Turning a novel into installments isn’t new. One hundred and fifty years ago readers hungered for the next installment of popular writers. I can only imagine them standing in line much the same as current readers wait for the new Harry Potter.
Over a century ago it was a few pages, not seven hundred. But those few pages meant a step deeper into the plot and a move closer to the resolution of a story. Readers formed emotional attachments with each new episode.
Then radio came along and filled up a lot of leisure time at the same time people could afford entire books. Whatever happened to the serial novel?
It has never gone away entirely and it’s worth looking at for today’s writers as a way to entice readers in the same way it did over a hundred years ago.
Stephen King released The Green Mile in six self-contained monthly installments. Andy Weir, the author of The Martian, released a chapter every week on his website and the lucky residents of Edinburgh, Scotland, got to read Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in newspaper installments.
Novels in general try to maintain a “cliff-hanger” effect from chapter to chapter so why not hook readers with chapters released one at a time?
Last week in a Monday evening writer’s group, seven writers sat at a table in a mildly noisy restaurant and prepared to listen to the last installment of one of our regular writer’s short story.
We heard every word of every chapter leading up to that night. Week after week we were there with her characters as they struggled and triumphed. We not only knew each of them intimately, we knew the storyteller. We all felt that we were being given the story as she was writing it.
The whole process felt personal and intensely real.
Presenting a work in installments can grow an audience that is not just any audience. The familiarity that forms between the readers and the work is similar to the one found between the fan groups that form around a highly watched TV series like Game of Thrones or Walking Dead.
There will be conjecture as to the outcome of a plot turn or a character decision. If the chapters are available on a website then readers can comment and interact. What could be better than an engaged audience talking about a writer’s plot and characters?
It’s like the table of our writer’s group with all the eager heads turned toward the author, her head bowed, reading the final installment of her story. It was the scene we had waited for over several long weeks.
It was worth it. Boy was it worth it.
And that’s what any writer can hope for. When you share the beginning of a novel, a few chapters to entice and engage an audience, it can cause a stir, so much so, that there will be no stopping readers from wanting more.
I know any writer in our group would have paid dearly to hear the end of our fellow writer’s story. We all had journeyed with her and felt the twists and turns along the road as though the story included all of us.
There is something personal about a serial story. It is revealed to a reader the way storytellers would tell an ongoing tale to towns people every time they passed through on a journey always adding something because of what they had seen along their way.
Readers feel like they are in on the serial story in some way. It is being told to them and as the last few lines are read it’s like they got to the end together with the writer.
My encouragement to all writers is to think about all possibilities to get the ideas out of their heads and on to paper and most of all to write to the end even if the end comes a little at a time.
It may be one way writers on the way to becoming famous can share their work with all of us in the same way some famous writers have done for centuries – one chapter at a time.
Christina for Penpaperwrite
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