Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thoughts on Writing The Online Novel - What's Next?

Test of Freedom, the winter serial, ended on Monday.  That was a commitment I made before I was laid off and my life got flipped around a couple of times.  I figure this is a good time to stop and think about what I'm doing next and why and all that.

These are more or less random thoughts on web serials in general and my serials in particular.

1.) What am I going to do next?

I'm taking a week off from serializing anything -- next week I'll post a flash fiction story on Monday, and my favorite joke on Thursday.  (The joke, btw, involves Moses and Jesus behaving like ordinary human golfers.  I think it's kinda sweet myself, but if you are offended by that sort of thing, you'll want to skip next Thursday's post.)

Then for the month of March, I will be posting a short serialization of a Mick and Casey novelette: A Fistful of Divas, in which Mick and Casey are looking forward to hearing a concert by some visiting opera singers.... only the concert gets canceled when a local rough-neck takes a pot-shot at the company.

There will be another short break for short fiction and then....

2.) When is the summer serial going to start?

The Case of the Misplaced Baroness will begin on April 8, whether I'm ready or not.  It is a flashback from Misplaced Hero, and I still have not decided if it will overlap with Misplaced Hero, or if it will actually have a full story that will finish up before that one began.

This story, btw, actually begins the main story of the series.  The story of Alex and Thorny is kind of a side story, though I hope to bring them back into it soon.  I call the main series "The Perils of Lady Pauline," and you will see why in the very first paragraph or so of the very first episode.

3.) Test of Freedom and the flavor of my blog. 

I chose to serialize Test of Freedom for two reasons: It was already finished, and because fall and winter were so busy at the day job, I needed a break.  AND the story has an episodic quality that makes me think serialization is the best way to go with it. 

So I did it because it was good for me and good for the story... but I didn't consider whether it was good for the blog.  Furthermore, even though I think serialization is good for the story, I don't think my blog is good for the story.

So one part of me wants to take Test of Freedom and its subsequent stories (of which I know there are two but there could be more, or it could simply be unending like a soap opera) and creating a separate blog for it.  JUST for it.  Longer episodes once a week.  Maybe even twice-a-month.

The problem with this is that it puts my sanity at risk.  That series, since it exists at least in draft form, offers me a break. And if I don't publish it here on this blog during the winter, I have to keep writing other things. Things that aren't my main novels.  Things I don't make any money at. Things that require freaking illustrations!

The good thing about it is... It forces me to keep writing other things twice a week.

But the most important thing, I think, is that the whole Freedom series has a different tone and style than a lot of my writing. Yes, it does actually hit a lot of the same old-fashioned notes that most of my work hits. However, I think that The Perils of Lady Pauline actually match the tone of my mysteries better.

This is especially true since it will always have a certain mystery adventure aspect -- note that even with The Case of the Misplaced Hero, which is largely a simple get-in-and-out-of-trouble adventure, featured a mystery and investigation for all the characters other than Alex and Thorny.

The Freedom stories feature twists and turns, but it's a melodrama. It needs space, and I actually think the short episode format robs it of some gravitas. (It also robs the thing of its humor, as most of the humor takes more time to set up.)

4.) Can a serial be too spread out?  Can twice-a-month work for me?

Hey, it worked for Street and Smith (the publishers of many early pulp magazines, who published everything "twice-a-month").

There are people who publish monthly serials.  I don't know how well they do, but I notice almost all of them I've seen publish LONG episodes. I would not be publishing something all that long.  Part of the point of doing a slower schedule would be to ease the work.  And even if I did the same number of words total as I did with twice-a-week publishing.... that would still mean episodes of about 2500-3000 words.

The other issue everyone mentions with spaced out serialization is that readers forget about it from week to week.  However....  I was reading some mainstream press articles a while ago about the appeal to many readers of serial fiction, and one reader's comment struck me:

She said that one surprise benefit of serialization is that, when she has to wait for the next episode, it forces her to think about the previous episode.  To, as it were, savor it.  Like mindful eating, she focuses on each bite more.

I find that writing a serial novel is a little like that.  With a regular novel, or even novella, you know that the reader has the next chapter right in front of her most of the time, so chapters interlock, and don't stand alone so well.

But I also find that with that particular story -- Test of Freedom -- breaking it up into too small a chunks made it less savorable.  I wonder if a 2500 word chunk might actually give the story more resonance, more stickiness.

So I'm halfway to talking myself into creating that twice-a-month blog with longer episodes. (And fewer illustrations.)

5.) I'm having trouble with follow-through just now.

I think I meantioned this earlier in one of my posts about designing covers; I seem to be stumbling as I get to a certain point in my work lately.  I burn up a certain amount of energy and then I get fuzz headed.  This is different than being tired or indecisive.  It's almost like a silent migraine.  I'm sailing along, but then I get stupid and I need to stop before I break something.

This, I am told, is actually a classic symptom of, um, being a woman of a certain age who is going through certain physical changes. It supposedly lasts for about a year.

So I worry a bit about making too many commitments.  I'm now back at full posting deadlines, and I am about to start writing the twice weekly episodes from scratch, and I'm doing cover art AND illustration and, well, a bunch of stuff.  And I'm thinking of doing a separate blog.

Small steady commitments like these, however are actually a good way to handle loss of focus.  Rather than just spinning off into nowhere, you can keep cranking widgets.  I have found it really seems to work for me in managing the fog of hormonally-induced migraines.

So, in the end, what am I going to do?

I'm going to stay the course for a bit. I'm going to see how the summer serial goes.  And by the end of summer, I'll decide whether I'll do League of Freedom on a separate blog, or whether it will be the winter serial here.

But my brain is getting foggy now. Must wrap up before I forget what I'm doing.....

Tomorrow, I'll be writing about a book I found at Project Gutenberg: a little known novel called Phroso, by Anthony Hope, the author of The Prisoner of Zenda. It's another ripping yarn with noble ladies and dastardly villains and somewhat imperialist theme in that the hero is a right-thinking Englishman.

See you in the funny papers.

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