Hey guys, Joseph Evans here! Today I am going to be giving you my top 5 ways to write an awesome Episode story.
5 – Make choices that appear to be meaningful
Let’s give you an example. In The Phoenix Prophecy I give readers the choice to detain or release a prisoner. This is a huge choice, right? Something that could affect the story in a big way? In the reader’s eyes, yes. But actually, the outcome of both decisions leads to the exact same point in the next scene – if you release the prisoner, she attacks you. If you detain the prisoner, she burrows out through a hole in her cell and attacks you. This type of choice benefits both you and your readers – Readers will think that they have made an important decision, which will be very satisfying for them, and you will be able to tell the story that you want to tell, without having it get complicated. Everyone wins.
Of course, instead of creating choices that simply appear to be meaningful, you could also create choices that are genuinely meaningful and do have a huge impact on the story, but if you DO do this, I would suggest only doing it towards the end of your story for the purpose of having multiple endings. If you give the player a huge REAL choice too soon, you’ll end up having to write two or more separate storylines, and it may become so time consuming and cumbersome that you have to give up on it, and that’s not what anyone wants to be doing.
4 – Animate every line of dialogue
When I first began writing The Phoenix Prophecy, which was my debut Episode story, the thought of animating every single line of dialogue was a daunting and exhausting thought. So I skipped half the lines and animated every alternate line, hoping that this would be enough. When the first few chapters were released to the public, I asked readers on the Episode forums what they thought of it, and thankfully they loved it – but one criticism I did receive from multiple readers was that quite often, my characters’ mouths weren’t moving when they were saying something. Since then, I’ve bitten the bullet and animated every single line of dialogue in my stories, and that initial criticism has disappeared, so it is definitely worth it if you want your story to look and feel professional and ooze quality.
Thankfully, Episode has now implemented a feature that will automatically apply random talking animations to dialogue, saving you hours and hours of painstaking typing.
BUT – when I say random talking animations, I MEAN random talking animations. For example, you might have a character saying something upbeat and positive, but the Animate button might apply the talk_sad animation to it, which would be confusing to your readers.
So here’s my advice on animating dialogue – Go through and make sure you’ve added in all of the specific animations you want, then use the Animate button on anything that’s left over. When testing your story, see if any of the random animations look jarring or completely out of place and go back in and manually edit them.
Okay, now that I’ve mentioned testing, I can segway smoothly into tip number 3, which is –
3 – Test your script meticulously
I cannot express the importance of this one enough. I’ve read quite a few Episode stories that are well written, but haven’t been tested properly, and I’m sure you have too – There’ll be characters popping in and out of scenes, the camera focused on the wrong background zone, or characters facing away from each other when they should be looking at each other. I’m sure you’ll agree that as a reader, this kind of thing is super annoying, and it just gives a story a general sloppiness that could be avoided with a little bit of testing.
So the best thing to do is TEST, TEST, TEST. And I don’t just mean playing through your chapter once before publishing it, I mean playing through your chapter multiple times until you have tested every choice that a player can make. This will mean that you have seen every possible path, and every possible dialogue branch a reader might experience, and you will know with confidence that they will get a polished, quality chapter from start to finish.
If you’re doing more advanced branching with the points system and things like that, testing becomes even more paramount. And believe me do I know from experience –
In one chapter of The Phoenix Prophecy, Phoenix goes searching for firewood, and I made a points system that would progress the story forward once the player had collected enough of the firewood. The problem is that I had a stinking cold and a headache at the time I wrote that chapter, and because of that, I rushed through the testing phase and failed to notice that I had forgotten to reset the character points to zero before the mini game began, so the player was still in possession of points from previous chapters, messing up the numbers in this chapter. The result of this was that tons and tons of readers became stuck in an infinite loop and I had to get the Episode team to reset everyones progress to the beginning of the chapter. It was a nightmare for readers, for the Episode team, and for me, and it was all because I failed to test meticulously enough, so once again I cannot stress how important testing is.
2 – Use cliffhangers at the end of each episode
The best way to keep a reader hooked on reading your story chapter after chapter is to have something exciting or intriguing happening at the end of each chapter without resolving it until the beginning of the following chapter. This will make them anxious to find out what happens, and will encourage them to use their passes on your story.
Here’s an example – let’s say at some point in your story you want your main character to be knocked unconscious by a villain. It would be really easy to just slap this into the middle of a chapter. But the best thing to do to drive that audience retention would be to have the main character get knocked unconscious, and for the chapter to end before she wakes up. This will leave readers wondering if this character that they’ve become so attached to is okay, and they will be desperate to use their Episode passes on that next chapter to find out.
Another way to use cliffhangers is to have one chapter build up to an exciting event, and then have the chapter end just as the event is about to begin. For example, in The Ember Effect, Ember is just about to meet Lady Astaria when the chapter ends. And in Soulbound, Sky is just about to enter the Soulbinding ceremony when the chapter ends. Both of these make readers desperate to read the next chapter, as you’ve already built up that anticipation.
And finally, my number 1 tip for writing an awesome story is – Plan your entire story in DETAIL before you write it
I know this one is annoying. When you think of an awesome idea, the first thing you want to do is start writing it. But as someone who fell into this trap time and time again, I can assure you from experience that writing it will be WAY more enjoyable if you plan everything up front. On top of this, your story will be the best it can be, and the most coherent it can be, and you will never get writer’s block, because you’ll know exactly where your story is going.
The way I plan my stories is to get a blank notebook and simply start jotting down ideas. I will usually brainstorm twists before anything else. So I’ll say something like “the main character finds out that she is in fact the mother of the villain, who has time travelled from the future.” Then I’ll build a world and characters around those twists with a mix of brainstorming and just scribbling down random ideas that pop into my head. Don’t be afraid of crossing things out at this stage. It’s should be messy at this stage – it just means that that messiness will be in a notebook, and not in your final draft.
Once you have twists, a world, and characters, you can start refining the plot so that you have a solid 3 act structure, and when that’s in place you can begin to write a chapter by chapter breakdown of events, so that you know exactly what’s going to happen in each of them.
Trust me, guys, if you do this, it will transform your writing into something that is confident, satisfying, and affecting, and you will never look back.
I hope these tips have been helpful! Do you have any tips you’d like to share with others? if so, comment them down below 🙂