What is a serial fiction?
Although fairly rare today, serial fiction is the oldest form of published fiction. In fact, much of what we think of a “literature” was originally created in serial form. For example:
- The Arabian nights One thousand and One nights was published as a multi-episodic serial.
- many of Charles Dickens work were published – one chapter at a time – as magazine serials. Dickens is the only author who never edited his serials when they became books.
- Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was written in serial form.
- Thomas Hardy‘s novels (The Well-Beloved, Mayor of Casterbridge, The Return of the Native) were originally published in serial form in magazines or newspapers.
- Sweeney Todd was originally published in eighteen parts as a serial fiction in a penny dreadful.
As the working class learned to read in the 1830s, they read serial fiction. Mysteries were popular. Vampires were more popular than they are today. Romantic realism held the hearts and minds of England and the Americas through Dickens works.
Serial fiction was converted to the movies in the 1930s and 1940s. Radio was a kind of hey day serial fiction as people sat around their radios to listen to the next weeks chapter of their favorite program. Television programs, particularly mini-series, became a kind of serial fiction with long running series such as the X-files moving the plot forward one episode at a time.
I was introduced to serial fiction through the San Francisco Chronicle and Tales of the City. Armistead Maupin had a delicious way of incorporating real places, real events with his beloved fictional characters. The stories shifted through people’s lives in a realism that was refreshing. As a serial, Maupin was able to address AIDS, homosexuality, and San Francisco politics as it was really happening. Armistead Maupin wrote tales of the city from 1976 until the mid-1980s.
Why is serial fiction different?
Serial fiction is written and published one chapter at a time. This gives a serial fiction immediacy, rawness and realism that’s not available in a story told as a whole, such as a book.
Books, on the other hand, are written, plotted and diagrammed as a whole. On the most basic level, mistakes or decisions made in one chapter can easily be fixed before publication of the book.
Many novels and short stories have been serialized. This is called “serialized fiction.” However, few authors have actually written serials. Dickens was the master. Maupin wrote this way. Stephen King tried his hand at a true serial with the Green Mile. The Green Mile was published, and written, as six small segments. They were eventually published into one novel.
Is Denver Cereal a novel published as a serial?
No. Denver Cereal is a serial fiction. I create chapters and submit for editing on Mondays. They are returned to me on Friday. My editors worked on my books as a whole 100,000+ words at a time. With Denver Cereal, my editor reads the serial one chapter at a time.
I have written other books and could serialize these books. However, the joy of a true serial calls to me. I’m enjoying the immediacy and interaction of real people in my fictional world.
I have some idea what’s going to happen next, but I don’t have anything plotted out. What happens to these characters is surprising to me as well. The characters are guiding the way here. I am simply creating a play ground for them to play.
Once again, thanks for reading.
(edited November, 2009)
Articles about Serial fiction:
- Should serial novels continue? Guardian, UK
- Use of real people in penny dreadful serial fiction (with links)
- Serial fiction returns to the Detroit News.
- Writing serial fiction by Ookami Kasumi
- Why I write serial fiction (and why you should too)
- Writing serial fiction by Sandra Fowke
- Serial Goodness by Matthew Battles
- “I would guess that within the next decade people will be buying serial fiction for their phones and e-readers,” he replied. “Whether I’m writing any of [that fiction] remains to be seen. I would enjoy another chance to write serial fiction.” Fascinating interview with Tad Williams, author of one of the Internet’s first serial fictions (started 2001), Shadowmarch.
- “In a typical series of stories, 70% of the material is “case work” – or material that is there as part of the current story only. It isn’t used or referred to again in the series. The other 30% is “soap opera” material, or material that shows the growth of the main character(s) over the series and provides a “pay off” for series readers who stick with it.” Michael A Stackpole in Mike Salsbury’s Cliff notes on Stackpole’s writing seminar.
- Serialized Novel delivered in an App
- Serial fiction in Tanzania – Serial Fiction remains popular in many newspapers on the continent eg in Tanzania Swahili tabloids such asUwazi (Transparency), Ijumaa (Friday), Ijumaa Wikienda (Friday Weekender), Risasi (Bullet), Amani (Peace) andChampioni (Champion), have one page out of twelve dedicated to serial fiction. Next in Nigeria also recently began to regularly feature fiction on its pages.
- Writing Serial Fiction – tips on how to get it right in Fuel my Writing.
- My series at Tuesday Serial on writing serial fiction: 5 tips for writing kick-ass serial fiction and Why your serial fiction is likely to fail
- Experimenting with Serial Fiction for fun and profit: A great review of the complex field of serial fiction in 2011
- Fabulous review of the early history of serial fiction by Jeff D of the Grandview Branch of the MidContinent Library (MO)
- Charles Dickens and serial fiction – Fabulous article by Joel D Brattin at PBS