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Serialised Fiction – Part One

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OK, so I got myself a writing gig.  Check me out.  All being well, I shall hopefully soon be getting published online.  (www.owango.com  Check it out yo.) So what I thought I might try is writing a kind of progress diary of how that’s going.  This idea hasn’t worked out so far since this is the first “entry” in that diary and I’ve been at it for three weeks!

So I was thinking about doing this on a week by week basis, giving hints and tips, or just an overview of my experience writing it.  And how is it going?  Well, it has helped a lot with the discipline.  This is the first time I have had to write anything to any kind of deadline (barring essays at university) and within any kind of parameters. 

What I’m writing is episodic serialised fiction.  In essence, it’s like writing a TV series, only in text form, to be published on the net.  The episodes have to be formatted in a particular way, within guidelines that I’ve been sent.  I’ll be honest, that was the most trouble I had with the first episode, getting the formatting of it right.  Once I had that down though, the next was easier, much easier.  But I’m ahead of myself.  The first step was to write an overall plan for the series.  This is something else I have never done before. 

It’s actually been something of an eye opener.  I might as well get it out of the way that el muggins here chose to run with that idea.  That’s right folks, I sent them the idea I was talking about in my previous post, about revisiting old work.  The horrific one which made me want to quit writing because of the terrible terrible lesbian sex scenes.  Always an uphill challenge.  Anyway, the plan was the first thing to sort out.  This idea was big, I mean big.  I could have easily made a career out of writing books set in this mythology.  Then, as the ideas began to overflow, I thought about it in terms of a TV show (five seasons and counting!) But the site provides a happy medium between TV and prose.  It’s episodic and somewhat experimental, so it works well. 

Anyway, enough digressing.  Writing a plan.  For the overall series.  If anyone has ever thought about writing short serialised fiction (For TV, as an example) then the two major points that I would pick out about writing an overall plan are that it is: 

  1. Essential and
  2. Probably a little pointless

Yes, contradictory advice!  Yes, it is an absolute must to get the overall story arc down.  Solid.  While my initial idea was nebulous, there were key points, key episodes that I wanted to hit along the way.  Certain essential events that occurred.  I suppose anyone who has planned writing (as opposed to just winging it, like I did with my last project (which is on hold while I get this series written)) will know what I’m talking about.  Hit the crisis points, the major events, get the arc plotted, and this really is about as much as you should realistically plan.  In the plan I wrote, I put a great amount of detail into what happens in the first two or three episodes, and then roughly what happens between the other few major events, leading up to the finale. 

Well what did I learn from this exercise?  Mostly I learnt about point 2, above.  My ideas are too big.  It took me two full episodes (stretching my allotted word count to the limits) to write everything that I’d planned for the first episode, plus some extra stuff left over!  What was initially going to be my episode two has been pushed back to episode four, which in turn has been pushed back to episode six, and so on!  So obviously it’s alright to plan, just as long as you don’t plan too much. 

What I also learned, however, is that it is a useful editing exercise too.  Obviously once you’ve written your plan, and started the episodes, you can cut anything superfluous.  Merge a few storylines; get rid of characters and so on.  Working to a deadline is particularly beneficial, because it gets you thinking on your feet.  It helps you to be absolutely ruthless.  No deliberating about whether to keep a character here, keep an event there, if it doesn’t work, cut it out!  You have no choice but to get it done, so if something isn’t working, scrap it without wasting time on it.  It can help build your natural writing instincts.  Honing the skills that help you write better, faster. 

Writing to a deadline can help in other ways.  For instance, I am currently working on the third episode (and fourth, since the structure that has emerged sees the episodes working in pairs).  Now episode three has its own traumas.  Unlike the first two (or rather three in my original plan) episode three I only had a general idea for.  OK, that’s a lie.  I had an intro to the story and that was it.  The rest was just blank.  But obviously I have to get the story finished by the end of the week (While the deadline I’ve been given is twelve weeks – or eight if I want more cash – I’ve set myself the personal goal of two episodes a week, obviously then needing to get notes, feedback and do a redraft for the site).  The problems here were that it wasn’t really one of the high points for me in the story.  The main character is necessary to the overall arc, but I didn’t have the drama, the conflict for him.  But obviously it needs to get done.  So far from avoid writing, I delve into it.  I go over possible ideas in my head, not just for his story, but how to fit it into the overall arc.  This I did whenever I could, while walking into town, while eating, while watching DVDs, while lying in bed stressing about it, and ultimately I got down to writing it. 

And I just wrote. 

Granted, a lot of it is hopeless, rambling repetitive nonsense, but that’s what editing is for right?  It’s about working under pressure.  When you must get something done it can lead to inventiveness and creativity.  This is what I have found in the writing of these episodes.  I found my drama, the conflict.  I also discovered gaping plot holes, and huge pacing inconsistencies.  But again, editing, right?  My main worry here was that I fear that this episode is not as exciting as the others.  I personally didn’t feel as invested in it as I did the first two, mainly because I didn’t really have a story for it or a direction.  The story isn’t as dramatic as the first two episodes, but I still need to get the readers to invest, and to not confound them with a hell of a lot of computer jargon and evolutionary theory.  I guess I failed at this point, because act two is just that, a long discussion about biological evolution and its technological counterpart.  Also, tonally, the characters are all over the place.  The central character goes from being a loser, to a perv, to a genius, back to weird, to possible rapist…  But this is the kind of thing you should expect if you’re just plain writing.  It’s almost stream of consciousness.  Once that thread has been found however, you can go back and change accordingly; the edit will iron all those out.  Having a definite deadline will do this to you.  Pushing yourself to write, even if you don’t have a direction, will sometimes yield spectacular results.  For instance, in trying to get this episode dragged to its conclusion, I actually managed to come up with a convincing storyline to lead into the lesbian episode. 

Now if that isn’t motivation enough I don’t know what is.