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Writing Serial Fiction

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By OokamiKasumi   |   Watch
338 58 16K (1 Today)
Published: February 5, 2010
Writing Serial & Series Fiction
Not just another Novel idea


Please note, this is how the Professionals do it. Those of you who are Not professional are free to write (and post) as you please.

To view the Main Plot vs Subplot graphic at Full Size, GO HERE --> i426.photobucket.com/albums/pp…

A Serial Story is Not a chopped-up Novel!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I hear it time and time again: "If the story is too big, why don't you just cut it up into a Series or Serial?"

You can't just cut a novel-type Story in half to make a series, or use the chapters to serialize it. A true serial "episode" is its own Complete Story within a larger story. A Serial tale is NOT a chapter with book cover – and neither are Series books.

Individual Stories?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The first thing any writer learns is: "A story must have a Beginning, a Middle and an End". EACH Serial and Series chapters, or episodes, must have a Beginning, a Middle, and an End, too!

Why? To interest New Readers.

Professionally published Series books and Serial episodes, whether it's a TV program, a set of novels, or a comic book series are EACH written as whole stories because a whole story is more likely to catch and hold the attention of new readers or viewers than a random hunk of story from the middle of a longer work.

The difference between a Story and a Serial is:
Plot Structure

A Story has One main plotline.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A typical novel-type story has ONE Plot (action-driven) Arc -- the chain of events that happen while the characters make other plans -- and One Character (emotion-driven) Arc -- what the characters' are feeling about what's happening to them -- for each of the main characters: the Proponent, (the main character) the Antagonist, (the villain) and the Ally (love-interest or buddy). The overall story usually focuses on one main character's view of events while hinting at the other main characters' stories.

A novel typically has either two plot/character arcs: one for the Proponent, (the main character,) and one for the Ally, (the buddy or love-interest,) or Three: One for the Proponent, one for the Ally, and one for the Antagonist. Traditionally, the main plotline focuses on the Proponent and uses strictly their viewpoint. I have, however, read some excellent books that focused on the viewpoint of the Ally or the Antagonist.  

Some authors have more than three main characters, (Proponent, Ally, Antagonist) and strong subplots for secondary characters in addition to the main characters, but their stories are HUGE. (In the case of Fan-fiction, those stories rarely end because the writer loses interest or gets lost before they can get to the end.)

Stephen King typically has one over-all plotline and separate plot/character arcs for at least three characters in each of his books, which amounts to a whole story for each character. He simply alternates between characters at chapter breaks. This of course, increases the size of the story. Instead of one main story, Mr. King has three, or more, smaller stories all connected by the same events (plot arc) under one cover. By the way, Mr. King used to write Serials!


A Serialized Story has, at least, TWO whole plot-lines happening at any given time - Plus a Story.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A Comic book series, a TV series, and an Anime series are traditionally divided by progressive Seasons with 12 to 24 episodes per (seasonal) plotline. Each new issue or episode opens with an intro to all the main characters (usually done via the credits,) then focuses briefly on that episode's protagonist in the opening sequence right before the commercial.

The story then dives into the action, which is either a piece of one of the subplots (with hints at the over-all plot,) or a piece of the overall plot (with hints at one - or more - of the sub-plots).  Ideally, each character in a serial including the villain, has their own subplot story going on during the main plot. Even so, each individual episode is an entire story all by itself that dovetails into every other episodic plot arc making a single cohesive whole.

Go Here to see an image of Plot vs. Subplot
i426.photobucket.com/albums/pp…

The trick to doing lots of serial episodes is by switching the focus of an episode to another main character, so that each has a chance to tell their own story -- one whole episode focusing on that one character.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer had PLENTY of characters to play with, and then some. Buffy had her Watcher, Angel, Willow and Xander, just to scratch the surface. Spike, the main villain, had Drusilla or some other support vampire.

In the old 1960's Batman TV series, Batman occasionally showed Robin's, Alfred's, Commissioner Gorden's and Batgirl's point of view. Batman's weekly villain also got at least one whole episode too, (usually the episode that began an arc.) In addition, the Villain always had at least one close partner that eventually betrayed them.

The cast of Naruto is GIGANTIC. Typical of most manga series, that series is cut into even smaller pieces with one chapter spanning 3 to 48 episodes per Chapter plus 3 to 24 Chapters per Arc.

With 4 to 6 major point-of-view characters including the villain, plus the viewpoint of one or two of the support characters that are seen fairly regularly -- that's a LOT of Story.


Why Extra Characters?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The longer a series runs, the more 'story' is needed, so more characters are added.

A typical TV series starts out with 4 to 6 major good guys plus the main character, and 1 major bad guy with other minor good-guys and bad-guys wandering through the main plotline. The last episode in the season brings all the main characters together for one big, final climactic scene. A few characters are lost in the finale and the next season starts with those characters replaced by new characters.

Each successive season typically adds more characters plus changing the situations of some of the old ones.

Why? Because they need more story to keep the serial going.


Serial verses Series
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Serial and the Series share most of the same characteristics, with one major difference – PLOT CONCLUSION.

A Series completes ALL the subplots featured in that one book. A Serial does not. A Serial completes ONE major plotline, while hinting at others.


Typical Series Novel
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
MAIN PLOT Question 1
MAIN PLOT Question 2
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 1
MAIN PLOT Question 3
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 3
SUBPLOT Question 1
MAIN PLOT Question 4
MAIN PLOT Question 5
SUBPLOT Question 2
MAIN PLOT Question 6
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 4
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 6
CLIMACTIC MAIN PLOT Question
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 2
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 5
CLIMACTIC ANSWERS (Resolving MAIN PLOT and ALL SUBPLOTS)

Typical Serial Episode
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
MAIN PLOT Question 1
MAIN PLOT Question 2
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 1
MAIN PLOT Question 3
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 3
SUBPLOT Question 1
MAIN PLOT Question 4
MAIN PLOT Question 5
SUBPLOT Question 2
MAIN PLOT Question 6
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 4
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 6
CLIMACTIC MAIN PLOT Question
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 2
MAIN PLOT ANSWER 5
CLIMACTIC MAIN PLOT ANSWER
SUBPLOT ANSWER 1 or SUBPLOT Question 3 -- leading (cliff-hanging) into the next installment... (Remember - SUBPLOT Question 2 is STILL Unanswered!)


TV Series...or are they?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The "Babylon 5" series had one massive over-all plot arc divided into seasonal plot arcs, divided into individual but connecting episodes that all added up to One Whole Story. "Babylon 5" was a true Serial.

"FarScape" had a very thin master plot arc with strong seasonal plot arcs made up of episodes that added up to one Seasonal Story. "FarScape" was a series of serials.

The original "Star Trek" TV series did not have an over-all plot arc of any kind, merely episodes that could be viewed in any random order. "Star Trek" was a true series.

"Star Trek-Next Generation" had thin seasonal plot arcs with the occasional story that was more than one episode long. "ST-Next Gen" was a series with a few serialized episodes.

Each episode for ALL of these TV programs was a Complete Individual Story.


"No, you Can't just cut a Story into a Serial!"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In order to create a serialized novel, the story must be crafted to be a serial from the beginning.

~ Each episode should be an individual story with a beginning, a middle, and an end under a single overall plotline to hold it together.
~ Each episode can represent a separate adventure for your main character (like a comic book) or be a separate adventure that focuses on any one of your characters (like a TV or Anime series), but each installment must be an entire story all by themselves.
~ To tie the episodes together into a cohesive whole, each successive episode should either answer a Master Plot question - or answer an earlier Master Plot question. The key here is subtlety.
~ To wrap up a season or the entire series, the serial climax brings all the characters together then ends with a final episode where the main character deals with the main villain in a grand finale.

The Plot - Thins: (In Short)
~~~~~~~~~~
A Novel-type Story
- One whole story with one cast of characters.

A Series
- A group of complete full-length stand-alone stories (novels) all in the same universe with one (related or unrelated) cast of characters per story.

A Serial
- Lots of stories all related to each other that create one big (ongoing) story. A serial normally has one main cast of characters, though the cast tends to grow as the serial continues from season to season. A long-running serial is often divided into "seasonal" plot arcs.


In Conclusion
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The plot arc for a single title novel just isn't complex enough to be cut into a serial without major work. An ordinary novel just doesn't have what it takes, plot-wise, to live up to a serial's standards.

Keep in mind this is how the Professionals do it. Those of you who are Not professional are free to write (and post) as you please.

Enjoy!
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© 2010 - 2019 OokamiKasumi
To view the Main Plot vs Subplot graphic at Full Size, GO HERE --> [link]

DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ookami Kasumi
[link]
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Characterisation: Avoiding the Dreaded Mary Sue The characters you write are arguably the biggest part of your story. They’re the vessel through which the reader is able to identify with the themes and ideas that you’re trying to share. But creating brand new lives from thin air can sometimes be rather difficult. You have to find their voice, their needs, their personality; it’s a rather delicate balance, really. Rather tempting, and often encouraged by teachers, is to do a “Character Profile” to help come up with some of the details. These are often pre-made sets of questions ranging from the mundane (eye colour, h
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Comments54
anonymous's avatar
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ojos-aka's avatar
I'm just getting into writing and am a big fan of short and long running anime/manga. This section helped sooo much. Thanks for writing it. Any tips on outlining my overarching story and plotting individual arcs? From what i think i understand, could I essentially consider the MAIN plot (for a serial) become the reoccurring subplot and each new arc becomes a main plot until it's solved and a new arc is introduced? I'm still pretty new to this lol. 
kaira2015's avatar
kaira2015Hobbyist Digital Artist
How do you keep track of everything? Does it matter the style of your outlines? I usually just write it like how I would the actual story, and keep them in a huge "five star" journal. 

I also recommend, that if you are fixing or adjusting anything weather it's characters or storyline. to do so in the beginning of your story creation! That way you're not shifting through things you've done already!
OokamiKasumi's avatar
OokamiKasumiProfessional Writer
How do I keep track of everything?
 -- A loose plot outline, character lists, and detailed notes on my worlds.
When I build my games, I use a mind-mapping program (FreePlane) with even more detailing.
SSSoto's avatar
SSSotoHobbyist General Artist
What category would you put a movie like Kill Bill in? It's divided in two, but they won't work without the other because the first one is missing the conclusion and the second one is missing the beginning/introduction. When a story is divided like this - the story starts, stops in the middle of progression, continues, cuts again, then continues, etc, what is it called? I can't seem to figure out if the terms 'series' or 'serials' works for stories that are parted up like that.
OokamiKasumi's avatar
OokamiKasumiProfessional Writer
In the case of Kill Bill, they used the Comic Book style of making a serial.
 -- However, in my opinion, they were sloppy about it.
SSSoto's avatar
SSSotoHobbyist General Artist
Thank you!
OokamiKasumi's avatar
OokamiKasumiProfessional Writer
You're welcome!
interstellarmage's avatar
interstellarmageStudent Digital Artist
This is great information, and I find it very-very useful... But I have a question (Someone may have asked this already, but at this moment I have little time to read all of the comments).

I need a little extra bit of advice, due to my strange thought process when it comes to planning things such as this (I hope I don't end up confusing you too! ^^; ). I've decided to ask this before I set a "concrete" plan on how to set my story up. The answer may be complicated, especially since I am not able to completely explain the situation in great detail.

I happen to be planning to begin a story (Obviously), and the way my story is set up, it is similar to a basic novel but I also want to draw it in a "manga style" later on in the future (When my drawing skills are good enough). Now having thought this, I realized that given the size of an average novel, and how many more pages there are involved in a manga than this, it would end up waaaayyyyyy too large to become one large comic. I thought I could split it up, then I had read this, and I am now having doubts of whether or not I know what I am doing.

Any suggestions?
Any would be greatly appreciated. ^^

(By the way, I find your essays very enlightening, and they have been helping a tremendous amount so far in the process of creating my story!!!)
OokamiKasumi's avatar
OokamiKasumiProfessional Writer
Sounds like you need to make a plot outline. This will help you keep track of what needs to be in each section without missing anything.

Sadly, I don't write serials, so the best advice I can give you is: Go find someone who Does, and ask how they plot out their series stories.
ParagonOfVirtue's avatar
ParagonOfVirtueHobbyist Digital Artist
This is incredibly helpful :D :icongreatjobplz:
I'm guessing this also applies to short comic sequences (about 4~12 issues in total), each would need to have it's own beginning, middle & end while leaving a loose thread to tie to the other ones...

Say, if you had to chose between making a short serial or a "graphic novel" (basically one long comic tome), which one would you choose? professionaly speaking ;P
OokamiKasumi's avatar
OokamiKasumiProfessional Writer
I prefer to start small, and get plenty of practice in before attempting something huge like a whole graphic novel.
ParagonOfVirtue's avatar
ParagonOfVirtueHobbyist Digital Artist
Hmm... good point :nod: thanks! :love:
whatexists's avatar
First off I'd just like to say thank you. You have more information, more succinctly stated, in this (on this subject) than the first two years of my writing major combined. You have no idea how many times I've had the Hero With a Thousand Faces thrown at me when talking about how to structure a story arc. I'd also like to say that I'm a big fan of your "Writing LOVE vs SEX" and "Making ROMANCE." Those subjects are often muddled and therefore difficult to write and you bring a lot of clarity to them.

That said there was one sentence which was a little confusing to me and I was wondering if you could clarify what you meant:
"A typical novel-type story has ONE Plot (action-driven) Arc -- the chain of events that happen while the characters make other plans -- and One Character (emotion-driven) Arc -- what the characters' are feeling about what's happening to them -- for each of the main characters: the Proponent, (the main character) the Antagonist, (the villain) and the Ally (love-interest or buddy)."

Do you mean a typical novel-type story has One Character Arc for each of the main characters and One "overall" Plot Arc that affects all three? Or that each character gets their own Plot Arc and their own Character Arc? Or is it some combination of the two depending on novel length? If you could clarify that'd be great! Thanks!
OokamiKasumi's avatar
OokamiKasumiProfessional Writer
"A typical novel-type story has ONE Plot (action-driven) Arc, and One Character (emotion-driven) Arc for each of the main characters: the Proponent, (the main character) the Antagonist, (the villain) and the Ally (love-interest or buddy)."

I mean: each character gets their own Plot Arc and their own Character Arc PLUS, one massive "overall" Plot Arc that affects all three. :)

Break it down this way.
-- Each main character has something they want to accomplish; a MOTIVE for what they are doing in the story. That is their individual plot Arc.

Example of Personal Plot Arcs:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Hero (DarkElf): wants Ally to be their lover.
Villain (LightElf): also wants Ally to be their lover.
Ally (human): Doesn't like Villain or Hero "that way" and wants someone else to be their lover.

Overall Plot Arc:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ally has been targeted by black-market slave ring that sells humans to Wizards for research.
whatexists's avatar
Awesome. Thanks! That makes it a lot clearer!
OokamiKasumi's avatar
OokamiKasumiProfessional Writer
I'm glad I could help. :)
Android3000's avatar
Android3000Hobbyist
I learn more reading these than I do most other places
OokamiKasumi's avatar
OokamiKasumiProfessional Writer
That's because I actually tell you HOW to do something, not waste 3 pages telling you that I learned how to do something without ever showing you what I actually learned.
Android3000's avatar
Android3000Hobbyist
Yeah, I have noticed that in books
OokamiKasumi's avatar
OokamiKasumiProfessional Writer
Fake tutorials like that annoy the piss out of me.
restlessvendettas's avatar
restlessvendettasHobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you. This was extremely helpful, I enjoy writing but have a hard time writing chapter based stories because i see them like episodes or scenes. So this was very VERY helpful. You do a good job of explaining yourself.
OokamiKasumi's avatar
OokamiKasumiProfessional Writer
Thank you!
-- I try to make my explanations clear and easy to use.
bribble's avatar
bribble Digital Artist
Out of curiosity, how would you do this for something like a web-comic, where each update is only one to three pages?
anonymous's avatar
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