When Does a Fiction Podcast “End?”

Evo Terra’s Podcast Pontifications has been an intriguing industry publication for years. Its goal is to “make podcasting better.” Recently, Terra stopped producing it; as he said, “Podcasting has outgrown my ability to keep up with all the changes.” Despite growth in all directions, podcasting’s strength is in its niche topics and close-knit audiences. One area where podcasts have a specific common ground, but lack promotion and examination, is fiction podcasts. In particular, fiction podcasts that have ended are out of the limelight. As the kids say on the internet, ISAGN. Fortunately, Evo Terra’s latest venture is The End, a newsletter promoting “completed fiction podcasts.” Imagination is the only limit to a fiction podcast. So, when does a fiction podcast “end”, and why does it matter?

Why Do Concluded Fiction Podcasts Matter? 

Podcast producers work harder to promote a show that actively releases new episodes. The same holds true for other entertainment. But, a fiction podcast that’s complete still has value for audiences. It’s as valid as watching Jaws or reading 1984 in 2020. Some audiences might not have experienced this particular story yet, in their own context.

Curating, examining, and promoting independent fiction podcasts is a way of exploring and questioning the human race right now. It’s faster to make a fiction podcast that responds to current events than a movie or television show. Passenger List, Terms and The Off Season are a few examples worth your consideration.

Promoting fiction podcasts is tough. Many people (especially in the US) find video comfortable. Movies and television have a lot of promotional power behind them. A complete story is easier to encapsulate and promote. The audience might not know exactly where the story is going from the beginning, but they know it’s going somewhere.

Evo Terra’s Fiction Podcast Newsletter, The End

I asked Evo Terra what fuels his enthusiasm for completed fiction podcasts. He said, “I’m the weird person who rarely watches a TV series while it’s being released. LOST, Breaking Bad, every Marvel TV show… I’ve watched NONE of them on the same schedule they were released. I really don’t like waiting a week and would much rather just slam out an entire season/series over the course of one or two days. And it’s the same for fiction podcasts.”

We Consume Completed Content Differently

Terra also mentioned, “longer stories—novels, screenplays, etc.—have a definite ‘end.’ We consume them differently (from the first episode, not the most recent). We might listen to them repeatedly, like re-watching a movie or re-reading a classic novel. They’re a little different than other podcasts in that nature, and that’s a difference I think we should celebrate.”

Furthermore, he cites a specific experience that illustrates how others may feel. “An old service I started back in 2005… helped “underpublished” authors make podcasts out of their own books. Almost always, we’d see a huge spike in attention to a podiobook once the final episode released. Apparently, lots of people were waiting for the final episode so they too could slam out the episodes on their own schedule.”

Promoting The Launch vs. The Finale

Ever the advocate, he mentions how promoting these podcasts is a different effort. “Fiction podcasts are at a promotional disadvantage to… well, just about everything else. All the promo efforts are focused on the “launch.” For a normal episodic podcast, that’s fine. There’s something unique about each episode, so the PR/promotional people have something to work with. But that’s less true for fiction podcasts. Unless you’re into spoiler-based marketing.”

There’s a ton of meaningful content in fiction podcasts, and not enough light shone on them. Evo Terra’s found the niche that needs him most.

Why Does A Fiction Podcast End?

So, we know that concluded fiction podcasts can be the selling point that hooks more people into enjoying more fiction podcasts. Again, episodic, RSS-based entertainment doesn’t have to adhere to time or space. Particularly for anthology podcasts, audiences can consume them in any order. Experimental pods such as Neutrinowatch and 3D Escape Room: Frequency defy the order of an RSS feed. How do we know when a fiction podcast ends, and why?

Goal-based storytelling

In one sense, a story ends when a protagonist reaches a goal and the protagonist changes. “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again” is another way of summing up the Hero’s Journey. For example, in Wooden Overcoats, Rudyard and Chapman compete for status in the community. Each of them wants to be the island’s most trusted funeral director. Is this a winnable battle? If so, is it worth it?

Wooden Overcoats is a great fiction podcast to use as a case study because it’s durable and straightforward. If you’re unfamiliar with it, I warn you there are spoilers ahead. I asked creator David K. Barnes at what point in his process did he originally intend for it to end, and how that changed.

David K. Barnes: Reaching an Emotional Accord

Barnes said the story “certainly developed as a sitcom that could continue past its first season. If we’d only made that one season we’d still have been happy, but as the scripts started coming together, we knew there were many more places for the narrative to go.” Then, “Season 2 then ran with that conflict between Rudyard and Antigone and ends with them reaching an accord.”

I always felt that the Season 3 finale was where Wooden Overcoats reached a satisfying landing. Rudyard has finally brought Eric down to his level, but when Georgie needs a real funeral director the most, they both have to be the best funeral director (and friend) that they can. Barnes said, “The finale wasn’t intended to be the Last Episode Ever, though it dealt nicely with the series’ themes, and it was high time we had an episode that treated grief seriously. ”

David said Season 4 was inevitable because “John Finnemore once wrote something to the effect of a sitcom is only truly finished when the characters have solved their problems that gave rise to the story in the first place.” Eric and Rudyard each have to learn to prioritize someone else’s needs above their own. “With Season 4, I felt in my heart that I’d resolved all my characters’ problems, given them some new ones to mull over in my absence, but for the most part knew that they were much stronger and happier than when I’d left them. That feels like a good way to end a show to me!”

Understanding-Based Storytelling

Western audiences typically consume stories that take place in chronological order. A protagonist moves the action forward, conquering obstacles until they reach a goal and change for the better. Traditional Eastern storytelling, though, has a different narrative format. Author and teacher Henry Lien explains kishōtenketsu, a four-act structure. In this style, the author introduces disparate elements juxtaposed in a way that makes the audience develop their own understanding.

The narrative structure works like this:

Act One — Kiku (起句), きく — The Introduction of the Main Elements

Act Two — Shōku (承句, しょうく) — The Development of the Main Elements

Act Three — Tenku (転句, てんく) — The Twist (New Element)

Act Four — Kekku 結句, けっく) — The Conclusion (Harmonizing of All Elements)

The Academy Award-winning movie Parasite is an accessible example of kishōtenketsu. Fiction podcasts are ideal for this kind of narrative structure. A single podcast episode can tell a story on its own, and the audience can get value from that experience. When the audience takes in all the episodes in a group together, they can understand its meaning consciously or subconsciously. They can bring their own experience to it and do the work to incorporate it.

Social Change is Essential to Storytelling

Both kinds of storytelling depend on change and understanding. Fiction is a petri dish for the human experience. It’s one of the ways we learn how to treat each other and why. Ultimately, a fiction podcast ends when the creators say it does. It’s up to the audience to determine if the story adequately communicates the change and understanding. If the audience feels and knows something new, the characters have stuck the landing.

How Can Fiction Podcasters Use The End to Their Advantage?

Fiction podcast writers should write their ending first because it lets them make all the twists they want on the way. Limited series have a better chance of being sustainable to produce. Consider stories like Titanic, the first season of Westworld, or The Northman. The audience knows how the story will end from the opening breath (hint: everybody dies). How the characters will get there and what it means, is what really matters. If audiences want more, the creators can make more with the same artists but let stories find the end. When you leave the audience wanting a little bit more, they’ll experience it more than once and share it with their friends.

If you’re interested in fiction podcasts, whether completed or ongoing, you can subscribe to The End, and get updates with listening recommendations for concluded fiction podcasts. Not only that, but also The Fiction Podcast Weekly has all kinds of resources, opportunities, news and listening recommendations, for creators and enthusiasts alike.

Originally posted on November 17, 2022 @ 6:25 pm

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