Serial Bowl

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      So I’ve been thinking a lot about the serial format, and trying my own hand at writing serials. I’ve mostly done mine as 2000 word episodes, though the website framework for posting them is still incomplete.

      So to get the ball rolling:
      1) Have you read any serials in the past? Any you’ve really enjoyed?
      2) Are you doing any serials?
      3) What’s the best format or method, in your opinion, for putting up serials?
      4) How does writing a serial differ from writing a novel or short story?

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        1) Not really to the first, so the second isn’t applicable…

        2) Yes. … Did not so much fall in the deep end as trip as I walked past and am now splashing around looking for the lifeguard. Not drowning is key. Swiming not yet happening. Why are the deep end of pools like twelve foot down?!

        3) No beeping clue. Seriously. I’m working with a blog, it is functioning. There’s a few quirks that happen – usually when I’m tired, sod’s law – but anything more than that, I do not know.

        4) … I need more data points to answer that properly.

        Currently it differs by the sheer fact that the writing is likely to be more raw than if it was a full out novel/short story, and also that with a novel or short story, you can go with the flow if the length is shorter or longer than you predicted. When it gets longer with a serial, it can drag on, and on…

        For you, anyway. Hopefully not the reader. There’s a definite “wasn’t I meant to be done with this already?” going on for me.

        Ask me again in June 2013, I might have enough data.

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          When I was into fan fiction, I read a lot of serials, since that’s the main way they publish longer stories (and therefore, the way most of the writers write). I also read WIPs serially, both at Silver Griffin and with a real-life friend, in serial form — with the friend, it’s definitely a matter of me seeing exactly what she has just written — I get it as soon as she’s written it. In the critique scenario, I don’t mind them, but I have problems with ones by authors I don’t know personally:

          1. The time between starting the series and each additional episode bothers me. I get out of the story and forget what’s happening, so often, I end up having to go back and reread, especially if I’m reading more than one at a time. This happens with critiques, too, and sometimes my comments on my friend’s story make less sense because, well, she did address it, but it was several installments ago and I’ve forgotten.

          2. I hate being left without being able to finish the story, and too many things (some of them related to the writer’s laziness, but others just natural disasters) can make it so that a serial story will never get done. This is also the reason I also hesitate about series of novels: some series are obviously linked standalone novels, and those are fine, but the main reason I have never read The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan is that the series was one story and it wasn’t finished. Then he died. Now I’ll probably never read it. I’d have to see that a writer had a record of finishing the serial before I’d start reading one, and even then, I’d be cautious: after all, Robert Jordan didn’t choose to die.

          I did write a serial once, called The Ravens of Cite, which I foolishly posted for free on an open website (This was before I discovered Forward Motion). There are definite problems with it, but I did learn how to end each episode with a cliffhanger, which was a useful skill to learn. And the people reading it really liked it, but there weren’t many of them and they all liked me as a blog-writer before they posted.

          I have no idea what the best format would be.

          As for how it’s different — I think the biggest difference I noticed is that when I write a novel, I often have ideas on where chapter breaks are, but not always. I usually know where my scenes are, but they get arranged into chapters later. With serial writing, you have to know exactly where your episode will end, and build toward that. And episodes, like chapters, can have more than one scene.

          I should note that The Ravens of Cite was not very long — I think it’s somewhere in the novelette-novella range.

          Edit: I think if I ever did any more serial writing, I’d probably write it serially, but not post it until it was done, then post one episode per week, to avoid the whole issue of not finishing.

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            1. I read a serial by Tim Pratt that he did on his Website. Enjoyed it immensely. Started to read Cat Valente’s Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland . . . but didn’t keep up with it.

            2. Not yet. However, I am planning to write NaNo this year in an episodic format and blog each day’s work.

            3. No clue because I haven’t really researched it.

            4. Easier to write yourself into a corner?

            Other comments — there’s a site, Tuesday Serial, that recently did a five-part round table that covered Introductions & The market for serial fiction, Publishing approaches for serials, Reader feedback, Pricing models, and Market for CYOA (choose your own adventure) serials. They also do a linky list to follow serials. Probably a good place to check for more information. I was actually planning to post about the series on the Alternative and Other Writing board when I get past my current deadline, and I might suggest (in a friendly fashion, you understand) that more specific discussion be directed there.

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              I’m not actually going to answer your questions. Instead, I’m going to cover something you didn’t mention except someone in the last question.

              The biggest problem I’ve seen with serials in the past is that the author has no set idea of where he or she is really going with the work, so after a few ‘episodes’ the words starts to ramble, repeat, move off into odd directions — and the story gets boring. Sometimes they get bogged down in some set of events that go on forever; thins which are fascinating to the author, but can make very dull reading when the story makes no forward progress.

              Sometimes the author gets bored. They have written all the exciting things they already imagined, and even if they see an ‘ending’ they may have started moving off into directions that make getting back to the original vision very hard.

              That said, I’ve also seen some nice, shorter serials that clearly had the path settled before they began the work. This was especially true in the old days of print magazines.

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                The format doesn’t appeal to me, because I read super fast and I’m a fan of instant gratification.

                That being said, I’ve been working on a serial story for a while now. My plan was twenty episodes that had a beginning, middle, and end like a TV show episode, but with an overarching storyline.

                I agree with zette that there needs to be a clear end. It needs to be planned and organized ahead of launching so that the author doesn’t lose sight. The number one thing I’ve seen is authors getting bored of writing them and moving on, leaving them unfinished.

                And these publishers jumping on the serial bandwagon? That’s what they are doing. They’re getting the author to write the book, and then releasing it in shorter formats. It’s organized.

                The only thing i don’t agree with there is that they are usually releasing a novel that way. I think it really needs to be more like how the TV shows are written. Each episode is contained within itself, with a season long storyline. I don’t think that I’d be interested otherwise. I hate cliffhangers.

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                  John Scalzi’s new work with Tor, The Human Experiment, is designed to read like a TV series, albeit with only 13 episodes. (Amazing how short “seasons” get, isn’t it?) I’m looking forward to checking it out, although I haven’t decided whether I’ll be picking up the episodes individually or wait until they’re all available.

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                    Sounds like a typical British season to me.

                    And that sounds like an interesting way to write something. I’ve done something like that but unintentionally. I think it might be more fun to structure it in that way from the start.

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