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“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Episode

An EPISODE in a work of fiction is an incident presented as one continuous action. Though having a unity within itself the EPISODE in any composition is usually accompanied by other EPISODES woven together to create a total work. It is an incident injected into a piece of fiction designed to illuminate character or to create background without advancing the action.

Think about a book that is all action, you think it might be exciting but really it would be tiresome. EPISODES exist for a purpose outside of promoting plot or advancing action. To illustrate this, I quote from a book I read recently that I really, really liked and reviewed  here on Goodreads: Mississippi Cotton by Paul H. Yarbrough (WiDo Publishing, 2011).

The following paragraph is just part of the EPISODE which involves a man stopping by the farm at breakfast. It doesn't move the plot along, there is no real action; even the character mentioned, Earl Hightower, is not a main character. But it creates background, illuminates character-- the Southern character-- and sets a tone. EPISODES enrich and add depth and interest to the story. Mastering them are a crucial part of learning the craft of writing.

Earl put his brown hat in the chair next to him. In his work clothes, he looked tanned and strong—a real cotton farmer. His blue cotton shirt sleeves rolled up revealed big hairy forearms, with hard-looking muscle that came from farm work. He had a gentle way about him, but a mannerism that made you know he was definitely no softy. One of his big hands swept around the cup, not using the crook, and took a big swallow. Black. No sissy coffee for Earl Hightower.
 

(This post has been inspired by and in some instances, directly quoted from A Handbook to Literature, 8th Edition, by William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman)

31 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. Episodes aren't something that I consciously think about, but I'll be much more aware of the concept from this point forward. :)

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  2. Great post that has me looking back at my writing with new eyes. Thanks for sharing what you know about the craft!

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  3. I think I have to bookmark your blog as a serious literature lesson for myself. Go through it thoroughly in three 2 hr lessons a week. Yes, this is an idea. :)thank you

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  4. Thanks. I haven't thought of this before.

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  5. Excellent. I wasn't aware episode had such a specific meaning for fiction. Thanks Karen!

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  6. This is good advice. Spacing our episodes is also helpful in making tense moments more tense. Like you said straight action gets boring and exhausting.

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  7. Interesting! PS: How is it that you have time to do A-Z on your other blog too??? Wow!

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  8. Lovely quote from Paul S Yarbrough's book to illuminate the meaning of episode in writerly speak!! Take care
    x

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  9. Reading your posts is better than going to school. At least for this old lady. Thank you so much for all the effort you put out to help others.--Inger

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  10. We learned a lot in that paragraph! Great post~

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  11. Like several other commenters, I hadn't realised the meaning of episode in connection with fiction. I think I include 'episodes' without consciously realising that's what they are.
    http://paulamartinpotpourri.blogspot.com

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  12. Great lesson. I'm guessing best-sellign authors probably have a formula for each of their books using episodes or action/slow down/romance/back to action, etc. It's definitely something to think about, and as you showed in the segment, can offer a time for beautiful introspection.

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  13. "No sissy coffee for Earl Hightower." I like that.

    but I guess it means I'm a sissy :)

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  14. Excellent posts - I like the direction you are taking, Karen. I like lots in books that would be carved out of them these days, nice long descriptions, mood setters and minor characters. But then I'm like that...slow paced, ready to enjoy whatever is on the offer, as long as I care about at least one of the characters or the plot is a lovely elegant puzzle!
    Jan Morrison

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  15. Nice post, Karen. I agree about the need for a change of pace, which is essentially what your episodes represent. Kinda like the roller coaster ride I blogged about a couple days ago. As always, I enjoyed your words of wisdom, dear lady.

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  16. Great excerpt to show episode.

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  17. I never thought of an episode as being an incident to promote character. I'm learning every day here.

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  18. Great post on episodes. I enjoy learning new facts and bits of information. =)

    http://tigeronmybookshelf.blogspot.com/

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  19. Interesting bit of literary information. Thanks for sharing that informative EPISODE.

    BTW, I love the giraffe.

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  20. Episodes are important. I'm having an episode right now.

    Jai

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  21. I never thought or knew what the true definition of an episode was, Karen. For that I thank you as I am just plain me...:)JP

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  22. I think about a scene in Steinbeck's Winter of Our Discontent where the main character is walking down the street at night. The details were exquisite, and like you said, it didn't move the action along but definitely made the story richer because of it. Great post!

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  23. Thanks for explaining and reminding the importance of episodes in fiction writing. I need those thoughts right now to get my pacing right!

    Happy writing for episodes and more--
    Monti
    http://marymontaguesikes.blogspot.com/

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  24. Good points. A lot of movies suffer from the same flaw. Some try to be all action and get boring. Others try to be all drama and become dreary. Pacing is so important. *New follower!*

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  25. Nice one, Karen.
    I'm not a writer, and would not have thought in terms of episodes setting background, will look out for this in my reading.

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  26. 'EPISODES enrich and add depth and interest to the story.' - so true. When used well, they give the reader time to stand still and look around, observing details that make a character / story more personal and unique.

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  27. Thanks for sharing! I think episodes are great for adding more depth to your novels. Kids seem to enjoy episodes, in particular.
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  28. Wonderful post. I'm really enjoying reading your blog and picking up the tips!

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  29. I especially liked the comments you made about action; that made me think of why I don't typically watch action movies, because I get bored by long battle scenes or car chases that take forever. In both movies and books, I like the episodes better.

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  30. YAY for episodes! Glad to know they aren't a crime :D

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