Start Reading in the Middle

2 years ago | mathtans (Member)

In theory, one's writing improves over time. Which implies that Part 20 of a serial might actually be better written than Part 1. So, can one get people to start reading in the middle?

I admit that I'm something of a purist, who will tend to start with Book 1, Chapter 1, even if someone tells me Book 3 in the Universe is a lot better (assuming, of course, that one doesn't need Book 1 to know what's going on in Book 3). But I don't know if I'm in the majority there... in fact, I rather hope I'm not. Because, context, for it's 13th month (Sept 2015), my serial site has had the worst hit count EVER, and no one's even looked at Part 2 of the (current) Time Travel story since May. But when I showed Part 10 to someone, they thought it was kind of neat and picked up the story from there.

To try and facilitate that, everything I do in "Time&Tied" is partitioned into "Books"/"Indexes", and I've since further subdivided into six episode "Arcs"... but does that even matter if the landing page is Part 1? Is it that there's a necessary marketing aspect to this? I won't deny that this question is initially born of frustration (most people stop reading before even meeting half my cast!), but I am also curious as to what might make a person start into a serial with a later post in the sequence. Do you ever read that way? Do you ever try to get others to do it?

Writing a Time Travel serial: http://mathtans.wordpress.com
Writer of the personification of math serial: http://www.mathtans.ca

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Responses

  1. Billy Higgins Peery (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    This is the reason I tend to spend a lot of time on the beginning of a serial, usually before I even start posting. I wanna make those opening chapters *sing*.

    Alexandra Erin had an interesting method with Star Harbor Nights (RIP), where she created a sort of jumping-on point after the serial had already started. Did the same thing with Tales of MU. Basically, she allowed herself a couple chapters of recap while the characters adjusted to a new situation. She made this new beginning the landing page, then charged forward. Not sure it was 100% effective in the former case, but I think it worked out in the latter? Might be something to think about.

    "Any number of hitlers, are still not my problem." -Tempest
  2. Patrick Rochefort (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Flat out:

    Go back and edit and improve your earlier chapters. This is webfiction, not print publishing. If you re-read your early chapters and think "Oh man, I can do so much better than this now!"?

    DO IT.

    I've rewritten the first through third chapter of FWA once already, with three minor rewrites/fixes. It's fine. This is a dynamic medium. Do not be afraid to go back and rebuild that foundation.

    From Winter's Ashes: A Detective with nothing left to lose, against a Necromancer with a world to gain.
  3. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I was wondering if I should have included the context or not. I AM genuinely curious about the level of "purist" people can be. But fine. I opened the door, might as well make sure you're aware of what the ground floor looks like.

    @Patrick: Not. Going. To. Happen. Part One was first written in October 2000 (back when I was in University). It was revised in April 2001 (after part 14). August 2001 (after part 32). July 2002 (after part 46). It got a major overhaul in early 2013 (a few years after part 90) once I realized "serial" was a format, and the opening paragraph no longer sucks (or if it still does, trust me, it was worse). That's also when I first put Part One online... on my personal blog.

    "Time & Tied" FINALLY started on my SERIAL blog in April 2015, after doing a few MORE edits. (It wasn't the first serial on the site either.) To be blunt, I'm tired of being down that rabbit hole. Yes, there's only one character in Part One, and yes, she's simultaneously the protagonist and the antagonist (which is hard to wrap one's head around that early on), but I feel like starting with Part 7 (actually IN the high school) would need context for why Carrie has a major mental shift halfway down the page (when she's a future version of herself). I did put a link into Part One pointing at Part 27 (posted yesterday) when we see Young Carrie again, continuing her story from that first entry. Time travel, ladies and gentlemen.

    @Billy: Good to know it's been attempted before, and that's a thought. Part 25 does use the whole cast of characters (which was why it starts a new index page and everything). But even the title "Time & Tied" won't make a whole lot of sense before Part 36... so Part 47 is probably a safer bet, given that's their senior year. Since it won't be online until late 2016 (my edits aren't that far along), I suppose I'll consider it at that time.

    Honestly, the other side of it is, I'm perfectly fine with being the person you can point to when looking for an example of someone who writes a serial, posts it in social media for months, actually has a 3.5 star review here on this site, and yet still gets less than 100 page views in a month. (That IS the norm, right?) After all, I'm now running a webcomic in tandem, and it's doing much better. Plus I have a day job I'm happy with, so the serial doesn't make-or-break things for me. I can live with it. I CAN live with it. ... Computer, erase that entire personal log.

    Writing a Time Travel serial: http://mathtans.wordpress.com
    Writer of the personification of math serial: http://www.mathtans.ca
  4. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Addendum: I probably got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Patrick - t'was a good suggestion. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful. Might work for someone else. But for me, I don't have the inclination to sink yet ANOTHER edit into something that, by all indications, has extremely limited appeal. (Plus I'm still editing forwards anyway.) Thanks anyway.

    Back to the actual subject, WOULD anyone start reading "Outlander" or "Harry Potter" at Book 3, for instance?

    Writing a Time Travel serial: http://mathtans.wordpress.com
    Writer of the personification of math serial: http://www.mathtans.ca
  5. Dennis N. Santana (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    It depends on the story. Sometimes it's episodic enough that I can start in the middle. But if I do start somewhere in the middle and get hooked I will definitely go back to the beginning because I don't want to miss out on the rest of "the experience." I like to gobble up everything I can. For most story-driven stuff (mangas, narrative-heavy webcomics, shows, book series) I will start at the beginning.

    It will bug me too much if ANYTHING gets mentioned about the past books or episodes that I don't know.

    As far as my own work, The Solstice War can probably work if you start at Book 2, since it has some brief callbacks of things the characters experienced before, but it'll probably bug you not to know what happened in Book 1. I know it would definitely bug me. There's character development there that needs Book 1. I re-describe characters (a bit frequently) and talk about past events briefly, but there'll be something missing. However within each book, if you start at say, Chapter 8 in Book 1 or Chapter 30 in Book 2, you won't know what's going on at all. That partial "self-containedness" does not work between chapters, only between books as complete whole things. So I think only a linear read works.

    I've edited the first chapter several times. I even included what I consider a better introduction to the prologue about a month ago (Ch. 0.0, where the story previously began at 0.1) with the benefit of hindsight. I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with it, but at some point, I've got to let it go, and I've basically decided to let it go now. I think it's good enough, and generally, it's attracted people who already had a vested interest in the same subject matter I do, which is about what I expected. I'm writing in a niche of a niche of a niche.

  6. Oniwasabi (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Honestly I'm always going to start a series at the beginning if the beginning still exists. I'll sometimes check reviews to see if things are expected to pick up at some point if the start is slow (or feels like the writer is inexperienced), but it generally drives me nuts if I know I'm starting something in the middle. Hell, when I first found Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and XKCD I read those from the start of the archives, even though they're specifically gag-a-day type comics that don't HAVE any kind of running continuity (every now and then XKCD does short series, but nothing overarching).

    I think the best bet is to make the beginning as good as you can manage (DEFINITELY go back and make sure it's as close to mechanically perfect as the vagaries of the English language allows) and hope that it's attention grabbing enough to get people to read up to where you feel things really pick up. If nothing else, take everything you learn writing that first story and make your next one better from the start! ^_^

    cmh-fiction.com
    A place for me to inflict my writings upon an unprepared and unsuspecting world!
  7. TimNoel (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    As is the case with all series, the first book is always the most read. Subsequent books are meant for current readers, but do also draw attention to folks and encourages them to check out the first book. Now, there is something you can do. If you release books in very self contained stories and market them as separate webseries, you could get people to essentially jump in at the middle, it's all a matter of marketing. Then your earlier arcs can be instead seen as an optional prequel for readers who want to see where it all begins. So... it is possible to get people to start in the middle, but it will involve a lot of specific presentation.

    Chrysalis Experiment Series 1 complete! http://www.TimNoelFiction.com
  8. LEErickson (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    As a consumer: With a book series, I will almost always start with book 1. With television/movies, if I'm deliberately setting out to watch the series on Netflix, I will start at episode 1 and watch through in order. (Unless someone I trust has told me to skip episodes.) But there's also the cases where I'll wander through a room while someone is watching something and be caught by an episode of an on-going TV show or movie series, watch it, and then want to go back and watch from the beginning.

    As a writer/producer of web series(with the caveat that I'm new to web series if not to writing): I think that stumbling-upon point of entry is possibly where you could create/encourage an opportunity for new readers to get hooked on your series and then go back to read part 1. It would be a matter of "packaging" your current part to make it as easy as possible for new readers to get into without feeling like they have no clue what's going on and to encourage them to start there. "Hey, here's what's happening now, it's very exciting! And if you like it, then you might want to go back and read this." I'm hoping to pull off something like that with one of mine and will probably go the route Tim mentions above--separate sites with separate marketing. The one I'm currently posting is pre-written, with plans to start book 2 as an as-I-write-it serial once book 1 is all posted. Once I start 2, I'll put it on a separate site with a pointer to book 1 as a prequel/origin story. In your case, if your current landing page leads new readers straight into part 1, then that may be a key reevaluation point.

    BTW, I hear where you're coming from with the whole "I have edited this story as much as I can stand to." I really do feel like there's a point where you have to move on, because you've done what you can and it's healthier for your sanity and your writing career to learn from what's done, move on from it, and do new things. When what's done is (in your opinion) less than perfect (and really, what writer ever thinks what they've done is good enough?) but still of necessity in the public eye and part of the ongoing new stuff, that throws a new wrinkle into things. But I think it can be worked around. Be sure to keep us posted on how you work things out!

  9. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Okay - so I'm probably closest to Oniwasabi in my inclinations (heck, I went back years to write the April Fool), but it seems like most other people prefer the beginning as well. Which makes sense... but doesn't mean that the beginning can't be shifted (or tweaked, except not my first plan). Good to know.

    Honestly, I know part of the problem in my story is that the conflict is slow to build. But short of a prequel (which would actually be tricky in my mind, given the time travel), it is what it is, thus my best bet might be to market part 47 as an entry (once I get there). Alrighty. For that matter, with 46 acting as a closer, maybe people who prefer to read everything at once would finally have an entry? Of course, I've no idea whether it (or even the Arcs) make for effective entry points, since, y'know, the only readers I have didn't start there. But one thing at a time.

    Regarding releasing "self contained stories", that's effectively what I decided with the Epsilon Project (which had new characters each time), so I figured on doing this serial differently, but I'd say it's another possible plan for others. Regarding "niche of a niche of a niche", I'm used to that from personifying math, which I guess is why a half dozen readers is my current goal -- I think I need to somehow market to people who liked "Interstellar" for this one. And yeah, LEErickson, writing Book 5 is a lot more inspiring to me than rewriting Book 1 AGAIN, so I guess in about 3 years, once I have a dozen readers or so, they can look back to see how my writing evolved. ^_^; Thanks for the thoughts all!

    Writing a Time Travel serial: http://mathtans.wordpress.com
    Writer of the personification of math serial: http://www.mathtans.ca
  10. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Personally I've generally started with the beginning of a serial. For print books, I've often started with whatever was available in the library, and gone back to read first book when it became available, sometimes even after finishing the last book in the series. Series I've read that way include: The "Dragonriders of Pern" trilogy, the first Deryni trilogy, The Dresden Files (started on book 7), the first Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever trilogy, and probably a few more that I can't think of right now.

    Come to think of it, I don't think I've done that much since ebooks became a thing. For me at least, starting with the second book is more a function of scarcity than deliberate intention. Once someone can easily get the first book, there's no need.

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