The Secrets of a Good Fiction Web Show (I) – The Plot

Producing a web show is a complex task. Usually we work without budget, and on top of our day job. The market is in its infancy, so it’s still a challenge to attract viewers. Many aspects of the format are not clear, such as interactivity, format, and length (a key point raised by Justin).

My approach to tackle these issues is that no one can beat a good story.

In this post I’ll share my thoughts on ways to create a compelling fiction episodic web show. Something to be desired (STBD) is an example of such a show – continuous story, with core characters.

The aim is to initiate an open brainstorming between new media producers, writers and actors, via the blogsphere, twitter, and all those nice 2.0 tools we have today.

The challenge

For me, the main challenge in writing dramatic web show is how to retain viewers in a continues story. I believe that the tool to do that is to create dramatic continuity and emotional attachment with the main characters.

How can we achieve that?

Here are the main elements :

Length– Justin wrote an eye opening post about his struggle with episode length and frequency. This issue is not only dramatic -it affects both production logistics and cost. I believe that length of a chapter is of importance – it shouldn’t be 20 seconds cause it is almost impossible to maintain a plot at this length, nor should it be half an hour due to budget constraints and viewers attention span. But the difference between 5 minutes episode to 10 minutes episode is not as important as the first 30-60 seconds. This time frame has to be very engaging in order to keep viewers watching. Both Something to be Desired and Galacticast are doing a great job in creating strong opening for each episode.

Cliffhanger – nothing new here. Cliffhanger is a must in my opinion at the end of each episode. This is the key to get viewers engaged with the show. It requires pre-planing of almost a whole season, or at least a block of episodes, but its importance cannot be overestimated. It is the link to the future of the story from viewers point of view.

Link to the past – some viewers didn’t follow the show from its beginning. it is extremely important to get them involved as soon as they see any episode. Some believe that additional information on the show’s website will do the job. I tend to disagree. I watch my shows on Democracy player, and others watch them on AppleTV, and on sites like Blip.tv. These viewers never get to the website. Furthermore, people want to be entertained, nothing else. We should make their life as easy as possible. I think that the best solution for this problem is “last week on…” clip at the beginning of every episode. Simple, cheap, and viewers already used to it.

Limited amount of characters and plot lines– we need to get people engaged quickly. In order to do that we should have minimal amount of lead characters. This will ease the process (and cut production costs). Supporting characters should always stay in the background, if at all.

Subtext – I am a sucker for subtext. That’s why I am such a big fan of “The Wire“. Subtext fills the characters, their relations, and the plot as a whole, with substance, and make the viewers think about what they see. However, it might be a personal fetish 🙂 .

What are YOUR views on these topics? What else is needed plot-wise in order to create good fiction web show?

I’ve tagged this post with the word story. feel free to tag your relating posts in the same way.

For inspiration, here is a short video clip of Robert McKee talking about Chinatown script.

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2 Responses to “The Secrets of a Good Fiction Web Show (I) – The Plot”


  1. 1 thebeginner May 16, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    I have an open question too, that relates to this article: How do you keep the people fixed on your show for so long? I find it hard to commit to clicking on a Youtube video if i see it’s over 3 minutes…
    I think that somehow on the net, people’s attention span is amazingly shorter than when they are sitting in front of the TV.


  1. 1 p0ps blog Trackback on June 24, 2007 at 4:17 pm

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