Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
The rise of ebooks and podcasts, and the decline of attention spans and disposable income, have made this the perfect time for you to start writing serialized fiction. By releasing only bite-sized chunks of story, you can give readers just enough to sink their teeth into each week, while still leaving them hungry for more, like your favorite TV show but without the visual element, star power, budget, and major-network distribution.
Never written a serial before? Me neither! But I’ve written a column about how to write one, which you’re reading right now. Let’s go!
What’s all this, then?
What is serial fiction? Like all fictional narratives, a serial is a way to torture and humiliate your protagonist in public. But in serials, you do it on a weekly basis. If that sounds daunting, remember that, as a writer, you are by definition a walking bundle of anxieties and resentments, so have confidence that you can dish out that sort of punishment on the regular.
How do I structure a serial?
Focus on character. Your main character has to be someone you enjoy tormenting. In return for your season-long cycle of animus toward your protagonist, you have to dangle a payoff in front of them. You need to present the central conflict early on in the series/season/cycle/whatever you call it. You can’t start off with two prologues and nine chapters of backstory like you do in your epic fantasy series.
What’s the serial writing process like?
Serials are kinda like an episode of your favorite TV show, so learn to think like a TV writer! We’re in the golden age of television, so we have a lot to learn from those folks. For example, make sure to put a cliffhanger at the end of each episode. Remember to insert act breaks to allow for commercials. Deal with the fact that one of your lead actors got drunk and started a fistfight, and now you’ve got to write him off the show. That’s right, you now have to write backstories not just for your characters, but for the fictional actors portraying those characters. It’s getting all sorts of meta up in here.
To outline or not to outline? Do it however you like, but the beauty of serial fiction is that you only have to write a few thousand words each week. Do you really want to mess with your flow by having some boring blueprint you have to stick to? Just make it up as you go along, and if you get stuck on a particular scene, make that the end of the episode. That’s a problem for Future You to deal with. Honestly, Future You should be thanking you for providing the sort of impossible writing situation that triggers the levels of panic necessary to write something that’s just good enough that you get to repeat the process next week.