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.
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 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.