Writing a web serial: General and technical advice wanted

Hello! You can probably see I'm new here, so I'm gonna cut right to the chase. I've set myself the challenge of writing my own web serial as a way to force myself to write more often and more creatively, but before I get started, I need advice on the technical side of things. Or just advice on anything in general, really. This will be my first time taking on a project like this, and while failure at some points is just an acceptable inevitability on this road we all walk to the grave, I'd like to start out with the strongest effort possible. I'd like to know what I can do to make my serial the best it can be, how I can attract readership, and any other helpful tips you may have for an aspiring author. Anything and everything is appreciated!

Have a quick trawl through here, plenty of threads about starting out at the moment.

I did notice that, and while they are helpful, I was more looking for something along the lines of "how to get started" (i.e. creating a blog and promoting your work) and "how to maintain it" (i.e. advice for the long run).

There are some good guidelines in the site for what's necessary for a good web serial site. You'll find them here: http://webfictionguide.com/about/submissions/

If it's technical help you need you'll have to be more specific. I can say I recommend using Wordpress, as it's free, simple to use, and looks pretty good.

First off, welcome! I haven't been doing this for very long (5 months), but here's what I've learned so far:

- Set a schedule for updates. Make sure your readers know that schedule. STICK TO THE SCHEDULE.

- Make sure you have a reason for writing beyond the readers. It's going to take quite some time to really build up a readership, so if readers are your sole motivation to write, you're going to give up before you get to that point.

- Don't give up. Persistence and reliability is king. You could write the most awful dreck, and as long as you consistently update when you say you will, there will be people out there who read and enjoy it. (Obviously try not to write awful dreck, take it seriously, but I find that remembering this helps me when I look at an update I've written and think it's shit)

- Interact with other writers. Talk to people who like talking about writing. Immerse yourself in "writer culture".

- Wordpress is taken more seriously than Google Blogger. No, I don't know why.

- Put in a little time to make your site itself look pretty and professional, or get someone to help you do so. You can be the best chef in the world, if you serve your food in crumpled McDonalds wrappers, you're gonna turn some people off.

- You're using this to force yourself to write more. I actually started my web serial for the same reason, so I can comment on this one from personal experience. THERE WILL BE TIMES YOU WANT TO QUIT. DON'T.

- Try to have a backlog of at least a few chapters. Whatever your schedule is, there are going to be days/weeks/months where the unexpected happens, your computer blows up and your dog gets sick and you break your thumb. Be prepared for it.

- I honestly believe that writer's block doesn't really exist. Are there days when you really, really don't want to write? Sure. Every author has those days, but the successful ones are the ones that can force themselves to write anyways. Despite what my brain tells me ("oh, if I force myself to write then the quality will be shit"), looking back over my serial I can't tell which chapters I forced and which I didn't.

- I don't think I know of a single web serial author who didn't want to go back and edit their first couple of chapters. One learns SO MUCH just by doing, so don't freak out too much about the first few, just get started.

Hope these were the kind of thing you were looking for. Get writing, submit the link to WFG, and then get writing some more. Good luck and have fun!

Setting up a blog is pretty simple. I suggest Wordpress, but if you like something else, go for it.

Decide what you want to write before you start. Writing a serial that's like a weekly TV show is conpletely different from writing a serial novel, which is more like writing an elongated mini-series.

I can't help with marketing, as that's not my strong point. However, try to stay on schedule. It may not gain readers, but going missing a post is a sure-fire way to lose them.

That's really helpful Maddirose, thanks!

I've found that as a writer, I have a problem with planning. It's not that I don't do enough, it's that I do too much and end up entrapping myself in plans and possibilities that may never see fruition, and I become bogged down with nitpicks about inconsistencies in the setting no one may ever notice. So really, my problem has always been overthinking things. For this, I plan on having a small laundry list of ideas I can use as a starting point for either a serial or a serial novel so I can just pick a concept and roll with it instead of worrying about problems in the future that may or may not appear.

Getting started

Wordpress is easiest to use. They made it so a geriatric can use it to put a blog together, very easy, with a simple series of steps. Pick a name, pick a theme, customize the theme. If you want to get more into depth, do a google search for "Wordpress.com changing _____" and figure out the CSS. It costs some money to get into options beyond the most basic, though. There really aren't any wrong choices, sitewise, so long as the words on the page are readable. Except maybe Jukepop, but that's my personal taste.

Take the time to build up a backlog. Get some chapters done and ready, so you can put them up if you have a bad day and can't write. Ten chapters done in advance. You write the eleventh before you upload the first. Write the twelfth before you upload the second. You won't be able to maintain the backlog indefinitely (do it for as long as you can, though), but it gives you some elbow room to find your stride and get through the first handful of days where life fucks you up (for me, it's usually family getting in the way - Worm's remaining backlog perished over the Christmas holidays).

When you're building up that backlog, I recommend you use the days and weeks spent writing those chapters to gauge your writing ability. Can you get online friends (or people here?) to look at it? Find out the big issues, focusing on things where people maybe aren't understanding or aren't getting the right vibe or sense of things - taste varies, but if one out of five of your online buddies don't understand who your main character is supposed to be, that's something you need to fix.

Failing that, do you have a loose idea of where you're going? Is there something that's leaving you unsatisfied? Writing a lot of drafts is a huge part of writing, and you should do drafts until you're reasonably satisfied with what you've got, as starting points go. You only get one chance to make a first impression.

The marathon

When you're writing those backlog chapters, there's another basic thing you should do. Figure out how long it takes you to write a chapter. How big are the chapters? Give yourself a schedule. This is really, really important, for you and for your audience.

The best part of writing is that initial burst of inspiration, where you sit down with an excellent story idea and you churn out a ton of pages. Writing ten chapters, though, you're going to leave that initial inspiration behind you, and there are going to be some that are a grind. This is where you run into the most basic aspect of writing, the reason that everyone and their dog don't already have a serial, novel, or blog finished. Writing is work.

Having a schedule gives you structure. It gives you habits, and keeps that "I'll write the chapter tomorrow" from becoming "I'll write the chapter this weekend." or "I'll write the chapter next week." You set a goal and you commit to it. You write that 50th chapter because you uploaded the last 49 on time and by the muses (I prefer Melpomene, myself), you aren't going to fuck up now, are you? Then you write the 51st because you uploaded the last 50 on time, and so on.

Having structure helps you build momentum. To give yourself that forward energy that lets you fight past the moments where you're just not up to it, where it's work and drudgery, when life kicks you in the pants.

It also lets your readers know when to check in, so they make it part of their habit and routine, too. Because a reader who doesn't is going to forget to check in and see if there's anything new, and then they're going to forget about you entirely.

Plug on. Write it because it's an epic that demands to be told, demands to get out of your head. But don't give up, because there are far too many serials that die in the bud, and that hurts you and it hurts all the rest of us, when it just adds to the common trend of "I don't want to start reading a serial because they never finish."

In terms of basic process, I recommend having an end goal in mind. If you don't explicitly plot, know how the story ends, and try to make it so that every part of the serial builds towards that end in some small way. I echoed Kurt Vonnegut's advice in recommending elsewhere that you ensure that every sentence/paragraph/chapter/arc should do one of two things - tell the reader something new about the character (I stress the word new!), or move the story towards that conclusion. This can be as simple as moving it towards the end of a chapter, so long as that chapter is a meaningful part of an arc, that's moving you towards the end.

It's very (exceedingly, in fact) easy to stop, and it's deceptively easy to meander or sprawl until you stagnate. Work with direction, and hold to the course, keep at it, and you'll get to the end.

I'll second the parts about consistency. I don't tend to get invested in new serials until they've reached the point where I'm confident they're not going to suddenly quit and abandon it. I'm sure many serial readers do the same, because it really sucks when you realize this story you're interested in hasn't updated in a year or other long length of time.

If you've decided you're not going to do a whole lot of outlining, then yeah, like Wildbow said you should at least figure out where it ends, roughly. I started my serial with a few ideas and no ending planned and because of it the first arc is pretty bad because I had no clue where I was going with this. It (hopefully) has improved now that I know how it ends. Whenever I get stuck, I just think about what event happening brings the characters closer to the ending and how I can get this event to happen etc.

Your ending shouldn't be too set in stone, though. Without spoiling anything, the recent finale of a popular show has been heavily criticized for its ending, filmed many years ago, which didn't make sense given the direction of the later seasons.

So yeah, think of an ending but be willing to change if it no longer fits with your story.

So what you're saying is have an ending planned, but rather than have it be something like a rigid, structured blueprint I should think more like "how do I want to resolve these character arcs and on what note do I want the story to end" and let the ending evolve from that? More like a direction than a map?

When I wrote Worm, I only knew a few of the scenes (that had come up in previous drafts) I wanted to incorporate, and I had a general idea of what the final conflict would be and the shape it would take.

From there, it was a very loose, free-form trip to get there. But every scene and storyline basically pointed to the next scene I wanted to incorporate, and ultimately pointed to the ending as well.

In retrospect, there were a few points I meandered. The opening was one. There were also some arcs where, yeah, they did help flesh out the character and see her transform in part to what she needed to be for the ending, but it wasn't the right proportion of words, for what needed to be communicated. The story would have been healthier if I'd cut that out entirely or fleshed it out considerably.

Write it the way that works for you. You can plan it all out in advance if you want, you can kick your characters in roughly the right direction from chapter to chapter, or you can wing it. I think you should definitely know where you're heading in the end as a minimum; otherwise, your story runs the risk of meandering all over the place and never getting anywhere.

Personally, I tend to write 'stepping stone' style, which is much like Wildbow. I know the plot/character points I want to hit, maybe how the story ends up there, but generally I let the story take shape naturally as I write it. Discovery writing is awesome fun.

I think the key piece of advice I'd give is to find a sustainable pace. Wildbow covered a lot of this, about figuring out your natural chapter size, how long it takes to craft each one, and what your pace should be from that. It's a marathon. It's going to become a part of your everyday life. It might take a while to settle it into place, but find a pace that is sustainable and works for you.

Also, good luck!

as for where to set up, well, <coughcheckthelinkinmysigcough>

If you are just starting out, I would worry more about writing regularly and keeping to the schedule than creating an audience. Also, reading other serials, commenting on them, and becoming part of the regular audience that says something meaningful or funny will get people interested in your serial. (hell, thats the story of how psycho gecko STARTED writing a serial. we all told him to! )