Are You Writing Chapters or Episodes?

Written on:November 2, 2011
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Harold Getting His Own Candy

This came to me quite suddenly the other day: a lot of how people interact with your stuff online, especially on your blog, has a lot to do with whether you’re writing chapters or whether you’re writing episodes. They’re quite different, obviously. Let’s dig into that.

Chapters vs. Episodes

First off, neither method is wrong. Television shows are based on both models. In the “chapters” model, we get a little precis at the beginning of each episode. It says, “Previously, on ____.” Then, we get to see a few seconds that should remind us of whatever it was we saw last time we tuned in. In the episodes method, often used in sitcoms, everything seems to reset from whatever happens during the show by the time we get to the end. When we start up again next week, there’s usually enough exposition and context to know who’s who and what the relationships are like. If you’ve seen one episode of the Simpsons, you know roughly what’s going to happen, though the actual plot points are dramatically different.

Again, neither method is the right way to do it. However, if you think about it, you’ve really got to decide how you’re going to structure your information. As people come to your site for the first time, will they know enough about the backstory to move forward? We tend to write as if we’re doing chapters, except that we rarely (never?) have a “Previously, on _____” part to help people get context.

How Will You Welcome Your New Readers Without Boring Your Old?

This is at the heart of the matter, I believe. Imagine that for every Daniel Decker that has been reading me for a year or two or more, there’s a ____ _____ who just showed up today and found this blog TODAY. How will I keep Daniel interested while welcoming … YOU? (You’d better leave a comment on this post, new person!)

That’s the challenge.

But in thinking about it, I wanted to know what you were already doing. Are you writing chapters or episodes? Do you think newcomers can gather up enough context to move forward? If we switched metaphors entirely and you were a magazine, do they know enough from skimming a few pages and posts whether or not they’ve picked up the right product?

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