Hi everyone! It’s been a while since my last article, but thanks to overwhelming positive comments and messages I’ve received, I’ve got a new super special article for you.
Before we begin, just a quick reminder that I’m @tarastarofficial on Instagram so follow me there for lots of Episode related things, and also, search “Tara explains” or click on my profile to check out my other articles on the Forums.
Prepare for tips that will go against all the writing rules you’ve been told!
Remember - contests are a different ball game entirely, so don’t use these tips for normal Episode stories.
Now, let’s get straight into it… If you want to improve your contest entry, keep reading!
1. Only publish three episodes.
You may be thinking, “Tara, publishing more episodes will help me to get more reads and will enable people to binge read! Plus, it means readers will have to wait less time for updates!” However, an often overlooked tip is that you should only publish three episodes. This is because a crucial factor in how contests are judged is reader retention, i.e. how many readers continue reading your story. If you publish lots of episodes, this will weaken your reader retention, as people are less likely to read 10 episodes than they are to read 3. Also, reviewers usually read 3 episodes - so just publishing 3 will help to try and maximise your reader retention, then they’ll have read 100% of your published story, as opposed to e.g. 30%.
2. Don’t have too many intro/outro screens.
From my experience as a writer, adding intro/outro screens seems like a great idea - you can have beautiful screens that enhance your story but also introduce the story and end chapters with e.g. your social media details, so readers can follow you and stay up to date. However, from my experience as a reader, too many screens can waste time. Readers get bored so, so quickly, and as reader retention is so important, sticking to no more than 2 intro and 2 outro screens will help you to get straight into the story, so readers can be hooked. Often, one intro screen (e.g. with the story or chapter name) and one outro screen (with the social media and contact details) will be the best combination.
Don’t be too original(!)
This tip probably goes against everything you’ve been told to do as a writer. Let me explain why; whilst normally, innovation and creativity and originality are crucial to writing a good story, for contests, it’s a different game. You need to still be original of course (please… not too many clichés or bad boy stories!) but if you stray too far away from tried and tested writing styles or plot structures, readers are often more reluctant to give your story a read. So, my advice is, to get more readers to give your story a chance, try and pick some sort of “classic” plot or plot twist, and put a spin on it. For example, for a fantasy story, if you loosely based it off e.g. a fairy tale retelling (or at least the premise or first few episodes), much more readers will be willing to give your story a go, compared to a really complicated and slightly confusing world you’ve created. Doing this also means that you can spend less time on description and get straight into the story (although, I’m not saying don’t create your own fantasy world… I’m just saying, if you do, try to base elements of it off of other books or stories that you’ve read and enjoyed, and do remember, if you are creating a more complicated world, weave the description or rules of the world into the story as you go - do not info dump ever!!).
Equally, think about the best stories you’ve read from the genre you’re writing in, and try and use little things from each of them - please don’t copy at all, but if you like e.g. the tone of writing from one, the style of plot twist from another, the chapter structure from another, etc, then it’s okay to adapt small elements from stories you like and make them into your own. After all, you should always write something that you would want to read if you were a reader yourself! But, do not plagiarise! If you think it might be too similar to another story, chances are that it might be, so be very careful and ask for someone else’s opinion if in doubt.
4. It’s better to have shorter episodes rather than longer ones.
Again, this links back to reader retention. Authors have often tried to make episodes longer and longer, since a few years ago, when very short episodes left lots of readers angry that they were wasting their passes. But, for contests, keeping readers hooked is crucial. So, even if it’s a bit cruel, having short and snappy episodes that end on a cliff hanger help to keep reader retention high. That being said, chapters should be really around 800+ lines minimum… episodes that are too short still could annoy readers, so make sure you do make your story worth their while!
5. Choices, choices and more choices!
Readers love choices, and love choices that matter even more. For normal stories, having complex points and gains systems is great - but often for contest entries, readers would rather have lots of choices that matter in the short term rather than a few that determine the rest of the story in the long term. Check out my article on how to have choices that matter without any complex coding - this makes readers feel in control of the story and helps you to include lots of choices without ridiculously complicated coding. The frequency of choices that mattered was one of the most positive feedback points from my story The Blazing Sky. Don’t forget - not just hair, outfit and CC choices, but ones that really make the reader feel important (e.g. ones that change relationships) are the best. It’s important to note, I’m not saying use no points of gains whatsoever - if you have enough time to use them a lot, then go for it, it will really help your story - but just make sure that no matter the type of choice (i.e. whether they’re gains, points, if/elses, simple choices, complex branching, disappearing, type in etc) just have lots of them!
Hopefully these tips have helped you improve your contest entry! I know some of them seem obvious, but when writing a contest entry, it’s easy to focus on having awesome directing, a great teaser trailer, a breathtaking cover etc (and all of these are important!) but the points above really are integral to making your story stand out and be the best it possibly can!
Good luck with your contest entry!! Until next time