Writing: serials

If it was good enough for Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, why not me?  Both famous authors wrote stories, piece by piece, for monthly or weekly newspapers during their careers.  Most of Dickens’s novels were written as instalments, and he adjusted them as he went, according to peoples’ reactions to each “shilling.”  Doyle wrote his famous Sherlock Holmes’ stories for The Strand magazine.  Holmes made Doyle famous, but the author grew tired of him.  He wanted to write somthing new, more serious.  So first, he demanded an exorbitant fee for new stories, thinking The Strand would turn him down.  They didn’t.  Then, frustrated, he actually killed Holmes off, plunging him and his arch enemy Moriarty over a waterfall to their deaths.  Public outcry made him change his mind.  In a new Holmes story, Doyle explained that Holmes had other serious enemies, so he faked his death.  An interesting dilemma–a writer trapped by his own creation.  But it still happens today.  Writers can be trapped by best-seller success.  If a character or series sells big numbers, readers and editors want more.

I’ve played with writing one part of a story at a time on my webpage, and I liked it.  I’ve never tried it for anything longer than a short story, but I’m about to change that.  I’m going to try to write a longer Babet and Prosper, one chapter at a time.  People have been writing in installments for a while now on Wattpad.  It’s not new, but this will be new for me.  And I want to approach how I write chapters a little differently.  I think I’ll need more of a hook for the beginning of each chapter, and I want some kind of a cliffhanger or hook at the end of each one.  Now, I generally hate cliffhangers at the end of a novel.  I hate them even more at the end of TV seasons.  If I liked a book or TV show, I don’t need to worry about the protagonist all summer before the fall season starts, or sometimes, for months or a year, before the next novel comes out.  It annoys me.  It feels like a cheap gimmick, so I’m not talking life or death at the end of each of my chapters.  I’m just talking really good hooks that would normally make a reader start the next chapter.

Ending hooks haven’t always been my strong point.  I wish they were.  My writers’ group pays close attention to them, as they should.  The end of a chapter shouldn’t be a resting place where a reader feels a scene’s been completed.  Instead, a scene should introduce a conflict of some kind–big or small, then deal with that conflict, and then end with the hint of new tension ahead, so that instead of closing the book, satisfied for a moment, the reader turns to the next scene or chapter to see what happens.  The trick is to always keep the reader turning those pages.

The other thing I learned when I wrote stories in parts for my webpage was that I really focused on that one, small number of pages, and I was more willing to play with them and try new things.  There can’t be any “down” scenes for a serial.  Readers don’t need a “resting” place when they only get an instalment every other week or so.  I need to keep the story moving to keep them interested.  Scene and sequel should get interesting.

Yikes!  I’m starting to scare myself:)  Too much pressure.  But I’m looking forward to giving this a try.  Wish me luck.  I plan to put up Chapter 2 soon.

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2 thoughts on “Writing: serials

  1. Steven King did that in the nineties with The Green Mile. They turned it into a novel afterwards. I think those were maybe fifty pages at most and cost $1.99 and by the time you bought all of the singles you had spent more than if you’d bought the novel. I think this is a great idea and I’m looking forward yo reading it.

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