In a previous article I suggested that each act in a story is driven by a question it seeks to answer. In the first act of The Matrix that question is: What is the matrix? In the second: Is Neo The One? And in the third: Can The One defeat agent Smith and his cronies?
But just as there are questions that frame each act, so there are questions that frame each episode and each season of a television series. These questions also apply, with small adjustments, to a book series.
In Gotham, the first season’s overall question is: Who will win the mob war, and how will that affect Jim Gordon’s attempt to clean up the city, as he continues to solve specific crimes, while the overall series question is: How does Bruce Wane’s attempt to find the killer of his parents shape his transformation into the Batman?
Each episode typically features a villain-of-the week and is driven by the dramatic question: How is this villain to be defeated? But the episode must also acknowledge the season’s question: How does the defeat of the villain affect the mob war? The death of the witness to the Wane’s murder, for example, would impact the entire series question — not that Cat is about to be killed off by the writers.
A book series, too, asks at least two overall questions. In my book series, The Land Below, the first novel’s dramatic question is: Will Paulie make it to the surface? My next book, The Land Above, is framed by the question: How does Paulie, and his companions, survive the horrors that lurk on the surface?
Each story in a series, then, is governed by several interlocking questions that not only drive a specific episode, but help keep the entire series on track.
Sketching in the overall series, season, and episode questions, prior to commencing the actual writing of the first episode or book, is the first step in mapping out the direction of your story and its characters.
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