Four Lessons I Learned From Writing a Serial - a guest teaching session with Mariella Hunt
Hello, lovely writers! Join me in welcoming today's guest teacher, author Mariella Hunt. Fresh off of the overwhelming success of her first serial, The Autumn Prince, Mariella has graciously agreed to share the lessons she's learned from her experience.
Interested in learning more? Grab a cup of tea, and read on!
We live in a wonderful age in which there are many ways to tell a story.
Our self-expression is no longer limited to poetry, song, and acting; these days we also express ourselves through photography and 3D art. Human emotion can be captured through countless mediums our ancestors never imagined.
With personal blogs, we can tell stories immediately by clicking a button; nothing stops us from being heard. Recently I experimented telling a story this way, initiating a project that gave me insight on many things—for example, I learned what people look for in a story as well as the person telling it.
It's because I tried my hand at something I've been meaning to do for years: A serial.
What is a serial?
Later to become a full-length novel, The Autumn Prince was a short story I released on my blog. With effort and dedication, I published all twenty chapters in October. These would later serve as an outline when the time came to write it as a book.
You might wondering what I'm talking about, so here's a bit of history: Serials are stories released in pieces over time. Wattpad is an example, home to many stories of that nature; however, it isn't a new concept. Though the Internet made serial novels easier to create, they've been around for a long time.
They surged in popularity during the Victorian Era, due to the rise of literacy and advances in printing. You'd be surprised to learn how many classic novels first appeared as serials in magazines or newspapers. These include The Pickwick Papers, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and The Count of Monte Cristo (the latter of which stretched out to 139 installments!).
According to Wikipedia, "Production in book form was soon followed and serialization was one of the main reasons that nineteenth-century novels were so long. Authors and publishers kept the story going if it was successful since authors were paid line by line and by episode".
Crafting a Serial
I didn't plan on writing a serial—and certainly didn't write 139 installments! I completed The Autumn Prince in three days, making it straightforward but powerful enough to leave an impression. When I finished writing, I spent the month of September organizing chapters. My goal was for them to begin and end naturally as blog posts.
Aside from that, I spent considerable time advertising; I hoped to build excitement through quote graphics. I wanted potential readers to be hooked. With the quote graphics, I tried to make potential readers want to know the Prince before the serial began.
This picking apart of chapters meant light rewriting so they would flow smoothly into one another, making it an effortless read—but also one a person could follow if they stumbled on chapter 8 instead of 1.
I chose October as the month of release. Before scheduling blog posts, I made sure to edit them—lightly, because the process was going to be fast. If I dwelt too much on a single chapter, I'd wind up creating a novel instead of going through with my original plans.
Finally, I took great care with regards to the story's presentation. I wanted the posts to be consistent and lively. I made a header, using a calligraphy font to number chapters at the beginning of each installment.
Some might think that's a lot of work for a short story on a blog, but I wanted to look professional—I wanted people to enjoy everything about it. As you've probably gathered, the project took a great deal of patience.
Let me tell you, everything was worth it. I was shocked and humbled that people enjoyed The Autumn Prince, asking that I write it as a novel. As stated before, I'd written the short story and had few issues with the novel plot-wise.
Writing the serial helped me get to know characters and their backgrounds, even if I didn't elaborate in the blog posts. It helped me establish a setting I was reluctant to wander from when October ended; I already had a story set up, and it was still very much on fire. Why put it aside?
I can only hope the novel will be as well received as the serial, but that's up to readers.
Four Lessons I Learned From Writing a Serial
Of all the things I learned writing my serial, perhaps the most important was that my story is worth it. There might have been people who didn't like The Autumn Prince or my serial process as a whole, but I found courage to keep going despite fear of judgment or “unfollowers”—this serial was a confidence boost.
Though writing the serial and arranging its release took a lot of time, I gained more than I originally thought, both as a person and a storyteller. I made new friends, connections with people who legitimately enjoyed my story—something I wouldn't have known, had I listened to my self-doubt and canceled it all.
If you're thinking of writing a serial, here are some words of advice based on my short month of experience:
1. You must decide if you want to write it all first, like I did. I recommend it if the story won't be too long; since I had already completed The Autumn Prince, I never panicked about having something to post.
However, there are plenty of authors who prefer writing new content as they go. That's fine as well! If you're going to do that, be sure to keep consistency in mind. It's important to post when you promise to—otherwise your readers may have a hard time trusting you!
2. Advertise wisely. People told me the quote graphics I made for The Autumn Prince compelled them to click it and start reading. Try something like that; the key is to choose excerpts which tell enough to make potential readers want more.
Drop cliffhangers in your graphics, or descriptions to paint beautiful pictures for them. Ask close friends to share posts and graphics for you; it's important not to take on such a complicated project on your own.
3. Do not forget to make the header. Historically, serials were released as publications in magazines. I thought hard on how to take that tradition and respect it. Put things into perspective by pretending you made it into a magazine—they won't let you simply paste things onto their pages.
Magazines and newspapers must look pleasing at first glance so people don't skim! In your case, you have to work on a presentation that'll keep people from clicking away at first glance—and trust me, people can tell when you've paid attention to details.
4. Most importantly, you must look look at yourself and remember you can do it. I found it odd to assume people would like my work. As a naturally shy person, a voice in my head whispered ceaselessly that my efforts were fruitless; it taunted that I would achieve nothing but to become a laughingstock. No one took the time to leave rude comments saying they didn't like my story, but many people did enjoy it.
Assuming your work will be badly received is disrespectful to your gift and your Muse. It's hard enough to get the Muses to talk to you, so when the Muse says to do something, pay attention!
The serial is a historical phase of literature, a means by which we got literary gems and authors with fantastic legacies. I don't see why we have to leave the serial as a part of history; we still have creativity today and the means to get stories out there, through personal blogs or writing websites. You'll learn a lot about the craft by trying your own serial; if you know how to write cliffhangers, I'm sure you can pull it off.
And remember: If the readers want a novel, it's probably a sign to write more! Who knows? Maybe one day your serial will achieve classic novel status. Here's hoping...
A huge thank you to Mariella for taking the time to share her experience and wisdom with us today. If you are interested in writing a serial and have any questions about the process, don't hesitate to leave a comment below.
And if you'd like to see a serial in action, make sure to check out The Autumn Prince on Mariella's blog. Click here to start reading today!