Serial thrillers

“To be continued…”

Do those words strike terror into your heart, or give you an anticipatory thrill?

For me, it’s a bit of both.  I remember hating that in a comic book, where I’d have to wait a whole month for the conclusion (or even the second part of three) in a story.

On the other hand, I like movie serials.  I never saw them in a movie theatre that way…once a week, with the hero caught in an apparently inexplicable trap, only to be saved and thrust into danger again the next week.  However, they did use to run them that way on TV as I remember…something like “Saturday Cliffhangers”.

In books, I like one to be self-contained, usually.  I don’t mind if there is a series (I’ve read the 181 original Doc Savage  adventures), and I don’t even mind if there is an arc. 

Many of the books we consider great novels were originally serialized.  It might be one chapter in each issue of the Strand Magazine, for example.

Allen McDiarmid, a reader of mine, correctly asked me when I was going to do the second chapter of  A Kindle Carol.  It’s been since December 1st that I published the first part.  That’s too long in-between, but it has been busy.  Research and opinion posts can be more catch as catch can for me.  Ten minutes here, ten minutes there…I can maintain the continuity in my head reasonably well.

When I write fiction, I tend to sit down and write a whole piece at a time.  I want to get to a good breaking point before I stop.  I may go back and polish it, but I would have a hard time stopping in the middle of a scene and then picking it up again. 

That got me thinking.   Culturally, it may be a very good time for serialized literature again.  Obviously, it works in TV, but that’s something different.  I think that people would like reading a chapter a day…something they can do at lunch at work, for example. 

The Kindle and other EBRs (E-Book Readers) are particularly well-suited for that.  If you are going to carry around the complete works of Sherlock Holmes in a hardback, for example…well, that’s awkward.  Whip out your Kindle in the break room, though, and read a chapter (if you don’t get called into a meeting, or run into your boss, or something).

People tend to talk about the modern short attention span.  Some think that  Sesame Street encouraged it.  That may be a question of the Big Bird and the egg, though.  Laugh-In also did a lot of short bits.

However, people will watch eight straight hours of  America’s Next Top Model  or Keeping up with the Kardashians on the weekend…or at least, the cable channels run those kind of marathons, and we have to presume they have some kind of idea what people want. 

Is it something that has changed over time?  Do our modern lifestyles better fit “bite-size” pieces than eight-course meals?

Let’s look back over some serialized fiction, and then consider if it is something you would want now.

Serialized Novels

There may be a reasonable guess that a serialized novel (say, one chapter a month), is not going to be the same kind of great literature that a novel published all at once is going to be.   Inherent in the format is a bit of gimmickiness…if you know you are going to be read one chapter at a time, you will probably tend to make each chapter more significant.  Your publisher isn’t going to want a two-page chapter, and your readers won’t want a month where nothing much happens.

You could compare that to, say, TV shows (especially soap operas) and movies. 

That format, though, hasn’t hurt the reputations of some of these works:

Great Expectations (by Charles Dickens)

It took nine months for  Great Expectations to be published in All the Year Round (from December 1860 to August 1861).   That publication was a weekly, and obviously featured different works in different issues.  Besides Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities was also serialized in AYR), Wilkie Collins had The Woman in White and other works).

Note that this was the first publication of Great Expectations.

Other well-known serialized novels include:

  •  The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1894-1895 in the New Review)
  •  White Fang by Jack London (May to October 1906 in The Outing Magazine)
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (November and December issues of  Vossische Zeitung)
  •  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1873-1877 in the Russian Messenger)
  • The Green Mile by Stephen King (six separate volumes in 1996)
  • The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein (September, October and November of  1951 in Galaxy Science Fiction)

I wrote Doctor Watson’s Blog: A Kindle Abandoned  deliberately as a serial…although it’s not long enough to be a novel.  That seemed to be pretty well received.

I do think it can be glorious to sit and read right through hundreds of pages.  My record is three and a half books in a day.  :)   I’m not likely to have those kinds of days now, though.  I’m much more likely to have a half hour here, a half hour there.  I read a chapter before I go to sleep at night.  I listen to books in the car.  I read at lunch.  I think I’m not alone in that.  Well, I may be alone effectively when I’m doing that, but you know what I mean.  ;)

I think publishers should think about that.  Not just ten stories once a month, like the short story magazines do, but even a story a day.  Having to distribute that on paper would be disastrously expensive.  Doing it in a blog format like this makes sense, I think.

Given that, I’m going to try an experiment and start another blog.  Don’t worry, family and friends.  I’m not going to write a thousand words a day.  :)  I’m going to do 221B Blog Street, and serialize the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories.  One chapter a day.  I don’t think I’ll be able to entirely resist writing anything in it…I may throw in a note or two, and I know the first issue will need an explanation.  I may write something about Holmes and that world in-between the books. 

We’ll see if people are interested in it, and if they are, I may try something else later. 

One thing that concerns me is that people may fall behind.   I’m hoping that most people will feel like they get to it every ten days at least, so they can keep up on their Kindles.  If not, they can always read them on the web.

You can subscribe to the blog here.

If you do try it, let me know what you think.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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3 Responses to “Serial thrillers”

  1. Make a long story short? « I Love My Kindle Says:

    [...] I wrote waaaaaaaaaay back in 2009 about how I thought this might be a good time to revive serialized novels. Some of the great literature was originally serialized (published a section at a time in a magazine), and you can feel the rhythm of that. I did start a blog to do that with the original Sherlock Holmes novels/short story collections. It’s never really taken off, but I still think that sort of thing could hit with the reading public. [...]

  2. Surely, you can’t be series Says:

    [...] This is different, in that it doesn’t create new material, but may be a real opportunity in a digital world. This takes a single work and sends it out in pieces…the reader doesn’t get the entire book at once. Some of the  great novels were original serialized: Great Expectations, Anna Karenina, The Time Machine, to name a few. For more information, see this post. [...]

  3. One liners #1 « I Love My Kindle Says:

    [...] see that Amazon is introducing “Kindle Serials”, which are serialized fiction…I wrote about why I thought that was a good format for e-books back in [...]

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