Serials vs Series

When I first started to write my novel, I assumed the story would end up as a trilogy. The characters were petulant, though, and made their own demands on the story. The world kept growing, and their backstories wove into the story in such a way the length kept growing.

After I got some words down on the page, I did some estimation. The first act of the first novel would be about 300-400 pages, with act 2 & 3 of similar length. This would make the novel over 900 pages. Even for epic fantasy, that is quite long. What could I do?

I considered breaking it down into three chunks, but wondered if readers would be upset with ending on a cliffhanger. Researching reader reactions to cliffhangers, I found serials.

I love to read those fat fantasy novels of 1200+ pages. Serials were not a style I would naturally gravitate to, so I had to do the research. They are, basically, a story broken down into smaller chunks, and published on a preset schedule, like weekly, biweekly, monthly, etc. Trying to find a serial to read for an example became problematic. If I just used “serial” as a search term,  I would be given a selection of serial killer novels. Not what I was looking for. If I asked people for recommendations, I kept being given series, not serials. So definitions are needed.

Television is a great example of both serials and series. A series episode should be basically complete, with a beginning, middle, and end, and its own, independent plot. Police procedural shows are great examples. The only time the series does not wrap up the story in one episode would be if you had those words: To Be Continued… While a series might have an overall season arc, each episode is a standalone, and you should be able to sit an watch it without knowing anything else about the characters, plot, or backstory.

A serial is a bit different. Each episode continues to the next, and with television it makes you want to binge-watch. Soap operas are a great example of serials, but so are many of the new shows out on the various platforms. A serial show is more like one very long movie you watch in smaller chunks. An example of a serial in novel format is Lord of the Rings. It is only with all three together that you can count the story complete.

My story fit the pattern of a serial more than a series. I had cliffhangers scattered throughout the story already, and there was never a good spot to say, “this is complete.” The ending is far, far away. I chose to publish as serials, posting a new episode every other week, and then after the season is complete, publishing that for those who prefer to binge all at once. Most likely, people will read the complete seasons more than they will the individual episodes. But, for those who want to be continually fed a bit more over time, the episodes are available. With Kindle Unlimited, it should not cost the reader any extra.

I have my serial set to be six episodes per season, and each major arc will probably be three seasons. Each episode is around 60 pages, and told from the perspective of at least two characters. With each one, the world grows and the plot thickens.

Maybe in the future I will leave a clue at the end of each episode, and anyone who gives me all 6 clues will be given a novella or short story for free. That would be interesting, wouldn’t it?

If you want to check it out, here is the link for Episode 1 of the first Season.

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