Can you make serial fiction work for you? Writing a serial is a lot of fun, and there are enough serial-loving readers to ensure that you build up a readership. A serial may be just the thing your indie publishing career needs to help you to sell more ebooks and build a loyal following of readers.
In many ways, writing a serial is easier than writing a novel of the same length, but there are challenges.
Serial fiction: creating an episodic plot
Let’s start by defining our terms. What’s “serial fiction?”
In brief, it’s episodic fiction: one story, offered to readers in episodes. Although the over-arching plot won’t end until the final episode, each episode is complete in itself. Think about serial fiction as a plot, with a bunch of sub-plots. (This isn’t completely accurate, but it gives you the general idea.)
You need to plan a serial, so your completed novel is unlikely to work as serial fiction. If you’ve been writing a novel, and it’s out of control — you’re at 80,000 words, and the end is nowhere in sight — you may decide that serial fiction offers a solution. Why not chop your novel into episodes?
Don’t. You need to be in control.
I watched the first series of TV’s How To Get Away With Murder; it’s clearly a serial. Its serial format was fine in the first series, but the show lost me in the second series when it ran out of steam.
The story question had been answered in Series One. I wondered where the show would go from there. It may well have been fine — I watched a few minutes of the first episode of the second series, and decided that the show went nowhere much.
That’s the big danger with serial fiction: a loss of control. Without control, cliffhangers and twists and turns of the plot confuse readers. This means that they won’t buy your next episode.
Let’s look at our tips.
1. Create an appealing main character
Your main character needn’t be likable, but it helps. You’re asking readers to stick with you through many episodes: they won’t continue to read if they don’t care about your main character.
This means that you must like your character. If you’re bored by him, or dislike him, readers will notice. They’ll become bored too, and your serial is wrecked.
Vital: know your genre, and what readers expect in that genre.
2. Develop suspense via your story question
Again, readers must care, and they won’t care if your character isn’t in danger.
As we said in Write Fiction For Readers: 3 Tips For Narrative Drive:
Something important MUST be at stake in your story. If not literal life or death, then metaphorical life or death. When there’s nothing at stake, readers don’t care, and they won’t read.
Writers send me blurbs for their upcoming novels, or they attach the first few pages of a novel to an email message. The writing’s fine, but there’s nothing much happening. If he’s writing fantasy, the writer’s all about his story’s world. If he’s writing a thriller, the author piles up the body count. In a romance, the main character meets someone cute, but if a tree fell on the guy, her life would go on much as it did before.
Your characters MUST care, for readers to care.
Work out what your story question is (it’s always related to the genre) and then work out why your main character must win, or die.
3. Plan, plan, and plan some more: readers must know what to expect
How many episodes? Your readers must know what to expect. Six episodes, or 30? How long will each episode be? Will readers feel that they’re getting value for money?
4. Release with a launch: publish two episodes, with a further two on pre-order
Some authors like to draft all the episodes in their serial before they publish the first two. It’s a good idea. Once you publish your serial’s release dates, readers expect you to deliver on those dates.
5. Outline your serial before you start writing, and stick to your publishing schedule
If you’re a pantser, relax. You needn’t outline every scene in every episode. However, you do need to be aware of how your primary plot will affect each episode: the main plot must develop.
In addition, you need to have an idea (even if it’s vague) of the “subplot” and character development you’ll cover in each episode.
Why write serial fiction?
Everyone's busy today. A serial is by its nature, faster to write, and publish, than a novel.
It's a quicker read too, and many readers appreciate this. While a reader may hesitate before committing hours to a novel, he can read an episode of your serial in minutes.More info →
Today, hundreds of thousands of novelists are publishing fiction, with varying degrees of success. Perhaps you're a self-publishing author — or perhaps you're a ghostwriter, and want to offer fiction writing services to clients.
Whatever your needs and dreams, this book, 124 Powerful Fiction Writing Tips: Win Readers And Fans, And Increase Your Sales Today, will help.More info →
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