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How to Write A Serialized Novel Update #1

So I've only written four episodes of my serial and am on the fifth one, but I feel like I've learned so much from just working on these four along with watching a bunch of TV shows for research on how they're formatted. I'm not going to say I'm an expert on it, but while I was looking up serials and how to write them and the format and all that, I realized there aren't a lot of articles or blog posts on them. There are plenty that speculate when or if they'll have a come back or about their historical roots, but there aren't many that give you the craft and art of writing a serial. Not like how you can Google how to write a novel and there are a million results. So, I thought I would share my limited wisdom and knowledge of serials and just sort of walking through my process of how I came to this idea and how I've been creating a story and crafting episodes.

So first thing's first, I've always wanted to write a serial. I mentioned that in my last post about episodic novels. Ever since I've gotten into TV shows and have devoured so many of them I've lost count, I've been drawn to an episodic, TV show format. How they craft character arcs and individual episodes that snag your attention and make you want to come back for more has always been something I've wanted to try. There are so many plot-lines and character arcs that I admire so much from TV shows and I've wanted to strive to be as good of a writer as the creators of those shows.

Anyways, I got the sudden push to write a serial about two weeks ago. Recently I've been really active on Wattpad. I have Sterling Silver out, new installments out every Saturday and I've been reading a book series on there too. Wattpad has something I've known about for a long time. I signed up like in 2014, but have never taken it seriously. But now I'm really interested in creating a platform on there. Creating books that people will want to read on there. And I guess my interest with Wattpad sort of gave way to the sudden interest in serial. I started googling and found an awesome article by an author who writes serials exclusively. It was seriously so helpful and so informative. I'll leave the links of all the articles I've found most helpful at the end of this blog post, but I'll run through a few of the key points I took from her blog post.

First she said each of her episodes is 8,000 words. So if you write ten 8,000 word episodes then you'll have written 80,000 words and it doesn't feel so daunting. When you finish each episode you feel accomplished. It's almost like finishing an entire novel or a short story and it feels so good. And then you get to go and do it all over again, continuing the story that you started in the last episode. So, since there's no way I could write a 2,000 or 3,000 word episode because I'm way too wordy and love to just go on and on with my stories, I decided 8,000 words seemed like an accomplish-able goal for me. So far it's worked out really well, though I've noticed something really interesting while writing the fourth and now the fifth episode. I'll get back to that in a minute.

The other things that really helped me grasp the concept of a serial or TV show writing is when she talks about threats. If you go back and watch any of your favorite TV shows you'll notice that there's always a series threat, something that the characters are working toward the entire series. Then there's the season threat, usually the Big Bad of that season for those who watch fantasy or supernatural shows. And then there's the episode threat, what the characters are dealing with in the 43 minute episodes. It may seem obvious, but having someone break it down for me like that helped me to wrap my head around the different levels of goals and threats.

So for TVD, I'm not sure if there's so much a threat as a goal, or at least that's how I see it. Most of the characters, whether they know it or not (by the last season this goal really shines through as the main theme) they're working toward finding peace and forgiveness for all that they did. They're working toward being better versions of themselves and many them succeed but of course there are some who do not. The season threats are all different. Season 1 was a bit more hazy, but I would say one of the antagonists was definitely Damon. Season 2 was Katherine and by the middle and end of the season is Klaus. Klaus continues as the main Big Bad or threat of season 3. Season 4 is where vampire hunters become a real problem along with another more mysterious Big Bad. And then there's the episode threats, the things that makes the story and overall threat of the season keep going and evolving. Many of the episodes in season 1, Damon is the big problem that causes a lot of issues for the characters.

That helped me in my mind to really think about plot for my serial and what I wanted my series threat or goal to be, what my first season threat to be and then as I write each episode I figure out my episode threats or goals or what I want to have accomplished in those episodes.

Back to what I was saying before about something surprising me, was that it surprised me how quickly the story goes. Maybe it's because technically these are all like short stories that are continuations of one story and short stories are usually fast paced and get everything they need across in just a few short pages. Episode 1 and 2 I struggled to stay below the 8,000 word limit. Probably because it was the beginning and I love writing the beginnings of stories. That has always been my favorite part and the part that flows the best for me. I always know when a story isn't going to work when I can't even get through the beginning. But by episode three so much happens! Like I realized just how much I can fit in 8,000 words! Seriously it amazed me after going back and looking at what I had just done. 5,000 words in and I was like, I could finish this episode and be satisfied with how I wrote it and how it ended, but I still had like four thousand more words left! All of a suddenly four thousand words felt like so much to play with. It felt like a huge span of words that I could do anything with. I never realized how much can happen or change in a story in just 8,000 words until writing episode 3 and 4 of my serial. Maybe the plot is going by a little too quickly, but isn't that the point? Serials are supposed to be fast paced but also balanced enough to keep a reader's attention and keep them wanting more.

 I was thinking a lot about that yesterday and so I rewatched a few episodes of the beginning of TVD and realized that maybe I'm not doing this wrong after all. By episode 6 of TVD Elena knows about Stefan being a vampire. Already someone is turned into a vampire, Bonnie realizes she has magic and is a witch. There's so much that has happened in just six episodes! And in Teen Wolf? The story is even more fast paced than that. By episode 6 of season 1 a lot has happened too. You can't be too slow with a ten episode story. I've realized after watching and loving Iron Fist and Cloak and Dagger that I don't mind slow paced shows that allow their characters and stories to slowly unravel. On a different note though, I also realized from reading the many comments and reviews, especially for Iron Fist, that there are many people who don't see it the same way. They want to be entertained nonstop from start to finish of a show. They want constant action, constant drama and constant dialogue. I'm the same way when it comes to reading. I want constant drama and dialogue and if a story in a book is too slow I won't stick around, so don't be afraid to take a risk with your serials. If you're good at writing slowly unraveling stories, do it, but be aware that there is a smaller audience for slower stories. But also don't be afraid to let your story go the pace it wants to. If things happen quickly, let it. It allows for so much more to happen in one season. I often couldn't figure out how so much could change in one season until I started writing this serial.

I mean seriously, I'm on episode 5 and I'm already to the point that I thought would take me the entire series to get to! And yet here I am. It's exciting, but also kind of daunting in the fact that once I finish this episode, I'll have to figure out what to do next. I hadn't expected to be at this point in the story and hadn't planned beyond this point so I'm really interested in seeing what happens next. Writing this serial has also put me back in touch with the thrill of just writing. Not having a plan or a plot for my story, but just diving head first into the story and letting my characters guide me.

Speaking of characters, have a big cast of them. They have to be the kind of characters that can hold their own. I already had quite a big cast that I knew so much about, but I realized writing the beginning of episode 5 that you really do need a big cast and a cast that can hold their own subplots and drama. They all have to be protagonist-worthy. If you can't use one of your main characters as a protagonist, then you probably need to get to know them more. Since you have an entire 8,000 words to play with, make sure you have enough subplots and drama or action to keep your readers entertained. Already, I'm realizing that I might need to have some more subplots in action because I'm struggling with how I am even supposed to fill the fifth episode. Again, I went to some of my favorite TV shows and analysed the characters. In TVD right off the bat in the first episode you're introduced to the core characters: Elena, the protagonist, Stefan and Damon (who become like protagonists), Bonnie, Caroline, Jeremy, Tyler, Alaric (who's introduced a few episodes later). But then as the seasons go on you're introduced to the entire Original family, Katherine Pierce, amongst other side characters that have subplots for a few episodes or even half the season. The antagonists for all the seasons also make up a big subplot for each season. You get to see flashbacks of them, their backstory, what makes them tick. Most of them you even emphasize with. And then there's of course the flashbacks and backstories like I said. Since most of the characters in the show are vampires, you also get subplots from years and years ago in a lot of episodes. The reason why I used TVD (not only because it is my all time favorite TV show) but also because by the last two seasons Elena, the main character leaves the show. The fact that her supporting cast can rise to the occasion and become the main characters of the show and really hold up the show for a two whole seasons that are just as good (if not better) than the first six, is pretty amazing. That's why I went to them to see what makes characters so good. The fact that they can hold a show for an entire two seasons without the protagonist they've been building on for six seasons is amazing.

So, that's what I've learned so far from just having written four episodes:

  • 8,000 word episodes 
  • A series threat/goal 
  • Season threat (Big Bad) 
  • Episode threat/goal 
  • Be as slow or fast paced as you want. Let your story lead you 
  • Make sure to study some of your favorite TV shows. The writers of those shows have spent years writing in episodic format and they know what they're doing. You'll learn a lot from watching some of those shows and picking them apart. 
  • Have a big cast of characters. Make sure they're protagonist worthy and can hold their own. 
I hope this blog post has been interesting and helpful. Since there aren't a lot of blog posts and articles on serials and because I feel like there's so many different ways to write them and make them work (much like a TV show) I think it's important to have lots of different points of view. Lots of different opinions on how to do it. You don't have to do anything I just said. The way I write this may not be the way you write your stories or the way you're writing works and that's perfectly fine. That's why I'm going to link a bunch of other blog posts about serials down below, so you can have lots of different opinions. 

And that's all I got. I hope this blog posts and articles are as helpful to you as they were to me! Have a great week everyone!

(Speaking of serials and Wattpad here's the link to Sterling Silver (chapters 1-20 are on there!) 


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