Writing Discussion

The Challenge of Writing Serial Fiction

It seems my brain is still in Author Aerobic’s mode even though the exercises are on hiatus. I’ve been thinking about what I can learn from writing serial fiction.

Every form of fiction presents unique challenges. With ‘flash fiction’, you’re forced to condense a story into the minimum of words. This often means stripping out extra characters, crafting sentences that work on multiple levels, and focusing on only a single scene.

I’m finding that serial flash presents a different set of challenges:

  • Building suspense. There must be something that brings you back to read the next installment, some kind of mystery and tension, that makes you wonder what’s coming next.
  • Adding in foreshadowing. I have to keep my eye on the larger story arc, and make sure to reveal information little by little so that the ending follows naturally, but remains a surprise.
  • Figuring out where to begin and end each part. Some people will not come to the story at the beginning. Not everyone will read each installment. I have to find some way to ensure that every part of the story has a sense of completeness.

I’m finding that the process so far has been wonderful exercise in editing. I’ve been forced to break down a larger story (already written) scene by scene, with my mind on upping the conflict, foreshadowing, and suspense. I think that if I treat each scene like flash, the writing will also be tighter and more focused. I don’t know if I will be successful in all this, but I hope so.

When I was a kid, I remember the local newspaper used to run a weekly serial story. I’d clip each story out, and paste it into a notebook. It was a murder mystery and I couldn’t wait until the next installment. I wonder what happened to my collection? The paper got rid of the fiction a long time ago…

Do you enjoy serial fiction? Do you have any fond memories of it?  If you write serial fiction, what’s the biggest challenge you face while writing?

19 Comments to “The Challenge of Writing Serial Fiction”

  1. Personally, I enjoy good fiction: whether it’s serial or not is just details. That said: I’m a regular reader of a number of webcomics, and in a sense a webcomic is a form of serial fiction, with each new page a new entry in the serial – but I’ve never started with a webcomic from the very, very beginning, when there was only one or two pages available – I’ve found when I’ve tried this once or twice that there wasn’t quite enough story in those first pages to keep me coming back a week later… but usually if there were several, then you’ve reached the tipping point and I start making repeat visits looking for updates.

    From the other side: I’ve never written serial fiction that was meant to be consumed in a serialized fashion…

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      My first thought of an example was comics too. They’re probably the most common example of a serial beyond what you see on TV.

      Hmm so what decides the tipping point? Is it because there’s not enough information in the first few comics for you to decide where the story’s going? Or something else?

      1. That’s largely it, yes. The first couple pages of a comic may not tell me enough about the plot to know whether it’s something I’ll be interested in. The very first page, often, is little more than a minor introducution to the main character, or even nothing more than a framing device for the whole story.

        Take “Girl Genius”, for instance. I’d read the first couple pages of it once a few years back, and wasn’t terribly impressed. There was plenty more, to read, but after just one or two pages I wasn’t interested. I went back to it a couple years later and read the first ten or fiften pages, and by then I was hooked. A page or two isn’t enough room to let the plot stretch its legs.

    2. You know, I ought to point out that I do view the “serial” nature of written fiction and webcomic fiction as different. I might need a half-dozen or a dozen pages of a webcomic to get a sense of whether I will like it or not. But writing is very different in that sense – I can probably tell whether I’ll like something enough to keep coming back for more in the first 1 to 3 thousand words – enough to fill the first episode or two of a serialized work.

      1. T.S. Bazelli Author

        Yes I do too. I think it’s a bit like reading the first chapter in a book to see if I’ll be interested in it. There’s more meat in a couple pages of fiction than a webcomic.

  2. Haha, well I’m obviously biased (due to Twenty-Somewhere and all that it has done for me) but yes, I enjoy serial fiction. And ooohh, a mystery would be SUCH a good one to serialize.

    I think it’s so interesting that classics like Dickens were done in serial form to start, but now it’s become so unconventional. Glad you’re bringing it back!

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      We’ll see how it goes! It’s a format well suited for the web I think. You also don’t have to wait as long for the next bit, like when you’re waiting for the next book in a novel series… hehe

  3. I’ve never been big into serial fiction. When I writer I like does it, like Stephen King’s Green Mile, I wait for the complete edition to come out. I’ll wait for most novel series to end before picking one of them up. I even do it with some television, and my viewing of The Wire was definitely better for it. I’m a demanding on-demand sort of reader and viewer, I guess. It doesn’t help that I have so many existing books in my reading pile at any given time.

    The only web comic I read regularly (Nedroid) has no sustained plot. Just amusing premises. But it is released regularly and is thus a sort of serial. I’ve read a few serials on the web through #fridayflash, where I’m conveniently reminded to keep checking in. Since J. Dane Tyler’s Great Gams closed up, yours is the only fiction serial I’m reading right now…

      1. I sometimes do the same thing for novels and TV, though lately I’ve been reading a lot more stand alone novels than series. I’ll watch an entire season in a couple of sittings if it’s available too.

        Thank you for the award! 😀 You’ve just reminded me I need to resume posting to the genre series.

  4. My challenge in serial story writing is forcing yourself to write an installment every week. I am a procrastinator, and it’s hard to get motivated. So I usually end up doing my installment on the day-of. Usually the night-of. Lol. But you’re definitely right about the suspense-building.

  5. Lua

    I like serial fiction… (I like all good fiction), I liked reading it and I found out that I also enjoy writing it. It’s challenging and different than writing a novel. I am a fan of outlining so the experience was new to me; writing a new part every week and not knowing what’s going to happen next. Risky but fun 🙂

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      You know, I always thought you knew where the story was going! hehe, I’m not sure if I could write a serial that way, but it does sound like fun, and we all discover the story along with you. 🙂

  6. I think I would agree with John, at least from the reading standpoint. I like to have all of a series up front and enjoy it on my timeframe.

    However, I recently wrote (guess I can’t say that in past-tense until I post next week) my first serious serial, that had never intended to go into a serial. What I found interesting in it was the chance to at least attempt to have character arc’s and the emphasis on stringing together a series of scenes into a plot. It’s different than a short story because of the semi-standalone properties you mentioned and the emphasis on hooks that I’ve seen in many of them.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I anxiously await the final post! I was wondering how the story was going to turn out to be. Sometimes it’s hard to predict. It also requires a bit of a leap of faith if you’re writing that way… a bit of hope that things will come together in the end…and they always do, somehow 🙂

  7. I’m enjoying writing it mostly because I love the story. As for the writing process itself, yes it is certainly challenging. It’s different from anything I’ve done before, that’s for sure. But I’m having fun at least!

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