Is it alright to follow the “Shonen Mold” Which has the main character(s) go through several small villains/obstacles before getting to the big one at the climax, in a story? I know manga/anime and books are different mediums but is is possible to have more than one Story Arc in a book like in Anime/Manga?
Can we use episodic plot structures for single novels?
The answer to this is a really solid: yes and no.
It’s certainly possible to get away with multiple contained story arcs within a single novel. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet does something similar to this, as well as many smaller, carefree books like the first in the Discworld series. But they’re difficult to pull off.
For a novel like this to work well, you generally need something to tie the whole book together, even if that something isn’t your traditional forward-momentum-producing goal and consistently opposing villain. In order to make the novel still feel like a single piece of writing, you need multiple (if not all) of these things:
- Character development. You shouldn’t ever flake on this for any story, but it’s especially necessary to put forethought into it for episodic plot structures. Character development should be woven so finely into the arcs that there’s no way to rearrange those arcs without unweaving and restructuring them from the ground up.
- Relationships. There’s a group of readers who will sit through literally anything in order to watch their favorite relationship progress. Progress is the key word here though. The main relationship should grow (or at least change) every single arc, and there should be plot within that change, leading it towards an intended destination.
- An over arcing villain. A villain (or other controlling being) who’s present and active (at least behind the scenes) throughout every arc will help to cement it all together, even if the smaller villains or obstacles change each time.
- An over arcing goal. This is standard for all stories of all mediums, (even if the goal is occasionally vague or lacking a visible end point), but you can give it a secondary purpose here if you specifically choose a goal that has clear, defined arcs form the beginning, such as a quest to find four specific objects from different corners of the world or a philosophical journey to find the meaning of a specific concept.
- A strong theme. A theme should always be incorporated into your character’s development
whatever the world it trying to teach them, the reader should digest as well
but a theme that saturates every aspect of the story, in every action of every arc, will make it feel connected by pulling the whole thing together thematically.
Final Note: If you want to use this plot structure in a book strictly because you’re having trouble coming up with a single continuous plot, especially in fantasy or sci fi, I strongly recommend you don’t do it.
Pulling a episodic plot structure off in a book will be harder in the long run than creating that continuous plot you’re struggling with. It requires a lot of work and it has to be the right thing for your particular story, or it’ll turn out frustrating and lacking in suspense.
Stories that involve a journey I think are the easiest to make ‘episodic’. I’ve read many post-apocalyptic novels that involve a group of characters trying to reach a destination where they think they’ll find sanctuary, and of course on the way they’ll be meeting different people, passing through different lands (ideally at some point have them pass through the ruins of a city with landmarks everyone will know and can cheer are gone… I mean, mourn are gone…), and encountering all kinds of obstacles which they later leave behind. Usually it’s a journey of self-discovery as well where one of the characters has to step up to be leader because the person they all thought would be leading them turns to be a bit of a prick.