Going Serial, Part II: If You Break It, They Will Come

What do Anna Karenina, The Three Musketeers, and the stories of Sherlock Holmes have in common? They all started as serialized projects, with installments appearing in magazines on a weekly or monthly basis. Many bloggers are taking a cue from these classics, rediscovering the joys of serial fiction — perhaps you should, too?

In part one of Going Serial, we discussed how having regularly scheduled features on your blog can help boost traffic and reader loyalty, as well as give structure to your own writing habits. Now, just in time for Web Serial Writing Month (aka August), let’s take a closer look at how the same concept can apply to a perennially popular niche: fiction writing. (Non-fiction, memoir, history writers: keep reading! Did you know Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood was also first serialized? You’re writing narratives, too!)

Hack away at your writer’s block

The blank page, the empty screen: writers of fiction have dreaded that white chasm for centuries. Serializing your writing can go a long way toward snapping a dry spell. While you can (and should) still think about the big picture — if you have one — serialization forces you to think in small units, too, and to put something out there with regularity.

Whether you write for yourself or want to see your blog turn into a book one day, cultivating writerly discipline and getting ongoing feedback from readers can be crucial for improving your craft. Some WordPress.com fiction bloggers, like EW Brown and her novel-in-progress, Ghost Watchingare serializing long, extended narratives. Others, like 300 Stories, are focused on flash fiction. The length of your final project is secondary to the fact you are actually working on it.

Cliffhangers require cliffs

A serialized narrative has many built-in advantages for a writer in need of a plan. Perhaps the most powerful one, though, is the ability to structure your story in a way that captivates your readers and invites them to come back for the following installment (if it worked for Scheherazade, why not for your blog?).

He swore he’d seen this man before, probably also in his dream last night. But not like this; instead, covered in a pool of his own blood at the other end of the street. Of one thing he was certain -– this man was about to die.

Beyond the Ordinarya serialized story by Mihir Kamat at Master of Disaster

By ending at least some of your posts on a note of tension, suspense, or ambiguity, you’re creating a need: the reader’s need to know what happens next. While some genres —  mystery, science fiction — may be more conducive to cliffhangers than others, thinking about your audience, and what it is that makes them want more of your writing, is important for all keyboard tappers.

Unlike previous eras of fiction writing, with blogging you get the chance to hear instantaneously from your readers as you shape your story. You may choose to accept or ignore their feedback, but it’s a far superior experience to writing in a complete void.

The god of small(er) things is forgiving

If it sounds daunting to plan far ahead for a story you yourself are still figuring out, serial fiction is an extremely versatile, flexible framework. You may decide to focus on one writing project, and publish chapters on a schedule that’s as loose as you see fit. Some blogs, like The Turing Test, have seen a flurry of installments published in quick succession. Other writers approach their projects with a view for the long run, stretching a narrative over months, if not years. What’s best? Whatever works — for you.

Many fiction writers find it useful to stick to a regular pace, like the author behind the aptly-named Any Given Monday, where weekly pieces intermingle with unscheduled installments from a longer writing project. Other hard-working, prolific writers in the WordPress.com community, like those behind Flashes in the Pan, Day In and Day Out, and Techtigger’s Soapbox, are working on multiple pieces at once, publishing chapters as they come (quick tip: it helps if you categorize each project differently, to help readers find all installments of a given story easily).

Unlike writers of yore, who had to worry about expensive paper and dark nights without electricity, as bloggers you can multitask as much as your schedule and your temperament allow.

You contemplate bellowing as loudly as you can. That would surely bring them. Unfortunately, it would likely bring more of them than you can deal with.

You choose a tunnel and start walking.

Help Wanted (23), a flash fiction serial by Genevieve Williams at Flashes in the Pan

Serial authors, unite!

Those romantic, solitary geniuses of centuries past, writing in a moldy attic? They would have probably loved to trade some of the mold for a thriving community of fellow writers. Luckily for you, that community is alive and well for today’s serial fiction writers. From weekly flash fiction challenges on Flash Friday, to the many who take part in Friday Fictioneers, no WordPress.com author need ever feel uninspired or —  the horror — unread.

From webzines focusing on serial fantasy fiction, like Red Penny Papers, to the innovative, collaborative serial fiction marathon inaugurated by The Magill Review, there is always a way to connect with fellow writers, from published authors to first-time, aspiring storytellers. (Don’t forget the Community Pool, here on The Daily Post.) There is even a blog dedicated specifically to the craft of online serial fiction, The Online Novel, where you can read posts full of advice, insight, and inspiration from a roster of experienced practitioners.

Do you write serial fiction? If so, what are your tricks for pacing your plots and engaging your readers? Do you read fiction blogs? What kind of stories make you tick? Your fellow bloggers would love to know!

Other posts you might enjoy:

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  1. this sounds similar to my secondary project on WordPress… the story is being written in installments which are posted as I write them.. although it also appears in it’s entirety to date so those who are just joining in can catch up more fluidly… I’ve attached a link should you want to view it


  2. I’ve often thought about how some of the bloggers I follow are writing serial semi-fiction without realizing it. We create characters, caricatures of our real selves, and present narratives to entertain. Great topic!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the mention. I haven’t wrote any chapters for ghost watching for a while, (Touch of writers block) although this has made me realise I should carry it on. I think I shall get cracking on the next chapter tonight. Very insightful article here, reblogged.


  4. Great article, and I agree wholeheartedly. I have written numerous novels and seen several of them published in hard copy, but when I posted two separate novels in serial form — one chapter a day — on my “Sandra Conner … By the Book” blog, the immediate feedback I got was a super kick! Naturally, any author feels great when she can get money for her hard-copy books, and the eventual response of hard-copy readers is rewarding, but there is something about that instant readability for the reader and instant response for the author when posting chapters online that satisfies as nothing else can. I highly recommend serializing online.


  5. A new idea for me to try! Maybe writing serial would conquer my fear of the daunting task of writing a long work of fiction 🙂 so thank you! x


  6. How timely! I just decided to put my novel, Leona’s Art, online. Does it hurt that I started with Chapter 16? It’s just the best edited chapter, after years of letting the novel rest after 30 days of writing and 3 years of editing. http://wp.me/p3KKTW-A


  7. This is great. I have written three novels – one published on Amazon – but have failed to really grab much attention to them. This article has given me hope, ideas and potential company. I am very new to this site – only joined eight days ago – and feel I need to establish some kind of pattern and following before I start too many new initiatives. But thank you for an inspiring read. Alienora


  8. Why if ’tis dancing you would be,there’s brisker pipes than poetry: Why were hop yards meant, or why was Burton built in Kent? Oh, many a mill of Britain brews brisquer malt than Milton can (shit–again I jumped to the chase; now its gone, only to return in dreams, when I have shaken off this mortal coil {to be cont……………})…….


  9. I’m so glad you guys are continuing to highlight web serials.

    So I do two things in this arena – I help steer a blog for Web novels/online serials/ or “webfiction” here on WordPress.com at http://theonlinenovel.wordpress.com/ . This is kind of a resource blog for aspiring indie serializers. I try hard to include guest input as well as blog about what I’ve learned about serializing online these past few years.

    The second thing I do is write serial fiction or “web fiction” at a wordpress.org site . I’m on my second “volume” or arc at http://talesofthebigbadwolf.com .The first volume “Red Riding Hood” ran about November 2010-February 2013. I started the second volume “Queen of Swans” in May of this year and have been posting weekly since then.

    A lot of serializers who are writing a “novel-like story with a distinct beginning, midpoint, and end” talk about using structure and improvisation together. Meaning we don’t rigidly plan everything in advance but we have some idea of our targets and what are characters are like.

    Do I read fiction blogs? Yeah – I read fiction blogs and digital fiction through other serial alternatives (i.e., Wattpad and Jukepopserials) but given that I wanted full control over my story and have the ability to insert images/add notes, I wanted to keep my story separate and independently hosted

    Aside from Flash Friday there are a few directories out there that try to link/provide reviews for existing web serials. You can also visit Online Novel for that info 🙂


  10. Thank you very much for the mention of Web Serial Writing Month (WeSeWrimo)! There’s actually still time for folks to sign up if they want to take the plunge. Goals are completely flexible and you can customize them to your own needs. So if you’re considering writing a fiction serial, whether it’s a neverending tale or a serialized novel, this is the perfect time to start! Thanks again for the shout-out, Ben.


  11. Interesting timing on this. I’ve been submitting to a serial fiction digest for the last month, and it’s going great. I’m doing a lot better at this than I have with the more conventional long-form stuff. Can’t recommend it enough for people who struggle with novel writing.


  12. I love serial fiction, especially on blogs where you can peruse at your leisure. It also makes it easy to follow and see when the next piece comes out. I don’t think cliff-hangers are essential (though they are helpful) in getting people hooked, I continue reading for characters, storyline etc. But hey, who isn’t one for a good cliff hanger.


  13. My (hands-on) serial posts serve as updates on a particular (on-going) topic, as well as highlights on a particular (monthly) theme.

    My (non-royal) serial posts that are featured on WordPress tags include Bad Apple, Missing in Action, Guinness World Records …


  14. It has been said, that you can’t write anything that you haven’t experienced, so great fictional story crafting is based on alterning the reality you’ve experienced. But it’s important to know, that the end result may be totally different compared to the things you’ve really experienced in your life, so good fiction needs a great amounts of imagination or a very exciting life.


  15. Great blog and you have clearly identified a renaissance in serial writing thanks to the internet, e-books and readers and wonderful resources like WordPress. I have only just uploaded the first chapter of my story to WordPress and plan to put up a new chapter or part thereof every Monday. I dont have to worry about writing x words a day, I have a weekly deadline to make and its making me a disciplined writer.. Writing this way also lets me go back and edit and then easily update my work online. I think this is the clear way forward for aspiring writers like myself. I just cant see the point of creating a typed manuscript in double line spacing that only ever gets sent off to publishers and agents, returned and probably never even looked at and ultimately binned. I wonder how many great books have been sent off to the tip?

    Thanks again and I am sure your post will also have inspired others!


  16. I have just started serializing a story related to my books. It’s not the book itself, but background stories related to it. I also share information about Legends of Lorata by completeing daily writing challenges and keeping the post related to my book.


    1. This is such a stimulating process. It really keeps the juices flowing and is one way to write a book . Now I have finished copy editing I think I will give this a go. My morning task. Thank you.


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  18. As a new writer interested in starting a fiction piece, I greatly appreciated this article. I have always been convinced that my work must already be complete in my mind before I put even a letter on the page. It is becoming more and more clear to me (and with WordPress’s help) that this is not the case and just getting the letter on the page is a great step forward. I have been amazed at the support here at W.


  19. Reblogged this on EW Brown and commented:
    And really insightful post here from DP about writing in installments as such. Full to the brim with advice! I am delighted to have been mentioned in this article and thank the author Ben Huberman. I thought I had reblogged this last night, then realised today that I had shared it, oops, I still have another to learn on wordpress!
    Anyway having been mentioned here its made me want to write more, as I have had a touch of writers block. Great article here, most defiantly worth reading, do check it out.


  20. I’ve travelled the “blog to book” route.
    I failed miserably.
    But the crusade continues! I chip away at the block every day, but the battle is overwhelming me at times.Being apart of the WP community has helped immensely; perhaps someday I’ll reach the peak of my particular mountain.
    We’ll see…