Although it’s not a popular form of writing any longer, I’ve had the opportunity in recent months to write a serial. It has been a fun experience that I hope will continue because I’ve come up with a few more ideas for serials while working on the six-part story called “The Anger of Innocence.”
The serial is a horror story running in The Catoctin Banner Newspaper in Frederick County, Md. I write and edit stories for the paper on a freelance basis. When the paper went through a major redesign earlier this year, I convinced the publisher to try out the serial in the Arts & Entertainment section. I write a few local history columns for newspapers, and I have noticed in my research many of the old newspapers used to run serial fiction. I saw it as a way to entertain readers and give them a more-rounded newspaper-reading experience.
While a serial can run for any number of parts, you should keep a few things in mind when planning to write a serial. Here’s what I learned:
- Make sure your story has enough hooks. While I like to have my story parts end with a cliffhanger, I can’t always do that. However, you still need to keep the reader coming back whether it’s with a cliffhanger, unanswered questions, or a fascinating situation. I tend to use the old movie serials as my inspiration.
- Serials work with all genres. While the serial I’m working on is horror, the other ideas have are a romance, a coming-of-age story, and a historical thriller. Since I write primarily in the history and historical fiction genre, I find it interesting that my serial ideas are from outside of my area of familiarity.
- Find a way to recap each story. You can’t count on everyone reading your serial from the first part so you need to recap just enough to familiarize new readers with the situation, the characters, and what has come before without boring or turning off existing readers. You also need to consider how long the recap will be. Each of the story parts I’m writing for “The Anger of Innocence” is around 1,300 words. If I spend too much time summarizing what has happened, I won’t have time to move the story forward.
- Each story should be complete. Even if I use a cliffhanger ending, the story part still feels complete. A situation happened and concluded. While I will use a cliffhanger to entice a reader back because they want to find out what happens, I don’t want readers to feel unsatisfied with the current part they are finishing.
- Write the entire story before it starts running. Certainly, you can publish your story parts as you go. It definitely makes writing a serial more challenging that way but is it better for the reader? I started publishing “The Anger of Innocence” with two parts left unwritten and the last part not even planned. As I’ve written the last two parts, I have found things that I could change in previous parts before they were published. I have also found a few other things (luckily, nothing major) that were already set in stone because they were published. I’ve had to work around them. I’m all for challenging yourself to write better but only if those improvements make the reading experience better for your readers. Don’t give yourself an unnecessary headache because you find you have written yourself into a corner because you didn’t plan out how your serial would progress.
When this serial finishes, I’ll talk with my publisher to see if she wants me to do another one (I hope so). I will also look into bringing this story into print, most likely as an ebook.
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