You’re writing a novel, and you’re wondering whether you can turn your novel into serial fiction. That is, can you multiply one book into ten, so that you get paid ten times?
Alternatively, you’re looking at a novel you’ve published: you wonder whether you’d make more sales if you unpublished it, and created a serial from it.
Neither process is easy, nor a lot of fun, because when you create serial fiction it’s best to plan it as a serial, with all its episodes, from the outset. Just as you do with a novel.
It’s all in the planning.
Serial fiction: a serial isn’t a novel
So if you’re writing a novel, and want to turn the novel into a serial, you’ll probably need to trash what you’ve written, and plan carefully, before you go on writing.
Equally, if you have a novel, and want to turn the novel into a serial, yes, it can be done. However, you’d need to plan carefully, and do a lot of new writing.
A serial isn’t a novel. Although a serial has an over-arching plot, a serial is not structured like a novel, because it’s episodic.
“Episodic” is an epithet with which many critics, notably the great F.R. Leavis, damned poor old Charles Dickens. No doubt Dickens should have done a little revision before his part-works were collected into novel form… Yes, I’m being snarky. Today, Leavis is pretty much forgotten, but you can still read Dickens with pleasure.
Ideally, each episode of your serial will end on a cliffhanger, or similar. You MUST give readers a reason to be eager to buy the next episode. After all, that’s the reason you’re writing serial fiction — you want readers to buy the next episode.
Cliffhangers, character arcs, narrative drive, and more
When you’re planning a serial, you need to consider:
- The overall plot and narrative drive: ensure that you end each episode on a cliffhanger, or at least, intrigue readers enough so that they want to read more;
- Character arcs: will your primary character develop during the serial?
Plot, and narrative drive: what happens next?
Plotting a novel is simple. If you know the shape of a novel, you can muddle through, and pants. (That is, write without an outline.)
Serial fiction however, demands narrative drive:
What’s narrative drive? It’s what makes your story involving, and keeps it moving.
(It’s worth reading the above link for more on narrative drive, and how to develop it.)
Readers of serial fiction want to know what happens next. If they don’t care about that, they won’t buy your next episode.
Serial fiction: write strong characters, who stay positive
Generally speaking, novels focus on plot development (commercial fiction) with a nod to character development, or characters (literary fiction) with a nod to plot.
I scribbled my first “novel” at eight years old. I was a huge fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden.) Oddly enough, a version of The Secret Garden was first published as a serial, then revised into a novel. My story was definitely episodic. I was delighted that I could go on writing and writing. 🙂
At around the same age, friends of my parents gave me several boxes of comics — The Phantom among them.
I mention The Secret Garden and The Phantom because of character development. Mary and Colin develop in The Secret Garden, but The Phantom remains a static character. From memory, in the comics I read, he didn’t develop at all.
So, while planning your serial fiction, consider character development — yes, or no? Your story may decide for you.
A serial fiction must: skip the misery — entertain your readers
A vital tip. Ensure that your characters have goals, and go after them. They must be active, and positive, so that you give readers value for their money. They won’t buy the next episode if the previous one was a downer — entertain your readers, always.
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