15 Jan 2008
One of the things that I’ve been hearing about again recently is serialization. I’ve been predicting it for a while, but with Amazon releasing the Kindle and the eventual release of an e-book reader for the iPhone, the age of serialized novels appears to be approaching (although there are still problems, such as DRM).
The question, then, is what does that mean for those of us who write?
Originally, I thought that it would just be a matter of releasing a chapter at a time. I’ve changed my mind, however. The reason is that a chapter in a book is usually determined by a set amount of time or a location. Instead, what is needed is something closer to an episode.
How would an episode of a written story work, then? Well, the first thing is that it should probably be a bit longer than your average chapter. The average chapter is about 2500 words, but if that is all you are able to read at a time, then 2500 words just won’t cut it, readers want something they can sink their teeth into. It will take some time to figure out a good length, but I imagine that it will be anywhere from 5k to 10k words (although this is just a guess). This makes an episode start to sound like a short story, which is good, but not entirely accurate.
Since the work will be released serially, it is important that something be accomplished in the story. There is little worse than reading something and thinking to yourself “that could have been skipped”. So an episode should have a beginning, middle, and an end. It still differs from a short story in two ways, though. The first is that it there is an overall plot that connects the episodes, so you really have two arcs, the overall arc and the episode arc. The second difference is that the episode does not need a strict conflict that must be introduced, developed, and then resolved. Instead the point is that the character(s) should grow through the course of the episode. In addition, although it would be ideal if each episode could stand entirely on its own, that is probably infeasible, and shouldn’t be too much of a problem, so long as they are interesting enough to motivate a first time reader to check out the earlier episodes.
I don’t think that serialized fiction will require any drastic changes to the way we write. We will still break stories down in similar ways (scenes certainly aren’t going anywhere), but I think that we will need to focus on balance in our storytelling. Too much description and nothing gets accomplished, too much action and it seems shallow. It will be up to the individual writer to figure out what works for them. No matter how it works out, though, it certainly is an exciting time to be writing.