Serial fiction is a form of storytelling which has hooked the imaginations of writers and readers and kept them coming back for more – for generations. Let’s delve into past and present examples of serial fiction, investigate reasons for writing a serial or web novel, and explore the role worldbuilding plays in creating better episodic stories.
Are you curious about writing serial fiction and web novels? Then stay tuned for what’s next!
What is Serial Fiction?
Serial fiction is a storytelling tradition which may be as old as stories themselves. Instead of getting the whole epic tale at once, stories unfold in a series of installments or episodes. These episodes are usually released periodically, allowing readers to follow a story and watch it develop over time. In some cases, they can even influence the ending!
Some of these stories, collected into “seasons” or “chapters,” can be republished as an anthology, web novel or even a series of novels. In some media, such as comics, audio dramas, or television series, there may be no predetermined end to the story. To quote Tolkien, the road goes ever on, until the muse stops providing new material or the audience loses interest.
Serialized Novels: a Pulp Fiction Past
The roots of writing serial fiction can be traced back to the 17th century when it gained popularity in newspapers and magazines. Charles Dickens famously serialized many of his novels in this manner, including The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist. Fans waited eagerly for each chapter, the same way modern audiences wait for the next episode of their favorite TV series.
Other classic speculative novels produced as serials include 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
This method of publishing allowed authors to build anticipation and engage readers in an ongoing narrative. It also provided a steady income, which was a rarity for writers of the time.
Writing a Serial: Other Episodic Media
Serial fiction isn’t limited to literature and novels. It has found a home in other forms of media as well. Television series, for example, often follow a serial format, with each episode contributing to an overarching storyline. Comics are another excellent example of serial storytelling, as they release issues or episodes to continue a larger narrative.
Serial Writing in the Digital Age
Whether it’s web novels, audio dramas, or web comics, serial fiction has found a new lease on life in the digital age. Actual play podcasts are another form of serial storytelling, as well, with each gaming session serving as a fresh episode. If you want to learn to write a serial, listening to audio dramas and actual play podcasts can help you get a handle on big picture aspects like pacing. Because television series are primarily a serialized format, resources focused on writing for television can also be useful for learning to write a serial, audio drama or web comic.
Of course, one of the best ways to learn to write a serial is to read popular web novels. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to find them.
Where Can You Publish a Web Novel?
Today, the digital landscape has opened up new avenues for serialized fiction. Readers can access these stories on their smartphones or computers, making it easier than ever to follow their favorite serials. If you’re looking to explore writing a serial or web novel, there are several platforms you can check out:
- Royal Road: Known for its extensive library of web novels and litRPG stories.
- Kindle Vella: Amazon’s platform for serialized fiction, accessible to Kindle users.
- Wattpad: A global community of writers and readers, where you can find countless serial stories.
- World Anvil: A hub for worldbuilding and storytelling, with many serial fiction authors showcasing their work.
Platforms like Kindle Vella, Wattpad, and Royal Road have given authors the opportunity to share their stories with a global audience. World Anvil also offers the ability to publish serial fiction and share it with our community of 2 million users, through Manuscripts (a Guild feature).
You can see some examples of our Community Manuscripts here. People can like, bookmark, and leave comments on individual chapters, as well as following a particular story or author. And engaged readers can dig deeper into the lore of the world in between episodes.
Reasons for Writing a Serial or Web Novel
Writing a serial can be a good choice for authors who like to see results from their efforts quickly, and are flexible about where the story goes. It’s a great option for pantsers, or discovery writers, because they can get quick feedback from readers while the story is in progress.
That feedback can also serve as powerful motivation for sticking with the story and producing more prose. It’s also a good choice for writers who have tons of ideas, but struggle with knowing which ones are worth pursuing all the way through a full novel draft. (My fellow ADHD writers – this kind of writing might just be the steady dopamine feed you’ve been seeking).
Instead of writing an entire novel, painstakingly editing it for submission, sending it out to agents or publishers, and then potentially revising it several more times, you can get reactions from real readers – and build up a passionate following – very early in the process.
It’s also a good way to build transferrable writing skills. Serialized storytelling is how television series, comic books, audio dramas, and a variety of other storytelling forms naturally play out. So learning how to write a web novel can give you valuable experience if you want to expand into other media.
Tips for Writing a Serial or Web Novel
The biggest challenge in writing serial fiction is delivering a satisfying experience, while still keeping your audience curious about what happens next. If you drag plot resolution out too long, people get frustrated and give up. But if you deliver all the answers too soon, they have no reason to go on. It’s a tricky balance to maintain! And there are other quirks, as well.
Writing serial fiction comes with its own set of unique challenges and opportunities:
- Consistency: Maintaining worldbuilding consistency and plot continuity across multiple episodes can be a challenge, but is essential for keeping readers engaged.
- Feedback: Reader feedback can be a valuable tool for shaping the story as you go along. Embrace this interaction with your audience.
- Planning: Having a loose plan for the overarching narrative can help you stay on course while allowing for organic story development.
- Cliffhangers: Use these sparingly to keep readers eagerly awaiting the next installment. Too many can exhaust readers or create a “boy who cried wolf” situation.
- Character Growth: Consider the long-term development of your characters. Resolving character arcs can give readers a sense of progress without ending the main story.
As you might guess, worldbuilding can be a fantastic tool for writing engaging serial fiction! As you interweave and resolve character stories, the mysteries of your world can keep pulling readers deeper into your narrative.
Worldbuilding in Serial Fiction
Worldbuilding is an essential aspect of serial fiction. When you create a rich and immersive setting, readers are always ready to explore what may wait around the next corner – or in the next episode. World Anvil can be invaluable to serial fiction writers, helping them organize and document the intricate details of their plot and lore. This allows writers to maintain consistent worldbuilding and avoid continuity errors as the story progresses for months or even years.
Did you know that World Anvil’s Manuscript feature is designed for serial fiction and web novels? For some writers, that means they can offer sample chapters for free, while keeping subsequent chapters exclusive to subscribers or patrons. For others, it can be a way to maintain motivation and publish segments of their story on a regular schedule – all while getting helpful comments and encouragement from readers.
Manuscripts are a paid Guild feature, but you can learn more about them here.
To maintain consistency and avoid plot holes, serial fiction authors frequently create world bibles. These are comprehensive guides that detail every aspect of the story’s world, from the geography and history to the rules of magic or technology. World bibles serve as reference materials to ensure that the worldbuilding remains coherent throughout the series. World Anvil allows you to create and publish a manuscript, and build and update your world bible, all in one software platform.
Serial fiction is a dynamic and evolving form of storytelling that has adapted beautifully to the digital age. It offers authors a chance to engage their readers on a continuous basis and build intricate, immersive worlds. Worldbuilding in serial fiction is a vital element that draws readers into these captivating narratives and keeps them looking for new stories.
Whether you’re an author or a reader, serial fiction has much to offer, and it’s only getting more exciting with each passing episode.