Video, "The Serial: From Dickens to Star Wars"

Found a really interesting video about serials that I thought people here might like.


The guy goes through the history of serials, then looks at Star Wars as a serial.


One of the most interesting bits to me was when he talked about "the two most important features of serials:"


1) Interpretive Communities (for us this would be like the comments section of our blogs)

2) Responsiveness to Audience Desires


I'd be curious to hear some thoughts on this. Are these the most important things about serializing a work? And how have your stories changed based on reader feedback?


All that talk about cliffhangers keeping people engaged and no mention of Scheherazade? I mean, if you're going to talk about the history of serialisation, you can't really skip out on one of the most famous serial storytellers in history XD


I know I'll be in the minority here, but ... I don't really care what people think of the story or what they want to happen. I'm of the school of thought where, if all you do is write to please other people, you will never please anyone. That and I'm tired of stories that pander to (often a vocal minority of) fan demands, the new Star Wars film being a perfect example of something written to please and being a terrible mess because of it.


Buckle up. Here we go. I'll start with how my stories have changed based on reader feedback. First, "Time & Tied". The only real feedback (aside from generic remarks like "that was clever" or "show more, tell less") was from my two reviews here. One of the main things I took from Billy's review was that Carrie isn't a terribly likeable protagonist. Which is a valid point, and is somewhat rooted in the fact that she's also the antagonist (time travel is weird), but on account of that, I moved up her redemption arc by about 4 episodes and tried to foreshadow it more strongly. (Of course, half the cast was also introduced after the review was written... more on that below.) From Maddirose, I got that my "point of view" writing needs work (which I suspected, work in progress) and that the illustrating is more distracting than not (which I guess I also knew from these forums but had kind of resisted). So I have that going forwards.


Regarding the latest "Epsilon Project", the feedback is in the form of the 3 or 4 people who vote every week, literally changing the story out from under me. Alijda's shrinking problems, the layout of the DEO, even the name of a character (DuChessy, named after my "April Fool" writer used the name Duchessy), none of that was in place when I started. If the audience stays true to form, we'll never see what the government is up to, so beyond vague thoughts, that hasn't formed in my mind. A very similar thing happened with "Wish Fulfilment", which is actually on WFG.


Based on all this, I wouldn't say my "Interpretive Community" is a comment section for my blog, I'd say it's this site, and my voting system. Hell, it took about 80 weeks of regular posts before I actually had two different people comment on one post. Yes, I did gasp and celebrate a bit, even though they weren't responding to each other. So... maybe "community" IS one of the most important things - at least as far as motivation. As far as "Responsiveness to audience desires", I think it's valid, but there needs to be an awareness of not only what they THINK they want, but also what they TRULY want.


I was at a writing convention last year, and mentioned at one panel about the voting system I had. One of them thought that was great for encouraging interaction, another didn't like it, reasoning that the audience won't want bad things to happen to their favourite characters. ("Game of Thrones" comes to mind - I haven't read it nor seen it, but I've heard people die unexpectedly.) So a bit like what Dary said above "if you write to please other people, you will never please anyone" -- you have to know which things to allow, and where to put your foot down.


Now, as to that video ITSELF, I kind of question using "Star Wars"... it wasn't initially screened as being "Episode 4". In fact, you could make an argument that "Star Trek 2", "3" and "4" were their own kind of serial in the same way. And "nerd writer" is making the argument that we're at an entry level with the franchise, given the new movie, when there has been an entire expanded universe for the thing for decades in literature -- merely not "canon" things. Seems more like a "reentry". Which brings me to my last thoughts, namely that serials these days appear to be different from those in the days of Dickens. Maybe it's the web, maybe it's our attention spans, I don't know.


The video talks about how Dickens' first story was effectively a flop, it was his fifth instalment that finally got people's attention. I do NOT think people give the benefit of the doubt for that long any more. The last two months, I've had 58 hits on Part 1 of "Time & Tied" (what with Maddirose's review). Part 2? SIX views. We don't even meet half the cast until Part 7!! I think in this day and age, Dickens would be forced to rewrite his first story, because even with a serial, people want to go to the START. More proof, I had a complete relaunch of my story with Part 25. Full cast involved, no prior knowledge needed, could be treated like Part 1, threw that all around on social media. How many views? FIVE in that first weekend. Only 14 views TOTAL in 8 months, for what could effectively be the start of a story. Despite how (in theory) writing improves over time, it's Part 1 or nothing for people. (I grant, it could be me. Sorry if that sounded ranty.)


Now, society gradually seems to be moving away from that, with some TV shows being given life even after less than stellar numbers up front, due to the "binging" people do online. Communities and the like can even resurrect serial shows like "Firefly". So, are the communities and audience the most important things about serializing a work? I'm not positive they are, but I DO think they're the most important thing to keep a serial from dying on the operating table. Because if you don't have them, all you have to go on is sheer stubbornness, and the enjoyment of the writing experience. Thank goodness I have those qualities, otherwise I'm sure I'd have given up... granted, my tenacity means you just spent five minutes of your life reading this post. Kudos if you made it through!


@Mathtans

I don't think a 60/6 ratio is all *that* bad. There's always a sharp drop-off between the first and second chapter, usually somewhere between the 80/20 and 90/10 models (so, retaining anywhere from around 10-20%, basically). A lot of people will give up on the first page (that is, within the first 250 words). When something is free, and there's lot of other free things out there to compete with it, it can be hard to keep their attention.


Isn't there a distinction between 'series' and 'serial?'


I thought several novels (50K+) all developing a story in the same universe was a 'series', and a bunch of short episodic installments (or 20K novellas) a serial. Someone also told me that episodes in a serial can often stand on their own and be read without knowing everything that came before them.


And then there's the serialized novel...


But to be honest, I'm super confused by it all. XD


@Mathans and Dary: I agree that 10-20% is a decent, standard through-rate for a web serial. If you really want to raise that number for your next serial, though, you want as hook-y an opening as possible. IMO this article is great and really shaped the way I look at openings: http://www.superheronation.com/2011/01/26/some-observations-about-the-best-opening-lines/


@Chrysalis I totally agree that that's a tough one. I looked the word up in the Oxford English Dictionary, and it said, " Of a literary publication, esp. a story: issued in successive instalments (as in a magazine or newspaper). Later also: (of a film drama, radio or television programme, etc.) shown or broadcast in regular (e.g. weekly, daily, etc.) episodes; forming a series."


The thing is, most series are also serials these days. The words used to be more distinct, with series telling discrete, episodic stories (think Law and Order, or The Hardy Boys), and serials telling longer stories over multiple installments (soap operas, comics, Charles Dickens).


Of course, series began to use the techniques of serialization more and more, to the extent that even most procedural cop shows are mixing in some serialized elements. Game of Thrones is a good literary example. In my eyes, it's absolutely a serial, both in print and on TV. But it's also a series.


Series and serials are practically synonyms, these days.


For me, serialized novel refers to an individual book being serialized. So Stephen King's Green Mile is a serialized novel. It's a type of serial, essentially.


Thanks for the remarks about throughput. It probably feels lower simply because my overall stats are lower. And I know I'm bad for openings, because my brain tends to be more on the overall plot than the details. (Honestly, a good chunk of my frustration is probably that I'm not thrilled with my own first part, but it's been played with so much I had to drop it and move on.) Having taken a temporary break from "Time & Tied", I think I've got a better entry part now for when I head back in. And that's a good link - also serves as a reminder that there are many ways to do it.


Interesting points about the distinctions too. I almost feel like, for me, an individual "serial" part would be tricky without context, but an "arc" (of 6 or so parts) could work as a "series" (more stand-alone). Like how starting with Chapter 4 of a book would be odd, versus starting with Book 2 is less odd. Seems like there's a weird balance of multiple entry points versus not restating the plot every 3,000 words that needs to be maintained somehow, and the definitions get murky in my mind. (Though I'm also overtired lately...)