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On Serial Fiction: How to Write a Serial Novel

By now you know what serial fiction is, and if you’re anything like the commenters we heard from Thursday, you’re anxious to write some (or already enjoying it). As I demonstrated yesterday, I’ve got some advice from personal experience on how to get the most out of it.

I’ve already introduced you to the Creative Copy Challenge, and even mentioned the serial novel I’m writing over there, The Girl Who Stayed the Same.

Last week the “serial” bit tripped me up pretty badly. I wanted to put my main character on a train to Chicago to land a lucrative ad deal, so in that Monday’s post I had a friend stop by and invite her to Chicago. Then on Thursday I wrote the scene where he explained why they were going, and I remembered I’d already said something about the ad agency.

So I flipped back in my draft to double-check it, see if maybe it had a name, and discovered to my chagrin that the ad agency was in New York. The art gallery was in Chicago.

Since I’ve been posting each scene as I write it, I can’t just go back and change that minor detail. I’ve got a dozen readers who would be really confused (or at least disappointed) at my changing the world around willy-nilly.

I can handle that, though. Remember Thursday’s story? Remember what I said about flexibility? It messed me up in Sleeping Kings, as I told you yesterday, but I learned from that.

Sure, my story has changed. Instead of following my carefully-written plot outline and repeating the client meeting I’ve had scripted for a month, I’ve spent this whole week riffing — and discovering a whole new (and, as it turns out, quite exciting) direction for Kelly’s budding career.

Constant Motion

I’ve talked a lot this week about the lessons you can learn from serial publication’s hardships, but the biggest benefit is much more direct, and more concrete. The way I’m writing this book generates constant motion.

That motion takes several forms. One is regular progress. We should all be striving for daily writing, but none of us can really keep that up. (Right? Please tell me it’s not just me!) With the CCC, though, I’ve got a twice-weekly commitment and regular readers waiting to know what happens next. That’s a powerful motivational force.

When you’re in the midst of a long novel with no deadline, it can be hard to find motivation to work on it on any given day. It’s just too big. This way, I do have a deadline (two a week).

And I’ve got discrete chunks, too. Instead of a To Do list item of

Make progress on the novel this month.


Write 1,000 words for CCC today.

That just feels a lot more manageable.

It also helps you keep the editing beast at bay. You’re not “working on your book” (with the constant temptation to fix everything that’s broken), you’re just writing this scene.

That makes it a lot easier to spend your time where you’re supposed to be spending it — telling the story. Rewrites and revision can wait until it’s done.

Constant Feedback

Serial publication also keeps you in direct, regular contact with your readers. Traditional publishing can create a vast gulf there, between a writer building a story in isolation, polishing a draft through several revisions (and over several months) before shopping it for who knows how long, and then after it’s accepted there’s typesetting and printing and distribution all on the publisher’s schedule.

With all that to consider, by the time a story reaches readers (and starts generating feedback) it might be years since the writer last engaged with the story in any kind of creative way (which severely limits how useful any feedback can be).

That’s one of the reasons you need to get some good test readers who’ll be willing to comment on your drafts. Another solution, though, is to incubate the story in rich feedback from the very first scene.

For one thing, you’ll get a lot more feedback, because it’s easier to find something to say about a three-page scene than to find a hundred things to say about a big honkin’ book. But what’s really surprised me this time (and what I’m loving best about the CCC) is finding people anxious to read every new scene.

Knowing that’s happening leaves me looking forward to my next entry, and it compels me to make every single scene worth that level of reader attention. In a way none of my other books do (even books with much more exciting plots), every single page pops.

The lovely Kelley, writing at a coffee shopBlog a Book (Creative Writing Exercise)

Does that sound like something you’d like to see in your own writing? What about the promise of constant feedback? Would you like some lightly structured writing time (without the frenetic insanity of NaNoWriMo)? Or what about just trying something new?

If any of that appeals to you, I’d recommend you give it a try. The best artists never stop experimenting, and even if serial publication doesn’t turn out to be “your thing,” I guarantee you’ll grow from the experience.

It’s easy to do, too. You can join us at the CCC on Monday (or go back to last Thursday’s if you’re ready to start now). You can add a regular series to your existing blog, like Justin does with his Fiction Saturday. Or you can start a new blog just for this project (that’s what I did with Sleeping Kings).

Whichever route you go, you’ll find lots of encouragement among our commenters here. Let us know where to find your story, because we’d all love to see it. And if you run into any problems, if you have any questions…we’ve got lots of old pros hanging around, too. Just ask, and we’ll do our best to guide you through the process.

Chances are, you’ll love it.

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

13 Responses to “On Serial Fiction: How to Write a Serial Novel”

  1. Hey thanks for the mention Aaron. I started the Fiction Saturday thing fairly early in my blog because I had some already written stories that I wanted to put out there and the first one I posted only had minimal exposure. I put it up again on Saturday and started promoting it like the old rocky and bullwinkle cartoon serials. I think it works pretty good. The story I am on now is being written as it goes though. Who know how long that will last but it is like you said, there is a deadline for a new scene every week.
    I also like the CCC that you got me into, I really like your novel and how it develops every monday and thursday. I also like that deadline feeling on there, I like to top 800 words for each challenge. It is nice to only have a scene deadline and not a novel deadline like you said. that is very freeing and not so daunting, plus it gives me at least 1600 new words in a novel each week.
    Keep up the good stuff Aaron!

  2. That’s a really nifty way to use CCC. I’d love to give it a go. Quick question though: I have two posts done with the third sort of simmering gently (yes, I want to do this as a commitment to actually write it because I am the Queen of Procrastination) and whilst they’re far from perfect, they are at least a start.

    Would it be terrible to just jump into CCC and use the words for Part 3 and continue forward from there?

    Or should I start over and just use what I have already as inspiration if I need it?

    • Actually, I’ve decided. I’m going to start over. Why would anyone want to read a story at page 3. That’s just a stupid idea right?!

      Thanks for the challenge, I accept 🙂

      • Aaron Pogue says:

        Sorry I didn’t answer you sooner, but I love your attitude!

        The correct answer, of course, is that there are no rules. You do it however you want. If starting over feels like a big setback to you, it’s not worth doing.

        On the other hand, starting at the beginning will make it a lot easier to pick up some of those readers I’ve been recommending (just like you said).

        If you really want the best of both worlds (and if you’ve got the time), I’d say go back to #47 (last Monday’s), paste in your first page, and then find ways to work in those challenge words.

        Then you can do page 2 as #48 (last Thursday’s), and be all ready for page 3 tomorrow. All the regular posters subscribe to follow-up comments, so they’ll get emails on page 1 and 2 as soon as you put them up.

        (That might be too much extra work, though. I do tend to go overboard like that.)

        • I love it! This is pretty much what I had thought about doing. I want to start with last Thursday’s since the inclusion of the word ‘Dawn’ has given me both the name for one of my important characters and a name for the whole thing.

          Will make a start on it today. Thank you for the encouragement 🙂

      • If you do a series on the CCC, don’t forget to email Shane and let him know. He will make you a page with all the episodes, updated regularly, off of the CCC Contacts page. That’s also nice because you can directly link friends and family who may not frequent the CCC.

  3. […] An added twist to this tale is that I’m writing it as part of a challenge thrown down by Aaron Pogue from Unstressed Syllables. You should check out his site but in case you’re in a rush, the short version is to use the bi-weekly words on the Creative […]

  4. Hi again Aaron,
    I just wanted to thank you again for putting me onto the Creative Copy Challenge folk. What an awesome place! I think I’ve found my second home 😉 That Shane is a real sweetie 🙂

    Thanks again,

  5. […] thanks to Dr Egg and Dave Doolin for your encouragement with this. Aaron Pogue’s inspired idea of doing this via The Creative Copy Challenge deserves some more link love too because it’s a […]

  6. Courtney Cantrell says:

    “…Or you can start a new blog just for this project…”

    YES. I KNOW. Will you stop with the tantalizing already?! Good grief. ;o)