Monday, March 12, 2012

Four Tips For Writing Serial Fiction

There other day, a fellow writer told me he'd been working on a web serial and asked if I had any advice for him. I sent him a few general thoughts on the matter.

But that reminded me of a piece I'd written for Ezine Articles a while back so I'm gonna pause Doctor Jericho's ravings for a moment and post the meat of that article today.

So...here are my four keys to writing solid serial fiction.
  • Finish the story first
  • Write to a cliffhanger
  • Keep 'em short
  • Move it, move it, move it
FINISH THE STORY FIRST
This is important.

Having a completed story means you've already dealt with all the various plot and story elements that arise during writing. You know the hero's motivation and goal. You know what the villain is going to do. You know who killed the rich industrialist. You've worked out the various tangles and red herrings. And you've got the ending.

This also means that you aren't going to be revising your story as you release the installments. Not something you want to do and I strongly advise against it.

Have a fully written story first.

That takes care of the overall aspect of your serial.

Now, let's look at the pieces that make up the finished story.

WRITE TO A CLIFFHANGER
You want your readers coming back. Period.

The best way is to write to a cliffhanger.

Now, that doesn't imply that your characters are always going to be in harm's way at the end of each installment (although that is the time-honored way). It could also be as simple as a plot twist. For example, the boon companion turns out to be the traitor. The promising clue turns out to be a dead end.

You get the picture.

KEEP 'EM SHORT
This is a personal rule of thumb, but I find it extremely effective. Most blogging experts advise keeping your blog posts around 500 words. For a serial, I advise at least 800 words on the short end and no longer than 1200 words. 800 words is plenty of time and space for a scene.

Additionally, you don't want to assault the reader with a huge block of text, especially on their monitor. That looks daunting and will likely make your potential reader click away.

Instead, go short.

Your readers will thank you.

Which brings us to our last key...

MOVE IT, MOVE IT, MOVE IT
Your story needs to move. Remember: it's a story. Not a travelogue. Not an architectural review. Not a lecture.

Story. Always a story.

If you're thinking of spending 2000 words describing your main character's ornate gown or on the sociopolitical history of the elven kingdom she's visiting, don't do it. Stop. Right now. You will lose your reader.

This is an excellent tip on handling exposition and info-dumps in general but it is vitally important in serial fiction. You don't want to lose your reader. You want to keep them reading.

As a corollary to this, keep navel gazing to a minimum. Use it only to reveal character or some facet of a character or situation. Even then, keep it short and sweet.

And keep your story moving forward.

* * *

There you go, Gang. My tips for writing serial fiction.

One thing I didn't cover in the original article was the platform for the serial story. It's up to you whether you use Blogger, Wordpress, Drupal, or hand-code the site in HTML/CSS. I won't get into the technical stuff of any of those platforms.

Totally your choice.

But the basic tips I outlined above still stand.

Any questions? Post a comment and let me know.

Jericho will be back next week.

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