We are pleased to welcome long-time Tuesday Serial contributor Cecilia Tan to the Tuesday Serial site today to kick off our guest post series. We will be featuring guest posts every other week from now until December 20. That’s eight posts of serial fiction goodness over sixteen weeks. Welcome, Cecilia!
What makes web fiction serials so special? What sets them apart from other fiction (novels, short stories) and from other media? I believe that the combination of written fiction and the serial form makes a perfect synergy. Here’s why.
Audiences are used to consuming stories in installments. Comic books that are published monthly, TV shows that appear weekly, movies that come out yearly, books in series whose volumes come out anywhere from months to years apart—those are all standard delivery mechanisms for those media. Of all media, though, fiction is the most immersive to the brain. Fiction has this power because it actually delivers the least in terms of stimuli (visuals, sounds, etc. must all be conjured by the reader’s imagination), but the most in terms of density of information. The more vivid the imaginings, the better job the writer has done.
One thing about our imaginations, though. Once the mind has worked so hard to create an interior version of the writer’s world in our own heads, we want to enter that world again. Maybe that means re-reading the book. Maybe that means reading (or writing) fanfiction. (It’s no accident that Harry Potter fanfiction exploded during the long gaps between the publication of books four and five.) In the case of a long book series like George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, there was a five year wait between books, and some readers found “re-entry” to Martin’s world difficult without re-reading.
With a web serial, however, we have a powerful delivery mechanism of that immersive fiction experience particularly because it delivers small doses with regularity, drawing the reader into that world again and again. I believe that the more regularly and more often a reader enters my fictional world, the “easier” that transition is–the more permeable the curtain between the “real” world and the story world becomes. And the more real it feels to the reader, the better.
In my web serial Daron’s Guitar Chronicles, I regularly receive comments and emails from readers who feel like Daron is a real person. (I further foment these feelings by having Daron answer comments on the serial.) They feel like if they came to Boston and knocked on the right door in Allston, they’d find Daron and Ziggy and Chris about to order a pizza after rehearsal in the basement. I strive for a certain flavor of realism in my writing. Perhaps ironically, Daron is a terribly unreliable narrator. Or perhaps that same principle is at work. The more the reader has to fill in, the more vivid it seems. In Daron’s case when he tells you about a date that went wrong, it’s just like when your best friend tells you the same: you know they’re leaving stuff out, and the better you know them, the better you can guess what.
The thing is, my writing–my skill at deciding which words to put in which order–is only part of what makes Daron’s Guitar Chronicles seem real. I believe the serial form itself augments the effect. One could argue that the fact that Daron’s story takes place in the real world helps, too, but I also saw many similar comments on my gay high fantasy serial, The Prince’s Boy, which took place in a fantasy land not remotely like our own. Writers, of course, do still need to employ the skills of fiction that create verisimilitude–using telling details, internally consistent world-building, and logical character motivation–if they want to make it feel real to the reader. But dosing them regularly aids immersion. Web fiction is the perfect vehicle to carry them.
Cecilia Tan is the author of over a dozen novels as well as the award-winning web serials Daron’s Guitar Chronicles (http://daron.ceciliatan.com) and The Prince’s Boy. Her latest novel is a BDSM-themed romance novel entitled Slow Surrender.