Serializing a Novel

Of late, Catherynne Valente and Tim Pratt have been serializing novels online for their readers. You should go read them, because they are good, but that isn’t what I want to talk about. Aside from being a brilliant fantasy novelist, (she said most modestly and with a slight flush of humbleness), I also have a PhD in Victorian literature. Which means I’ve read a whole lot of Charles Dickens, whose novels were frequently serialized. What that means is that he (and Catherynne and Tim) published his novels by chapter, as he wrote each one.

This is dreadfully dangerous.

As a writer, I draft the novel, knowing full well that I can go back and fix problems. Characters evolve and change as does the story, brilliant ideas strike toward the end, and then I have to go back and rebuild the beginning and shore up sagging part and tighten up loose strings and add characters and thicken plots . . . If I had to write a serial novel, I think it would be a huge pile of steaming crap.

Think about it. It’s the equivalent of performing live on stage. Except that the story has to be both well written and it has to connect and you can’t make any mistakes. There’s a shark tank underneath your tightrope and you’d better not get distracted. It’s extraordinarily exciting as a writer to watch their stories take shape and to think about how they might be planning their stories. How much preplanning went into the plot? Into each chapter? Into each character? Did they get ideas they have to discard because they come too late?

Recently I learned the value of writing through a draft quickly in order to stay connected to characters and to keep focused on the story. I think what I wrote was good and while it certainly will need revision, the experiment was successful and I will try to do so again. But I’m too chicken to try a serial novel. I just don’t know if I could juggle it with any skill.

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