Discussion → Serialized Fiction

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    Ben White
    Dec 03, 03:29pm

    Electric Literature just <a href="http://twitter.com/electriclit">serialized a Rick Moody story on Twitter</a> over three days and 150ish tweets. Shya Scanlon is almost done serializing his novel <a href="http://shyascanlon.com/forecast/">Forecast</a> all over the place. "Blog fiction" exists, despite the unpleasant way it slithers off the tongue. And on a small scale, even little Nanoism is dedicating December to stories that ask to be read, not in one sitting—but in five.

    Do serials work? Do you read them? If you have, do you keep up with them or wait until the end? What are we doing and why are we doing it? What, if anything, makes a serial successful?

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    Olivia Tejeda
    Dec 03, 04:53pm

    I think serials do work, but I have a terribly short attention span, so it has to be fairly short. I think a series of five is as long as I could sustain interest. The bigger issue, as always, is the writing. If it's wonderful I'll stick with it, but again, only for so long.

    I tend to read from the beginning and keep up with them as they go along.

    As for the other questions, I don't have any idea.

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    Susan Gibb
    Dec 03, 05:50pm

    I recently took part in a 24-hour twitter story serialization where you posted a tweet an hour and it was loads of fun to write and read what others were writing.

    For me, the main reason it worked well was because it was 1) a full story in a short period of time (though I could see a week or at most, a month on the outside as a goal for completion) and 2) I was able (as was the administrator) to separate out the tweets from the regular stream.

    The internet opens up all sorts of possibilities and it moves into all audiences that have been freed up to read via iPhones, netbooks, and laptops.

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    Edward Mullany
    Dec 03, 09:49pm

    A story that begins and ends in the duration of a single tweet (or perhaps even a set number of tweets - say, five, as has been mentioned) interests me more than a serialization that doesn't prescribe for itself any other limitations. In other words, it's not so much the serialization that interests me, but the serialization combined with other formal impositions.

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    Ben White
    Dec 03, 10:21pm

    And what of the more traditional serials like <em>Forecast</em>? For example, <a href="http://failbetter.com">Fail Better</a> is currently running a contest for a novella that will be serialized in 2010.

    What is the impetus to serialize a story? After all, we don't have the tangible, real-word constraints that necessitated the serialization of many early 20th-century stories in the first place.

    Do readers really digest serials bit by bit as they're fed, or do they wait until the end to feast?

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    Edward Mullany
    Dec 03, 11:48pm

    That serialized fiction originally arose from necessity, as Ben mentions, suggests, I think, that serialization now, where there is no necessity (and where there is no additional formal innovation) risks being gratuitous.  However, there may be aspects of it I have failed to consider.  For instance, we might conceive of the recent tendency to serialize fiction online as a publishing development (in the sense that it can be good exposure for the story, allowing it to reach many more readers than it ordinarily would) as opposed to a literary or aesthetic development.  In other words, serialization may more properly be a concern of publishers and editors than of writers and artists.      

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    Robert Swartwood
    Dec 04, 12:28am

    I think serializations are almost always more successful when the work is by an established writer than somebody not so established. Like when King did The Green Mile -- eventually all six of those mini-books were on the New York Times bestseller list. Of course, we're talking about online here, and personally, I'd rather wait until the entire thing is done to read it all at once. Like with the online journal Five Chapters, yeah it's a neat concept, but if I want to read a story there I'll wait until the week is up and then read the entire thing than bit by bit. Of course, if it's a print magazine, and the story is a novella being broken up into three pieces ... yeah, I might give that a shot. But again, it depends on the author. And the story. And if I have the time to remember to keep coming back.

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    David Erlewine
    Dec 04, 06:31am

    Like Olivia, I think serials can/do work ... but my attention span is bad. Also, I don't check Twitter every night so I think it would be tough for me to keep up with certain pieces.

    In theory, I like the idea of serialization but I'm also a bit wary of people like me who don't stay on top of things as they unfold.

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    Edward Mullany
    Dec 04, 10:06am

    A link to an article about a writer serializing his detective novel by mail - that is, by sending it to individual readers via the U.S. Postal Service:


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    Susan Gibb
    Dec 04, 10:59am

    Wow, I really like this, Ed; the hand-addressed envelopes, the brief missives delivered via mail. There will always be the excitement of the daily walk to the mailbox and he's taking advantage of that traditional physicality.

    The only downside I see is 1) the cost and 2) the limited audience. Which of course are the two best selling features of publishing online.

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    Roxane Gay
    Dec 04, 12:24pm

    I don't think serialization works, particularly when it involves more than say a dozen installments. PANK hosted Scanlon's Forecast and we were happy to do it but I would love for more than a handful of people to come forward and say that they've read all 40 extant installments. I am highly skeptical that those people exist and it has nothing to do with the writing, which is excellent. It's just too much to sustain. Serials used to work when we didn't have the glut of consumption options available to us. It's too easy to get distracted. I also am a fan of instant gratification. I don't want to wait to see what happens next. I watch General Hospital and often times, I wait until Friday to watch all 5 of a given week's episodes because the serial nature of the soap opera makes me tense. Still, if you want to talk about serials, look to soap operas--they've been around forever and ever and they have scads of devoted fans so ultimately, I suppose people will follow a serial but that serial has to include a mob war, multiple marriages, scandals, betrayals, controversy and passionate TV sex.

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    Tim Jones-Yelvington
    Dec 04, 12:39pm

    My suspicion is it works better for plot-driven fiction than literary stuff. Even Dickens's serialized novels were pretty soapy, yeah?

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    Samuel Brase
    Dec 04, 09:29pm

    I want to address this issue, but I will do so when I am not drunk.

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    Samuel Brase
    Dec 05, 07:36pm

    Roxane, it is interesting to look to soaps as a measure of potential with serial stories. As I start my own twitter-CYOA (@Moonchew), I also found it useful to think about comic books. They are the teenage boy version of a soap opera, and their episodic story arcs plus serial nature serve as valuable inspiration.

    The mailed-out serial is an amazing idea. I would be really curious to know what his readership is looking like. It would function entirely like a comic book, as far as I can tell. You read it when you have the time, so unlike twitter fiction and blogs, it's easier to keep up.

    As for whether serialization is necessary or not; I don't know if we're the best judges. It is not a technological necessity, but it is a technological consideration. Providing fiction that is easily accessible on smartphones, you tap the casual reader audience. Like Roxane's soap opera comparison, serial e-fiction needs to be a brief spurt of literature that titillates the reader into coming back.

    So; it is not a necessity, but it is a ploy. I for one am interested in seeing if it can increase the visibility of writers.

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    Samuel Brase
    Dec 05, 08:29pm

    for a hat trick of posts--

    there's also something pleasantly social about storytelling online. it allows for the writer to adjust based on audience, to interact with the audience. a novel is wonderful as a finished piece of writing, but this is a different aesthetic.

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    Edward Mullany
    Dec 05, 10:29pm

    This is a good point - that serialization "is not a technological necessity, but it is a technological consideration," which I interpret to mean a thing that can affect both the creation and distribution of fiction.

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    Ben White
    Dec 07, 09:02pm

    The creation aspect is well taken.

    Chopping up something bigger in bits to serialize is very different than writing something in bits and posting them as they come. I wonder if I would even call that serializing at all, now that I think about it. It's certainly not what I had in mind (though I suppose that's what the vast majority of blog fiction probably looks like).

    Also, there is something to be said for serializing as a sort of "free sample" approach. I know <a href="http://1889.ca">MCM</a> has had success by serializing his novellas/novels for free but also offering the option to pay ($5, I think?) to unlock the rest of the story. The idea being that you will read his work and not be able to wait until the next installment. And, that you might want to support the work of this unaffiliated lone wolf. After the serialization is over, the work is still available for free and becomes "donationware." I think this kind of distribution can work, but I'm sure it fails more often than it succeeds for various reasons.

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