I keep hearing people say that serials are an ideal form for the modern reader. Their thinking seems to be based on the idea that reading on phones, tablets and e-readers encourages two things:
- The need for quicker resolutions in stories;
- the continuity and shorthand of revisiting familiar characters.
I think content providers (Amazon, Apple, etc) are also keen to provide a serial with the kudos of their TV equivalents – The West Wing and Mad Men, for instance. It would be a further shot in the arm for proponents of digital reading. Indeed, Amazon already has its Kindle Serials offering.
Of course, it’s not a new idea. Charles Dickens was publishing serials before any of us were born. And it's no surprise that the idea has come round again. Most art does tend to reinvent itself periodically by revisiting its past.
So far, it's going very well. I’m really enjoying the challenge of devising my serial.
I nearly wrote a serial once before. I was working with a company taking existing TV series and turning them into short fiction. It was a good idea, but their business model depended on their site becoming bigger than Amazon (you can see the problem there). Anyway, they went bust and I put the idea to one side.
When I thought about the idea again, two things held me back.
One was deciding on the right length for each episode. Too short and it won’t be a satisfying experience. Too long and it becomes a novella in its own right. In my head, I’ve settled that argument. I think around 8,000-10,000 words (approximately 32-40 pages) feels right – the literary equivalent of a TV hour.
The other conundrum was developing storylines that not only moved the serial element forward but ensured that each episode had its own narrative shape – the story within the story, if you like. And it’s what I’m currently working on. I won't be happy till both elements are working in sympathy.
What do you think of serials in this day and age? Have you read any and what did you think?