A serial is a story, fanfiction or not, that updates live on the Internet. The schedule may be sporadic -- whenever a chapter gets done -- or timely, like Dvorak does every week. I think serials can be a great thing because if you get an idea, you can instantly share it with the world and see what they think of it. They're also a way to get fans, because they don't have to wait for the entire book to be done in order to read it. Fanfiction.net and its sister site, Fictionpress.com, started the wave for this (I remember when they were one site, that's how old I am).
(This particular blog post won't deal with serials that are written ahead of time and then are posted each week or month or whatever. Those are a bit different in design; this post is more for stories that get updated as soon as the latest chapter is written.)
Recently, Wattpad has brought serials into the 21st century by giving fans a way to follow their favorite stories on their mobile devices. I love Wattpad, and my chances of reading your serial skyrocket if you post it there (mostly because in today's society of ease, I can't be bothered to go to your blog).
A problem I saw back at FF.net, and occasionally see on Wattpad, is the "on hold" story. This sadly usually means the story will never be finished, because there weren't enough readers or because the writer ran out of ideas. So how can you pace your story so that it'll get to the end, or to make sure you don't get to the end within five chapters and have nothing else to say?
There are several ways to fix this, and over the next few blog posts I hope to expand on this as much as I can. But to get started, if you want your serial to succeed and flow well, there are two things you need to do:
1: Love your serial. This means not just falling in love with your idea, but also coming to love the characters and the setting. In Dvorak Classic, it took me a while to get into the groove, as that story is completely built upon the ideas others gave me. But I told my friends I had to start with two characters, to give the story a solid core, but also to have me get familiar with them. Once I learned who Carissa and Mac were, I could write them properly no matter what scenario they were thrown next.
I'm usually not that spontaneous; in A SHINee Night To Remember, my SHINee prom fanfiction on Wattpad, I worked out some basic details and got to know the characters really well. The real life Karen (SoulMatthew) will testify that I asked her a bunch of questions so I could create a character based on her. When it came time to write that first scene, with Kori and Karen driving down the California interstate, I knew I could capture it perfectly because I loved my characters and were genuinely excited for them. This leads to the second point:
2: If you love your serial, you'll do even just a LITTLE bit of planning. After the 3-Day Novel Contest is over and I can stare my computer in the camera again without wanting to punch something, I plan on fully detailing my own process of how I plan, just in time for National Novel Writing Month. Those posts are forthcoming. But a little bit of planning can take you a long way and ensure that, in the case that writers block hits, you'll know what to write.
I do full out planning for my regular novels (including my 3-Day Novel novel, which I am doing now). That process I will detail later. But a shorter version of this plan is used for when I plan out my fanfictions on Wattpad. I think to myself: do I want this to be a big longer of a story, engage the audience? Do I want it to be shorter? I think about this before every story I write. Not every story has to or even should be a hundred thousand words long. I made the conscious decision that A SHINee Night To Remember would be a shorter story. There are fanfictions that you do not know about yet that will be longer, some of which are already planned out.
A simple plan for me usually involves writing out what happens in the story, from start to finish. I call this a pend. For the record, that is my made up word -- it comes from "pending" and means that the story's been planned and is waiting to be written. Some people call it a map. Once I write out the entire plan, I divide it up into chapters. For an example of a short pend, here's a sample from A SHINee Night To Remember:
1: Kori and Karen in a subcompact car driving down the road, talking about prom and how SHINee will be doing a concert nearby and how they DON'T have tickets. Boo hiss. Of course there's a limo stopped on the shoulder and Kori jumps it (Karen is nervous). She only speaks to the limo driver to start, but Key as the English speaking one gets out to thank them, then drags all of the boys out when he learns the girls have been studying Korean in school (because of their K-Pop obsession). They go to In-N-Out Burger even though there's no chicken.
2: Sadness at the discovery of no chicken. "Did you just call him 'tofu?" They mention prom, and the boys decide to invade the prom. "We can only take one date each..." They figure they'll decide after the concert that night (SM Town?). They all climb into the limo.
Not everything from the plan makes it into the story -- I don't think I ever used that tofu line, and Kori and Karen are in an SUV -- but it helps set the tone. Plus, when your readers want a new chapter and you're clueless as to what to write, the plan will be your backup. Dividing the plan up in chapters helps you see where the parts of the story lie, and you can change the plan as it goes. I'll get more into detail about this at a later point.
Likewise, Dvorak updates in a very specific fashion. I usually go by quantity over quality, though by typing in Dvorak and not QWERTY, I know I'll get a better quality regardless because I'll be typing less fast. Dvorak Classic updated every single day with 1,667 words per day; The Dealey Five updates with 3,000 words every Friday. Usually by mid-book, I write a very loose plan for what will happen for the rest of the story, and continue to take comments from the crowd and fit them in as I wrap the story up.
I have a lot of writer friends who are "pantsers," ala they write by the seat of their pants, winging it and making up stuff every step of the way. This works for some people. IT DOES NOT WORK FOR ME. If it works for you, I'm not gonna stop you. I encourage you to do what works! If that's the case, though, I encourage you to at least know your characters fairly well. No matter what happens to them, good or bad, you'll want to see them tough it out and that will keep the serial going. That's what happened with Dvorak Classic (notably the only series I pants).
What is most important is that there is something keeping you going, no matter if you plan or pants or however you write your stories. Planning can help with your flow and make your story consistent from beginning to end, so you're not left high and dry with no ideas. If you pants and you find it works for you, find a way to keep your characters going without that plan. Get inspired.
Do what drives you, but don't stop doing it.
That's the best advice I can give.