Exploring Serial Fiction

I'm working my way through the edit and revise and re-read and edit and revise and re-read loop with my second novel, "Caretakers" (my second novel, a follow-up to "Here Be Monsters", and my other works).

I'm also looking ahead to what's next ... in my case, I think it's an exploration of the world of serial fiction.

Serial fiction has been around for a long time, but Amazon is helping to bring it back to the main stream by specifically supporting works of serial fiction for sale via their Kindle platform. I am hoping to develop a serial work for them, for the Kindle, and for you ... and for fun, of course.

My idea is to write something different from the sort of writing that I've been doing for the last year and a bit. I'll be leaving the Adirondack Park, leaving the investigations of a consulting detective, and venturing into a more fantastic (in a literal sense of the word) world ....

The Fractal Nature of Serial Fiction:

Part of what draws me to serial fiction is the fractal nature of the writing, from both a reader's and a writer's perspective. A single episode must stand alone and relate to other episodes and the series as a whole; the nested/related episodes, and the entire series must likewise relate back to, and support each individual episode.

The X-files is a pretty good example of a serial work that is fractal in nature, working at the episode level, in clusters, and over the course of the whole series to pull the audience in for the storyline (and hopefully to make a point about characters and themes and the way things work, or should).

Monster of the week
Every episode needs to have a beginning, middle, and end; a conflict that can be resolved (at least partly) by the end of the episode. These will provide the building blocks for the serial, and be exciting, compelling, and motivate readers to return for subsequent installments.

 The X-files, at least for the first few seasons, had a new monster/challenge for Mulder and Scully to face each week.

Ongoing or recurring themes/characters/conflicts
To maintain reader interest, there should be characters and story elements that continue beyond a single episode. This could be done as sequential and related episodes, or via a recurring element connecting a few episodes spread throughout the series. These grouped/related episodes, or clusters, allow for greater development of characters and themes than individual episodes permit, and can link different parts of the series together in interesting ways.

Ongoing or recurring story elements in the X-files included "The Smoking Man", alien abduction (sometimes on its own, or via Scully or Mulder's sister), broader conspiracies, and so on.

Overarching story elements
 Looking at the series as a whole, from a distance, should inform the reader about something larger than the individual episodes. The way that the individual episodes and the grouped/related ones work together to shape the world of the serial in a way that the smaller pieces cannot.

The X-files was a serial that looked at secrets, the people who create and protect them, the people who work to uncover them, and how people outside of the loop are affected by them.

All of the parts moving in unison
For serial fiction to be effective, it needs to work for its audience at every level. Each installment must be interesting and complete, but must also relate to other episodes, and to the series as a whole. A weekly adventure that doesn't link to bigger or broader themes will soon grow stale, just as long term character development that doesn't keep readers motivated from week to week will lose their interest before the payoff at the end.

I found the X-files a fascinating serial (until it jumped the shark) because the individual stories drew me in, the clusters helped hold it together over the long term, and the series as a whole gave me an interesting look into the people on both sides of the secret business over the years.

A balance has to be planned and maintained through storyline planning and mapping at each level: episode, cluster, and series. This is my big challenge in planning the serial fiction that I want to write.

What I'm thinking about:

I'm currently imagining a story that follows my character through a medical crisis that cripples Manhattan (and likely the rest of the country, or the world), and follows the collapse of the supply chain, infrastructure, and civilized society in relatively short order. Two works that have informed my planning are "The Stand", by Stephen King, and "I am Legend", by Richard Matheson.

My plan is to take a different look at biological and zoological causes and effects of this type of catastrophe from the perspective of my protagonist, who works at a zoo before the troubles begin, and finds himself in a unique position to research/study the messy and changed world in which he finds himself trapped. His challenge is to survive day to day in a hostile environment, while studying and interacting with survivors and the ones the sickness altered.

I'm just starting to map things out for this project, looking at episodes and clusters and the series as a whole. It may not end up coming to anything, but it's a fun and interesting mental exercise, if nothing else.



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