Can serials screw with your head?


Fyodor Dostoevsky


They are screwing with mine.

A few weeks ago, we started running VG Serials.  If you haven’t been following any of them, you should, because they are some of the purest examples of writing I know.

They are fun to read and hell to write.

I’m not saying that they are harder to write than a traditional novel or novella.  The thing about serials is that they have a way of making an author want to go out on a limb.

Caleb Pirtle often says that when I come to a fork in the road while I’m writing, I take it.

But when it comes to serials, I want the road to fork and the fork to fork and the fork’s fork to fork.  And I want to take all of them.  It’s almost like serials expect you to paint yourself in a corner and try to write your way out in every chapter.

Think of an impossible situation, put your character in it, have someone intersect with him who is also in a hopeless morass. Throw in some people who have been watching the game from the sidelines.  Drag them in to play quarterback. Have them play Alabama.  Make your star running back an albino orangutan on meth. How about a one-legged field goal kicker with a crutch under his arm?

You catch my drift.

Serials are novel writing on steroids.

The other day, I was scribbling along when two of my favorite female anti-heroes went to church together to confront  a backslid football star.  I still don’t know the connection between the two of them,  or why they have it out for the jock or why they thought church would be the place to do something like that.

The neat thing about serials is that I can leave them with a gun drawn and a question mark and come back later to figure it out. A few chapters down the road, I may make some sense of it.

Meanwhile, someone kidnapped a prisoner from the hospital. Who? Why?

Cut to the next chapter.

I read a blog by a serial writer the other day who was giving advice about how to approach the genre. I didn’t take any notes, but I remember that she said it was really important to make an outline or you will get so far out on a limb that sane people can’t talk you to safety.

I thought you were supposed to start sawing on that limb.

So, this brings me to the question of the day for the serial readers out there.

When you read serials do you bring different expectations to the process than when you read a completed novel? 

I guess I am starting to understand the serial as one form of long-form fiction, the novel or novella as others.  Even the finalized version of the serial when it becomes a stand alone eBook may differ from the chapters that rolled out one at a time or as bundled episodes.

This may be less true if an author is simply serializing a book that is already written.  But if he is really writing it on the fly for all the world to see, it becomes more like a theatrical performance where an actor may forget the words and ad lib or slip and fall on stage.  Those things are endemic to live gigs.

This thing is really screwing with my head.

Did I just miss a fork in the road?

(Stephen Woodfin is an attorney and author who is trying to stay ahead of the VG Serial, The Lazarus Deception.)


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