Monday, August 20, 2012

Article: Adventures in Web Serial Writing
by Shiromi Arserio

Today, I am very pleased to present an article by Shiromi Arserio. She writes the web serial Shatterer of Worlds and has been kind enough to share her experiences and insights into writing serial fiction.

When I began writing Shatterer of Worlds, I always knew it would be a serial. It seemed to lend itself to the format. Perhaps it was Shatterer's epic nature, with themes of war, betrayal and rivalry, or maybe because I couldn't conceive of publishing anything this long. The rough draft was over 50,000 words, a product of NaNoWriMo 2010, but I knew after the fleshing out of characters and scenes the word count would be closer to 75,000. Since Shatterer is an adaptation of the Indian epic The Mahabharata, I also knew that the point where my novel ends was only a third of the way through the story, meaning it would have to be either a serial or a trilogy. Personally, I've always loved serials. They offer intricate plots and complex characters that become almost like friends, so of course I thought Shatterer should be a serial.

This isn't to say I didn't consider publishing it as an e-book. As life got in the way, and other fiction projects took hold, Shatterer was shelved and I discovered Kindle Direct Publishing. I began to wonder if maybe I could turn my novel into a trilogy. After all, aren't most sensible self-publishers writing a series of books? I briefly toyed with the idea, but in all honesty, life was still getting in the way for me. My dog had cancer, I was in a short sale nightmare, and meanwhile my manuscript was festering away on my computer. I needed to do a re-write of Shatterer and be held accountable, so I decided producing Shatterer of Worlds as a free web serial was the best option.

There are typically two ways of writing a serial. You can either take the “seat of your pants” method, where you make it up as you go along, or you can have several months' worth of material ahead of time. Since I already had a rough draft, I chose the latter method. Most of my work is planned out months in advance, so this is the method most natural for me. Unfortunately, because I was rewriting as I posted, it wasn't quite the cakewalk I hoped for. My plan, which I try to stick to, has been to rewrite about two weeks worth of posts every week, so I'll always be ahead. However, it doesn't always work that way. For instance, I moved and was off the internet for two weeks. I lost a portion of my head start, but had I been making it up as I went along, I would surely have fallen behind.

The issue of cliffhangers is something you often run into with serials. “Always leave them wanting more,” is what Walt Disney said, and that is never more true than in the case of serial fiction. To me, cliffhangers can be tricky. If they're forced they can seem cheesy or manipulative. They can also be tiresome to read, especially if they occur every 500 words, as in the case of my posts.

Personally I try to look for a natural break in the story. It may not be a “dun dun duhhh!!!” moment, but those moments should be used sparingly anyway. I either look for scene changes or important points just before or right after a character reveals a crucial piece of information. Mine are more like the cliffhangers before a commercial break. You are left with just enough story to want to continue watching, but it doesn't necessarily leave the character in a life or death situation.

Two aspects of the web serial I'm still coming to terms with is gaining readership and finding ways to monetize. People often gasp when I reveal Shatterer of Worlds is free. Personally, I look at my readers as my beta group. They are helping me make it a better book, and for that, I can't expect them to pay. However, I do take donations, and I offer fun rewards for donors. For instance, if you donate a dollar, I will take all or part of your name and incorporate it into the story in some way. One donor's name became a floating robotic target, while another became the name of a space station. When my donations reach $10, I even publish an extra post on Saturdays. Most importantly, my serial is helping me sell my other books. So just because a serial is free, doesn't mean it's not earning you money.

Getting new readers to the site has been my biggest adventure yet. I already run a science fiction news site where I advertise Shatterer and there is also a twitter feed, but I mostly rely on word of mouth. There are a few places you can advertise your web serial, such as Web Fiction Guide and EpiGuide, however, unlike with e-books, there isn't the plethora of websites clamoring to advertise your project. I'm okay with that though. I'm interested in building a slow and steady readership. I'm looking for readers that are in it for the long haul, a fan base that will support the books when they go on sale, and, most importantly, tell other people about it. Writing a web serial is a journey, and ultimately, I’m looking for people to join me on that journey.


Shiromi Arserio is a British writer and performer currently residing in the Pacific Northwest. Shiromi is a long-time fan of science fiction and fantasy and runs her own Sci-Fi news site, Inter-Galaxy Portal. You can catch up on Shiromi's web serial here and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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