Sampling Serials, Part I: What the Heck Are Serial Novels and Why Should You Read Them?

© Miflippo from Stock Free Images.
© Miflippo from Stock Free Images.

If you’ve been paying very much attention over the past year or two, you’ve probably seen serial novels cropping up everywhere. Amazon has a program called the Kindle Serial where you pay a one-time fee of $1.99 (in the U.S.) and are mailed a new episode every week. Websites like JukePop Serials and Tuesday Serial attempt to deliver the best of serial fiction on the web to readers waiting hungrily for their latest “fix.”

So what, exactly, is a serial novel? Science fiction writer Susan Kaye Quinn describes it like this on her Facebook page:

A serial is a story told through a series of installments, or episodes, released on a regular schedule. … TV series are the most common form of serial storytelling today.

It’s been done before, most notably by Charles Dickens. So the real question is, why should you choose serial episodes when you have everything from flash fiction to short stories to novels available?

Because sometimes you want a story with an arc that continues on, like a novel, but you don’t have the time to finish a whole novel. You’d like a nice, clean break between stories, but novel chapters leave you with giant cliffhangers, begging you to stay awake for another half an hour. With serial fiction, authors generally wrap up the episode nicely. Yet, you know the characters you love will return for more shenanigans the following week (or month, depending on the author’s release schedule).

It’s the best of both worlds. And, when you’re done, you can always buy the box set so you have all the episodes in one place to read later. Another thing that’s really, really cool is reader participation. Since authors are writing these episodes by the seat of their pants, most of them welcome reader feedback on the plot. Want a certain character to die? Get pregnant? Go to jail? Weigh in on the author’s Facebook page or website and see if you get your wish.

I, personally, didn’t think I’d much enjoy the serial fiction format. I like my stories meaty and I like them all at once. Or so I thought. When I began to write full-time, I found that I sometimes needed a break from reading full-length works. I wanted a snappy, fast-moving story I could keep coming back to (unlike short stories). Enter the serial. It’s the perfect-sized read when I have a few minutes to spare before bed or while I’m at a kid’s gymnastics class, waiting. And if I absolutely fall in love with the characters, I know there’s more coming (also unlike short stories).

So, what do you think? Would you give serial fiction a try? Or do you like your fiction in novel format?

This is a two-part series of posts on serial fiction. Coming on June 18th is Part II, The Best Serial Fiction Today: One Reader’s Opinion. Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss it!

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