Sunday, 30 March 2014

What it's Really Like to Write a Serial


I have finished the final instalment of my PF serial and I thought it might be interesting for others to read about how I have found the experience.

As most of you know, I write short stories for magazines but up until a few months ago, had written nothing longer than 4000 words. Well, one of my goals for last year, was to write a serial - actually write one not just talk about it. So you can imagine how pleased I was when the editor I work with at PF said that he thought I was ready to try something longer. The only problem was, I didn't have any ideas - not for anything longer anyway. The more I though about it, the more the ideas eluded me. Then one day, I was writing a short story and it just seemed to get longer and longer and I realised there was too much story to tell in even a longer short story.

The problem was, I needed to send in a synopsis of the whole thing - aaagh! I don't plan - never have - but this time I knew I would have to. What I did was to do as much research as I could (my story is set in WW2) and make each factual event into a scene around which my characters could revolve. I then used a fantastic mind-mapping tool called Total Recall (you can read my blog post about it here) to group these into instalments.

The idea was to write a three instalment serial but by the time I had finished it had grown to five!

So what have I learnt about writing a PF serial.

  • Scenes can be much more detailed than in short stories.
  • You can have more that one POV (three or four). Pick your three strongest characters and tell the story through them but let your main character shine through.
  • Scenes with minor characters don't have to be written from a particular viewpoint.  
  • Keep the pace up throughout and end each instalment with exciting cliffhangers.
  • Weigh your story more towards your female characters.
  • Work closely with your editor and take their advice - they know their readers much better that you do!

I know I have mentioned it before, but if you are thinking of having a go at writing serials yourself, you should have a read of Cara Cooper's posts on the subject here. It was reading these that made me get off my backside and do it!

I've enjoyed writing my serial and will be sad to not be living with my characters any more but never mind, I've written and subbed the first instalment of a new one... so who knows?

38 comments:

  1. That's really interesting, Wendy, thank you.
    I love stories set in WW2 so I'm looking forward to your serial appearing.
    Good luck for serial # 2
    xPat

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    1. Thank you, Pat. Will just have to wait and see.

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  2. P.S. I forgot to congratulate you!

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  3. I love WW2 stories too, Wendy - looking forward to reading your serial very much x

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    1. It'll probably be ages before it's in the mag.

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  4. Well done, Wendy. Quite an achievement!

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    1. Thanks Frances - not as big am achievement as your novels though.

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  5. Congratulations, Wendy, and thanks for posting this. I hate planning, too, but sent a detailed synopsis for a serial to PF. They felt the idea could work but not in its present form and gave me lots of feedback but I haven't sat down and re-worked it yet as it looked too daunting and I never seem to seem able to set aside the time. You've reminded me I must buckle down and have a proper rethink - on top of the list of other jobs!
    Looking forward to reading yours when it comes out. :-)

    Lilian B (Rebecca Holmes)

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  6. Just being nosey really - but how long was each instalment, and did the first or last have to be longer than the others? And I assume that moneywise, each instalment was paid at pretty much the short story rate? I have always so far shied away from serials, preferring either to write shorts or go for it and try for the novel. I bet you will be tackling your first novel within the next year or two!

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    1. 6000 words for first instalment then 5000. Each instalment £150 - paid each time one has been signed off. My novel should have been started in Jan but it was too much with the serial as well and I then I go and pitch another!

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  7. Great post, Wendy. Halfway through writing my second serial - it's an interesting way of working! You have the thrilling experience to come of seeing your serial in print.

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    1. I am so excited about that, Kate - I can't tell you how much!

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  8. Really interesting, Wendy. I look forward to reading your story. I can't visualise writing something longer than a short story, so fascinating to read your position on the change from short to serial. Babs ( BEATRICE)

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    1. I couldn't visualise doing anything longer either, Babs, until I did it.

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  9. Great post, Wendy. It's amazing what we can achieve when we set our barrow down.

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    1. Love that phrase, Julia - never heard it before.

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  10. Congratulations on getting it finished!

    Realising one of my short stories was getting longer and longer is how I got going on my first novel. I've not yey written a serial, but it's something I'd like to do when I get a suitable idea.

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    1. I'm still not started on the novel - if I don't get the second serial, I shall have no excuse not to start it, Patsy.

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  11. Thanks for sharing such an interesting post, Wendy, and congrats on finishing the serial! I love the fact you got on and write it instead of just thinking of it (as we do).

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    1. I actually really enjoyed it, rosemary.

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  12. What an achievement,Wendy. And think it's almost a year since the WW workshop where we first learned about writing serials - you have done brilliantly! Please let us know when part I is out.

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    1. A whole year since the assassination attempt and the very large rucksack!

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  13. Personally, I like writing long (I had a serial in PF a long time ago now) but what would worry me is writing a WWII serial! I'm always nervous about writing anything that's before my own time but where some of the readers will remember it, in case I make some dreadful mistake! How did you get the everyday details right? Lots of research, of course, but did you have someone to ask questions of as well?

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    1. All the details were researched online, Kate. There is always the risk of inaccuracies (as there is with any historical story) but hopefully the story is enjoyable enough for these to be overlooked if they do occur (which I hope they don't!)

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    2. I'll look forward to reading it!

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  14. Great article Wendy, and look forward to reading it.

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    1. Thanks, Susan - it may not be for a while yet though.

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  15. Full of admiration at you taking the plunge instead of just thinking about it (as I do). Thanks for sharing this - maybe I should get my a..e into gear! :)

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    1. I have to say, it was not like me at all, Lydia. I had to give myself a great big shove!

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  16. POV can get confusing at times. I usually use 1st or 3rd person for my flash fiction and short stories. I think whatever you choose, its important to stick to it throughout the story, otherwise it can get confusing.
    There is a good book called ''Plot and Structure'' by James Scott Bell that explains that in detail.
    Looking forward to reading your work!

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    1. I've used third for mine, Mary - thanks for the book suggestion.

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  17. Wow, Wendy, well done you for getting that serial written! You have achieved so much in what is a relatively short time. You must be so pleased and proud. And what helpful advice for someone wanting to write a serial. One of the reasons I enjoy your posts (and comments) so much is the insight you give into the world of writing (stories) for magazines, from knowing what you get paid for an instalment to the fact stories in a serial should be weighted towards female characters. Its fascinating and downright helpful to anyone wanting to break into the very competitive story writing world. Well done, again! :)

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Marianne.

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  18. Thanks for another helpful post, Wendy. Congratulations on getting your serial accepted and finished! :-) Thanks too for the tip about the app 'Total Recall' which I've downloaded. I used to use mind mapping a lot when I was teaching but hadn't thought of using it for an extended story.

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    1. It's a brilliant tool to use - along with my story timeline of course.

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  19. Oh, well done, Wendy. That is such an achievement. PF are very, very particular about their serials and require the very best, so that is fantastic. Can't wait to read it. Edwina McPherson (Leonora Francis) x

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    1. Thanks, Edwina - lovely to have you visit me here (I never knew you were Leonora!)

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