Serial Fiction Writing
The Serial Fiction is based on the continuing stories with related character, settings, themes or other aspects that link all the stories together. In Buffy, The X-Men, and The Twilight Zone, there are all interconnected elements which tie the stories together; in the first two examples, the link is within characters and setting; in the latter example, the interconnected element is the theme and concept. In the first example, Buffy, the continuity is established by the characters, settings and common events ex: vampire hunting, school life, romantic relationships. In The X-Men, the series is connected by character and setting but also by continuing plot threads creating a more direct link between the episodes ex: A battle began in Issue X may continue into Issue Y and Issue Z before being completely resolved. And in The Twilight Zone, the connection is not with characters and/or setting but with a reoccurring theme ex: The concept of the “twilight zone” and strange unnatural events.
Further analysis on these interconnected elements in a moment. But for the purpose of this article, I am only concerned about the first two examples—the Buffy and X-Men theory on serial fiction. These two series are based primarily on character and setting, and to a degree, theme.
The most important components to a serial universe is the Characters and Setting. These two elements must be established as interesting, alluring and pose a continuous sense of curiosity that causes the audience to stay hooked. The character and setting must remain fresh, inventive and resonate with mystery; if the audience begins to predict the nature of the series or isn’t attracted to the hooks and characters then the series will fail.
Joe Edkin describes the Three Key Elements of a series as “Family Unit”, “The Secret” and “Memory” to which I will briefly cover below. But first, the series should not only have enjoyable character and setting but also engrossing plots, sub-plots and also arcs for both characters and plot threads.
“Family Unit” is the group of main characters that the series is essentially about which can include: friends, co-workers or blood related family.
“The Secret” is the mysterious and unknown elements that either the reader is not privy to or the characters are unaware of but that the reader knows. These secrets create mystery and suspense that keep the reader interested in wanting to know what happens next.
“Memory” is the basic premise to any series which is related heavily to the continuity within the serial story. Memory plays both an important role for the characters and the reader; for example, if the character encounters someone or experiences an important event in one issue then they would remember that person or event in later issues and so will the audience if they witnessed the original encounter. This is true unless other factors are involved such as “mind wiping” or other devices are used to erase memory of past events—but this factor should be established so that the audience is aware of it.
More about continuity and the analysis of Buffy and the X-Men: Continuity, related closely to the memory factor, is the essential element that creates cohesion between the episodes, linking them with one another and creating an overall plot arc that remains similar throughout the series. For example, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there are several continuing plots; the most obvious of these is the premise that Buffy is a chosen vampire slayer thus hunting vampires and other creatures throughout the series. Another element, however, is the ongoing relationship between the characters and character arcs that show gradual change and development. To think of this is simple terms, in a general fiction series, we are introduced to the main character(s) and see how they become connected to other characters (Buffy finding and making friends and enemies) and in the following episodes the friendship or rivalry continues, sometimes changing in subtle or dramatic ways. With Buffy however, the sub-plots and most episodes are not directly linked and are essentially completely stand-alone stories. If you had not seen the first season or two, you could still watch an episode and pick up on the story and rules of the fictional world. Still, there are reoccurring major plots that are either present in every episode or at least hinted at.
Regarding the X-Men series, though, some of the sub-plots will carry on for several issues which is commonplace in the comic world. In the world of non-comic and non-graphic novel writing, though, this doesn’t work as well. The scripts for a comic are greatly condensed and for the most part the graphic panels tell the story. Whereas in the exclusively written world, images and senses must be provoked by relying entirely on prose. That is not to say that it cannot be done and in today’s high-tech world it can be accomplished much easier than 10-15 years ago. With the evolution of the internet, especially blogs and webzines, the serial story has found a wider audience. In this past such written serials were typical to newspapers and pulp magazines.
To paraphrase Joe Edkin, “Every comic is going to be someone’s first experience” so the secret is to make each episode a self-contained story; with the additiona of subtle “memories” to past episodes this creates the continuity within the story. The degree of this connectivity varies between series but for the sake of this thesis let’s assume that the connections are as so that within a 10 issue story, someone can pick up issue 4 or issue 6 and completely understand the plot. However, it might be difficult to pick up issue 8, 9, and 10 without having read the others. This is where serialized stories becomes difficult at least in the sense of marketing. The idea, however, is that through the first few issues a respectable readership is formed and also for anyone that arrives in media res will feel inclined to read the back-issues. With this theory in mind, I could propose that anyone who discovers the series during issues 8-10, would seek out the previous issues in order to answer their questions concerning the concluding plot arc.
Also, based on this theory of “Readership cult”, each issues that is published will be followed by the fans. For the fans to have access to each issue, though, would mean having the issues freely available to them on-line. This would mean they can read each issue for free and follow the plot without having to spend any money in order to do so. As such, this would mean that the series needs to appear in either a webzine, a blog, or other free access location.
The problem this presents for webzine and third-party publication (outside my personal website) is that it could be difficult to sell a story which requires previous knowledge of the characters, setting and plots. There are a few possible solutions to this dilemma that I have contemplated thus far.
One is the reliance on the “Readership cult” theory. Using this as an advertising strategy could work in aiding the publication of the series. This presents a double-edged sword, though. First, a readership must be acquired which means stories must be published somewhere. This had led me to give thought to a couple solutions unique to this problem: The first few issues can be published on my personal website/blog and hoping I can interest people into reading the series; presenting these early establishing issues in an attractive and high quality format (obviously) is also an idea.
The second solution to this double-edged problem is making the first few issues have a lax continuity, essentially making each a complete stand-alone story that can serve as the “start” of the series; after these first few issues are published, assuming this builds up a readership, then the following stories can expand upon the overall continuity and implement more “memory” aspects to reference these earlier events.
The second solution would involve having a single webzine publish the issues so that the readers of that publication all have the opportunity to read the series in one location; this, in my opinion, would be no different than having the series published just like a comic series; it would have a permanent scheduled release and the series can retain a better connectivity. At the moment, I plan on having ten issues of THE DEADSLINGER series; after these ten issues are completed I will consider whether or not to continue the series into a “volume two”, create a spin-off or put the series to rest (hopefully it won’t come to this.) If there is a publisher willing to take this project, I could easily prove them with the first volume to be published during their scheduled rounds. And I have also given though to a couple other ideas including: Dividing “volume one”’s ten issues into 4-5 issues so that the magazine would only need to publish the first few issues and the second collection could be considered after or I could find a new magazine for those. Another idea was to have volume one divided, placing half on my personal website and finding a publisher for the other half.
Still remains the greatest problem of acquiring that initial readership. Without a fanbase of any size, the series will flop and issues 8-10 won’t even make an impression (or make any sense!) So I have devised a (clever?) plan in hopes of alleviating this problem just a bit.
The Origins story, at the moment considered “Issue One”, is technically a novellete length concept. This story features, of course, the origins of the main character and a clear presentation into the fictional universe that this all takes place within. In an attempt to prolong this tale and hopefully make it easier to digest, Origins will be split into multiple parts. Each part will be published on a regular schedule through my blog (or a blog devoted entirely to the series.) Once this “issue” is published and available for reading, I would hope that it attracts a small “readership cult” thus giving me creditable proof of the series marketability on a more commercial-based webzine (whether semi-pro or free, at least an established market.) With this idea, I would need to work hard at some self-promotion. I could even write some non-related stories, have them published and refer back to this site. This project is not to be considered lightly and will require a lot of hard and exhausting work—as it has already!