Game of Thrones obviously is an extremely popular cable TV show, but the title or genre alone is not what makes the storyline so popular. There have been plenty of fantasy and science fiction movies and shows that have flopped. So what is it that makes the Thrones show so appealing?
One aspect is very good story-writing, however, the second key element is what is known as serializing the content. This is not a new idea; stringing out a storyline along a number of episodes is an age-old tool to keep bringing audiences back for more. And no TV genre is more famous for it than soap operas. Yes, those lovey-dovey daytime TV series are emblematic of the successful story that never ends.
The Key to Success
The key to serializing content, whether it be for a website, comic book or a TV show, is to first write a good, compelling story that can be fragmented, i.e. broken up into sections. This involves multiple layers.
First, there is the over-arching general story line, the one that basically says, “these two characters must face lots of challenges and travel from point A to point B or the world will end.” It’s not that simplistic, but the over-arching layer is the umbrella that guides all the detail added beneath, a bit like the skeleton provides an infrastructure for the body and muscles.
The second layer is the sub-plot, which can actually have multiple sub-plots. These are mini-stories that live underneath the over-arching layer and begin and end in much shorter time spans. However, woven together they provide the richness and diversity of characters for the main theme.
All the Little Things
Then comes all the little details and window pieces that flesh out each episode or chapter within the story framework. This can be quite extensive, includes lots of detail and characters, and essentially makes each moment interesting and flavorful. However, every one of them is there on purpose adding to some small aspect of the overall story; nothing is by accident.
Once this entire lattice is built, it’s time to break it up into segments that cause an audience to come back for the next segment. The timing of where a content break occurs to create episodes and the serializing effect is a skill and comes with experience. It generally must be a point where the audience has enough content to feel satisfied that paying attention was worth the time but missing just enough to want more.
Knowing the Cut Off Point
There is no default cutoff point for every story because each content segment is unique. A content writer has to develop a “feel” for where the right cutoff point is, like a page break in a digital document, and that comes with practice. Once learned, it can be extremely powerful content delivery effect and one that actually causes audience sizes to grow exponentially, as HBO has seen with Game of Thrones.
Finally, there should be a way for new late addition audience members to catch up with everyone else. So, a valuable part of serializing content is to provide past material for easy access. Many content providers forget that audience attraction is fluid and happens over time. Providing past access is a key way to continue to build interest while current members stay up to date.
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