Serial fiction

I've been thinking about serial fiction recently. Can it still work in a prose format? It works for TV, of course, and for internet shows that use basically a low-budget TV approach. I don't know of any audio shows that take a similar approach (radio or podcast), though I know that some writers have had success essentially serializing their novels as podcasts. But I wonder if serial fiction that isn't simply a novel or novella chopped up would work too, something more open-ended, even if it has a definite overall arc to the story, like some TV series do.

To be clear--I'm not asking this from the standpoint of "let's bring back the wonderful old pulp days when short story writers were rolling in the dough with serial characters." Partly because I think that's mostly a wishful, imagined past rather than the reality, but mostly because I actually like the type of short fiction that gets published today. Places like Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Fantasy, and others frequently have good stories, and I'm not trying to change that. But I am curious about serial fiction as well.

Michael Chabon last year published a novel in serial form, and I have the (now complete) book checked out from the library, so it will be interesting to see how he handles it...but that again brings it back to the question of a chopped up longer work vs. an open-ended approach.

Mostly I'm doing this because I like to shake up my own approach to writing at times, just to see what happens. So I'll be posting more entries about the process as it goes along. But I'd be interested in any other thoughts on the idea of serial fiction, whether in written form or podcast form since I'm leaving that possibility open for now as I work on the project.


Unknown said…
Interesting concept. We (Clarkesworld) talked about the possibility of doing serialized fiction, but nothing as ambitious as what you're suggesting. Definitely takes you in the direction of being a fiction network.

I think it could work for some publishers. For example, if Ace decided to launch an online magazine/network, they could do something like this and connect it to the book series they already publish (Shadowrun, Mechwarrior, Age of Conan, etc.) and have an instant in with those readers. It could also work as a direct outlet for some authors. I know some are already serializing novels with a donation quota that needs to be met before the next chapter is posted.

As for a current example, I think there is an episodic audio show currently running that set in the Star Trek universe. Can't remember the name, but I think it's based on the Defiant.

Daniel Ausema said…
Thanks for stopping by, Neil. Good examples of places that could make it work, though most of those probably wouldn't be high in interest for me. If China Mieville started doing some serialized adventures in New Crobuzon, though, I'd be all over that--he seems to have the right mix of popularity and credibility to pull off something that would apply to a broad range of SF/F readers.

One key to making it a financial success would probably then be a known name (either of the writer or of the proprietary setting), though possibly a good, intense marketer could get his or her works out there without the immediate name recognition. Me...not so much a salesperson...
Kynn Bartlett said…
Comics, of course, have done serialized fiction for decades -- in comic books, cartoon strips, and web comics.
Daniel Ausema said…
Yeah, I originally meant to include something about them and am actually in the middle of a follow-up post about comic books, etc. Thanks for bringing it up (and stopping by)!
Terry Finley said…
In a book, would it
be a novel or a collection
of short stories?

Terry Finley
Daniel Ausema said…
That's part of the dilemma--the way I envision it now, it's somewhere between the two, neither short stories nor a novel. Probably closer to a novel, with a definite preferred order and overall arc...but I imagine individual episodes (as I'm calling the pieces for now) could also veer away from the overall storyline to follow a minor character or simply to recount an entertaining adventure that doesn't contribute to the main arc in the way different parts of novels usually do.

And much as I like the description "mosaic novel,"--VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen is among my favorite books of recent years--the image that conjures (for me at least) doesn't quite fit either.

But I suppose that's OK with me--I'm curious to try to imagine how to describe such a project, but I'm willing to work on it without having a definite label for it.