19 years young and other tidbits

This month’s edition of Monkeybicycle‘s “One Sentence Stories” is up and includes quick fiction from yours truly + Nanoism contributors Ethel Rohan and Brendan O’Brien, among others.

Also, some bonus Thaumatrope bits from November:  Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, and (oh, I don’t know, let’s call it) 2012.

So Electric Literature just serialized a Rick Moody story on Twitter over three days and 150ish tweets. Unsurprisingly, people simultaneously applauded the “experiment” while poo-poo’ing all over it.  I don’t have the energy to treat the topic with the gusto it deserves, but—in short—I both applaud the effort and enjoyed the story. I do wonder though about serialization in the 21st century:

What is the impetus to serialize a story? After all, we don’t have the tangible, real-world constraints that necessitated the serialization of many early 20th-century stories in the first place. Do readers really digest serials bit by bit as they’re fed, or do they wait until the end to feast? My gut feeling is that the easy access to instant gratification in all forms of entertainment makes serialization (at least in terms of the storytelling itself) about as antiquated as watching live TV with commercials.

The question then becomes, what are reasons to serialize that can transcend the gimmick? I posed this question on Fictionaut.


robert 12.04.09 Reply

I like Electric Literature a lot. I have their first issue in print, and just downloaded their second issue onto my phone. I like how it’s available in a lot of different formats, and how they try new things. But the Twitter story? Nah, I’ll wait to read it in the regular issue.

Ben 12.05.09 Reply

Is the Twitter serial coming out in a more traditional format? I was under the impression it was written on Twitter for Twitter. It’s trivial to read now that the whole story is available as a continuous stream on their Twitter account. It was significantly more difficult when it was not only broken up over three days but also being tweeted every ten minutes throughout the day.

robert 12.05.09 Reply

Hmm. I thought I’d heard someone that they were going to include it in the next issue and were just serializing it out like that for promotion. But I may be wrong.

David Shrock 12.05.09 Reply

There’s an audience for serials. Graphic novels are as popular as ever. Authors like JC Hutchins launch careers from serialization. On #FridayFlash, @techtigger has a serial of flash stories that works. Look at all the novel series. Some readers prefer waiting to read at once, and others enjoy digesting a bit at a time during lunch breaks.

Personally, I find Twitter too brief for serialization. Need bigger chunks.

The perfect serial is the collection of linking short stories, not just chapters, but complete stories that work on their own. The reader that just wants the quick shot can enjoy the single bit without dedicating to the entire series.

Antiquated? I have doubts. Some good quality serials, traditional shorts for e-readers or new multi-media-digital-story critters, could ignite a small revolution in serials. Besides, will too much instant access start a fad in patience?

If the story is good, readers demand more. They enjoy returning to familiar characters on new adventures. The wait builds anticipation creating stronger gratification. There’s an audience for serials, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it grows.

Ben 12.05.09 Reply

Good points, David. And I tend to agree with your view on Twitter fiction serials, especially ones that approximate a traditional narrative form.

I do think though there is something of a distinction between a serial and a series. To me a serial implies taking a normally sized thing and breaking it into a chunks, whereas a series is a collection of normally-sized things (definitely some significant overlap).

Series, for logistical and temporal reasons, make a lot of sense. Writers can only write so fast; readers can only read so fast. But taking a relatively digestible thing, like a novella, and breaking it up by chapter is a different beast, and I think the success of these things is more complicated.

Then again, I take the point that things written with serialization in mind—thing written in tightly plotted chunks—probably approximate the satisfying feel of finishing a book in a series.

David Shrock 12.08.09 Reply

Ben, yes I disregarded the distinction between series and serials getting at success and history. Scale and digestibility depends on format and audience. “Normally sized” is relative, so true in the current market printed (or simple e-book) novels are the primary sellers.

I agree that serializing for the same audience or in the same format–or similar format in new delivery–is like a “gimmick.” However, there’s still room for starting with a series of short stories that someday ‘un-serialize’ into a novel as some authors have done in the past.

Today we can read online, less digestible than print, or on digital devices offering new formats. Remember the old serials for radio? JC Hutchins podcasted a serialized versions of his unpublished novel; different formats with different digestibility and audience. What about new storytelling formats?

Look at Stephen King’s “N.” a short story served digitally a bit at a time and complete in print for the other audience. The formats differ in that the digital form translates into other media (audio and visual.) Was “N.” a success? Maybe not so much, but what about similar ideas pushing new experiences? Will serialized graphic novels bring new experiences to digital devices?

Exactly, success is complicated. It depends on the audience, new technology, and changing habits of readers. With the growing interest in multimedia digital storytelling, it would not surprise me at all to find a future of serialized novels in new formats, or a series of shorts that become novels.

Thanks Ben, for always bringing up interesting and thoughtful topics.

Ben 12.08.09 Reply

That’s true. There are clearly some excellent logistical, platform- and publicity-building reasons to serialize. And, as one person brought up on Fictionaut, publishing something as it is written is essentially the same thing as serializing, and the interaction it can invite is a whole ‘nother ballgame. MCM, for example, recently wrote a short novel in real time over a weekend while asking readers to participate in making plot decisions via Twitter and his website. Interesting.

In the end, getting people’s attention is probably still the hardest and most critical thing for a writer to do. (That, and write something worth reading, of course.)

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