DISCLAIMER: This article originally began as a “compare and contrast” thing about serials and shorts. As I continued writing it, it became rather apparent that I was very much on one side over the other. So, instead of presenting the pros and cons of both, I decided to back serials, which leads to the following WARNING: What follows is pure opinion based on personal experience and is in no way backed by an fancy studies or big brain evidence gathering. It’s all my thoughts on the subject so feel free to take it or leave it. Obviously, I take it. WARNING (PART II): Will’s characters are very naughty and use foul language, and violence while getting into rather dirty (not mud) situations and have adult conversations without a care about who is around. They also suffer things that some people do not (or can’t) read about. So if you click on any links to his serials, please know that they are intended for mature audiences and that while he does not believe in telling someone what they can and cannot read, if you’re under 18 and know your parents would not want you reading filth, you may want to try Disney.com instead. Also, beware of trigger warnings.
Before you release your amazing, spectacular, groundbreaking epic of pure awesomeness on store shelves, it’s important to already have some eager readers in love with your brand of fiction. Of course, you already have that kick booty blog where you talk about any number of subjects and your fans can’t get enough. But what about the not-based-on-real life stuffs? Those writing tips, kiddie updates, and wacky weekly adventures in dating are totes fab but how do they show your talent with spinning a fiction tale?
While a good rant can show your mastery of turning words into reading bliss, it may not (okay, doesn’t) convey any hint that you can equally craft a fictional world. I’ve read oh-so-many fun, creative blogs that went on about divorce, abuse, the differences about men and women, historical figures… well, far too may topics to list. Anyway, I love them all and think their creators are Einstein’s with the word play yet have no frakkin’ clue if they can pull off the creative kind of writing.
Dang nabbit. I really wanna try their new book, the one they’re so proud of and are sure if I love their History of the Tudor blog (if this ain’t a real thing, somebody please get on it) even though their book is about something not at all related to Henry VIII and his infamous tantrums. Maybe, just maybe, if there was some kind of example on their site that I could read – aside from the obligatory book sample – that would show me how well they craft stories.
Some writers use short stories. Good idea. They are great little ways to give your audience what they need to see you as a fiction writer – kind of necessary when you’re looking to sell fiction – and when done right, can easily net you new fans while whetting the appetites of those you already have.
But while there’s a lot short stories can show (most of what makes up a book, really) there is something it can’t: character development. Yes, yes, characters can experience changes in a few short pages but will your audience have that special connection that makes them care so soon? Maybe. But just try doing that over and over – which, if you want readers to love what you do, is also necessary. Much like potato chips and cats, you can’t have just one.
Don’t worry, though, there’s another option. One that can show someone how great you are at penning a book-length opus: serials.
Serials are awesome and my favorite way to release a story (aside from a book, of course) because they allow for small portions to arrive at a time. Trust me, that’s oh so helpful when balancing building an audience and creating the content to sell them. I’ve gained a number of followers after putting out Crescent Point, Hollywood Harem, Midnight and The Sea Prince. Yes, I’ve had positive feedback from Sonny Came Home, Unnatural and Max but those don’t fully show how I write. Plus, serials kept readers coming back each week eager to know what happened next. And no one ever asks if Max will be turned into a book but Midnight and The Sea Prince have fans calling for them to be collected and released. Hey, future book sales. Cool.
That returning traffic helps, y’all.
If you’re still unsure about the benefits of serials over shorts, allow me to present a few examples to illustrate my point. I’ve taken them from television cause, and let’s be honest here, there’s always a better chance an audience will be more familiar with a show than another form of entertainment. Nothing wrong with that; just the way it is.
MAX & SHRED
Okay, so our first one is an episodic show – basically, each one is mostly self-contained. Issues, lessons and whatnot are finalized by the end credits. So why include it? Well, even though Max & Shred doesn’t do story arcs (more on that later) it does have references to previous episodes. You find that characters remember adventures and lessons learned from earlier in the season – something that, without at least a hint of serial traits wouldn’t happen. In a way, a show that is decidedly not a serial show, builds from previous experiences.
GIRL MEETS WORLD
This one, like Max & Shred, is of the “new episode, new story” variety but still builds on what came before, and not only because it’s a sequel to Boy Meets World. The characters remember what they did from previous episodes and even discuss what they did, at least when it fits the storyline. The characters learn and evolve and are not the same people they were back in season one, episode one.
AGENTS OF S.H.E.I.L.D.
With Agents, we’re firmly in the serials territory; every action is a build to the next twist and turn and is always planting seeds for something they haven’t even hinted at yet. While you could potentially watch Max & Shred and Girl Meets World out of order (really, who does that?) you’d be lost if you missed too much of a single episode of Agents. That might seem detrimental, but it guarantees returning fans.
ONCE UPON A TIME
Once is constantly adding layers and mysteries to its story-lines and characters, keeping everything in flux and allowing for anything to happen. How else could Regina’s turn to good have been believable if her struggle hadn’t been shown? Because Once is a serial, we were able to see her go from evil lunatic bent on blood dipped revenge to snarky (can’t go, goody-goody, after all) anti-hero. All this done in one episode? It would’ve been rushed and devoid of any authenticity.
Have you seen this yet? Oh, Lordy, it is good. And another example of why serials are awesome. For ten episodes, we got to see the (fictional) royal family of England unravel as their entire world came apart. Each ending was a cliffhanger that slowly built up the final showdown: no, I’m not spoiling this. Go watch it. And enjoy.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
I love this show. Just wanted to throw that out there.
Now, way back in season one, most episodes of Buffy were like Max & Shred and Girl Meets World; self-contained, wacky adventures of the week. And that format worked. For a while. In time, the show was written in arcs (multi-episode storylines that aren’t season length) that allowed more time to develop not only the Scoobies but the Big Bads, too. Look, a three-dimensional bad guy! And without the “why I’m doing this” info dump in Act III that never actually pushed them past two-dimensional.
The real push to a serial format came in season seven (sadly, the end) when each episode was a continuation of the last that culminated in a highly anticipated final confrontation between good and First Evil. Something like this would’ve died hilariously if it had been squeezed into forty one minutes. Instead of rushing to a conclusion and ignoring all the twists and turns and developments, it was all allowed to simmer while driving fans to not miss an episode along the way.
All of this is why I always end up going the serials route. Sure, it’s fun once and a while to share a quick and dirty (mind out of the gutter, people) short story as a way to break it all up, but to really show what you got, to share examples of what you book writing style is like (freebies are great), choosing to craft your own multi-part adventure can pay off in dedicated fans and, once that novel goes on sale, educated purchases.