…that is the question with 1930’s-style cliffhangers. Is it nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of restrictive plot outlines, or take arms with a sea of off-the-wall ideas? I’ve often wondered how the old masters handled this. Did their producer hand them detailed assignments at the beginning of each new season (“All right, Joe will take care of next week’s gunfight at the train station, Kelly will handle the encounter with the mysterious femme fatale, and Bob will do the episode with the laughing gas, the duck, and the bottle of nitroglycerine”) or did they all wing it (“Darn it, Mark just turned Captain Lightning into a turtle! How will I have him beat the throw to score the winning run in the final game of the World Series and foil Emperor Dread’s evil plans for world domination?”)
The answer may lie somewhere between these two extremes. As the saga of Captain Everett and his companions approaches its fourth year, I’ve found that detailed plot outlines are too restrictive. They can suck some of the life out of a story, and make it difficult to include readers’ suggestions — one of the great advantages an online serial drama has over traditional media. They also make it difficult to tossing in those new characters and ideas that hit you out of the blue, like ‘Howard Philip’, Tank Jousting, or… (drum roll please)… ‘Dan Straight, PI’! But trying to cook up each new episode on its own, without any overall plan, can leave a story drifting aimlessly. This isn’t much fun. Even for the turtles.
How does one achieve the necessary compromise? I’m sure there are many different ways. But I don’t have the slightest idea what they are, so for the Flying Cloud, I begin with my rough plan for the entire story, work out a general outline for each season, flesh this out several episodes in advance… and then feel free to abandon this if someone sends me an email to ask about Captain Everett’s past, or it occurs to me that… hey… Java… isn’t that where Mata Hari came from? Does this work? I leave this for you to decide. But it’s certainly made things more interesting!