online soap operas/interactive serial stories

I am researching information concerning what works and does not work in serial soap operas/interactive serial stories... what polling has been used to develop branching of unfolding stories. I am grateful for all feedback.

In my opinion, interactive stories suffer due to a lack of overarching direction. The appeal is short lived where you get a thrill in helping the story take form (it's there, to be sure) but in the end you've still got a story that's a little all over the place and unpredictable. Is it doable? For sure. But I've yet to come across a story that does it really well. To be frank, and I welcome any corrections on the subject, none of the 10 or 15 most popular stories on Webfictionguide are interactive. Make of that what you will.

That isn't to say you shouldn't try. Just know what you may be getting into.

You should contact MyStoriesAreOn and look for his thread on 'Of Vice and Virtue' in the review discussion area. He's been writing a soap opera serial for some time and is thinking about wrapping up now.

I can only speak for myself, but I'm too much into controlling where the story is going to allow for reader control of story direction. At the same time, as someone who's played pen and paper roleplaying games for much of his life, I can see where interactive fiction could work.

When gaming, I assumed someone would pull the rug out from under me, and deliberately created stories that even the most off the wall actions wouldn't totally wreck.

The people to ask are probably Greg Graves (I think), but definitely Tim Severhuysen, and MCM at 1889 Labs. All of them have allowed people to affect their stories in one way or another. Tim's done it through polls (I believe), and MCM actually took Twitter suggestions while writing novels over the course of 24 hours (without sleep).

Exactly how well that worked for them, I'm not sure. I know MCM's novels were ultimately published through 1889 Labs. In many cases though, MCM was asking for details as opposed to plot direction. You can't risk story derailment when you've only got 24 hours to write.

Tim was doing things longer term, and could risk big changes. It would be interesting to have both of their perspectives.

Wildbow: With regards to MyStoriesAreOn, I suspect that the big problem there was overwork. Five updates a week is too many to write and remain happy--at least for me.

I'll try to put together some thoughts tomorrow. It's a very challenging way to write, but also thrilling. :)

Could you give us a better idea of what you mean? "Serial Soap Operas" and "Interactive Serial Stories" are quite different -- which makes me wonder if you are asking about all kinds of serial stories, or about some other specific thing they have in common with each other but not with other serial fiction.

Until I know what you are asking, here are some thoughts on things I've seen, looking around the web:

1.) Though serial fiction has been around for a long time, and other forms of serial narrative (such as television, comic strips, etc.) are well established and popular now, I think serial web fiction is still in its early stages, and will blossom in ways was can't predict at all.

2.) Web fiction, including serials, is highly varied, and what works and what doesn't varies widely too. A few people have done some polling of their audience, but it's so patchy, you could hardly come up with an answer to "what polling has been." For one thing, when we do ask our readers things, it's about things of concern to ourselves and our own stories.

3.) I really haven't seen much in the way of an overlap between interactive fiction and serial fiction. I think I saw one person here who used comments to influence HOW she tells the story (i.e. audience members tell her they want to see more of a certain character, or want to know more about what happened here or there) but not what choices the characters make or what happens.

4.) In terms of reader experience, interactive fiction is more like a game than a narrative. I've never been attracted to the "choose your own adventure" kind of book. When I want to do that, I want to have a more visceral interaction, and I play old-time dungeon games or something like that.

However, I can imagine someone coming up with a new concept that blends serialization and audience feedback to build a kind of ongoing story -- maybe as a kind of social gaming, or maybe as a kind of "open source storytelling." But I haven't seen it and I'm not myself much interested in playing with it. (However, that could be an interesting new wave for fan fiction, if a copyright holder were to sanction and organize it.)

5.) "Serial soap opera" is a redundant term. I mean, yes, you could say "soap opera" means "melodrama" but I don't think that's how you used it. A soap opera is a long standing serial form -- a form where the story never ends. Many series and serials use elements of it. A mystery series might have the ongoing background drama of the detective's personal life, and many science fiction or fantasy trilogies just keep going on to encompass dozens of books these days.

I like the idea of a serial as like a TV show which combines complete stories with ongoing ones myself.


Thank you very much for your thoughts given in response to my inquiry. I was a bit uncertain about terminology for this type of serial because in my research I have found varying terms. However, I can say that your use of "open source storytelling" may be the best descriptor for what I seek... not necessarily a social game, but for example, social concerns for women that are real, yet fictional stories and without the hilarity of unrealistic story lines as seen in a "soap opera". These stories might branch as well, allowing readers to help choose a path while the story or concurrent stories are ongoing. I am uncertain of the best terminology for this, but your very thoughtful response indicates that you have a good understanding of where I'm trying to go.

Many thanks,


Here's the thing, though, Camille. All stories are shaped by the audience. Even stories that are written by the author with no intention that anyone else will read them. Just the fact that we use words, which are symbols with the express purpose of representing and framing specific ideas and things, is a pretty big clue regarding that. If we really were writing for ourselves and ourselves alone, our language might devolve into something that made sense only to us.

We imagine (explicitly or otherwise) an audience and how they'll react, and that affects our word choice, how much we clarify an idea and the shape of the story (if any).

With web serials, even if you only get 1-3 comments to a chapter, that's probably still going to be an influence on what you write in the future. In a way, that makes serials a lot easier to write, because it's less like talking into an answering machine, with zero feedback, and hoping what you were saying comes out okay. Instead, it becomes more like talking to someone who's giving you the occasional response, be it a nod, a thumbs up or a grumble. All cues that allow us to adjust what we're saying and doing and hopefully make things clearer to the audience.

So 'interactive' is a pretty nebulous term when you're talking writing. Especially when one is talking serials.

Anna - I'm not sure what you meant by 'soap opera' in the term, if you don't want the silliness that tends to plague the genre. Something more like Downton Abbey? A drama centered around particular families/couples, with minimal wackiness?

A little outside your subject, maybe, but have you looked at Protagonize: Collaborative writing community.

Any author can add a branch to any story. It is very popular with young writers.I don't know what percentage of viewers are readers only.


Wildbow: that's exactly why I wanted more definition. Because we could interpret it to mean anything.

November: The realistic vs. unrealistic is qualitative, so that doesn't help us define what we're talking about. (A traditional soap opera could easily deal with realistic women's concerns without changing form. A collaborative community could get as silly as the participants want.)

Let's try another question; do you have any examples in mind? Can you describe the process you are talking about? Who interacts with what?


Hi November,

As Wildbow mentioned, I've been writing a soap opera for about 8 months now. I've come to learn that the elements of a televised soap opera are incredibly difficult to recreate in a written form. Initially, I began with several stories that overlapped with each other, connecting the characters in a highly intense web. Though this is somewhat easier to reconcile with in a televised drama, readers tended to get confused about who was who. Now on my 151st post today, the story has developed into roughly four separate stories. That's not to say that the families and characters are no longer connected, but the plot lines focus more on the specific situation of characters, rather than how the situation affects ALL the characters.

As for the interactive serial, I think it needs to be made obvious to your readers that you want their direct input with regards to plot development. When I started out, I always asked for reader feedback so that they could shape the story. Granted, my readership is not huge, but those who did read were, and still are, reluctant to give that sort of feedback. However, I found that using a poll asking specific questions, such as favorite character, plot line, etc. often give me the sort of feedback I'm looking for, as I can choose what point I want to put more emphasis on. Overall, I have a vision of where I want my stories to go, but I allow my minimal audience to at least tell me which portion of it they would like to see more of, without necessarily changing my own ideas.

Hope This Helped!


Forgot this...for your reference:

MyStoriesAreOn touched on one point that I wanted to expand/share my take on:

Interactivity and reader involvement is really, really tricky to manage if you don't have a substantial number of readers. My story, Worm, is doing pretty well for readership & comments (don't have any point for comparison, but I get 30-100 comments a chapter), and even so, if I quiz my readers about something they want, I usually get 3-5 responses.

Early on, when I didn't have a real reader base (I think I had ~75 site views a day, then) I tried to get readers to come up with a name for my protagonist's costumed identity. Got two responses, neither of which worked. It threw me off & forced a pretty major adjustment.

Something to keep in mind; how are you going to wrangle this if it takes longer to build up an audience than you expected?

I very much appreciate all of your comments and questions. In researching this area, I am not only looking for serial stories similar to what I describe but also for potential barriers. In the serial novel Losing Freight, Sevenhuysen included a multiple choice question at the end of each chapter to help shape the story. For example, at the end of chapter 1, the readers are given the option to vote on one of five possible answers to this question: "What is the name of Tic Bolter's ship?" There were a total of 26 voters and the highest number of votes went to "Galactic Pelican". This is a nice feature as the reader can see what they voted on in comparison to other readers. In the interest of my research, I believe that the questions will be more relevant to what will happen next and each answer choice will branch the story in a different direction.

So a potential concern is whether there will be enough readers and how many (if any) will respond to the question? If this were developed for educational purposes, the story or scenario would be relevant to "best practices" and one of the answers would be considered the "best response". The learner would be required to respond before continuing further. The next part of the story/scenario will continue based on how the previous question is answered. That said, for purposes of my research, readers could potentially vote on the cliffhanger at the end of an episode.

Many thanks,



I specialize in writing serial fiction. I've written the Denver Cereal for over 4 years and last year wrote a serial based in Fort Worth Texas, the Queen of Cool. I'd be happy to talk to you about how it works, how I use the community to help write the serial - just how that works. Shoot me an email at: [email protected]

As for your specific question, I use PollDaddy on my wordpress blogs. The Denver Cereal community has chosen the gender of babies, the outcome of mysteries (what happens to the killers), and a variety of other things.

In the meantime, there's great "how to" articles at and a wonderful forum of people who are getting started. I'd encourage you to engage there.

If I was to give you advice it would be: Good luck and get going. Don't worry about all these details. You'll sort it out as you go along. Give yourself the luxury of making your own mistakes in your own way.

But get going. The world needs more stories.

Claudia Hall Christian

Okay, sorry this has taken me so long to way in, but life has distracted me. :)

I'm glad you've taken a glance at Losing Freight already. (

As you noticed there, I began by polling for things like the name of the main character's space ship, and minor "flavour" details like that. But before long, and for most of the rest of the story, the polls became much more integral, involving character choices and pathways. I let reader voting decide whether certain characters would live or die, and of course that had a huge impact on the direction the story would have to take.

Since I was writing and posting a new page every weekday, I had to come up with A LOT of polls, and each one had to feel meaningful. I had to balance a way to let readers change the story's direction five times a week, without completely running me off the rails. That meant a unique form of outlining where I essentially mapped out plot pacing (rising action, reveals, minor climaxes, down time, etc.). I had a rough idea of the final outcome, but left it very loose, so that I could achieve that resolution in as many different ways as possible.

It's a stressful way to write, because you really can't do that much preplanning. You might have a great little character development arc in mind, but if you stick too firmly to that arc, you might be shutting off an avenue of interesting polling, and that can leave you scrambling to come up with a good poll question that readers will feel like responding to. As I approached the end of Losing Freight, I ran into that problem more and more. I couldn't afford to let the story branch as much, so it was much more difficult to put together interesting poll questions, and that was reflected in the gradually decreasing number of voters.

I did write a blog post on about my experiences about halfway through Losing Freight, so there might be some more useful information for you there. Here's the link:

If you have any more specific questions, don't hesitate to ask!

Many thanks! This has been tremendously helpful!