Some Thoughts on Writing Web Serials

Serialized fiction has a long, and, if we’re completely honest, a romantic history that attracts a lot of newbie writers to the writing format. However, what most writers forget is that serialized fiction doesn’t always translate well into other writing formats: such as the novella, the novel, or even the short story sequence. In fact, serialization lends itself to serialization. Don’t believe me? Fine. For those willing to take a chance on this assertion, keep on reading below.

Serialization is a unique creature. When reading Victorian novels, and even pre-Victorian novels, we can understand the importance serialization had on the form and the content. However, it begs the question: Does serialization translate into proper books like novels? Probably not. Here’s the reason why. Serialization is about hooking the readers with each new installment. It’s about getting readers to want to turn the page and it’s about them wanting the next installment. It’s sort of like watching a weekly or monthly television show. Novels don’t necessarily need to hook the readers at the beginning of each chapter — although they probably should. Moreover, novels don’t necessarily need cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, in order to build tension within the readers — again, they probably should, but this isn’t always necessary. All in all, serials rely on gauging the audience actively, and they rely on the author to make sound decisions when it comes to plotting. In other words, the serial writer must have his/her finger on the pulse of the readership. Although good novelists should do the same, there isn’t nearly as much active pulse-taking as you’d expect with serials.

One of the problems I’ve found with serials is that people try to make them novels — extremely long novels, but novels nonetheless. This is a huge mistake. Novels are, granted, great writing formats. However, the dominance of the novel has made people forget that the serial is more in line with our binge-watching and time-strapped culture. Gone are the days when people can devote hours to reading, although millenniums like myself appear to be reading more and more these days. Serials engage with the programming that television and binge-watching have already created. Why resist it? Instead of resisting the serialization culture, why not embrace it fully and truly? In other words, serial writers have an opportunity to snag readers, and, more importantly, build their author brands.

Writing a serial is tough work, but so is writing a novel. The tools we use to write novels could be adapted to write serials. Moreover, we could use new tools as well, such as cross-platform, cloud-based solutions, to make sure we aren’t losing any time when we’re away from the keyboard. The world of social media and Web 2.0 make it possible for authors of serials to share their work and get noticed, although it’s no cakewalk. Although serials are tough work, much like any writing endeavor, they can be seen as a way for new writers to hone their craft and build their readers, albeit slowly.

Serialization needs to move beyond the novel. It needs to be embraced as a unique and self-contained writing format of its own. In other words, serialization needs to embrace itself as a form of writing expression. The novel has an established history, so does the serial. Today, the serial is more relevant than it has ever been. Unfortunately, we are making the mistake that serials should be turned into novels, or they should be novels in a broken-up form. This is a huge mistake, as it ignores the potential for this writing format.

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Gregory M. Rapp

Gregory M. Rapp

A writer of fiction and nonfiction, a blogger, an avid reader and writer, and gamer.
New Mexico