Get Hooked On Writing!

Issue # 11 Monday, July 27, 1998

About the Author:

Ever wondered how the illustrious Executive Editor of the Sideroad got started?...

Mike Chwastiak intially viewed the Internet as the "perfect place to tell stories" and set out with intentions of doing a "Cybersoap." After much research, Mike decided to first establish himself as a web site designer and started the Sideroad, originally as a place to host clients. However, Mike's interest in webisodics continues...

Part One: A brief history.


Webisodics: Part One

Webisodics - Part Two:
An Overview of the Current Field (Summer 1998)

Since the "downfall" of the original corporate-sponsored webisodics, many in the media have proclaimed the death of web based episodic fiction. On the upswing in its place appears to be the "personal diary", no doubt fuelled by the popularity of such exhibitionist TV shows as Jerry Springer. These diaries range in ability and design from the poorly written and badly designed irregular "notes" that are found on practically every homepage in existence to the beautifully told and professionally designed personal stories found on The Fray. As proof of this phenominia, I offer this: Under Yahoo! there are eight new diaries listed. . .and no new cybersoaps, save the for the now-infamous Our First Time, which many believe was intended to be a money-making hoax.

It appears that the lessons learned by the now-defunct American Cybercast hit "the Hollywood crowd" hard: they're simply no longer interested in potential economics of web based fiction. The only exception to this rule occurs when the webisodic "supports" an existing product, as in the case of NBC's Homicide: Second Shift, or Lifetime TV's In the House of Dreams. (If you've never heard of either, don't be too surprised. Though they're both very well designed and executed they have more or less failed to spark a new interest in the genre.)

That's not to say that every websodic is written by an "unknown" - Tony Puryear, author the Schwarzenegger movie Eraser, is responsible for the cyberserial/graphic novel, Black City, as well as a new "web comic," SolarRollers.

For the most part, of the 98 cybersoaps still listed by Yahoo!, the majority are run by smaller firms looking for a break, or dedicated enthusiasts with a small fan base. A surprising number of the websodics are "dead" - they've obviously quit updating some time ago. For example, Cracks In the Web which still has a "reviewed by Yahoo!" sign drawing attention to it, hasn't been updated since 1995. (Three years in the real world is equivalent to about twelve years in "Internet time"). The Journal of a Short-Timer, claims to be looking for a publisher for his tales. Lots of luck - everything except the main page is missing from the site!

Many of the websodics currently listed on Yahoo! do NOT use pictures to illustrate their stories. One in particular, Cresendo Cove, addressed that problem up front by doing a survey of the readership. Surprisingly, the fan base voted overwhelmingly not to include pictures. Most readers expressed opinions along these lines: "...I think pictures would detract from the story and it would take too long to download," and "graphics are for people who lack imagination."

However, an obvious difficulty to overcome is the time, effort, and money involved in trying to get the pictures you need to professionally illustrate your cyberserial. The other option is to simply do an "online comic book".

There are three ways to get pictures for your cybersoap:

  1. Use your friends and co-workers for your "actors" - as in the amateur RealVideo production Byte Me!;-). If you don't have enough friends to fill your roster, stick them in wigs when necessary. The result is often as professional as you'd imagine. Which is fine as long as you've no illusions about turning the guy in the cubicle next to you into the next Bruce Willis.

  2. Borrow pictures of people - or get portraits - but they don't ever change, and you use them sparingly. Two examples of this are Old Men's War, and the new Schuyler Falls, where author Kira Lerner admits the that "many of the characters have been created with particular actors in mind", and that "use of their pictures is not in any way meant to indicate approval on their part. It's just for fun, and to help readers picture the characters."

  3. Hire models, like The East Village and The Spot did. And how are you going to afford that? Well. . .

It takes a strange mix of skills; writing ability, photographic arts, and web site design to pull off a really slick cybersoap. But there are more issues to consider before heading into the digital waves to surf your way to webisodic fame. For writers, this is an entirely new medium; What writing pitfalls can you encounter? What's in place to help your story in ways that "regular fiction" never could? From the business side, how can you generate money from these ventures to support them? Sponsorships? Ecommerce?

There are no easy answers to these questions. But as the saying goes, those don't know the past are condemned to repeat it.

(Follow up article: )

Last Week
Part One - Webisodics: A Brief History

This week:
Editing & Production by: Heather Chwastiak.
Text © 1998,
Mike Chwastiak.
The new Sideroad is now receiving traffic at

Best wishes for continued success... Shara Rendell-Smock, author

We are saddened to have to announce that life circumstances force Contributing Editor Shara Rendell-Smock to take the less beaten path that leads away from the Sideroad. An original member of the Sideroad team, Shara wrote 27 issues of Go to Health! before taking on the Writing section, which will continue to be named

after her book,

Shara has been a wonderful asset and friend to the Sideroad for eight months now and we are sorry that her life is taking her in different directions. We would like to thank Shara for her excellent work and wish her all the best with future projects.