Serial Structure

When it comes to structuring your serial, is there a hard and fast rule or do what you know best? The series I'm working on was going to be six separate books (before I decided not to pub in eBook or print), each one about a member of the team. Should I still do it that way or try to write it as one seamless story? Is there a method that readers prefer? Thanks.

I think the number one rule is "update consistently." Your style is your own but consistency earns trust with readers. Worm and Tales of MU seemed to do well with a main storyline and bonus interludes, but jumping around perspectives can be disorienting if it is too frequent. Following a character to a conclusion of an arc, and then switching to another supporting cast member for a new arch actually sounds cool - getting to know more of the same world from a new angle.

Pay Me, Bug! was written as a novel, The Points Between is written as a novel -- Curveball is my first attempt at a serial that is actually a serial. I worked out a specific set of rules going into it, and some of those are structural. I've managed to stick to those rules pretty well over time:

1. Each year (rather, every twelve issues) is an arc. The arc doesn't necessarily complete the story (the story that started in Issue One will finish at Issue 36--I'm working on 26 now) but it does have be a significant milestone. Each issue in the year should inch toward that.

2. Each issue has to advance the overall story forward in some way. It doesn't specifically have to be the main plot moving forward--it can, for example, be a reveal of an important piece of characterization that puts a later piece of main plot moving forward into perspective--but it has to be something I can point to and say "yeah, this is the important part because..." and I have to have a "because" that connects to the main storyline.

3. Anything mysteeeeeerious and/or cryptic that I want to add to the story has to have an "answer" before it's allowed to show up. In other words, I need to know what the solution to the mystery is: what the secret is, what the double-cross is, what the strange symbolism means... whatever the mystery is, it can't be a mystery to ME. It's not like Checkov's gun--showing a mystery in Act I doesn't necessarily mean the solution is revealed in Act III--but I have to know what the solution would be, if it were. (I'm allowed to change my mind later as long as the new definition still fits in the story, but if I don't know why the mysterious event happened, I can't put it in the story until I do). This avoids "Lost Syndrome," where writers just throw mysterious stuff into the plot with no real plan to resolve any of it. I hate that. I hate that a lot.

4. Each issue is at least 8K in length, with at least four parts. This gives me official breakpoints that let me switch povs and locations while minimizing reader confusion.

I'll add my vote for "whatever you think will work best for your story." My series Graves, I'm writing on the go with a deliberate TV drama structure. My other series is a novel being posted in parts. Like ubersoft, I set up specific guidelines for myself on what constitutes an episode, season, post, etc. before I started posting either. If you feel your current structure works better, then go for it. (I'd vote for sticking to your current structure because that's how you intended it to be written to begin with. All the early plotting/characterization decisions you made, you made with that end product in mind. If you try to rearrange it now, the seams may show more readily. But that's just me, and I don't know you or your stories, so that's just a thought.) Best of luck, however you decide to approach it!

Short answer: There are no "rules".

Slightly longer answer: As you noted, certain things will probably get you a larger/more consistent readership, such as good spelling and grammar, use of arcs and natural breaks (or natural cliffhangers) in the narrative, and so forth. Try reading a few others and you may get the gist of it... but remember that different readers like diverse things.

Contextual answer: I'm not sure I'm clear on your initial plan. When you say "six separate books", was it going to be the same events as told from six different perspectives? (ie- Rashomon style.) Or perhaps the same time frame, but the characters are only together at the very end? (ie- Like a set of origin stories.) Or perhaps a sequence, where we follow one character until we meet the next, then shift to his perspective until we meet the next, and so forth? (ie- Like the recent video game "Until Dawn") Either way, let me try to address that in broad strokes:

-If you're writing in first person, you don't want to change the narrator within a part, and probably not too often between parts. (There was a thread earlier about this, and I recall a recommendation of making it clear that you've changed, if it is necessary.) Readers can find this confusing. Less of an issue in third person, I think (or hope, since I do it, though I include an extra paragraph break to make it more clear).

-You likely don't want to have too many threads (like six) running at once. If you're flipping from Anne to Bob to Carrie to Doug to Emily, by the time you return to Anne, readers may have forgotten what she was doing (depending on how often you update, and how you remind people in the narrative). You'd also want to have some sort of thread running through the various scenes, like all of them on the same quest, or reacting to the same thing (zombies, politics, whatever), or it will feel disconnected.

-Contrarily, if you're going to tell all of Anne's story, then loop back in time to tell Bob's, then back again for Carrie's... you may need a framing device. A reason to invest in each new character. Perhaps a prelude (something about the setting?) to set it up, or we recall seeing Bob meet Anne before thus will be seeing it from a new perspective, or Bob is explaining things to Anne (or some Inquisition?) about how his history is relevant to her. Then again, maybe not? There are no "rules".

Hopefully that rambling is in some way helpful. I also agree with the previous remarks, in that how YOU envision it is your best plan, so if you're having trouble seeing it as some "seamless story", maybe don't go that route.

Thanks for all the feedback, everyone! Greatly appreciated. Mathans, to answer your question: The Nemesis Group is about a group of guys (male strippers) who work undercover for an organization that runs missions to save children from sex traffickers. The overarching goal will be the same: to take down the main trafficker dude (or something like that), but each book will be about a different member of the team and a different mission. For instance, Book 1 will follow Remy and the woman he falls in love with, Book 2 will follow another member of the team and the woman he falls in love with, etc. Does that make sense? And I'll be writing in third person. I've discovered that when it comes to the romance genre, I like to know what's going on in the minds of both the hero and the heroine.

I've been waffling on whether to respond here or not, mainly because I tend to keep silent unless I feel I have an viewpoint to add, or a new question, and neither of those really apply. But to answer your question to me, yes, that does make sense. Doing a serial for each mission also makes more sense (to me) than having a bunch of missions going at once, even if they are happening concurrently. Ditto for third person. I suppose the only thing I could add is be careful things don't get too "formulaic", in the vein of a "harlequin romance"... maybe one of them falls in love with a guy instead, or there's a parental element or whatnot? Then again, if people like a formula, maybe there's something to it!

I second what was said about writing style and such: Do what works for you.

In broader terms of structure however I'd recommend not writing too large, too ever expanding. A story needs to be broken down to be digested. I need to have "parts" to my dinner instead of one seamless pulp.

You not only lose focus as a reader but as a writer too. My biggest complaint regarding most tv-dramas (eg. Supernatural, True Blood or something) is the endlessness. The need for story hooks and cliffhangers just to make sure you don't get canceled and the viewer wants a next season.

A Webserial doesn't need that because it can't be canceled, just abandoned.

Books - or arcs or issues or whatever you want to call them: The bits containing a number of postings that don't make up the whole story - are important because they are more digestible. You can read one and see how the characters changed, the story advanced etc. pp. You need entry and exit points beyond the "chapters" or posts otherwise you have to be one of the best to get me to sit down and read half a million words in "one go".

I can point to one book of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings and tell what was important. I can remember it months after the fact and pick up the next book when my schedule allows it - i have the freedom to choose whether or not I want to read everything now or on a free sunday.

I can't do that with a soap opera that has been running since 1972, too much stuff, too much of it relativly meaningless compared to the overarching (non)-story, too interlocked and co-dependent on everything else to get in or out of it after a few installments. It's know. When you miss a few episodes of your favorite low-key hunter show and suddenly they are fighting the Apocalypse, one of the leads becomes a god and another one the devil and you ask yourself how that could ever happen. So you just let it slide.

So, yeah. Break it down. Do the books.

Thanks everyone for your additional feedback. Greatly appreciated.

I've been thinking about this myself. There is so much backstory for the characters, because I am pantsing and 'dip' into the world at different times and places, that there are really multiple stories. Right now I am posting some of this marked as [EXTRAS] outside of the main story. Some of it might make it in as flash backs but there is too much material. Maybe some would be separate novelettes.

I am also considering having an alternate navigation page that has a separate 'stream' for each character, until they connect at the present time. A reverse tree-like structure with the branches leading to the main trunk.