What I learned from writing serialised fiction

As some of you know, aside from being away from blogging for a while, I’ve been writing a serial. At the end of the year I will be releasing the epidsodes, or installments, as a complete season. In preparation for that, and the next season, which I hope to release next year, I’ve been considering the valuable lessons I’ve learned along the way. The first and most important, is the frequency between episodes. Next time they will be weekly, rather than monthly. A compromise to the suggestion that I should post a daily installment.

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Here are my top five tips:

1: Find your inner-architect: I’m going to start with the obvious first, and for those of you who are planners, you can sit back and give yourself a nice pat on the back for having this one in the bag. For those of us who go with the flow, more like an errant butterfly flitting from one place to another, it can be a little tough. Loose notes become a thing of the past, and basic outlines…nope – not happening. That means digging back through all those extremely helpful posts about the best way to map your characters, etc. because there are just some things Excel can’t do. Even my whiteboard, which covers an entire wall (I kid you not) doesn’t meet the requirements when so many timelines are happening at once. And though post-it notes are useful, the novelty wears off when you’re buried beneath them trying to dig your way through Β to the prize – that being information pertinent to the plot.

2. Learn from TV Shows: I chose to post my episodes monthly, and given there is a lot of action, plus more characters than it is safe to use in a novel (see point 3), it isn’t surprising that readers lose the thread because they have to wait for the next installment. It wasn’t until I was watching one of my favourite shows that it hit me like Homer Simpson’s palm at the back of my head…no wait, that’s Gibbs from NCIS – I’m getting my shows mixed up. Anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying to make is those two helpful words at the beginning of any show – ‘Previously on…’ As easy as that, by adding a summary, readers are caught up. It might seem obvious, but it never occurred to me. D’oh!

3. Arm you Beta Readers: I have a few loyal beta readers who are familiar with my work, but who aren’t necessarily familiar with serialised fiction in this format. I failed to explain that, like a television show, the series has a regular cast of characters and they don’t all get to shine at once. Like a TV series, it can be overwhelming to get to know so many new ‘faces’ and unlike a novel when it is advisable to limit the number of interactions, this type of series (in my opinion) relies on a diverse cast who each get their own story arc.

4. Don’t let your characters lead you astray: Going back to my earlier point, and my errant tendencies, I found myself becoming easily distracted by the number of sub-plots that emerged as I was writing an episode. As writers we know our characters, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their secrets. We might know their backstory, might even be intimately familiar with them and think we know what direction they will take, but that isn’t always the case. Our characters like to take us by surprise, and reveal details of their past that threaten to pull us in an entirely different direction. It wasn’t until my ‘notes’ on a character’s backstory became a twenty thousand word story in its own right that I caught myself!

5. Plan for the journey, regardless of the destination: This again seems like an obvious point, but it’s not enough to rely on a strong beginning to a readers journey, because, even if you’ve hinted at their final destination, what comes in between must contribute to the trip itself. I did a lot of research before committing to the serial and the best tips I found relate to writers falling short around episode 3. We’re all familiar with those filler episodes in a TV show that don’t seem to progress the story, and though they are harmless enough, you must have a strong following before you can throw readers/viewers a curve ball and expect them to catch it.

I also found it useful to read serialised novels before I began, and there are some great examples. I won’t lie, there were times I wondered if I chose the right format, but overall I’m happy I decided on sharing the story in bite-sized chunks.

If you’re interested in any other part of this particular writing journey, feel free to pick my brain as it were.

Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

Mel

 

 

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37 thoughts on “What I learned from writing serialised fiction

      1. Yeah, that makes sense actually. We forget how many classic stories started out as a series in a newspaper or on radio. I suppose like many things, it’s a natural progression to go back to older techniques, especially now that the Internet makes it so much more achievable πŸ™‚

      2. So true. For the authors we particularly enjoy, how great would it be if we had access to a regular fix! There are some characters, like Jack Reacher (obsessed much) who would be perfect in this format πŸ™‚

      3. I think one of my favourite examples is the radio adaptation of The War of TheWorlds, which started out in a news bulletin style and was so convincing that people thought the country really had been attacked by aliens πŸ˜›

      4. Oh, the power of words! Great example. The original radio version of The War of the Worlds is one of my favourites. I remember listening with my friends and hypothesizing how well we would fare πŸ˜‰ Kind of like people do now when talking about a zombie apocalypse!

  1. Very interesting. Why not serialized fiction? Many of the iconic writers started their writing as serials in magazines. I like the Harry Bosch episodes on Amazon Prime–love binging them. Good luck with this approach!

  2. Do you recommend posting your novel this way as a means to attract readers? I’ve written a novel but have not found a reader base and therefore I do love the writing but it hinders me and actually bothers me a bit. Makes me think I could post on my blog and share the experience of how I was able to research and write about my topic.

    1. Not necessarily splitting a novel to attract readers, because some don’t fit into an episode type format but certainly writing a serial in your genre that would suit daily/weekly/monthly instalments – it would certainly attract new readers. Sharing your experiences on your blog is a great idea πŸ™‚

  3. i hadn’t thought about doing this, but you’ve laid down a good plan. I remember the serialized radio programs from when I was young (in the Cretaceous Period) – they are good model.

  4. Your tips are kicking of some interesting ideas over here. I recently started working on a short short story, but it’s passed 2,000 words now and has no clear end in sight. This might be the perfect format for this little story that just won’t quit. lol Thanks. πŸ™‚

  5. Great to see you back, Mel. I see you’ve been working very hard.

    I did this with my short story ‘The Truth App’ which went on to become a rather long short story. I posted a new episode on the same day (Thursday) every week. However, I never did the ‘previously on’ bit. Good point. It’s something I’ll certainly do the next time.

      1. Very kind of you to say, Mel, thank you. I’m currently rewriting parts of the story ready for it to appear in an upcoming short story collection. I’ve also promised Sacha another episode for next year’s Bloggers Bash. Better get my thinking cap on then. 😱

  6. Do you have a mailing list set up for the episodes or a way of letting us (your fans πŸ˜‰ ) know when the next installment is ready? I’d love to see it pop up in my email so that I can type my way over to buy it ASAP πŸ™‚ I loved the beginning to the series – I need to read the rest!

  7. That sounds so intersting. I’ve always been fascinated with seriesl, but honestly I don’t know whether I’d be able to write one.
    It is a completely different kind of storytelling, I think.
    I’m so curious to read yours. What is it about?

    1. It’s a fantasy – about a group of warriors who come together to form a collective in order to stop a demonic war…in a nutshell anyway! I enjoyed writing it, but you’re right, it was quite a challenge, and it pushed me right out of my comfort zone πŸ™‚

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