This week, we are pleased to have a guest post from Andrew Eckhart who has posted episodes of his serial “Last Mage” to Tuesday Serial. He’s got some terrific insights to how writing serials can help you become a better writer. Welcome, Andrew!
“Mastering the Craft of Writing with Serial Fiction”
by Andrew Eckart
Fellow writer Claudia Hall Christian has called writing serial fiction the “big leagues” and I agree with her. Serial fiction forces writers to focus and practice and produce, concepts I’ll get to in a moment, but it also allows writers to feel accomplished, acknowledged and legitimized, especially if they haven’t had the opportunity to publish before. To writers who are still on the fence about jumping into the world of serial fiction, let me lay out a few benefits that I have come to cherish about the format.
Enhanced Focus on What’s Important
Writing taps into the creative part of our brain, the part most apt to free-associate or, run off on tangents. If a writer is a “by the seat of their pants” type rather than a “meticulous planner” (two extremes on the scale), they might find themselves distracted by goings on in their story that does not enhance the story. And, when one has the luxury of sitting around with the same story for an indeterminate amount of time, that tendency is amplified.
Instinctively, we know how a story should unfold. We learn this from an early age either from Disney, Saturday morning cartoons, or stories that parents read to us before bed. The largest aspect of the entertainment industry is, in fact, storytelling. What serial fiction forces us to do is to work to a deadline, which enhances our focus on what’s important and vital in a story. When one doesn’t have the time to focus on purple prose, the story is that much more enhanced.
An Enhanced Voice
Each of us has developed our own type of storytelling, our voice. This voice is a reflection of our thought-patterns, how we see the world and how we relate to others. Sometimes, especially for beginning writers, we lose that uniqueness by over-thinking the words we put down on the page. This is not to say that we shouldn’t self-censor, but we should recognize when that censoring comes at the expense of our own voice.
The time constraint of serial fiction, the constant drive to produce, again, forces writers to consider, in their editing phase (if they have one) if reworking how something is worded is an improvement or an accurate representation of their thought at the time.
Additionally, it gives writers greater confidence in their own voice, which I’ll cover below.
In “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell, Gladwell details the idea of “deliberate practice” developed by Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson. There’s a lot of psychology mumbo-jumbo going on in there, but the essential idea is this: When one practices with intensity, self-correction and goals, the quality of that practice is far and away more effective than simple rote repetition.
When you next sit down to write for yourself, think about how you feel, about how you write. Do you allow yourself mistakes, thinking you’ll get back to it? Do you gloss over important details? Do you feel invested in what you’re putting down on paper?
Compare that to how you feel and think when writing for publication, for others to see? Are your descriptions clearer? Do you take greater consideration for things to make sense? Do you develop ideas more fully?
Of course each person is different, but creating work with the explicit thought that someone will soon be reading what you’ve written fundamentally changes the sort of writing you’re doing.
A few writers I’ve told that to say that that makes writing stressful, hard work. But here’s the thing: Writing is fun. Great writing is hard. With serial fiction we are forced to look at our work through the lens of very nearly immediately publishing it. With this deliberate practice, we develop the skills to tackle difficult passages — because we simply don’t have time to waste lamenting over how hard it is. With this goal-oriented approach, we become confident in our own ability to craft what we want how we want.
Have you ever looked back on a piece you’ve written five months ago and think “what was I thinking just then?” If you don’t, I envy you. Often I find myself flabbergasted by a passage I’ve written and the idea of having someone review that is hair-raising at the least. With serial fiction, the story is always at the forefront of your creative mind, percolating away in your subconscious or active imagination. When you release a chapter or a part, the feedback that you receive can be readily incorporated into the overall structure of your story, both conceptually in your mind and practically, in your writing.
Consider this: You’ve just written a one-hundred thousand word novel about the plight of dragons in 1950s middle America, a la “Leave it to Beaver.” Your first reader loves it, and so you send it on to an editor, confident in the work. But when you get the manuscript back, the editor has pointed out a fatal flaw in the plot in the second act, thereby negating half to a third of your hard work.
Instead, you’ve been writing it in serial fashion, putting it on the web about two weeks after you’ve written it. A smart observer points out that, in fact, dragons don’t film well in monochrome and it turns them evil. Right then and there you have the option to address the issue that would have corrupted the rest of your work. This is an extreme example, but, like forgetting to hit save, it only takes once to ruin your day. Or month.
Most importantly, serial fiction allows you to receive support from your readers. I promise you that whatever it is you’re writing: Supernatural Romance, Time Traveling Hijinks, a written reality television show based on the life of an amoeba that lives on the ear of a cat, you will find an audience that will enjoy your work. These readers will give you the courage and the confidence to continue, when you’re feeling down or unsure about your own work. If for no other reason that this, you should pursue writing in a serial format.
Serial fiction is hard work. It can be stressful, hair-pullingly annoying and make one consider the pint of slow-churned cookies and cream in the freezer a viable “snack,” but it is incredibly rewarding. Take this advice and forth to learn more about your craft and your ability. Serial fiction can help you gain confidence in your ideas and your skills. Just start at Chapter 1.
Andrew Eckhart is an author, podcaster and scriptwriter and writes the serial story Last Mage, a modern-day sci-fi/fantasy tale about the end of the world. He can be found ranting and raving on twitter, @imagechaos or on his writing blog.