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Point of View: Writing Serial Fiction

River City

About five months ago, I was at Rainbow Con, and attended a session with Alex Woolfson and Adam DeKraker of “The Young Protectors” fame. The Young Guardians, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is an LGBT superheroes comic. Alex and Adam put together a new page once a week and post it for free on Alex’s site:

It’s a great concept – you get to read the whole thing for free, and then you get hooked and want a copy for yourself, which they will happily supply.

It got me thinking. I had just launched my own blog, and needed some compelling content to bring folks to the site. I had the idea for this weekly writer’s column, and was signing up authors for my Sunday Author Spotlight.

What about posting a story serially? I had a couple stories I could use that were already done – “Morgan” and “Re-Life”. And I had another I was considering using. But when I ran out of chapters for the first two and decided to rework the third one for publication, I was out of content.

So I thought about what Alex and Adam were doing. What if I started a brand new piece of fiction, with a new chapter written every week? Following the Tales of the City model, it would be set in my hometown of Sacramento, the same place my DSP novella “Between the Lines”. The two main characters from that story would continue on in the serial one. But I’d also create a new cast of characters, based on people whom I knew, including our Italian friends who want to move to the US.

And I thought it would be fun to also have these chapters translated into Italian to make the story accessible to our friends there and to help me reach a new market. Plus I’ve come to dearly love the Italians and the Italian culture over the course of eight years of studying the language.

So what have I learned since I started this endeavor?

1) Keep Good Notes: With a project like this, you don’t have the luxury of going back and making changes later. Your readers have already read the story. So it’s essential to get things right the first time. I have several spreadsheets about the story, detailing character info, plot lines, chapter summaries and casts, and more, all to allow me to keep track of the story and to quickly find the info I need about past chapters when writing the new one.

2) Keep It Tight…: In order to be sure this story has a satisfying ending (after all, I do want to publish it at some point), it’s important to keep the story moving forward, and to have some identifiable goals. So my characters have secrets, and I am slowly working toward revealing them. I plan to have a satisfying end point for each of the characters before I set out on the next adventure.

3) …But Keep It Loose, Too: It’s also important to allow the story to have room to grow and change as I am writing it. The characters have thrown me a few curve balls along the way, and that’s half the fun of writing any story. It’s especially fun with this one.

4) Plan Your Schedule Ahead Of Time: There are going to be some weeks when you won’t be able to or won’t want to publish a chapter. These may include major holidays, or may be just those weeks when life intervenes. But set up a schedule and stick to it as much as possible. so as not to disappoint your readers. In my case, my translator is gone from December 20th thru January 1st, and with a chapter due on 1/7, that doesn’t leave much time for writing, beta reading and translation. So I wrote the next two chapters early, and they will be done in plenty of time. If you can write ahead a chapter or two, you will give yourself some breathing room.

5) Tell People About It: The best story in the world will do you no good if no one reads it. So get out there and talk about it. Tell your friends and neighbors. Post it on Facebook and Twitter. And promote the hell out of it. I had cards made up that I could hand out, and I take them everywhere and give them out and post them on community bulletin boards. I’m also contacting Sacramento papers for an interview, since this is a local story.

But most of all, have fun with it. As a serial, it can be a bit soapy, and that’s one of the best parts. Get out the soap and lather up your story – your fans will appreciate it!

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