I was talking to a new friend named Don Lee yesterday over a few cold brews and we were on the subject of writing. I mentioned that I’d found my Taleran novels quite a bit easier to write than Cold in the Light, and as I started “trying” to verbalize why I think it finally came to me. The Taleran novels are “episodic” books while “Cold” is much more plot driven. The Taleran novels have a beginning and an end, and a bunch of linear scenes strung between those two points like beads on a necklace. “Cold” is more like a Mandela, or a maze. The scenes are all dependent on each other whereas in the Taleran books the scenes can stand alone more easily. In fact, I could have rather easily lengthened or shortened the Taleran novels by adding or deleting scenes with a minimal amount of rewriting, almost as if they were constructed on a modular pattern. To substantially lengthen or shorten Cold in the Light would have required major reconstructive surgery on the whole book.
This got me thinking about whether other books fall into these patterns, and I think clearly that they do. Sword & Planet books, in general, are episodic. So is most Space opera, and so are most westerns that I’ve read, particularly the works of Louis L’Amour. Thrillers are typically not, though, and I suspect that most mysteries are not. What about romance novels? The ones I’ve read, which is admittedly not many, have been pretty episodic. Most horror novels are episodic, although Peter Straub’s work shows us that not all are.
I’ve also realized that my “preferred” reading is for “episodic” works. I certainly love good plot-driven works and some of them, like Ghost Story, are among my favorite reads ever. But typically, when I reach for my to-be-read pile and grab the first book that strikes my interest it is episodic in nature. I wonder why.
Anyone else have any thoughts on this subject?