Writers and publishers have tried to make contemporary fiction serials work, like they did when Conan Doyle and Dickens were writing them, back when people would yell from the dock to ships arriving with new editions of the magazines to get the early word if Little Dorrit was going to be okay. It would seem like modern, short attention spans and episodic TV would make serials a natural (again) for fiction, quick installments delivered in a flash to electronic devices. But in my experience, sometimes they work, and too often, they don’t delight.
I’ve seen e-serials that take too long between installments, aren’t written with hooks in the right places, aren’t priced correctly (for example, ones where all the pieces together cost much more than a comparably-sized novel), and otherwise aren’t really designed to compete or succeed.
However, I just read a crime serial I think worked well: The Year I Died Seven Times, Books #1- #7 by Eric Beetner. (Of course, my disclaimer is that I only began reading at a point when I knew I could read all the pieces. Maybe we should think about releasing serials in more binge-friendly quantities? Is it a serial if they’re released all at once?) Anyway, follow the link above for the entire Fresh Meat post I wrote for Criminal Element:
For the last several years, [Ridley’s] been on disability he doesn’t really need, renting out his medical marijuana card to a stoner pal and dealer, CJ, also selling off his Vicodin so he can couch-surf and exist on takeout…
But that’s Ridley’s existence before Miho Tsukiji, a Japanese girl working on a visa, who he comes to love quickly and dangerously deeply. Maybe the void of any other purpose in his life makes her presence that much more important, and when she suddenly says goodbye and disappears from L.A. without preamble, a terrible need to understand haunts him. In fact, it will kill him. Again and again.
For our purposes here, let’s talk more about the notion of fiction serials. I always advise clients to make dang sure their novel chapters have decent hooks, especially if we’re going to leave that character or situation for a bit. A good hook doesn’t have to be a true cliffhanger, a swinging vine over a chasm, just an intriguing-enough promise of something coming that encourages a reader to keep turning pages and forget the alarm clock. Hooks are the connective tissue that hold a plot-based narrative together, and they’re essential to a serial worth following.
When Eric Beetner‘s not writing fiction, he gigs in TV, so it’s not that surprising that he knows how to craft lots of little episodic arcs inside a bigger, series-long one. Happily, this story’s device of the hero continuing to die in some unfortunate new way in each installment kept getting better for me as it went, like a repeated gag that actually gets funnier with each variation, rather than worn out or dull.
To appreciate this story most, I think you have to be able to enjoy the comeuppances and fatal mistakes of lowlifes, of the desperate and foolish. This IS noirish fiction, but with an edgy sense of humor. Imagine some of the gross, un-fixable, but perversely hilarious events in films like Fargo or In Bruges or in an Elmore Leonard novel. If that stuff makes you grin, you’ll get a kick out of this.
But even if you’d just like to see what you think of the pacing and format, because perhaps you’ve considered working on something in a serialized structure, it’s well worth your time to Grab the whole series Now. The publisher, BEAT to a PULP, is offering All 7 e-installments FREE (40 to 50 pages apiece) on Amazon for a week as of today! Yes, the F-word. Do snatch them up and see what you think!
(And if you enjoy it, you know the score… leave a review! I’ll have mine up in the next day or two.)
What do you think of serial fiction? Are there recent serials you’ve read that you’d recommend?