Anyone that ever tells you that writing serial stories is the easy way out is either lying, delusional, or has never done it.
Look, I’m not an expert. No one is. But I’ve written quite a few serials over the years. Currently I only have Chronicles active but I’m in the process of bringing back Garden Wars and (Frog help me) GodMaker as well. Both of which I started in 2012 but had to stop for various reasons, usually around life getting in the way.
This is my viewpoint of serials, nothing more. Some people simply hate writing them and hate reading them. I get that. I occasionally hate them myself because I don’t want to wait to read the story. Same goes for what little TV I do watch and the comics I read. I will often wait months and then read in batch form.
But I love writing them.
And I’m not talking about serializing novels either. Of course you can do that and if that’s what you’re looking for I highly suggest you check out Writing a Serial by RJ Blain. That’s her shtick and she does a good job talking about it.
There isn’t what I do however. There are two types of (non novel) serials typically (there are more, but these are the dominate). ‘Ongoing’ and ‘Episodic’. The difference is subtle but significant. Episodic serials are basically self-contained stories each week. Much like tv shows like CSI or Iron Chef. Each week is a different story with the same cast of characters. There may be character development and references to events in the past but in general each story is a small slice-of-life.
Whereas Ongoing serials are just that, stories that are ongoing. They may last 5 episodes or 20 or 300. But each story continues where the previous one left off and is part of an ongoing story that, for all intents and purposes, has no end. It’s like a comic book or a television show like Lost.
I tend to veer toward Ongoing as both Chronicles and Garden Wars (as well as GodMaker) are Ongoing, though I’m toying with a couple of Episodic like stories.
Will I eventually package them up into book form? Probably. But it’s not the intended goal. The goal is simply to tell a story.
I could go on about this forever but instead I wanted to address at a few ‘problems’ that I’ve had brought up to me about writing serials. Keep in mind, the answers are my viewpoints and opinions on writing serials. As with everything else in life, not everyone will see things my way.
“Serials are easy!”
Easy is so…. subjective. What I find easy might be very difficult for you. And what you find easy I might find impossible. Let’s leave comments like this where they belong, in the the trash.
“The first few episodes are boring! Wake me when you get to the good stuff.”
There is a prevailing though out there that the first 3-4-5 installments all have to be character building installments. That they have to be the episodes that grab people’s attention so there is a lot of character development and very little actual story. Again, this is completely subjective. There is no set format for a serial, the writer/author can do whatever they want. Start out with a death then reveal the characters, do character dev, start with a innocent game of Marco Polo and see where things go… it’s completely up to the writer of the story. Garden Wars starts with a war. Chronicles starts with a prophesy. GodMaker starts with a funeral and back story. There are no rules.
“You can’t be a pantser and writer serials, Everything has to be planned out.”
Bull hockey. I mean yes, you have to have some idea what is happening and where the story needs to go, but in general pantsers tend to rule the serial world. Garden Wars is pure pantsing. At the beginning, and through the original 12 episodes I had no idea what was going on. I had to figure out the story and plot as I went. It was hard. It was challenging. It was fun!
“You can’t be a plotter and writer serials, Everything has to be spur of the moment!”
Seriously? Make up your mind (I actually heard both arguments from the same person separated by several days). Chronicles is plotted. In fact it’s plotted for 6 ‘seasons’. That doesn’t mean I can change things up. nor does it mean that it will always follow the path I have set for it. What it does mean is that I have certain things I know need/have to happen and in a certain order and in a certain time frame. How I get to those points is open to change.
“A serial is just a chopped-up novel!”
No. Just, no. Well, it can be if you intend it that way, but not every story lends itself to a novel. Some aren’t big enough and some are simply too big. Take Wool for example. It was originally intended as a single story and never meant to be serialized. But it got popular and there were more stories to be told. It’s the perfect format for that. Smallish self-contained stories that belong to a whole (see, told you there were more than two types). Not to mention the Episodic serials. They definitely don’t lend themselves to novel form. In a novel each ‘chapter’ would be a completely different story, a la Sin City. All set in the same world but individual and may or may not cross-over each other and link up.
“If you think of something in the nth episode that changes or makes a character/story/event better you can’t change it. You’re screwed!”
Okay, this is true, and a valid criticism. However, that doesn’t mean I’m screwed. If I come up with a trait for a character that contradicts something they said or did earlier I just need to find a way to slip it in without damaging the story. If it is so big as to change the character, I create a new character (In Chronicles, Captain Remarkable came about this way). If it’s an event or a character mentions or references something that should of happened in a previous episode, the easiest solution is to have it occurred off stage. Not every minute of a characters life is chronicled so you just need to work out how they would have a conversation in which that reference would have came up.
it sounds easy but can be tricky to keep continuity, just ask my editor. I get a nasty email from her just about once a month where I missed something or changed something or said or did something that is in direct conflict with something done/said/shown/told earlier. Frog love her for putting up my me and keeping my stuff on track.
When writing a novel, or even a novella you hide everything away from the world until it’s ready and if you think of something that should’ve happened in Chapter 2 you can go back and change it. With serials, you put a little bit out there every so often. That means that you are constantly getting feedback (good and bad) from readers. If you release a new installment say every Friday, then every Friday, Saturday, and usually Sunday you will get some kind of feedback. And while that sounds great when it’s all positive, having the negative be repeated each and every week takes a toll.
Writing serials, for me, is much easier because that’s the way I think. Blame it on television or whatever but it is what it is. I like small stories that are part of an ongoing arc. I love comics and shows that do this. I hate waiting for the next installment however, just like everyone else.
End the end I’m just a storyteller and I tell those stories in whatever format they want to be told in. Lexington is going to be a video series, Professor Green is a novella and who knows what the next thing will be born as.
Write. Share. Tell stories. And ignore the people that tell you you’re doing wrong.
it’s only wrong if you try to force it to be something it isn’t.