Episodic Form and Function – Diana Huang

Generally when I think of chapters or episodes, I think of them as dividers used to make a large piece of content more digestible for the audience. In a television show, episodes are usually of a set length and they are bite-sized pieces in which that show can be consumed. Other forms of media like webisodes or novel chapters might have more flexibility in length, but the idea of breaking a larger story into pieces seems to be pretty universal in what I have seen in the past.

Additionally, some forms of chapters have a set story format. Episodic tv shows like House and Psych have the same story structure in every episode and the episodes can be viewed out of order (for the most part) since each is largely independent. In contrast, serial tv shows are more like chaptered novels because there is a continuous story line that you must watch in order (i.e. Lost).

Inanimate Alice combines aspects of both episodic and serial tv shows. The episodic aspect would be that each episode has a similar format (Alice is in a new place, she’s experiencing some sort of new problem, that problem comes to a conclusion at the end with no carryover to the next episode). The serial aspect is that there is a huge focus given to how Alice is changing, which shows in the text and the images/animation, much more than you would expect from a traditional episodic drama.

Flight Paths uses episodes to refresh the audience’s mind with each piece. Multiple parts isn’t really necessary to keep the reader’s attention, since each piece is short. However, experiencing the whole piece as a whole would likely be more confusing. With the separate parts, the audience is able to reestablish the setting, understanding the new places and new characters in each chapter. By doing this, the authors do not need to be as explicit in the text about what is happening, allowing the reader to easily figure it out for themselves.

Finally, there is the idea of episodes being released over time, like webisodes, tv shows, and serialized novels are. It is clear that Inanimate Alice is being released over time, but I’m not sure if Flightpaths was released at once or in parts. In my mind, Flight Paths works best released all at once, since the episodes depend on each other to make sense of the story. Inanimate Alice works well over time since experiencing Alice’s growth is very immersive. The soundtrack, animation, and need for specific user inputs make the story much more interactive, so it is only right that the passage of time as Alice grows older can also be experienced by the audience. In this way, the time between releases is just as relevant to the narrative as the animation and images are.

The use of episodes in both networked novels held many similarities but also some differences from traditional media. In both cases, the episodic format serves a functional purpose in itself, rather than working only as a divider.

-Diana Huang


~ by Diana Huang on February 6, 2011.

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