I have written and posted two fiction serials for this blog—The Spring and the River and Flickering Lights. The Spring in the River is a type of allegorical fantasy while Flickering Lights falls somewhere on the science fiction side. Now, they both had their strengths and weaknesses (yes, The Spring and the River had quite a few more weaknesses, but I still love it), but I learned a lot about writing in general and serials specifically.
This post is based on what I learned through lots of trial and error. So here’s how to write a serial story yourself. (I will be using my own two serials as examples throughout; The Spring and the River will be referred to as SR and Flickering Lights will be FL.)
Part One – Why you should write a serial
“But why?” you ask with an eyeroll and a yawn. “Why would I even want to write a blog series? What purpose does it serve?”
The main reason is because it gives your followers a taste of what your fiction is like. One thing that I’ve noticed is that authors and creative writers who blog very rarely post anything fictional. That’s kind of frustrating for me as a lover of story. I don’t believe that a blog should be devoid of story. If it is, your followers have no idea what to expect when it comes to your fiction. You might post about how you’re working on your book, but your followers don’t even really know if they should be excited about this book or not because they don’t know what your fiction writing is like.
Also, it’s a whole load of fun.
Part Two – The Idea.
This is, perhaps, the trickiest part of writing a serial. You have to come up with or pick out a story idea that suites a series model. It can be an idea you’ve had for a while, or it can be one that randomly pops into your brain. It can be in the storyworld of one of your novels, or it can be in a brand new world. It can be a fanfiction if you want.
Here’s how it worked for me: way back in 2014, my pastor said that you can be dipping your toes in sin one second and be drowning in it the next. The Spring and the River was born.
“But how do I know if my idea is should be a novel or a serial?” you ask. That is completely up to you, how you feel about the idea. Serials tend to be more episodic than novels, and so that can be a sign right there.
For me, for some reason, there has always been a clear difference between a novel idea and a serial idea. I have no idea why; that’s just the way it is. After I posted the first couple installments of Flickering Lights, lots (and I mean lots) of people said I should flesh it out into a novel and get it published somewhere. The problem was, I couldn’t expand FL into a novel. I couldn’t force the story bigger, longer, no matter what I tried, but no one seemed to understand why I had to keep it as a blog serial. Personally, I think that’s the way God had it planned—on a blog, free, easy access.
I find that the best thing to do is to pray about it and see what idea God leads you to. Follow where He leads your creative intuition.
Part Three – Plan, Plot, Draft.
Guys, this is just like any other story—it needs structure.
Full disclosure, I’m a panster. This got me into major trouble with The Spring and the River. Here’s what happened: I got The Idea, it simmered for a couple weeks, I wrote SR One, and I posted it that very afternoon. I thought to myself, “This series of shorts stories will probably be like four parts long.”
It ended up being twelve installments long including the epilogue.
Guys. Guys. I had no idea what I was doing, I had no solid notion of the storyworld, characters, or even plot for SR when I wrote and posted SR One. It wouldn’t have been such a huge problem if I hadn’t posted it right away (please keep in mind that I was an even more inexperienced and immature writer back then than I am now). I didn’t make an outline for SR until after SR Four was out on the blog because I finally realized I had no idea where SR was heading. That outline was a life-saver. It kept things from happening quite so aimlessly.
This planning time is when you figure out how the story will break up into installments. Installments work a lot like chapters—something changes and moves the story forward—but I typically don’t recommend a part longer than 3,000 words. Your followers will be reading your series during lunch or breakfast or on the way to school, and so you don’t want to make it too long. (Note: FL 5: Boarding Call came to only 1881 words, but FL 9: Whatever It Takes clocked in at 4118. That’s just the way those parts had to work out, and so know that sometimes you just gotta go long.)
Depending how fast of a writer you are, this planning/drafting part can take a while. I began actually writing FL in November of 2015 and didn’t finish it until June 2016. Yeah, I’m a slow writer, and it took me a long time.
Please do what I didn’t do: write the entire story before you begin posting it. One would think that’s just common sense. Well, apparently not.
Part Four – Title.
You should give the serial a title (shocking, I know), and I also recommend titling each part. Now if you do what I did for SR, just title them SR One, SR Two, SR Three, SR Four, etc. you risk losing some reader interest. A number gives them no reason to read it. Ah, The Spring and the River Two…. who cares. But Flickering Lights 7: A Stone and a Hurricane, oh, what does that mean? See the difference? And titling each part makes it easier for you and the reader to remember what happens in each one.
Just like any title, your installment titles are a hint, a promise to your readers. You have to tell the truth in your titles.
In FL 4: The Pale Ones, my readers expected to learn more about and see the mysterious, tribal pale ones I had mentioned in FL 3: The Murklands, but we saw the pale ones themselves for all of two paragraphs. Sure, there was a lot of tension in that part about the pale ones, but that installment wasn’t about the pale ones themselves, and some of my readers were frustrated because they thought there would be more with the pale ones.
I titled FL 4: The Pale Ones because I couldn’t think of anything else, and I got lazy with my titling.
Don’t get lazy with your titling.
Part Five – Revise, Edit, Proofread, Send.
If this is a taste of your novel-writing skills, you want this writing to be tight. However, full disclosure, I’m not as ruthless with my serials as I am with my novels when it comes to editing. But I did no (and peeps, I mean no) editing on SR, and you haven’t read a writing disaster until you’ve read SR. So edit, but don’t kill yourself over it.
1. I wish I had proofread SR more.
2. I wish I had proofread FL more.
You cannot proofread enough. Read it aloud. Read it silently. Read it aloud again. (For some bizarre reason, my fiction always has more typos than my nonfiction.)
Send your series to a friend to beta. This has to be someone who you feel safe with and who will be honest about any problems they find in your series. You can send it to a couple beta-readers, if you want. I wish I would have done this because looking back over FL, there are some story threads that I dropped for a few parts, and it hurt the story. I also would have had a better idea of what was confusing to my readers.
If you’re beta reader(s) isn’t/aren’t acting as a proofreader, find someone with keen eyes who enjoys reading and have them proofread for you. (My dad’s the go to for this one because he always finds all the typos—it’s one of his many super powers.)
Part Six – Market, Post.
Writing and editing your series is only half the battle. Getting the word out about your serial is a big deal. You want to create a hype for it, and to do that, you need to start dropping little nuggets about it in your blog posts about four months before you start posting it. Just do small things at first. Mention you’re working on a secret project for your blog (whoa, what. There’s a secret project???). Say that you’ll share some details about the secret project soon (how soon is soon? When are we going to know more about this?).
Schedule a beginning date. This is huge. It’s a deadline for you to have your series finished by, and it’s also gives your followers something to count down to. Create promotional images to share on your social media (be sure you get royalty free images; I use PicMonkey to edit all my pictures). After all the work you put into writing this beast, it deserves some hype.
Share a snippet here and there (Twitter is a great place to start throwing out bones). Share an aesthetic collage for your series. Make a blog button for your series. Give your series its own page on your blog. Create a tagline to put on promotional images. Write a blurb to get your readers excited. Pick a hashtag for your series. Try to get interviewed somewhere about your series.
Basically, pour all your non-writing enthusiasm for this story into creating promotional stuffs for it. It’s lots o’ fun, my dears.
Let’s throw a bookend on this baby.
Writing a serial is just as much work as a small novel. Flickering Lights came to a whopping 28,000 words. That’s a lot of time and effort, but now I have a bit of rapport as a fiction writer. Yes, it’s a lot of time away from your actual novel, but it’s so worth it!
So will you be writing a serial for your blog? Tell me about it! For those of you who have written serials before, did I miss anything?
P.S. – You can download The Official Blog Series Promo Image Checklist to keep on hand as you create promo images.