A Word on Serial Fiction
by Michael Shean, author of Bone Wires
Since Scheherazade held back Shahriyar’s axe, the art of serial fiction has been one of suspense and anticipation. Through the separation of a larger work into smaller, regular sections, the serial can allow an author to introduce his readers to a smaller story alongside the development of other works – and, if he or she is good at it, can ensure that their tales are never out of the minds of readers. That, as you can imagine, can be a very important thing.
Serialized fiction can be traced back to One Thousand and One Nights, which in itself consisted of a string of serialized novellas. Wrapped up in the frame of Queen Scheherazade’s attempt to stave off death at the hands of her bloodthirsty husband, the collection of tales contains some of the most memorable works of short fiction in history – Sinbad the Sailor and Aladdin being some of the most prominent examples. With the development of movable type in the 1600s, episodic narratives became more and more available; given the expense of books at the time, publishers were very interested in expanding the market while keeping prices down. In the 19th century, popularity exploded during the Victorian Age when growing literacy, advances in technology, and the expansion of distribution pooled together to make serialized fiction a powerful force in getting literature of all kinds in the hands of as many people as could afford it. Henry James, Herman Melville, Gustave Flaubert, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and of course the inestimable Charles Dickens all found great success using the serial model. In modern times, the rise of the Internet and the Web allows everyday people to write serialized fiction and post it on their own websites as they desire; all that’s required is an audience, something which grows easier to secure through every day through social media and the like.
The serial structure can be very challenging. When I wrote my second novel, Bone Wires, it was released as a serial on the website of my publisher, Curiosity Quills. Being a detective story, it was relatively simple to set up through a series of episodes – I eschewed writing a chapter at a time, mostly because my schedule wouldn’t allow it and also because the flow of the work was better without attempting to expand things in a synthetic way. Aside from ensuring that episodes are released on a consistent schedule, this is the major secret behind serialized fiction: ensuring that episodes are relatively short, exciting, and always contribute to the greater whole. There should be no such thing as a ‘filler’ episode; with a serial work, when deadlines are absolutely vital, there is always the temptation to try and pack a story in with material that may be ‘soft’, or does not strictly further the flow of the story or develops the characters. But consider something: most of you reading this have favorite television shows. How do you like it when the flow of the story gets broken by a random filler episode? The same applies with fiction – anything necessary is annoying, breaks the flow of the work, and generally makes your audience unhappy. Nobody likes it when a writer’s work feels lazy.
Putting the tyranny of deadlines and the perils of ‘fatty’ writing aside, however, the serial can be a major boon for an author’s career. Consider: you might be working on a larger or more complex work, but that keeps you out of the proverbial game for four to six months. Your readers might be panting after your next work, but in the absence of an alternative there’s room for someone else in their proverbial heart of hearts. Writing a serial alongside that ensures that readers have something to enjoy – remember that writing has its business side, and ensuring that you’re forefront in the mind of your readers is absolutely necessary for when that next big novel drops. Not only that, serial fiction gives an author the ability to stretch their creative wings, to reach out and try new things and keep their minds fresh while still meditating on their primary work in progress. I’ve found that being able to work on another work to break up the occasional slog is also very effective at staving off writer’s block.
Since the completion of Bone Wires in its serial form, it has been released as a complete novel. I don’t have current plans to start a new one, but that’s not because this wasn’t rewarding; my schedule just doesn’t allow for it. You can be sure that when it does, however, you’ll see another serial tale with my name on it out there for all to see.
Writing a work of serial fiction can be very difficult, but don’t let the potential obstacles keep you from working that magic; as long as you can keep things regular and don’t veer into the land of filler, serials can be among the most rewarding methods of writing for any author, veteran or newly-established. You don’t have to take my word from it, though. One need only to consider the role of those mentioned above to see the power that the serial can bring.
About Bone Wires:
In the wasteland of commercial culture that is future America, police are operated not by government but by private companies.
In Seattle, that role is filled by Civil Protection, and Daniel Gray is a detective in Homicide Solutions. What used to be considered an important – even glamorous – department for public police is very different for the corporate species, and Gray finds himself stuck in a dead end job. That is, until the Spine Thief arrives.
When a serial killer begins harvesting the spinal tissue of corporate employees all over the city, Detective Gray finds himself plunged into the first truly major case of his career. Caught in a dangerous mix of murder, betrayal and conflicting corporate interest, Gray will find himself not only matching wits with a diabolical murderer but grapple with his growing doubt toward his employers in the dawning months of the American tricentennial.
A thrilling mystery set in the same world as the Wonderland Cycle, Bone Wires is a grim trip into the streets of the empty future.