So Episodes, and their structure. Last time was looked at taking the chronicle pitch and planning out the series of events that would tell this story. Now we have a series of events that tell a particular story that we wish to run, we will now look at exploring a few of these events that take place together, or almost together, and now plan an episode about these.
An episode in any TV series depicts a small part of the larger story. An event occurs, like a murder, a theft, a discovery, a terrible accident (this list is limitless really) and deals with the immediate causes and effects about this event. For instance in Supernatural in season 2 a girl foresees the death of one of the main characters. This is a story that revolves around a simple concept, even though it is part of a larger plot for the entire season and series. However, Supernatural is also a show that is filled with episodes that have no relation to the main season or series plot.
Now lets take an example event and apply an apply it to an episode. Let us once more refer to my Vampire: the Requiem chronicle and take a major event, the assassination of the leader of the Carthians. This event involves a number of things. First let us look at causes. There is the need for the opponents of the Carthians to cause unrest within this political group. There is also the need to show that even those in a position of power are just as likely targets as anyone else. This event within the chronicle is a critical moment as it initiates a number of things. Firstly it escalates the rumours of a conspiracy within the Carthians. It also starts the election process and more importantly makes the player characters (PCs) key witnesses, investigators and allies as they become involved in the whole mess.
So we have the reasons for an event occurring, and also the desired (yes, desired, there is no guarantee that any of this will happen) outcomes after the event. Now let’s apply these to the episode.
Generally an episode consists of a number of scenes. In TV again let’s take Supernatural as an example. An episode in that show has a number of keys scenes. Typically they are;
· Find out that some weird shit has gone down and arrive at the location and discover the first bits of information on the weirdness. Who has died? How? Where? And any other little bits of weird evidence.
· The first initial investigation that leads up to a conflict, either directly or indirectly with the antagonistic force. So this may be searching a haunted location and some initial attacks by the ghost, or say, in the episode ‘Wendigo’ , the conflict is the presentation of a complication, like the theft of survival equipment.
· There is then the next bit of investigation and a series of revelations.
· Another scene based upon some form of conflict or challenge that leads to the tension of the episode being heightened.
· A scene where the last bits of investigation and revelation leads to the group being able to formulate some form of plan or solution, which takes us to…
· Final conflict/challenge event.
· The last key scene deals with the resolution of the event and some form of character growth.
So that is 7 key scenes. Now that is not a hard and fast rule. There can be more or less scenes depending upon the complexity of the story and the player choices. Now just like the chronicle structure of events, scenes are, in a way, mini-events, and they are a guideline of how the players get from the start of the episode to the end. Not all of scenes will happen. Others may occur without player knowledge and so with their interference, and so take place ‘off screen’. Some scenes may even need to be added on the fly. But really there are 3 scenes that have to occur. The introduction, the finale and conclusion, and a scene in the middle where the tension and risk in the story are heightened. If we can map the tension in the episode it should increase slowly towards the middle of the episode, spike, then increase slowly (perhaps drop a little) then spike up again before settling for the conclusion.
Now an episode does not have to focus on just one plot line, it is possible to include two or even three plot lines. This adds to the complexity, however, it is best within the episode to focus on a conclusion that involves the just one of the plot lines. So while other plot events are being heightened for the other plots, one plot progresses so that a significant event occurs. It is this event which is then the main focus of the episode.
To help in the design of episodes it may well be worth trying to classify the episode using the ‘Thirty-Six Dramatic Situation’ by Georges Polti. These have been shown in ‘Mage: the Ascension – Storytellers Guide’. Along with ‘The Big List of RPG Plots’ by S. John Ross, we can identify the type/types of stories being told in an episode. We are even able mix and match these plot archetypes, going as far as making and episode appear to be one type of plot before, as a twist, becoming another. The old bait ‘n’ switch.
So what more can I now add? Well how about just the act of writing an episode. Script over notes? Notes every time. Typically each scene in my notes consists of a few basic elements.
· Name – Just to inspire the writer more than anything.
· Objective – Well exactly what it says. What is the point of this scene? What should be revealed or occur.
· Location – a brief description of the location, including anything atmospheric. Perhaps included a list of sights, smells, sounds.
· NPCs – a list of NPCs present for this scene and why they are present.
· Play by Play of the scene – this list simply is a bullet point description of the scene and how it ideally should play out, with further bullet points for contingencies.
· Clues – every scene should be treated as if it is a crime scene, laden with clues, but also red herrings.
Really the advantage of this is to allow absolute flexibility, while not having planned out so much that all that hard work is wasted when the players go off on a tangent or find an unusual solution or mess up on an epic scale. Scripts are only of use when you have a particular scene in mind that has to occur. Most often this is at the start of an episode.
So that rounds that up. Next time will be roleplay techniques in game that I make use of, and then we may look at just general horror roleplay tips.