Now that readers are checking out your story, hooking them in episode 1 is the most important thing you can do! Having a great episode 1 helps you with building readership over time so that your readers are excited about continuing to read your story!
Here’s some quick tips for how to build a great episode 1 -- if you can answer the questions that follow each section, you’re on the right path.
Make sure your hook is crystal-clear and compelling. A great hook sets up the story’s central conflict. In addition, it often poses an irresistible question, and promises an answer in the episodes to come. Often it will drop us right into the middle of the action, grab our attention with a surprising statement or point of view, or shock readers with an unexpected twist. Whatever your hook is, make sure it compels players to continue reading for a resolution.
- What is the hook of this story and why should readers care about it?
- What will grab readers’ attention within the first several taps?
- Does the hook compel me to read into episode 2 and beyond?
Give a clear sense of where your story is going. Players should never end episode 1 confused about what’s to come, what their goals are, or what the story’s central conflict is. Make sure you set them up to understand—and be excited about!—where your story is going.
- What is the conflict, question, or mystery introduced in episode 1 that promises to be resolved in future episodes?
- Have I given readers a sense of the fun/drama/excitement/romance they’ll get to have if they keep reading?
- Does my episode 1 give readers a good sense for what’s to come in the rest of my story?
Supercharge the pacing. Within the first minute or so, your readers should be familiar with your story’s premise, main characters, and central conflict. Pacing applies to advanced directing, as well: make sure readers don’t have to wait too long between taps.
- Does each line of dialogue/narration have a clear purpose? Does it push the story forward?
- Are there any scenes that can be cut or trimmed?
- Are there long sequences, pauses, transitions, or pans that can be shortened or cut?
- Do you use & instead of @ whenever possible?
Simplify, simplify, simplify! If you find yourself spending too much time on character introductions, setup, or backstory, ask yourself how you can boil it down to a couple lines or reveal it gradually in episodes 2+. Focus on capturing your players’ interest in episode 1 with exciting twists, gripping conflict, and drama that fills them with a sense of anticipation and intrigue.
- Is your episode slowed down by exposition, flashbacks, setup, or backstory?
- Is the story’s premise clear, or does it require a lot of context for readers to understand?
- Are readers introduced to characters that can be cut or saved for later?
End your episode with a bang! All your episodes, but especially episode 1, should end with a strong cliffhanger that compels readers to read the next episode. Good cliffhangers create a positive feeling of anticipation and excitement for the episode to come. Avoid ending episodes with “downers” (e.g. just as the main character receives terrible or upsetting news); “buttons,” such as satisfying resolutions or natural resting points (e.g. right after a main conflict has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction); or wind-downs (e.g., as the main character is relaxing after a long and exciting day). Give players something to look forward to, not something to dread!
- Does the cliffhanger generate positive feelings of expectation and excitement, or negative feelings of sadness or dread?
- Does it end in the middle of action, right after a dramatic reveal?
- Does it pose a burning question that can only be answered by reading the next episode?