICTION WRITERS MAKE – EPISODIC SCENES
By Suzanne Hartmann
Definition = scenes that don’t advance the plot. They are usually full of humdrum activities that just get the character from one important scene to another. They contain little or no action, suspense, or conflict. While there might be important information included in these scenes, nothing regarding the plot actually takes place.
Let’s say we’re writing a story about Verna, a researcher who studies virulent bacteria, and an accident in the lab allows some of the bacteria spread and later threaten the world. During this time, Verna’s husband Herman goes through a series of doctor visits before he is diagnosed with cancer. The fact that her husband is dying is important because it motivates her to volunteer to go into the danger zone to contain the disease and risk contracting it herself.
Episodic writing might include scenes like these:
1) Verna comments on Herman’s symptoms and urges him to go to the doctor.
2) Herman returns from the doctor and tells Verna what the diagnosis is.
3) Verna urges Herman to return to the doctor because his symptoms not only haven’t gotten better, but have worsened.
4) Herman goes to the doctor again and is referred to a specialist.
5) Verna joins Herman when he visits the specialist. The doctor tells them his suspicions and schedules a biopsy.
6) They return to the specialist after the biopsy and the doctor tells them that Herman has cancer.
7) They visit an oncologist and the doctor tells them about the treatment options.
1) Recognize that Herman’s diagnosis of cancer is important, but the actual events that lead to the diagnosis don’t have anything to do with the plot.
2) Pick out the most important information from the episodic scenes. In the above example, the important information includes: Herman’s symptoms, the specialist diagnosed him with cancer, and the treatment plan.
3) Condense the episodic scenes into few scenes that focus on the important information. Take the important information from scenes to be dropped and move it into the new scene. In the above example, Herman’s symptoms can be shown as they wait in the doctor’s office (i.e. pain in his chest and coughing spells) and the specialist can mention that he looked at x-rays from Herman’s general practitioner.
4) Combine other important information into the condensed scenes. For example, Verna may decide while they are at the oncologist’s office that if her husband dies her life isn’t worth living, which leads her later to take the risk that saves the world.
Why we should avoid episodic writing =
1) It doesn’t move the story forward.
2) Episodic scenes tend to describe humdrum activity and contain very little tension, suspense or conflict.
3) Readers have a tendency to skim through episodic scenes.
4) It slows down the pace.
SUZANNE HARTMANN is the author of the soon to be released e-book Write This Way: Take Your Writing to a New Level. She is also the author of The Race that Lies Before Us , a Christian suspense novel available next year through Oak Tara.
On the editorial side, Suzanne is a contributing editor at Port Yonder Press and operates the Write This Way Critique Service, through which she helps authors take their writing to a new level by personalizing the advice she shares on her blog and in Write This Way to an author’s manuscript.