Serialization

2013/05/23 § Leave a comment

Wow, do I suck…

I’ve just had a three-day weekend and still made absolutely no progress. I did go on a trip to Toronto with my dearly beloved, which makes it a bit harder to isolate myself to write (no dear, just watch TV in the hotel room while I do this…), but still…

It’s the planning again. I’m going around in loops, second-guessing myself, incapable of wrapping things up.

So I’ve extended my planning period by a week – writing starts next Monday. I’m not proud of this, but, hey, what’you gonna do?

On to other things.

I’ve been thinking for a long time about serialized novels. One thing I find excruciating in the current publishing world is the delays between books of a series coming out. When you have to wait a year or two or more for the next chapter to be published, you forget (or at least I do) about what happened in the previous one, who the characters were, what the arcs are, etc. and it makes getting into the story more difficult. You disengage. I disengage. Of course, when you are young, carefree, or lack the need for sleep, you have time enough to re-read the previous book(s) before the new one comes out. I used to do that all the time, but nowadays, with work and everything, I’m finding that I have little time, or desire, to re-read. Too many books, you know?

Good examples of where delays have ruined things a bit for me recently are the Malazan Book of the Fallen, the Wheel of Time, and A Song of Ice and Fire series. All greatly immersive, all very complex, and I think I would have enjoyed the latest books of each much more had I been closer to the previous ones and had I had a better memory of the various arcs and characters. I’ve yet to buy A Memory of Light and A Dance with Dragons, the last books of the Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire, respectively. Contrary to the other books, which I could not wait to get my hands on, I feel no great compulsion to do so, in part because I’ve become emotionally detached from those stories (though for ASOIAF the TV series is bringing me back in!).

Of course, that is not to say that the novel model is broken. It is a wonderful medium. There are not many things as great as being drawn into a deep and complex world over a long period of time and many adventures, and the novel does this exceedingly well. Plus, of course, this is only an issue with ongoing series. When you get to a completed series, it’s three cheers and bye-bye reality. (It also dawns on me that this may only be a reader’s problem, not a writer’s problem, as the series mentioned above do not seem to have been negatively affected by this from a financial stand point. That said, I haven’t looked at the numbers, so what do I know…)

To get back to serialized novels, I think they represent an interesting alternative to the current model. In a way, it is the TV-series approach applied to novels (and a return to early forms of publishing). I love TV-series and I think their approach, building a world and characters and an overarching story over the course of individual, sequential episodes, has a lot going for it. Recently, John Scalzi showed how the model could work with his latest book in the Old Man’s War universe, The Human Division. It came out in 13 weekly installments averaging 10,000 words or so, each consisting of an independent and complete story, but each adding to the broader tale. I’ve only read the first one (to see what it looked like, I’m behind in the Old Man’s War books), and I liked the rapid pace and the fact that I had a finished story at the end, while still wanting to know what will happen based on the setup of the first installment. To me, this is an important aspect of the serialized tale, which Scalzi mentioned (but I can’t remember where): each episode has to stand on its own. This way, with each installment the reader gets the satisfaction of a completed story while, hopefully, being drawn into a larger universe and getting invested in the characters.

I’m thinking that, as an aspiring writer, it could be an interesting thing to try. As such, I will try to make my first story an introduction (a stand-alone prologue, not the first episode) to what could become a bigger narrative.

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