Writing a Serial: Cast Adrift in the Middle

As you may know, I'm in the middle of writing an e-published serial pirate adventure, The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart. So far I've run a Kickstarter, written and released seven episodes, and been extremely forthcoming with my sales data. Now, though, I'd like to turn my attention to a more creamy and delicious topic: the process and craft of writing serial fiction. 

You might think I'd start at the beginning, and talk about beginnings and outlining. But no, not today. I'm going to start out in the middle.

Not long ago, someone asked me if I've become tired of writing Lucy Smokeheart. It's a fair question. I work on most projects in one giant stretch -- novels and games alike -- and there comes a point where you find yourself utterly adrift. You've rowed out so far that you can't see the shore anymore, you definitely can't see the island you're aiming toward, and you can't be completely sure you're even going in the right direction anymore.

The middle is scary. You get to wondering how deep the ocean is under your boat and what lives there. You get to thinking about how nice it was before you started the journey, how much more picturesque the view was from the beach. You wonder if your destination is all that, anyway; the brochures always make these things sound better than they really are.

The middle is where a lot of writers give up on a book. The middle is squishy, it's nebulous, it's ill-defined; maddening in the utmost Lovecraftian sense. It's difficult, both emotionally and from a perspective of craft. It's where you start seeing the differences between your perfect vision and your imperfect execution. Doing anything else -- anything it all -- is easier than carrying on toward the end.

I'm outlining episode 8 of Lucy Smokeheart, so call me roughly 60% of the way through. If this disquiet were going to occur, it would've set in some tens of thousands of words ago. I think I can safely say that I'm through the middle and just about to the roaring wave that tumbles me to shore. And I think it's been so easy, I haven't grown tired at all, because I'm writing Lucy as a serial.

To be sure the series has had its share of difficult moments -- the insecurity, the inability to solve gnarly plot problems, and so on. I run into it... roughly in the middle of each episode, in fact. But since each episode is so relatively small, the middle is faster to row through. It's possible to grit my teeth and press through the agony in a couple of days, not over the course of weeks or months.

It's like the squishy middle part has been chopped into twelve equal pieces and apportioned between the episodes, and as a result each piece is much easier to work through. Writing one big work is an enormous bell curve, but writing a serial is a sine wave.

In terms of emotional difficulty -- if I may shift metaphors here -- it's the difference between climbing a mountain and taking a stroll through the hilly countryside. A serial is just plain easier to write.

We'll see how that holds through the end of the series, of course. There's still lots of time to get tired of pirates or lose my way. But I have a good feeling about this.


Lucy Smokeheart is on sale episode-by-episode exclusively on Amazon (and affiliate link ahoy); in omnibus editions on Barnes & Noble and iBooks; or you can buy a subscription including future episodes on Payhip!