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Although serial writing has existed for centuries, Charles Dickens is credited as the writer who jumpstarted its popularity during the Victorian era. In the nineteenth century, his first book, The Pickwick Papers, was released in 19 installments and published over a 20-month period. Many readers found that the appeal of The Pickwick Papers, in its serialized form, lay within its memorable main characters, who managed to get themselves into new and exciting situations each month. The serial novel was also inexpensive, which allowed an increase in accessibility to lower-income readers.

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What Is Serial Fiction?

Serial fiction is literature that is released in sequential installments, much like the format of an episodic TV show. However, serialization isn’t just taking a full novel and releasing it chapter by chapter—each published installment in a serial book form is like its own contained short story or novella, usually with loosely connected narratives.

How to Write Serial Fiction

If you’re looking to start writing your own story in serial format, check out the following guidelines below:

  1. Outline your overarching story. An appealing aspect of writing serialized novels is that writers do not have to write the whole thing all at once. While everyone’s creative process is different, it’s useful to at least know what you want to happen—or what you expect to happen—when serializing a story. Outlining your serialized book provides you with a roadmap to follow, as well as various details to keep track of. You can always deviate from your blueprint, but it can be helpful to keep a general direction in mind.
  2. Center your story around a character. Since the narratives may vary from chapter to chapter, one of the more important elements of serialized fiction is character. Readers will keep up with installments as long as they are invested in the main characters. For instance, Stephen King’s serial novel The Green Mile spends six installments following the supernatural experience and life events of its complex characters: falsely-accused death row inmate John Coffey and death row supervisor Paul Edgecomb. In The Pickwick Papers, cockney comic relief Sam Weller (representing the common English class) is introduced in the fourth chapter and immediately becomes a fan favorite, accelerating the serial novel’s popularity and effectively launching Charles Dickens’ writing career. Forming an emotional connection between your audience and your protagonist by creating a vivid, relatable, and memorable character is key to keeping your audience invested in your world.
  3. Keep your audience coming back for more. Each chapter of your serial novel should have a compelling conclusion, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be neat and tidy. Cliffhangers leave your readers in suspense, ramping up the tension and leaving them excited for the next story—but certain setups or plotlines should have some kind of resolution without ending the story altogether in order to deliver a satisfying payoff to your readers.
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4 Reasons to Write Serial Fiction

Serial fiction is written to be delivered in pieces, leaving readers eager for the next installment. There are many reasons why writing serial fiction can be beneficial for writers:

  1. A serial format keeps the story interesting. To get the audience to come back for new books on a regular basis, each installment usually has a compelling ending, while also setting up an intriguing enough story for the next chapter. Serial fiction keeps a writer brainstorming, allowing you to come up with new ways to progress your narrative. Each part should tell a complete enough story to satisfy readers, while also leaving enough for them to look forward to—which is great practice for writers everywhere.
  2. A serial format gives you time to reset. Some authors choose to write their serial novel all at once, while others prefer to write in real-time, only starting the next chapter once the previous one has been published. By having a set period of time between each release, you give yourself fresh eyes to revisit your storyline, as well as prior installments. Sometimes, less-obvious details may surface, giving you potential new options for your story arcs.
  3. A serial format keeps you writing. It’s important to maintain momentum when you publish serial fiction—writers don’t have a lot of time to amass a graveyard of first drafts. A set schedule (and an expectation from your audience) can force you to write regularly, which is beneficial if you have a hard time staying consistent. Whether your serialized fiction is published on a monthly or bi-weekly basis, having a deadline to meet can keep you writing from your first episode to your last.
  4. A serial format gives you time to build a platform. A great writer’s work can sometimes go unnoticed due to a lack of advertising power (and money), especially in the self-publishing space. Serial fiction gives your work time to circulate, hopefully catching new readers in between installments, widening your audience base. Learn how to build your author platform in our guide here.

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