Whatever Happened To The Serial Story?

Long tales told in short segments are perfect for modern times.

Many years ago serialized stories were common. They introduced the world to tales that eventually became famous novels. So what happened to them? They didn’t necessarily disappear but they have become less prominent. Yet there is legitimate reason to think that they could make a comeback if authors are willing to start writing them again.

The Washington Post published an interesting article last year calling for the return of the serialized novel. It listed Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle as a few of the famous authors who initially published at least one of their novels serially.

And I’m currently reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’s, A Princess of Mars, which notes in both its front matter and introduction that Burroughs’s tale initially appeared in a serialized format by way of a pulp magazine.

There are also comic books and comic strips, which essentially are nothing but serialized stories. Perhaps the most massive serialized story of all time is Prince Valiant, which continues telling the same story today that it did when it first started in 1937.

But what novel in recent times initially started as a serialized story? Can you think of any? I can’t but they do exist. And there’s no reason they can’t be popular again. Some people are working to make that happen.

I just wrote a brief update of a serialized story I’m preparing. I tweeted about that post and in return I gained a new follower. That follower apparently runs a serial story website. I never heard about it and have no idea what it’s like. But it’s certainly not the first digital platform I’ve heard about. The article from the Washington Post also mentioned several of them.

Mousehold Words lets readers ingest Dickens and others in their original serialized form. Amazon introduced a Kindle Serial program about three years ago and stocks a variety of titles, mostly sci-fi and thrillers. St. Martin’s Press has also released a short list of books in serial form in the past few years. And DailyLit, which e-mails portions of books to readers on a daily or weekly schedule, was bought in 2013 by the serialized-fiction outlet Plympton.

I like the throwback idea of writing a serialized story. But a serial story is practical too. It allows you to start publishing sooner than if you’d wait until the completion of an entire novel. It also forces you to write on a schedule and not procrastinate.

And serializing a story allows you to write more confidently. You don’t have to spend the same amount of time worrying if you got that part “just right” like you would if you’re publishing a story as a whole. After all, if you ever decide to publish your serial story as one complete story in book format, you have the luxury of going back through it and editing out any mistakes or making other changes.

So serial stories aren’t as popular as they once were. But they’ve never gone away. And since everything old becomes new again, maybe they’re poised for a comeback. They certainly seem like they would be a perfect fit for our TLDR era.


Michael  Loftus
EditorMichael Loftus
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