Today it is my pleasure to welcome fellow author Daniel Ausema, creator of the steampunk series, Spire City, to give his thoughts on serial fiction.
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First of all, let me thank Martin for giving me the space here, and be sure to hop on over to my blog Twigs & Brambles this weekend for my interview with him. Learn about his approach to writing his serial and other works, and even enter for a chance to win a copy of one of his books.
I wanted to take a moment to discuss serials in general. For several years I’ve been hearing people say that the internet and the rise of e-publishing are ideal for reviving the serialized story. A serialized novel…it conjures up images of Charles Dickens sitting in his Victorian London, sending a poor street orphan to carry his latest chapter to the magazine editors. Meanwhile, the readers in stove-pipe hats and bustled dresses eagerly wait for the new issue so they can take out their monocles and find out what happens next to the poor street urchins and factory laborers.
Or maybe that picture is just my own weird quirk. Regardless, the idea is that we’ll see a renaissance of serialized stories. Granted, e-publishing has been suggested as a source of renewal in all manner of story styles and formats, from novellas to golden age SF to whatever nostalgic format and subject a given blog writer feels is missing from today’s publishing. So you take such claims with a grain of salt, naturally.
Still, the claim is one that interested me, as I’d already begun writing Spire City: a story that was always meant to be serialized, without any clear plan for how it would be published. Since then, I’ve seen some writers have wonderful success with serialization, while other serials have appeared to fall flat. So I don’t think there’s anything magic to the format, but it certainly offers some things that traditional novels might not.
The question is, what? And especially, what does serialization offer to readers?
The first answer is that it’s (for now) a different experience. For all the claims that serialization will grow, it’s still not a huge share of published fiction. So when you begin reading a serial, you’re not just buying a story, you’re not just buying a bunch of text to devour and forget. You’re buying into an experience that’s different from a typical novel. And waiting becomes a key part of that experience. You read about the characters, and then they linger in your mind for that gap before the next episode comes out.
Comic book writers and readers have known this effect for years, and I think webcomics especially are a natural and complementary form of serial storytelling today. Television producers take full advantage of it, at least with long-arc dramas, which have grown increasingly popular. And viewers are fully accustomed to allowing the experience of the show to sink into their brains for a week or a month or whatever it is as they wonder how the characters will respond to the latest events.
I am neither a frequent TV watcher these days nor a comic book collector, but in writing Spire City I did pay close attention to a variety of TV shows and webcomics, not just to what stories they told but how they told them, and how the episodes led from one to the next.
The other key thing that serialization offers is the chance to tell a portion of the story in a very different way. Switching point of view characters, switching writing styles and narrative voices. As a writer, this was one of my favorite aspects of creating the Spire City series. For readers, too, the variation and even playfulness of some of it allow the story to be enjoyed at different levels.
So, in one of the upcoming episodes, I switch from a standard narration of the actions of our serum-infected protagonists to a noir-style, first-person account from one of the antagonists. In another episode, I created an approximation of The Matrix-style bullet-time, in prose form. These are fun (for writer and reader both), and they also allow the story to get to you in different ways, to sink their fingers in and create a wider picture. (One thing I’ve not attempted is a prose equivalent of the TV-show trope of an all-musical episode. Hmm, maybe I should…no.)
Granted, it’s certainly possible with some stories to write a traditional novel that does the same. But many stories, I think, resist that kind of approach, and if a novel suddenly shifts into noir or poetry or something else for a random chapter, many readers would find that simply strange rather than entertaining. For a random episode it feels much more natural.
Is serialization the way of the future? I have no idea. But it is an experience that’s worth trying out, both for writers and readers. Maybe it will make a large comeback in the years ahead. Maybe monocles and carriages will, too. Just as long as no one tries to bring back consumptive chimney sweeps and child labor.
Spire City, Season One: Infected is available from Musa Publishing. The latest issue is Episode 3, “The Spires,” released today. The full season will be thirteen episodes long. Thanks for reading and thanks again to Martin for hosting me.
Spire City is home to mighty machines of steam power and clockwork, and giant beetles pull picturesque carriages over cobbled streets, but there is a darker secret behind these wonders. A deadly infection, created by a mad scientist, is spreading through the city, targeting the poor and powerless, turning them slowly into animals. A group of those infected by the serum join together to survive, to trick the wealthy out of their money, and to fight back.