Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Serial Fiction: A Thing of the Past?

By Laura M. Campbell

During the 19th and 20th centuries, stories from the minds of Charles Dickens, Isaac Asimov, Gustave Flaubert, Wilkie Collins, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle found their way into the hands of readers through serialized fiction in periodicals. Mind you, most people couldn’t afford to purchase books back then. Serialized fiction also helped sell the newspaper or magazine it appeared in.

Contemporary authors like Stephen King and Michael Chabon have published their novels in a serialized format as well. King gave up on his endeavor because readers were abusing his honor system. Chabon’s story was published in The New Yorker (pretty fancy stuff) with success.

Back in May 2012, Jennifer Egan published her short story “Black Box” on Twitter: 140 characters at a time for an hour over 10 days. I missed the chance to participate in the reading experience, but the first word to pop in my head is daunting. Now, if I were to imagine how I would have felt if I had participated, I think the flow might have been a bit choppy and hard to follow for me. If nothing else, it’s definitely a way to command the attention of your readers.  

Of course there are a multitude of reasons authors choose to publish serially, one being fast money. Others dole out their stories on their blogs or websites to garner readership.

So, is the publishing format of serialized fiction still viable in today’s world? Or are we trying to keep something alive that expired many years ago?

From a readers’ perspective, what’s your opinion on serialized fiction?


  1. I actually love the idea of serialized fiction - the idea of any kind of fiction delivery system is exciting to me, I mean, whatever way you get your fiction fix, is good right? The only issue I have is when it's done in less skillful hands and is more of a flash in the pan. I think about the japanese phone fiction from a couple of years ago - stories that would be delivered to 'subscribers' phones piece by piece. You remember the delivery system, but does anyone remember the stories? As a writer, I think serialization is DAMN HARD too - needing careful planning, even more than usual because each bite sized piece carries so much weight Interesting piece laura!

    1. I agree with you regarding the element of skill. We talk about short fiction often. I struggle to grasp not so much the economy of words, but the shorter story itself. I'm long winded and I write the same way. My ideas and stories have too much to say to be wrapped up in a short story, let alone flash fiction. In the article where Jennifer Egan discussed the short story she planned to tweet, she said she worked for a year on the story, surely making decisions of where and how to break the story up into consecutive 140 character snippets. Damn Hard is right.