Creator Tutorial: Ten Tips for Creating First Episodes!Apr 05, 2021
Welcome to this tutorial about creating compelling first episodes! Although every episode of a series should serve a purpose, first episodes are usually slightly different with what they should accomplish. Aside from a cover and synopsis, first episodes will often be the initial impression readers have of a series. It is where they will get a glimpse of the creator’s writing style, world, and characters—but most of all, first episodes are a promise between the creator and the reader, that the story will be worth their time. This is especially true when it comes to stories published in web-serial formats, because it is extremely easy for readers to click away, onto another series, when the content is free.
Overall, the first episode’s goal is to introduce a story, but it is also a way to tell the reader why they need to read said story.
Here are ten tips to make a first episode more memorable for readers! Although some of these may apply more to either comics or novels, most of them will be applicable to both of these mediums! Please keep in mind that these rules are not set in stone. Whatever works for an author is probably best for that creator and their story—these are just simple tips and suggestions that could potentially be helpful to new creators!
In general, it’s good to think about where the first episode will begin, and why. Oftentimes, we have a tendency to start a story where it feels most familiar. For example, a character waking up, a character in school, a character having a conversation, or a character looking at themselves in the mirror, to name a few! Because of this habit, a lot of series can have these types of openings. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and familiar openings can definitely work if it fits the story and plot, however, it is also great to consider whether or not there is a more unique way for a first episode to start!
If it is possible to begin the episode in a more unfamiliar setting, that will show readers what’s unique and different about a story, during an entertaining situation that will make readers want to know more about what will happen next, or a moment that will make readers start to root for a character—why not begin the episode there instead?
If a creator does want to start their first episode in a familiar setting, considering what unique elements can be added into that setting to keep readers curious, can work just as well, too!
Generally, the less mistakes there are in a first episode, the more likely readers will have a more pleasant and less-distracting reading experience—which is what we want! An episode free of small errors in the text can make a reader want to stay and read the next episode of a series, especially in the case where they may not be sure regarding how they feel about a series yet.
Reading over an episode and editing it around 1-2 times before posting can dramatically improve the quality of the writing! Editing can help tighten a first episode’s prose, along with verifying that there aren’t any typos in the episode itself.
Of course, it isn’t always possible to catch every mistake—and some may still come through here and there—however, it’s always good when creators double-check their works. Regardless of how many errors remain after edits are made, there will likely always be less typos in the final episode post-editing, than if the episode in question was posted without being slightly reworked beforehand.
With that said though, editing isn’t always easy—especially if a creator has just finished writing the first episode of their novel or script.
If the creator is having trouble figuring out what they should change, it’s possible for them to refresh their creativity by using a different font to reread their episode, or finding a text-to-voice program that can read the episode out loud! (It is also possible to read the episode out loud to yourself as well, however, I’ve personally found that it is slightly more efficient when someone, or a program, is reading what you’ve written back to you instead.)
If the creator can afford to do so, it’s probably best for them to wait a moment before editing and posting their episode. Sometimes, this might mean a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks—this is because leaving the work alone gives the creator’s mind a new outlook on their story and writing in general. As a result of this, if a creator comes back to their work without remembering everything they’ve written—since it’s been a while—they will have gained the ability to read their story as if they were, more or less, a reader opening it for the first time; which, in turn, will make it a lot easier for edits to be made.
Trying to get a few acquaintances, friends, or beta-readers/critique-partners to read a first episode and provide their honest opinion on it can be a great insight and potential predictor to how an audience will generally react to said first episode! If everyone who reads this first episode mentions that they don’t understand a certain part of the text or a scene, this might be a hint that first time readers may not understand this part of the story either—therefore, unless the point was for readers to be confused, this may probably be something worth looking into, if the author is willing to make such edits. Granted, there isn’t anything wrong with writing mystery, or confusing events into an episode, but we want to make sure that everything is portrayed with the author's intended vision.
Getting feedback from outside sources, who don’t know anything about your series yet, can be very valuable. Feedback gives authors the chance to learn what first impression their episode is leaving on new readers.
If you are a creator who is interested in finding new readers or critique partners, check out the Tapas Forums here: https://forums.tapas.io/
It’s recommended to introduce no more than 3-4 characters and 1-2 plot points in the opening episode, and even this may be too much at times. Although an author is always familiar with their world, characters and storyline, depending on the novel’s genre, readers may get confused if too many characters or plot points are brought up in a single episode, due to this being their first time reading the series. Easing a reader into the story by not showing them everything all at once will often make for a more fun reading process; not to mention, keeping a bit of mystery will also give readers the joy of discovering the world and cast more organically, than if those details are all fitted into one single first episode.
The first line of a series is likely going to be one of the most important in said work! This is because first lines tell readers why the series they are reading is different, and gives authors a chance to stand out from other series’ that readers have recently read. If the first line can add a question into the reader’s mind, such as why a character is doing or saying a specific thing, this is even better, as the reader is more likely to stick around in order to have that question answered!
For example, “She was no ordinary girl.” can be turned into: “Leila hadn’t meant to set her school on fire with her imagination.” Or, “He didn’t like his brother”, could also be changed to: “Timothy’s brother had stolen a car again, put his goldfish in the toilet bowl, and chucked his homework out the window.” The more specific a first phrase is, the more it will stand out and be unique to a story!
Comics and illustrated novels have the advantage of being able to show certain details visually. This can be extremely handy if an author utilizes this tactic to their full advantage!
A question creators can ask themselves whilst sketching their episode is: What type of foreshadowing, interesting details, and use of color palette to set the tone for the story or character’s mood, could be added to a first panel or scene, in order to catch the reader’s attention?
Playing with a character’s design is also a great way to get a reader’s attention! With visual mediums such as comics, illustrated novels, and sometimes even just covers, creators are able to showcase many things about their main characters, just by the way this character looks, without having to give readers any more detail than this in writing—this won’t work for every story, of course, but if a creator is able to make something about their character’s design more memorable or unique, the reader might want to stick around to find out why they have a certain scar, or a necklace that they seem to always be wearing.
When it comes to designs, readers will also often appreciate it when main characters don’t look too similar. Giving two or more characters the exact same color scheme and haircut, or two very similar names, for example, may confuse people who aren’t familiar with an author’s story, and make it harder for them to remember the characters individually, even when this may not be a creator’s intention (though, if this is what the author is going for, that’s totally fine, too!).
If a reader has already bought a physical book or comic, it’s likely they’ll keep reading it—or, either way, it might not matter much to a creator, since that reader has already bought said creator’s series. However, with web-based content, readers are equipped with the freedom to click off and stop reading a series whenever they want. Therefore, if a reader isn’t enjoying a first episode—or even the first few lines and/or panels—they may not continue reading.
It’s important to understand how readers consume web-fiction and web-comics, because this will likely shape the way you present your first episode. In comparison to traditional media, readers of online content may be less patient with works they don’t know yet, simply due to the fact that it is easy for them to click out of a series, and move onto another novel or comic, until something catches their attention long enough for them to want to read more. This means that online comic and novel authors should do their best to convince the reader why they should come back for episode 2, in the first episodes, because once the reader is invested, there is a chance of them sticking around until the end of your series.
Despite talk of catching the reader’s attention, please keep in mind that nothing flashy necessarily needs to happen in the story’s beginning. All that’s needed to catch a reader’s attention is proof that the series they are reading is different, caters to their tastes and what they are looking for, along with the story being entertaining, if possible.
No one story can please every reader out there, since what stories readers will choose to gravitate towards can be very subjective, however, making sure to add tension and cliff-hangers is one way to convince readers that a story is one they must read.
If a creator has a very long episode on their hands, splitting it when something is about to happen, or at a place where the ending is more open-ended, will often get readers clicking to see the next episode.
A sudden challenger has appeared!
Because readers of online fiction have close to an unlimited library of works they could potentially follow, it is good to be mindful of the readers’ time. Suddenly skipping from one scene to another in a series might be confusing, but staying and focusing too long on certain panels or character actions may break the tension that we are ideally trying to build.
Pacing is an entirely different topic, but a good rule is that if an author feels like a scene is going too fast, or too slow—or if in general the creator is bored of the scene they are writing because of the order of certain events, that creator can definitely try to figure out if they can rearrange certain scenes, or cut out a panel or two, until everything feels a bit more even and reads more naturally!
Additionally, paying attention to font size and formatting to make everything more legible is something that can also greatly improve the readers’ experience! This is especially true for comics—it is often worth taking a few hours to learn typesetting, in order to make your comic shine! Legible fonts, proper spacing in speech and thought bubbles, along with appropriate text sizes, are all excellent ways to make your comic shine and stand out!
Finally, to resume what was said here, a first episode should:
• Set the theme of a series (what is this series going to be about?).
• Introduce the main character or plot (whichever one comes first).
• Entice the reader into wanting to read more (giving readers questions they want answers to, that can only be learned if they read the next episodes).
•Show the reader what is unique about the world and story (what elements can be showcased in the first couple panels that readers would not expect?)
•Make a promise to the reader that the story will be respectful of their time (pacing that isn’t too slow or too fast, font that is easy to read, less grammar mistakes, creator has thought about giving the reader a pleasant and easy reading experience.)
That’s the end of this tutorial! Thank you so much for reading up until here, and thank you for sharing your stories with the world—I wish you all the very best with your first episodes, have a wonderful day!
About The Author
Beau Van Dalen has created over 17 web-serials and is the winner of Tapas Media's second Writer's Camp competition. His novels 'Warrior of Hearts' and 'Android Affection' were published in 2020 by Tapas Media. To find out more about his works, click on the covers below, or check out his official website.
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