Adventures in Serial Fiction

June 10, 2011 9:53 pm by MRM in epublishing, serial

Starting a serial fiction work has been a devilish adventure in absolutely none of the ways that I thought it would be. The part I was most worried about – making the actual writing work in the episodic format – was the most natural part of the process. I fretted to no end as I was writing the first two issues of Those Who Die Young that the pacing would feel off, or that it would just feel like a cut up book with no beginning and end to each issue. Much to my surprise, it just seemed to flow. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that I’ve had this idea kicking around in the back of my head for a long time, so it exploded out of the gate as soon as I put the first words on the electronic page, but the rest just came from the story feeling fit for the category. Formatting for epublishing ended up being (mostly) a non-issue as well, thanks to my decision to go whole hog and just buy full-featured writing software, Scrivener from the good people at Literature and Latte. A few clicks and a little experimentation are all it takes to get decent-looking epub and mobi files (and if you’re paying someone else for that privilege, you’re getting hosed).

Deciding on a length was easy as well – it mostly just happened as I wrote. Twenty-five thousand words (approximately one hundred pages) ended up being the sweet spot to get a full story in that could entertain on its own, yet still feel like it was connected to the issues before and after in the sequence.

No, the difficulties were in two areas I really didn’t see as roadblocks going forward: Latin and Nomenclature. Latin seems obvious in hindsight, but as I excitedly rushed forward with my drafts, I never thought it would be a big deal. A large part of the story in TWDY has to do with the traditions, lives, and mysteries of people living in a city called Ratio. It’s a fantasy story, and the wizards of the world live there, speaking an isolated language that I modeled off of Latin. The protagonist, however, is not from Ratio, so when she hears spoken “Rational,” it sounds like gibberish. The language of her people (Feccish) is loosely derived from the much older language of Ratio, much as English is from Latin, and so I thought I may as well use Latin than try and go full Tolkein and invent my own language. Now, I’m not so foolhardy as to have long stretches of text in a foreign language in my English-language fiction, nor would I dare use it in big heaps given that I never studied the language myself. In the first two hundred pages of TWDY, there are exactly three sentences, each of which is (quite coincidentally) three words in length. Surely Google translate would be sufficient to get fine translations for such a small amount of short text, I thought.

Long story short (too late)… just… no. Don’t do that. Don’t ever do that. It took about two hours with the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Latin to realize how horrible my first two three-word sentences were. Alas, the googleplex failed me, but I wasn’t about to panic. I spent nine damn years in colleges of one kind or another, and friends of mine study all sorts of useless things. If you ever want to hear an astounding assortment of utterly useless but highly esoteric crap, play a few hours of poker with a bunch of math grad students. On top of that, I’m a member of a couple of online writing communities that I post to regularly. Surely someone, somewhere would have both the means and the time to assist me. Surprisingly, this was not so. I’ll have to earn my Latin, and I’ll have to sweat every letter of it.

Like I said, I never planned to use it extensively – it would annoy readers to death. Just the same, a real language is one of those things you don’t want to mess up. You will piss someone off if you get the details too far wrong, just as it’s always dangerous to write anything that involves horses, guns, sailing, or computers without knowing anything about them. Idiot’s Guide and abbreviated history of Rome in hand, then, I marched on.

The second unexpected gotcha of publishing serial fiction has been nomenclature. What do I call the issues? Are they issues? Episodes? Novellas? Issues sound like things for my psychiatrist, stories sound like I should be reading them to my niece around a campfire, episodes are of Seinfeld, and novellas should be self-contained. My serials are none of these. I settled on calling them issues on the covers of the individual (purchasable) things, and books or series otherwise, the reason being that the most appropriate parallel I could draw between what I was writing and something that actually exists was comics. You know, except for the part where there are comics in them. I’m honestly still not sold on that particular issue, but we’ll see how my opinion changes as P-Day (publish) gets closer and closer.

Issues and all, it has been tremendously rewarding to put TWDY to electronic paper and prepare to put it out there in the world. I love doing something that just isn’t out there. Having a unique format may destine my stories for the digital dustbin, but it has been fun to do nonetheless. I hope they are as much of a joy to read as they were to write.

About the Author

Written by MRM

I'm a speculative fiction writer that spent lots of time trying out new places to live before finally settling in NC. I love code, craft beer, football, and fiction - in no particular order. My currently running works of serial fiction can be found on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. If you're comfortable moving files around to your ereader of choice, always pick Smashwords as your e-bookstore of choice - they give authors a much bigger slice of the pie!

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