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Complete vs. Serialized novel-writing

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In working on my writing, I struggle with the impetus to write an entire draft and then edit to completion versus the more serialized approach of writing a chapter or two, editing, then moving forward.

This summer, I began a massive project, one that I've been thinking about, on and off for ten years. When I sat down to work on it, I outlined five (or six, depending) books and went from there. I've finished the first draft of the first book, and have begun outlining the "nuts and bolts" of the world back into the source text as a way to distance myself from the draft and be able to approach it with fresh eyes. I worked on the first few chapters in the more "serialized" style, as in writing a chapter and then editing, but quickly abandoned it for a more (at the time) practical route of writing, writing, writing until I got to the end.

In reading on-line fiction, I notice that there are two schools of authorship--those that post in a serialized fashion ("Scrolls of Icaria" pops into mind, although others certainly fit the bill) whereas others such as "Pluto's Child" just appeared on Awesome Dude as a whole text.

Is it personal preference? I love the idea of serialization, even of a completed work, as it gives more give and take between the readers and the author, at least, in theory.

But in terms of writing, I find that the entire novel is easier to write start to finish, unless you have a fantastic idea of where you're going. I've written a serialized novel (well, fanfiction) before, and that was certainly interesting, but the world itself was prepared for me.

Thoughts? Discussion?

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As I'm NOT a writer, per se, I'm probably not the best person to be listening to, however, I can't seem to resist making my own pronouncements, regardless of their worth, so here goes...

I feel that there are authors and there are story tellers. The story tellers are like the raconteur of olde, sitting around the table, or campfire, telling their audience a story, and embellishing it and changing it based around the responses of their audience. That is really, in my view, the way most (but not all) serial writers perform their art. They feed on the feedback, and they provide a wonderful story that the majority of readers will enjoy. However, they can easily lose their own interest as the requirements put in front of them by the audience causes them to become disenchanted.

There are some serial writers who do so simply from convenience, and don't welcome any feedback about the storyline. They are more like authors. Authors are writers (in my view) who have inspiration, and dedicated drive to get their thoughts out in their entirety, without any serious regard to the reader. You can be an author of a short story more easily than a massive tome, simply because it is shorter. It is the need for feedback (or lack thereof) that defines it, at least in my mind.

There is nothing wrong with either of these, or any combination in between, but I think you should be honest with yourself and give yourself what you need.

Now we can sit back and see the dissenting opinions.

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This is a well-trodden path.

First, I agree with Trab that it's a matter of style.

You can write the whole thing or you can write it serially. There are two directions on the serial-writing side. There are some who are well organized and have outlined the story, so writing serially probably doesn't differ much from writing it entirely at the outset. On the other side, there are serial-writing authors who may have a sense of direction for their story but allow readers' comments and new thoughts to change its direction. I suspect that a lot of stories that go unfinished are of the latter variety: the author runs out of gas at some point since he has no solid sense of where the story is going.

For me, I write holistically, which means that I don't know entirely where everything is going, in what sequence everything occurs or what side characters to develop extensively until I've written the whole thing, so for me, doing a serial story would be a disaster for my readers.

Releasing a story serially is different from writing it that way. You may want to release a completed novel in serial portions in order to maximize the announcements that are made and therefore get more publicity for it.

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No dissent from me Trab, I think you described the situation most clearly.

I admit I hadn't quite thought of the story-teller being that different to the author, because I was always taught that authors were story-tellers.

You have made a fine distinction, which, I feel certain will be of tremendous value for budding writers and even readers.

When I write, (ah, if only I had the time) I am definitely in your author category, but I do respond to what I imagine is my intended audience's whims and likes, even if only to antagonise them with something unexpected.

I wouldn't want to risk writing a chapter and then publishing it every week. I am certain I would end up wanting to edit something in chapter one because of an unforeseen event that I write into chapter 17. Then again I do write with a clear aim in my mind and hope I can transmit that to readers.

Some authors can write in what I call a streaming fashion from one chapter to the next and it all seems to work for them. I am in awe of that ability.

Others write the whole thing, and then post it all at once, while yet others only release a chapter every week or so, even though it is already a completed work. Such is the variety of publishing on the net.

I think also there are stories which do get posted all at once because they have already been posted (gradually for some of them) at an alternative site.

As Woody Allen's new film, which I really liked, says, "Whatever Works."

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One thing not discussed yet is how the story is written by someone who doesn't write serially.

I've heard from several writers that they don't start at the beginning. They have a view of what the story will be from the outset, perhaps not a detailed and finished view, but an idea of the arc of the story. Many of these will write some of the intermediate chapters, and perhaps the final two or three, at the outset, and then have them as a target, or targets, as they write, as something that will keep the story moving in the direction they want it to go rather than letting the digressions we're all subject to lead us astray.

I've tried it both ways, and while I generally write from beginning to end, I find that while writing an early chapter I frequently get strong ideas that will be incorporated later in the story, and if I write them as I think of them, they'll be there, available when I'm ready. If I don't do that, those ideas frequently get lost. Just making notes often ends up with my losing the flavor of what I'd thought of. So it isn't unusual for me to write, say, Chapter 25, while I've just been writing Chapters 2 and 3 and am awaiting inspiration for Chapter 4.


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A wonderful demonstration of the old adage "different strokes for different folks."

Also worth noting is how different readers approach any internet writing. I am a voracious reader, and will put almost any story I come across up on my screen. Where I go from there seems (to me) to have a lot to do with how the writer provides the story. Since most internet fiction appears to be posted serially I am stuck with reading most stories I come across intermittantly; that is, waiting for each episode or chapter to appear. I don't much like that, since my memory at my age is almost shot and I find it hard to keep up with plots and characters without having to go back into earlier chapters to remind myself of stuff. Unfortunately my only alternative is to wait a story out until it is all up and then read it -- way behind everyone else and their discussion of it. As a result I tend to only keep up with stories I like when an episode is posted frequently enough -- say once a week -- so I can maintain contact with the writing. I usually abandon stories that take long intervals between postings.

The writers who earn my gratitude are those who commit to a regular, predictable, and short-span posting schedule.


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I'd post serially, but only when the work is entirely complete.

Too often you find stories that grab you and then either peter out into interminable gaps, stop entirely, or the author decides to become an astronaut - promising to continue on his/her return from the gamma quadrant. :smile:

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Agree with many statements on here--I was just curious as to the nature of people's writing. I have a MUCH clearer idea of what the world is, who the characters are now that I've reached the end of the piece than when I started. One character's whole motivations changed completely, and the world shifted entirely. I can't imagine posting the first chapter without having a strong idea of the next 10-15 chapters.

I suppose the release of the novel is a whole different prospect--I am at least a year away from submitting the first book, as it will take 10-12 edits to bring it into good enough shape to submit. Perfectionist, thy name is Constantine. But the first draft is done. Really draft .5, as I've major things wrong with the text.

I was just curious as to the nature of how people wrote--I prefer the complete-write-then-serial-post sort of thing, as it gives me complete control over the text, and the story can be told as I intend it to be. The readers also can be assured that there is an ending.

I find the whole writing process absolutely fascinating.

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