Going Serial, Part II: If You Break It, They Will Come
What do Anna Karenina, The Three Musketeers, and the stories of Sherlock Holmes have in common? They all started as serialized projects, with installments appearing in magazines on a weekly or monthly basis. Many bloggers are taking a cue from these classics, rediscovering the joys of serial fiction — perhaps you should, too?
In part one of Going Serial, we discussed how having regularly scheduled features on your blog can help boost traffic and reader loyalty, as well as give structure to your own writing habits. Now, just in time for Web Serial Writing Month (aka August), let’s take a closer look at how the same concept can apply to a perennially popular niche: fiction writing. (Non-fiction, memoir, history writers: keep reading! Did you know Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood was also first serialized? You’re writing narratives, too!)
Hack away at your writer’s block
The blank page, the empty screen: writers of fiction have dreaded that white chasm for centuries. Serializing your writing can go a long way toward snapping a dry spell. While you can (and should) still think about the big picture — if you have one — serialization forces you to think in small units, too, and to put something out there with regularity.
Whether you write for yourself or want to see your blog turn into a book one day, cultivating writerly discipline and getting ongoing feedback from readers can be crucial for improving your craft. Some WordPress.com fiction bloggers, like EW Brown and her novel-in-progress, Ghost Watching, are serializing long, extended narratives. Others, like 300 Stories, are focused on flash fiction. The length of your final project is secondary to the fact you are actually working on it.
Cliffhangers require cliffs
A serialized narrative has many built-in advantages for a writer in need of a plan. Perhaps the most powerful one, though, is the ability to structure your story in a way that captivates your readers and invites them to come back for the following installment (if it worked for Scheherazade, why not for your blog?).
He swore he’d seen this man before, probably also in his dream last night. But not like this; instead, covered in a pool of his own blood at the other end of the street. Of one thing he was certain -– this man was about to die.
By ending at least some of your posts on a note of tension, suspense, or ambiguity, you’re creating a need: the reader’s need to know what happens next. While some genres — mystery, science fiction — may be more conducive to cliffhangers than others, thinking about your audience, and what it is that makes them want more of your writing, is important for all keyboard tappers.
Unlike previous eras of fiction writing, with blogging you get the chance to hear instantaneously from your readers as you shape your story. You may choose to accept or ignore their feedback, but it’s a far superior experience to writing in a complete void.
The god of small(er) things is forgiving
If it sounds daunting to plan far ahead for a story you yourself are still figuring out, serial fiction is an extremely versatile, flexible framework. You may decide to focus on one writing project, and publish chapters on a schedule that’s as loose as you see fit. Some blogs, like The Turing Test, have seen a flurry of installments published in quick succession. Other writers approach their projects with a view for the long run, stretching a narrative over months, if not years. What’s best? Whatever works — for you.
Many fiction writers find it useful to stick to a regular pace, like the author behind the aptly-named Any Given Monday, where weekly pieces intermingle with unscheduled installments from a longer writing project. Other hard-working, prolific writers in the WordPress.com community, like those behind Flashes in the Pan, Day In and Day Out, and Techtigger’s Soapbox, are working on multiple pieces at once, publishing chapters as they come (quick tip: it helps if you categorize each project differently, to help readers find all installments of a given story easily).
Unlike writers of yore, who had to worry about expensive paper and dark nights without electricity, as bloggers you can multitask as much as your schedule and your temperament allow.
You contemplate bellowing as loudly as you can. That would surely bring them. Unfortunately, it would likely bring more of them than you can deal with.
You choose a tunnel and start walking.
Serial authors, unite!
Those romantic, solitary geniuses of centuries past, writing in a moldy attic? They would have probably loved to trade some of the mold for a thriving community of fellow writers. Luckily for you, that community is alive and well for today’s serial fiction writers. From weekly flash fiction challenges on Flash Friday, to the many who take part in Friday Fictioneers, no WordPress.com author need ever feel uninspired or — the horror — unread.
From webzines focusing on serial fantasy fiction, like Red Penny Papers, to the innovative, collaborative serial fiction marathon inaugurated by The Magill Review, there is always a way to connect with fellow writers, from published authors to first-time, aspiring storytellers. (Don’t forget the Community Pool, here on The Daily Post.) There is even a blog dedicated specifically to the craft of online serial fiction, The Online Novel, where you can read posts full of advice, insight, and inspiration from a roster of experienced practitioners.
Do you write serial fiction? If so, what are your tricks for pacing your plots and engaging your readers? Do you read fiction blogs? What kind of stories make you tick? Your fellow bloggers would love to know!