I started writing serials because the thought of making the leap between short stories and novels terrified me. Writing a serial of around twenty thousand words seemed like a good interim step. Not quite as scary as embarking on a hundred thousand words, but allowing more scope than a short story.
I hadn’t realised then, that a serial is not a mini novel with cliff hangers thrown in at the ends of instalments. The pace is completely different. As different, in fact, as the pace between a short story and a novel, and, for me, this was the hardest adjustment.
Obviously, there are similarities between serials and novels, too. The main one that springs to mind is that a serial gives a lot more room for character development. And you do need cliff hangers, which should be developed throughout the rest of the part, yet also come as a surprise to the reader. This is not easy!
I’ve had ten serials published now in Woman’s Weekly and I’ve enjoyed writing them all. One of my favourites was called SHADOWMAN, and was a five part thriller set in a show jumping yard. A young couple, are plagued by anonymous notes, which threaten both their business and their marriage. Writing this was like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. There were several people who could have been the note writer – I had set up motives for them all – and I wasn’t sure myself who it was until the end.
I also loved writing WISH LIST, which was a humorous three part serial. The main character who’s just emerged from a traumatic divorce, finds a wish list she’s written twenty years earlier. She decides to work her way through it and in doing so regains her shattered self esteem.
I had a lovely letter about this one from a lady vicar, who said she laughed all the way through. That really made my day.
Both of the above had strong structures. Shadowman was a whodunnit and The Wish List was based on a ‘wish list’ – odd that. But I think that good use of structure is worth thinking about in a serial.
Only three of the magazines take serials these days, which is a shame. They are Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly and People’s Friend, the latter runs two a week and so is probably a good place to start. Editors’ requirements do differ, but each of these magazines will supply guidelines for writers venturing into this medium.
If you want to know more about making the leap between writing short and long fiction, then I happen to have written a book about it 🙂
Moving On – Short Story to Novel
I think it’s quite good! Though I might be prejudiced!