Slow Burn or Instant Gratification?

This is something I've been wondering about for a long time. Since we write serials, released periodically instead of all at once, do you think it's better to give your readers instant gratification or is it okay to let your story build up at a slow burn? I've always done the former since I'm all but forcing my readers to only read one new chapter per week, and I figured taking things slow would bore them and they'd lose interest. Like, it's fine if the readers are free to go straight to the next chapter, but since I make them wait for it, it's better to make things happen really fast so that they feel like each chapter is worth the week long wait, you know? What do you think?

I think slow burn is the only thing I do? That said, compare the popularity of my stories with some of the others and you get a ballpark of whether it works or not. :D

At present, I release on average 24 chapters a year, in 6-8 chapter batches, at irregular intervals (ie. when I feel they're ready).

It's a 100% slow burner.

I prefer it slow, but I always end up instant! <i>OH!</i>

It's tricky to balance. On the one hand, drawing it out is kind of the whole style, as it gets people invested and expectant. On the other hand, I hear you, there's been a few serials I've dropped because I'm thirty parts in and I still haven't seen anything substantial or consequential happen yet.

In my own writing experience, I've prematurely killed a few of my own stories by revealing twists way too early.

I'm not a serial writer, but I can say I prefer a longer story if in every entry some aspect of the plot(s) feels like its progressing, even if just by a little bit. Not every entry has to be earth-shattering revelations or balls-out action, but I need to feel like I'm not just seeing a bunch of characters hanging out or going in circles for twenty-odd parts.

Right. I went into this with the mindset of writing a TV show. You can draw the story out and tease the audience, but you still have to make every episode (or chapter) worth watching or reading on its own. That's why I don't dedicate a lot of time to world building and character development beyond what's necessary for the plot, so that I can keep having the characters do stuff, haha.

Hmm, well, TV can get away with it by being episodic, with B-plots carrying from episode to episode across a season, while the A-plots are handled in one or two episodes. So the characters can keep doing exciting, quick-paced stuff each "chapter" (or arc, depending on how long your chapters are), but you can space the lore and whatever in the background.

Granted, even this can become tedious after so many seasons, but it tends to work well enough early on.

Of course, episodic is sort of the opposite of serializing, but I kind of look at my own stuff like comic books in that way.

How long are your chapters? Because your standard forty-minute, four-act TV episode, when translated into prose, is going to come out the length of a short novella (around 20,000 words). Back when Game of Thrones was sticking fairly close to the books, it was getting through something like 80 pages an episode.

A chapter of around 5,000 words would probably (depending on style) come out at around ten minutes of screenplay (about the length of a single act, give or take).

Now, imagine a TV show where every act is non-stop action...

Give 'em small instant gratification with compelling cliffhangers per chapter, but you want to slow burn up to something really big in the meantime. I say do both.

Dary, true, but I didn't say I was writing it AS a screenplay. I was just basing its pacing and continuity on how a TV show does it. Like Rev said, something good in each chapter, but also constantly leading up to something even bigger.

too much instant gratification can lead to the same thing as every chapter a cliffhanger, imo, burnOUT on reading.

I went into T&T with the mentality of a TV show when I first started writing it 17 years ago. "Babylon 5" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" were huge influences. I even mapped it out such that every part had a commercial break roughly halfway, and a major arc would conclude after 22 episodes. And I slow burned (am burning?) the hell out of that thing.

Season One, set up the characters and the time machine and awaken Carrie's powers. Season Two, the future war becomes more than background noise, and Carrie fights against herself. Season Three, give Carrie a temporal nemesis with a similar power set even though it should be impossible... still working on that, and it could still go more seasons. Point being I wanted to continually raise the stakes, so that it wasn't the meandering of a soap opera. Every chapter is worth reading on it's own not because it resolves, but because it provides insight into the larger picture and the people. Oh, sure, I resolve the issue of the day (like getting everyone back to their timelines in ep 3) but I bring up two more questions (a mysterious figure, and friction between the main characters).

The thing you can do with a serial that you can't do on TV is avoid getting cancelled. TV shows need to tie everything off, and deal with actor issues (JMS was kind of a master of handling a changing cast...) whereas with a serial, you can totally bring back a guest star at no cost because *BAM* those throwaway gags in Ep 7 were TOTALLY RELEVANT for Ep 39. (I'm still very proud of myself for that.)

Part of the trouble that came when I decided to put it online is related to what Dary said, each episode was over 5,000 words. It felt like too damn much. So the 44 parts I'd written became 88, as I created a split at the "commercial break". (The downside, you don't get my full cast until *Entry 18* versus episode 9.) And when I reformatted for RRL, I sliced it down even more (partly due to late edits spooling everything out to 96 parts anyway). Now, have readers lost interest? Oh, heck yeah, only one of my reviewers made it past the halfway point of Season One. None of them made it to Season Two, to my knowledge. But a large part of that is because my writing is weak, not the universe itself. I think. (The feedback was invaluable either way.)

Anyway, the other key thing is, for me all of it IS now there. And while the tie-off points for Books 1 and 3 are weaker than those for 2 and 4, I feel like they work as stopping points, versus "cliffhanger" points, so those who don't like the slow burning can stop -- and have. So I guess my point is, even TV seasons can have the larger picture, you shouldn't feel restricted to wrapping things up week-by-week. But as always, it's all whatever works for you.

You'd need to have a very light writing style to fit an episode of Buffy into five thousand words. I imagine the scripts themselves would about that, if not bigger. Industry standard, at least when I was studying scriptwriting, was that one page of the script averages about one minute of film, so a 45 minute episode would average around 40-50 pages of script.

Come to think of it, I've a copy of Neil Gaiman's B5 script somewhere, I'll see if I can get a word count on it.

Yeah, for me they were just genre influences. As a general guide, for a single episode I was aiming for about 6 pages before "commercial" and 6 pages after, meaning roughly 13 pages total (to cut at a natural point, not right at page end). Also meaning a half hour show, max, and even that would be longer if transcribed... granted, my style can be dialogue heavy at times, to the point of not mentioning what people are even wearing, which isn't often in a script (that's for costuming). But I've also written a play before, and it's very different.

Look at me answering as if I'm insightful or helpful or any good at this or have done any of the ideal stuff.

It's perfectly fine to work toward a longer-term goal. It feels great when all the pieces finally click into place and the big payoff comes along. But every plot or scheme or plan has intermediate steps, and there are all kinds of distractions that can crop up in the way. These can be exciting too, and if they are they hold people's attention better. They can even subtly move things along, or change how a person finally reacts when they get everything they ever...

Not that I'm some expert or anything, but I've experienced some old-timey TV in my day. Laredo, Wagon Train, Have Gun - Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Star Trek. You've got either a lonely ace hero with a supporting cast, or a whole cast of people who are all really good at what they do. They're already great, so each episode is just about putting them in a new situation to deal with. Even when it's done today, in shows like Power Rangers, Leverage, or House, the end goal they're dealing with is still incidental and usually not directly confronted until the last one or two episodes of the season. In all likelihood, the problems they deal with each week would be the same no matter the Big Bad of the season. If that happens to be what you're aiming for, then have at it.