When an author tells me that he’s bored with his novel, I suggest that he try writing serial fiction. A serial gives him a break from the novel and a fresh start may trigger an author’s inspiration — it does for me.
Of course you don’t have to wait to write a serial until you’re bored. Serials have much in common with short stories, so you can start your serial at any time.
Serial fiction: writing a serial is similar to writing short stories
You’re already intimately familiar with this form of fiction; many TV shows use this format. They have an over-arching plot for each season.
Just like a TV series, when you’re writing a serial, you’re writing episodic fiction. Look at your serial as connected short stories. Although each story is satisfying in itself, there’s a bigger plot which you move forward with each episode.
This may sound complicated, but it’s not. Indeed, it’s easier in many ways to write serials than it is to write novels. A serial avoids the “sagging middle” which plagues many novels (and novelists.)
Let’s look at some tips which will help you to get started.
1. Check your hard drive: do you have any unfinished novels which you could develop?
If you’ve been writing fiction for a while, chances are that you’ve got several novels on the backburner. You’ll get to them one day. Here’s your chance to use this material.
Think in terms of word count. A novel will run to 60,000 words in many genres like romance and mysteries. Written as a serial, you’d write ten episodes of 6,000 words, or six episodes of 10,000 words.
While you’re reviewing your older material, look for characters you enjoy. Your plot is what your characters do, so if you have a character you love, brainstorm situations in which to place the character.
2. Think in terms of episodes: each episode is a story
Each of your episodes has its own story. When an author tells me: “I tried a serial, but readers disliked it,” that often means that the cliffhangers annoyed readers.
Yes, you need to keep your overall serial plot in mind, but it’s much more important that readers enjoy each episode. If they don’t, they’ll feel short-changed.
So, write each episode as you’d write a short story: give each episode a satisfying ending. Of course you want readers to read the next and future episodes so rather than abrupt cliffhangers at the end of each episode, consider using open loops throughout:
Open loops are psychological strategies used most often as copywriting tricks. They’re hooks and unanswered questions. You can and should use open loops right throughout your novel.
Yes, open loops are cliffhangers, but they’re subtle. You might open a loop in the first episode, which you close in the third. Next, you’d open a couple of loops in the second episode, then close them in the third and fourth.
End each episode by beginning an intriguing scene after you complete the episode’s story. Readers will need to buy the next episode to keep reading.
3. Define your serial’s story question before you start writing
Your story question is the overarching plot which you’ll resolve in the final episode, and it depends on the genre.
In any form of romance fiction, the story question is always: do the hero and heroine get together? If you’re writing a mystery or a thriller serial, the story question is either: whodunnit, or: will the hero catch whoever did it?
You’ll find that as long as you know your story question, you’ll have an easy time with the over-arching plot.
Although you can plot your serial from go to whoa, I’m by nature a pantser, so I’m happy to start writing as soon as I know the story question and have developed a cast of characters.
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Serial fiction: your four-week plan
Check out Plan, Write, And Publish Serial Fiction In Four Weeks. You’ll discover how to write your serial and enjoy it too.
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 →
You can, when you discover the secrets of writing blurbs (book descriptions) which sell.
You can rescue books which aren't selling, and have confidence that your new books will have the best chance to find their audience.More info →