TEWSK: The Serial

Things Every Writer Should Know: The Serial

exam time

This lady is clearly reading a serial…. clearly. Don’t question the stock photos.

Alright, close your eyes and reminisce on your favorite childhood stories. Go ahead, this can totally wait. Okay, now that you are all nostalgic for your favorite stories, I’ll just take a guess at what books came to your mind. I’m sensing you thought of…



-Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys

-The Magic Tree House

If none of those came to mind, then stop reading now and take back your childhood. These books all have one pretty sweet thing in common: they are called ‘serials’. This means your favorite author/authors tapped out one of these suckers every month or so, and you felt your heart skip as you walked down the aisle at your local library or at the school book fair, searching for the next in the series.


Now, time for another thinking game. Think of your favorite classic novel. Did any of these come to mind?

-David Copperfield

-Death on the Nile

-Great Expectations

-Anna Karenina

-Huckleberry Finn

In fact, a lot of novels from the 19th century first appeared as serials. It was a way for writers to test the appeal of their work. It was also a good safeguard; by publishing periodically they’d get feedback from the readers as they write. So if their story went in an unpopular direction, the entire novel wasn’t ruined-plus they still had an income.

While it might sound unwriterly to allow the reader’s opinion to decide the direction of the story, we have to consider these guys had to make a living. Oh, and, serial novels were so popular, they started riots. Two of them at least.

[quote]Serials were so immensely popular that they were responsible for at least two riots. In 1841 impatient Dickens fans rioted at New York harbor as they waited to learn whether sweet orphan Nell had indeed died in poverty despite her loving grandfather’s best efforts.  And in 1842 there was a riot in Paris by readers who didn’t have the fee to read the resolution of a particularly nail-biting cliffhanger in Eugène Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris.

-Plympton.com, A Short History of Serial Fiction[/quote]

That makes modern YA fans sound like… something not very intimidating.

In the 19th century, the world had never been more connected. Today, the world has never been more connected. That’s why serial fiction might just be making a comeback. Many authors are publishing online in serial form on their blogs. This is not only great practice, but it builds intimacy between the writer and the reader. For beginning writers, this is a great way to start building a fan base. This could also positively influence your chances of getting published. A lot of serial novels are compiled into one full on novel after they catch the eyes of a publisher. Publishing houses also like it when they are publishing authors who already have fans. Less risk involved.

So are you interested in writing a serial? Modern serial is generally published at a writer’s blog, or on sites devoted to serials. I’ll provide a list of serials and serial sites you should take a look at the end of the post. But for now, here are some tips for writing serial.

1. Know your characters.

I don’t have any experience publishing serials yet, but I have been practicing writing in a serial format. By that, I mean I have been trying to write an ‘episode’ every week. As the weeks go by, you mind find yourself wondering where to take the story. If you have defined your characters well, the decision will make itself.

2. Serials are for pantsers.

That’s not to say a planner can’t write serials, but if you want to write a serial or a ‘soap’, you won’t be able to outline the entire thing. So if you are a pantser, no worries. Just write like you usually do, but bear in mind that you won’t be able to go back and make changes once you have shared your work.

3. Know how it’s going to end.

You should have at least a vague idea of how you want your story to end. This will be your road map from start to finish. Unless you intend to write a soap, in which case your story goes on in ‘arcs’. For instance, one Animorph book could be considered an ‘arc’ in the major storyline. However, if Animorphs never had a resolution, it would be a soap. For longer serials and soaps, you should familiarize yourself with the story arc structure. Otherwise, know how your story is going to end.

4. Every Episode is Plot Relevant.

Yep, otherwise your readers get bored. Move the plot in very episode. Spread your tension out across several episodes. A good idea is to have at least three ‘failures’ for your character, each one worse than the last, before he has a major success. He gets one minor success each episode that leads to the big failure of that episode. Bear in mind the point in these failures is to generate dramatic tension. That means they have to relate to the main story arc, or at least a character arc, for them to work. By building up tension, you are making the final victory much sweeter.  Always end an episode with a hook, but don’t forget to answer the questions you raise in the last episodes. The reader has to have gratification or he’ll get bored and quit.

5. Know how to blog.

This is vital to having a popular serial unless you publish through a magazine. If you know how to blog, you’ll raise your readership. If you already have a well-established blog, then it can’t hurt to blog about your serial. Some sub-tips: Use social media to promote your blog. Post regularly to maximize readership, that way your readers know when to tune in. Be active in your fan base so that readers feel like they ‘know’ you. By being ‘real’, they can start to form a relationship with you. This makes them more likely to stick out the ride.

6. Carry out multiple story arcs at once.

This can give you time to think about what you want to happen in your main arch. It also fleshes out side characters. Plus, it gives you a chance to weave story arcs together with vision. Then your reader can be like, ‘Oh my God. When Suzy visited Kim back in the eighth installment, she forgot her monogrammed cigarette lighter! And Jake is visiting Kim! He’s going to find out!” Instant tension.

So here’s your call to action, beautiful reader. Why not make it a goal to try out some serial? Here are some tasty options.

Dead and Buried

This story served as a sort of prelude to a novel this author is working on. It’s also a great case study in the structure of a good serial. I’m not sure if it’s finished, or if the author is still using that blog site, but here’s hoping.


A how-to article on Suite 101: http://suite101.com/article/writing-serial-blog-fiction-a218748

Some inspiration: http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=5044445011

Tuesday Serial: http://tuesdayserial.com/

If you have anything to say on the topic, feel free to comment. Want to suggest a topic for TEWSK? Contact me on YWS, I’m Paracosm now, or leave something in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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