Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Serialized Novel – Part 1

By Deb McLeod

The Serial Novel by Deb McLeod

My venture into the land of the serial and serialized novel started with the death of my favorite soap opera. Yes, I was one of the two million loyal fans of All My Children (and I mean LOYAL) who mourned the passing of their lunchtime dose of melodrama. I watched when I could, sometimes going years without seeing the show. But, of course, was able to catch up within a week whenever I came back. As a writer, I loved watching the twists and turns, and marveled at the content churned out every week day about the same characters for over forty years.

Around that same time I began to notice nighttime television was changing. They still scheduled those horrid reality shows and inane sitcoms, but there was an added element to the nighttime drama schedule that was intriguing.

Revenge was a new show and season one was pretty good. My husband and I discovered Breaking Bad, which is a fabulous piece of writing (acting too, but that’s not my focus). The Walking Dead, Orange is the New Black, The Americans, The Newsroom and Boss to name a few. Have you noticed that TV drama written more like a novel these days? Great story lines and in some cases, great writing. TV is coming into its own.

At the same time I was observing television in a new way, I was looking into epublishing. One of the observations I came across was about satisfying ebook fans with quick content. Big-name writers were starting to put out novellas and short stories and extras for their books to keep the interest high while they prepped the next title for release. Amanda Hocking put words out. And out. And out. Like a book every two weeks!

I remembered a conversation I had with Francine Matthews years ago. At that time she had two mystery series going and was able to write a first draft of one of her series in eight weeks. NaNoWriMo showed me what I could do in a month if I made a plan.

So I began to look at television writing as perhaps a model for cranking out content. I know how to do the ‘book in two years’ thing, but I wanted to see how I could do it faster. Of course television writing rooms have more than one writer, but I thought I might be able to find some interesting ways they broke a story and if I could learn anything from the process.

I read a few books, the best of them being:
  • “Writing for the Soaps” by Jean Rouveral
  • “Writing the TV Drama Series” by Pamela Douglas
  • “Small Screen, Big Picture” by Chad Gervich 
  • “Crafty TV Writing” by Alex Epstein.

Add into the mix of television research, one of my book club buddies introduced me to Blake Snyder – another life-changing experience – and I began to get my process down. Having been a die-hard pantser, I am now a die-hard plotter.

Deb McLeod's blog on Serial Novels
I am writing a series of novels called The Julia Set: An Angel Thriller. It’s about the angels in and around our world and their attempt to contain a secret that will have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences should it get out. I envision eight books, high tension, with philosophical and spiritual questions, as well as a driving plot. So far it’s coming along well. The first book is done and in edits. However it took me over a year to write.

But the second book was plotted in the two or three days before 2013 NaNo and written in the first thirteen days of the contest. Hoo-rah!

So what does all this have to do with serials and serialization? Well, I’m going to serialize the series.

A true serial is one where the book is being released as the author is writing it. A serialization is a novel that’s already complete but is released in increments.When I build an audience for my thriller, I may join the ranks of ebook authors who are writing true serials. But for now I’m just trying to master the craft of serialization which has to fulfill the serial requirements.

And there is a craft to it: the cliff hanger, the catch-up, the openings of every new section. Each episode should stand on its own but also draw the reader through to the cliff hanger that sets up the next episode or book. There’s the dreaded third episode I’ve been reading about where writers often flail and fans drop away. There’s pricing issues to consider. And publishers who are stepping into the serial market.

Join me in these next few blogs while I attempt to become a serial novelist and explore the serialized novel and the market. I'll be writing about the how-to's, the history, the craft elements and the publishing. Stay tuned...

(To read Part II, click here.)

About the Author: Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach and founder of The Writing Ranch. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist.  


  1. Looking forward to your next blog posts!

    1. Thanks! As I learn and adapt my book, I'll write up what I'm finding. Right now I'm analyzing and comparing the cliffhangers in The Green Mile by Stephen King and Positron by Margaret Atwood. I'll keep you posted.

  2. Nice post. Downton Abbey is a good example, too. They have you hanging on from season to season.

    1. Oh good, now I have a new series to watch! Thanks. I've heard of Downton Abbey but never watched it.


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