In the world of story-telling, regardless of the medium, we have two main types of tales. On the one hand, we have stand-alone stories. They need not be short per-se (they often are, but it’s not really a requirement), but to be a stand-alone story, it doesn’t fit into a wider multi-part universe. I will use ‘Star Trek’ as an example of both types.
In the original series, and ‘Next Generation’, etc, we have episodes of the week, right? There’s very little, if any continuity, except for two-parters or season cliffhangers. (Aka The “magic reset button”). This paradigm is also used by most sitcoms. As crazy and outrageous things get, by the end of the tale, everything is magically restored to the status quo, and in older sitcoms like ‘I Love Lucy’ or ‘The Honeymooners’, sometimes without any explanation! In fanfics or online stories in general, we see this in a stand-alone one part story. It’s not a tale that goes on for months or years.
The pro of this type of story-telling is that it doesn’t require much time investment. We can digest only what we wish, without worrying too much about an over-arcing universe to keep track of.
The con of this type of story telling is that, often times it leaves the reader or viewer wanting more. In something like a sitcom, or the older Star Trek series, it also requires one to somewhat suspend disbelief. Also, there’s usually less time for believable character development.
The next mode of story-telling is serialization. While this has become the norm as of late, it has it roots in old radio dramas from the 1930’s and 40’s, such as ‘The Shadow’ or ‘Flash Gordon’) To use Star Trek as an example again, this would include the newer series, such as ‘Discovery’. These types of tales encompass a much larger world, with multiple parts (and sometimes even multiple franchises converging into a “cinematic universe”). With online fanfics or stories in general, these would include multi-part sagas that go on for years, sometimes decades. (Take ‘Gone From Daylight’ for example).
The pro of this method of story-telling is, obviously it allows the characters and the world in general to be more fleshed out in greater detail. The con is that it’s a bit of a time sink. You cannot just hop into season 4, episode 2 of ‘The Walking Dead’, for example. To understand the story in it’s entirety, you have to watch from season 1, episode 1. To a lot of viewers (or in our case, readers), this can sometimes be a daunting task.
My question for January is, when reading stories online (or in the bookstore for that matter), or watching TV…which method of storytelling do you prefer? This question is actually not so cut and dry because there are some tales that can be hybrids. Think of ‘The X-Files’ for example. You had two main types of stories. The ‘Monster of the Week’ episodes, which were stand alone tales…and you also had the ‘mythology’ episodes interspersed within them. These episodes followed a very complicated multi-season story-arc.
Personally, (this is totally not a cop out answer!), when it comes to the visual arts, I prefer a blend of both. Like ‘X-Files’, or ‘Star Trek: Deep Space 9’ that was part stand-alone and part serialized (especially towards the end of the run). For me, this allows the plot and characters to be fleshed out and extremely detailed, yet gives us a breather every now and then (side-quests, lets call them! lol). However, in the written form such as fanfics or even novels, I prefer serialization. Stories like ‘Gone From Daylight’, or Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower’ 8 part book series, or the ‘Dragonlance’ fantasy novels by Weis and Hickman. Not to mention all the manga I read. When it comes to the written word (or graphic novels), I absolutely gravitate to those multi-part tales that literally create a world for us and goes on and on and may not ever end. Take ‘Superman’ for example which has been an ongoing saga the started in June of 1938 and shows no signs of ever stopping. To me, these are other worlds that exist…we created them parallel to our own, and we can enter them any time we wish. 🙂 There’s something very epic about it all.
I’m curious as to what your opinions are. Do you rather read/watch little stand alone stories, or do you prefer serialized story-arcs? Or…like me, does it differ depending on the medium?
“In general, I prefer serialized story arc.
A non Fantasy world example of this is the Blacklist. Each episode is its own story yet you know it also has a larger part to play in the whole story.
Don’t get me wrong I also like stand alone stories, even if they are in several parts.
The upside to stand alone, as you said, is you can basically jump in at any point and you wont of really missed much and any character history you can basically learn in one episode.
The down side to the longer story arc is that you do need to start from the very beginning. Plus if they leave it too long between series then they are in danger of the audience forgetting the sub plots.” – Dom
“Well…for me, I think it depends on the point of the story. I wrote a writing tip talking about ‘theme’, and that’s what determines the serialization factor for me. Whether I’m reading it, watching it on TV, or writing it myself.
To explain further, you mentioned Superman. Now, for comic books…it’s very character themed. The point of the story is Superman. However, if you have a TV show like “Smallville”…that’s more story themed. So an extended series can have a much broader arc, where one plot point weaves itself into another, characters are developed, and an actual ‘story’ is told from season to season. So, with comic books, Superman has been around for about 80 years now, and you can ALWAYS come up for new adventures and challenges for him to face. But that wouldn’t work for a ‘story based’ narrative. Nobody wants to watch 115 consecutive seasons of “Smallville”! Hehehe, it has to end at some point, preferably before it wears out its welcome.
When writing short stories, I’m just trying to capture one small event or a special moment in time. I might hint at some backstory, and might hint at a potential future, but the point of the story is to just create a freeze frame for that one event, and just focus on it until the story is told. Then I’m done with it. The rest is left to the readers’ imagination.
However, when writing anything longer, or a whole series…my range expands when it comes to what I want to concentrate on. Now I can build up characters, hide and reveal secrets, create tension, have multiple ‘events’ take place in the characters’ lives, and take the readers on that ride along with them. So it has a different feel to it. Now the story arc can be much wider than with a short story, and by the time it’s over, the reader has an entire history of amazing events and special moments to look back on once the final work is complete.
So I guess, to finally answer the question, hehehe…I’m more of a hybrid kinda guy. A little of Column A, a little of column B. I love a good short story. And what is a series but a bunch of connected short stories, when you really think about it?” – Comicality
I smile anytime someone mentions Stephen King’s – The Dark Tower. That’s serialization at it’s finest. The funny thing about that set is that I got hooked reading Book Four “Wizard and Glass) first. Where every part of that story is part of the bigger picture, any one of them could stand on its own and the tale was so interesting, I actually read the entire series start to finish based on the one part that I had read to get the “Whole” picture. Sure it helps to have some context but if written well, context can be an “Aha!” moment as you realize small details that become even more clear as you read the origin for the first time. Gone From Daylight is another good example of a story that you could pick it up anywhere and it will most likely interest you to the point where you NEED to read it.
Not that stand-alone stories are less enjoyable in my opinion. Not at all. But there are times that I just want to get lost in a world outside of my own and a long running serialized story can definitely feed that need. But a well written short or stand alone story is equally enjoyable. The only difference to me would be the ending of any story that you are enjoying. You just get to that stage where you’re just sad the ride is over. Like a ride on a rollercoaster, the longer it takes to get to the end, the more I will enjoy the ride. – JeffsFort