How I learned to stop worrying and love the serial

I originally wrote this for the online novel blog, but I felt it was time for a repost

Where I’m Coming From

I’ve been writing professionally (or trying to write professionally) for almost fifteen years, but online serials are still new to me. When I started, the paradigm was print. Literary journals were the way to go, and they were all in paper and only taking the fanciest of the fancy. It was not an easy way to break in.

By the time that mags moved to the Internet, I was already convinced that I was awful and needed to get a real job (“get a real job” being the meanest thing that you can tell a writer), so I missed out on this initial orgy of zine activity. I got into it late, and I got in with reservations. Even now, I miss the scent of newly printed paper…sigh.

The Way We Write Now

It was last autumn. I had just finished my first novel, Song of Simon , over the Summer, and I was looking for a new project. Song of Simon is an intense novel and writing it was emotionally draining. This time I wanted to write something a bit more lighthearted.

songofsimon_200x300_dpi72-small

I guess I didn’t get out of that novel-writing state of mind. What began as a short story ballooned into a massive 16,000 word novelette, now known as The Watchmage of Old New York. I would’ve given up on it (it’s near impossible to sell something that size, and I have bills to pay), but I was having too much fun exploring the Watchmage world.

watchmage small

So now I was stuck with this albatross of a story hanging around my neck. No mag would have her, certainly no paying mag (I make it a point to only sell to paying mags. That magazines will pay nothing for our work and act like we should be grateful is a crime. But that is a different story).

I use Duotrope to find markets (you should too) and that’s where I found Jukepop Serials. A paying market that takes long stories? Sign me up. It hadn’t occurred to me to serialize Watchmage, but how could I resist?

I was biased against serials, I’m ashamed to say. I was a “professional” and serials were for fan fiction. I was an idiot.

Serials are not a new paradigm, they are the old one. Charles Dickens used to write serials, so did Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I never realized this until I immersed myself into one of my own.

Healthy, Whole Grain, Serial

If I was going to boil serial writing down to three rules (and I will), they would be these:
1)Outline everything
2)Master pacing
3)Keep a healthy buffer

Outline Everything: I believe in doing this for everything you write, even blog posts. But outlines are especially important when you’re writing a serial. Once you post an installment, it’s there forever. I feel that going back to previous entries and changing them is unfair to your readers. Make sure that what goes on that page is exactly what you want.

This includes noting the important aspects about characters, plot, and the world of the story. In Watchmage, I found that I was uncomfortable with some of the main character’s characteristics. Looking back, I would’ve written him differently (which I am doing in the novelized reboot). You can avoid my mistake with preparation.

Outlining doesn’t stop once you start writing. One of my favorite things about writing is all the interesting people, places, and things that naturally pop up as the story goes on. Make sure you add these to your notes. Don’t forget anything, because you never know what’s gonna be important a few story arcs down the line.

That said, don’t make your plot outside too rigid. Think of it more as drawing with dots, and then connecting the dots. As long as you get from plot point to plot point, it doesn’t matter how you got there.

Master Pacing: Reading online is different from reading in print. For some reason, readers will only read a certain amount before they fade out. The big complaint that I have heard is eye strain. Regardless, a good chapter in an online serial is shorter than one in a print book.

I think that 1000-1500 words is a good length for an installment. You should be able to end at the end of a scene or a cliffhanger. Don’t rely too much on either. Cliffhangers keep the reader coming back, but they get old quickly. Think “tension and release.”

The major difference between a serial and a novel is that a serial is ongoing, where a novel has a finite end. This does not, however, mean that a serial is an open-ended mess.

I grew up reading comic books and watching pro wrestling, both of which I still love. Both are great examples of serial structure. A comic might go on for decades, but it’s broken up into story arcs. A story might go on for a few months, reach its conclusion, and then move on to another arc. Wrestling is the same way. Randy Orton might be feuding with Daniel Bryan now, but in a couple of months (after Bryan does the J.O.B…wrestling fans get it) he might feud with Cody Rhodes or Fandango (yes, there is a wrestler called Fandango). This is the way that your serial should be constructed. It provides closure for the reader without ending it.

For example, Watchmage currently has two story arcs. I could easily write more, but I am rebooting it. You could read one arc and be satisfied, or you could keep going. Readers need closure. In other words: don’t get carried away by your own awesomeness.

Keep A Buffer:

Writers will argue about the length, but you should always keep a buffer of at least a few weeks. This means that you have a few weeks’ worth of story written ahead of your installments. For Watchmage, I kept an eight week buffer.

Writing is like starting a hose with your mouth: you have to do a lot of sucking before things flow. The problem is, too many serial writers post those first few sucks before they realize that they don’t fit. This is why I keep a buffer. It gives me a chance to look back and edit my work before posting it. Remember: what has been posted cannot be unposted (ok, maybe it can, but it shouldn’t).

Another reason is because life happens, and sometimes you won’t be able to hit your deadline. The buffer allows you wiggle room for when you get the flu or your dog eats a Cadbury bar.

I hope this little insight into my conversion to serial writing, and the methods to my madness, have helped. If you disagree, that’s fine too. Everyone works differently, don’t be ashamed of your own technique. Be brilliant.

doge in space card redux

Advertisements

IIIIIIIII Gotta Crow…

I’m currently giving “The Wild Hunt,” the next chapter in the “Watchmage” serial, a good hard edit. As I said, when I wrote this, I was still seriouly grieving. I want to cut back on some of the more painful stuff, without losing the impact of the piece. I am very excited to be finishing this up, and to be working with JukePop Serials again. I have all this ideas for short and longer stories in the Watchmage world, each one doing a bit more world building. I want to focus on lesser characters in some, and expand on the city the way that the novel does.

btw: almost done with the novel as well. As good as this serial is, the novel blows it out of the water. I can’t help but crow.

Bonus points if you get the title reference.

The Return of “Watchmage…”

*Professor Farnsworth Voice* Good news everyone! After much soul searching, advice-ignoring, and professional pestering, I have decided to return to the serial version of “The Watchmage of Old New York.” I have a 3rd story arc that is almost ready, titled “The Wild Hunt.”

Previously, I stopped writing the serial so that I can novelize each story arc. The fact is, why must I do one and not the other? I could wait and play for the long term, or I can do things now. If a publisher wants to buy the novels, I’ll worry about that then. No use in stifling myself for a bunch of “what ifs.”

Besides, this story arc is so freakin good, I can’t sit on it any longer.

The projected release for “The Wild Hunt” is Mon, August 26.

In the meantime, catch up on the first two stories at ‪#JukepopSerials‬. Registration is FREE

Novel Updates and more Comic Book Questions

Hi everyone. I decided that I am going to update every Tuesday and Friday. I’ll try, anyway. Sometimes I get so caught up in other work, I forget to update here.

I just finished writing the first 5 chapters to the currently unnamed Watchmage novel, which is a retelling of the serial that I’ve been working on since november. I expect to have the first draft done by the end of the Summer, unless I get a life. My serial, on the other hand, is going strong. It recently moved into 8th Place. If you haven’t VOTED, you really should. We emerging artists need your help.

Song of Simon is still at the editors. I recently submitted all of my author info, including my dedication and acknowledgements. I dedicated it to my Mom and to Valerie. There are some people that might be surprised that they’re in my acknowledgements. If I leave anyone out, I apologize in advance.

My publisher would like me to make a video trailer for SoS. I know nothing about that kind of thing. Luckily I have several filmmaker friends, that I can arrange something with (hopefully). I might even be able to get original music. I like getting my friends involved, so they could get some credit and exposure too.

Now about comics: i was thinking about DC the other day. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam (Captain Marvel) all have connections to Greek Mythology. WW is an Amazon and the daughter of Zeus, AM is King of Atlantis, Shazam draws his power from several Gods/ heroes. So why hasn’t there been a WW, AM, and SZ crossover. As they all have connections to different gods (give AM to Neptune), it would be easy to turn a conflict between the gods into a conflict between their proxies. Both WW and AM, when they are at their best, are flawed heroes (as the best greek heroes are). Put them in a story with Shazam, who has always been portrayed as the purest of heart of all the DC heroes, and you are bound to find sparks.

I heard that the new Shazam isn’t quite as heroic as the one before the reboot. This really pisses me off. The whole appeal of Captain Marvel is his innocence and unshakable devotion to good. Sure, it makes it hard to carry a series like that, but as part of an emsemble, he’s fantastic. In fact, all three of these characters work best in an ensemble (IMHO). Put them together, see what happens.

Earth's Mightiest Mortal...I still think he can take Superman

Oh, Batman, you wacky crime fighter, you

I inherited all of Valerie’s action figures.  She had many of them, and she would pose them in compromising positions, because what else do you do with action figures. (Besides Gay Action Figure Theater)
my shelf is now filled with action figures, and yes, they are all doing naughty naughty things.  My favorite combo is Obi-wan Kenobi fisting Harry Potter, but equally entertaining is Batman and Bane taggin up on The Joker.

This, of course, reminds me of The Dark Knight Rises, which pissed me off to no end.

I could go on forever about how terrible the movie was, but that’s not what this is about.  This is about Val.

We saw that awful movie together, and afterwards, we talked about it.  I was much more critical of it than Val, who was generally nonjudgemental.  We decided to go home and write stories based on what happened to Batman after the movie.  I wrote “Masked Man Works at Shop-Rite,” which was eventually published.

Valerie wrote this work of brilliance, “The Dark Knight Upsells.”  I’ll let it speak for itself 🙂

Val loved to write fan fiction.  I’ve been looking at fanfic sites on line, and she has stuff on all of them.  She wrote for the sheer joy of writing.  I wish that I could be like that, but I can so caught up in trying to make a living as a writer that I only write things that I can sell.  She never worried about that.  I mean, yes, she was a professor too and I am not, but even then, she didn’t have the drive to publish and promote that I do.  This is just one of a million reason why she was a better person than me.  Not that I’m a bad guy, she’s just better.

Speaking of only writing things that I can sell, Chapter 6 of “The Watchmage of New York” is ready at Jukepop Serials, and it’s still on the Editor’s Picks list.  If you haven’t checked out my serial yet, you really should.  It’s good, one of the best things that I’ve ever written (and I’ve written some very good stuff).  You have to register to get beyond chapter 1, but its free registration.  If you love webfiction, fantasy, mysteries, and demand historical accuracy next to your trolls and pixies, Watchmage is the way to go.

If you do go to read it, please VOTE for it (at the bottom) and share it with other people (on facebook, twitter, your blog, etc).  I hate to ask all the time, but this is my job, and if you don’t promote, you perish.  You have to be shameless.

Also, if you want to add me on facebook or twitter (CraigASanders), you can do that too.  (Just message me when you add me on facebook, so I know that you’re not a scam).