I think I’ve stated elsewhere what made me decide to put up a serial. (I mean, other than the possibility of attracting passionately interested readers, because that’s really the goal of all writing.) I’m not a clever blogger, so I wanted to put something of myself on the internet that would entertain in the only way I know how. And I wanted to experiment with having deadlines, and getting reader feedback while the story was still in production.
But I’m writing quite a bit ahead of schedule. I didn’t think writing each section right before I posted it was feasible for me. I like to let things sit a bit before doing an editing pass, and I needed a buffer against both discouragement and distraction, because I’m the mother of a little boy. I now have more of a buffer than I originally planned because apparently deadlines make me work even harder than I anticipated. But the story is still ‘live’, as far as I’m concerned. And planning it all out in advance, as I have, has simply made it possible for me to stick to my schedule far better than I ever have before. It’s the planning it all out that makes me feel like it’s a serialized novel, even though since I’m not finishing and polishing it before posting it, I guess I fall right in the middle.
I know that a lot of people who dislike planning a story out. It robs the story of energy, takes away the thrill of discovery. I’ll… I’ll have to write a post about my experience ‘pantsing it’ at another time. For now, I’ll accept that everybody works best in a different way.
So, let’s see. What are the benefits and burdens of posting as you write? You get a deadline. You get possible instant reader feedback (although probably best not to count on that). You get an iron-clad excuse to not get trapped in a revision loop. You can make sure your story fits with current events perfectly, if that fancy takes you. You can even abandon storylines that nobody’s interested in. What else am I missing?
I’ve also come across discussions of the goal of each serial posting. These vary just as much as the kinds of fiction:
- Each post should be a good jumping-in point for new readers
- Each post should be a complete bit of story
- Each post should hook into the next
A confession: I’ve always had trouble with chapters. Maybe it’s because I read too much Terry Pratchett, and he disdains chapters in most of his books. Maybe it’s because the idea of what a chapter should be seems varies as much as the ideas of what a serial fiction posting should be. I admit I’ve never understood the point of chapters if you’re supposed to try and end a chapter in such a way that the reader doesn’t want to put the book down. Are they just a tool for deceiving yourself/your parent about when you’re planning on putting the book down? A legacy from an age of reading aloud when the readers needed some break point? Or are they supposed to be a discrete story chunk? I have no idea!
Ahem. Sorry about that.
I think it’s possible to construct a whole story, with a beginning, middle and satisfying end, with a sense of structure and pacing, and then write and publish it as a serial. At the end, you’d have something very like a novel, although the pacing structure might be a bit different than the standard modern novel’s pacing and structure.
I also think it’s fine to not plan nearly as much, to jump in and start writing and discover where the story is going, as long as you are good at two things: drafting in a readable form and writing on a regular schedule. I think publishing that as a book will be much less like a novel, and much more like a month of recorded soap operas. Still, soap operas are addictive for a reason.
I also think you can write a whole novel in advance, and dribble it out to readers. Although at some point, readers are going to want to know why you’ve chosen to torment them in that way instead of just giving it to them all at once. I mean, if it’s all written. You’ll probably want to come up with an answer for that. They won’t like, “I enjoy watching you squirm!”
Even though that’s probably the truth.
An outline and Roman numerals didn’t stop this post from getting crazy and disorganized. This is why I make sure I outline and edit and sit on my scene drafts! And now, just in case: series series serial serial series series.