Serials: Part One
What? You thought I’d post this all at once? Did you not read the title? We’re talking about serials! Of course this is going to take several posts! (Yes, I know I’m the only one laughing…) This is the first in a series of posts here and on Wattpad, plus I’ll do a couple of videos because I want to. When I’m done I’ll bind it all up together and put it out there as a finished product, but I figured if I’m going to share with you all how I write serials, I should take you through it exactly as I do it. One step at a time. One finished product in the end.
I’m messy. I go part by part. I’m okay with unfinished and a little raw. And only in the end do I pull it all together. It’s kind of the fun of serials. I love that it’s a little messy. I think it might be the most authentic “me” when it comes to writing. I never quite feel myself when I’m writing a novel. Not because I have anything against novels or beautifully polished masterpieces (because I love those!!!) but because writing (to me) is an art form. And art is a process. And art is sharing your world with the people it’s supposed to affect. So I love serials because it allows me to share my art with my readers as I’m creating it. Volume by volume. They get to come along on the ride and, in some ways, become part of the art along the way.
So first things first. Ideas and structure.
You’ve got to have an idea that can be told serially. What is a serial? It’s one story with many moving parts and pieces. Think of modern television. Many shows are now told episodically. There is one overarching story being told over all or half of a season. Each episode tells its own story as part of the bigger picture. It’s a glimpse into one aspect of all the moving parts bringing us to the eventual conclusion at the end of the season. There are some stories that aren’t suited to this type of storytelling, but there are others, those with multiple plot elements and multifaceted characters, that are absolutely perfect.
So before we delve into each of these points, let’s look at a few case studies. By far my favorite example of serialized storytelling on television is the BBC2/Netflix series Peaky Blinders. Each season is six episodes. Those six episodes tell the story of the Peaky Blinders gang, their leader, played by the incredible Cillian Murphy (whose accent in this is like silk!), and their cat-and-mouse war with Chief Inspector Campbell, in the aftermath of World War 1. Each episode gives us a piece of the puzzle while still leaving us feeling like we’ve seen a satisfying story. Another reason this series is such a great example for serial writers to study, is because in season two the story takes on a different, continuing arc in the characters stories. Two seasons with examples of how to tell one larger story with six smaller pieces. Take a look at the trailer:
Another good example is another BBC show, Broadchurch. Over the first series we follow the story of the death of Daniel Lattimer, and eventually discover who killed him. It is one story told over several addictive parts. In series two another related story arc is followed over several episodes. It is a slightly different example of how to approach a second set of serials than the Peaky Blinders example above, but both employ similar technicques. Do not watch all of this recap video if you haven’t watched all of series one (and think you might want to). It will ruin the end of the series and trust me, it was a good ride!!!
My final example is actually an American show! Arrow isn’t neccessarily what I’d consider the strongest writing, but the serializing of the storyline over the course of each season is! Comics have been in the serial game for decades and there is a lot to learn from reading them, or watching shows like Arrow and The Flash which approach the story arcs a little differently than my first two examples. In Arrow you are much more likely to find tighter story arcs unique to each episode with only a sprinkling of the larger plot. One of my favorite devices from the series is the generous use of flashbacks to Oliver Queen’s mysterious past. In some ways there are two stories constantly being told throughout the series. One much bigger story going deep into the past, and one happening in the present. They are juxtaposed in really fun ways and the storytelling totally makes up for the writing!
All right butterflies! Study up on serials and we’ll meet back next week for more! Happy studying!
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