Mastering the art of writing serial chapters

During a discussion with Suraya, she explained to me what the benefits are for writers that take part in the serials:
  • An ability to be concise
  • Improved research skills – very important
  • Skilled writing, because you become clear about what you want to say and know you have no room to waffle
  • An understanding of point of view and how to write from a character’s point of view
  • Understanding of tenses and how to keep it consistent
  • The skill of keeping a consistent point of view
  • The skill of keeping location descriptions consistent
  • Understanding of how to keep the story moving forward
  • An understanding of how pace affects writing.
My method of writing in the serials is to not read the serial until it is time for my chapter. This helps me in two ways. First, I don’t build up an expectation of where the serial is going, so no unresolved expectations remain in my mind when writing my chapter. Secondly, I’m reading everything for the first time so I pay attention to each word.
Another thing that I do is to copy the starter and all previous chapters into a document without looking at who the author is or the comments after each chapter. Once I’ve completed my chapter I go back to read it. This gives me an unbiased approach to writing my chapter.
By a stroke of luck, I got five chapter ten’s to write in succession.
What I’ve noticed before and again with these last serials are the following:
Logical errors
These are the features in the serial that makes the reader doubt the validity of the story. Let’s take an extreme example, if the serial is about a trip up Mount Everest, describing the scene when you reach the summit as a leisurely stroll isn’t logical. So how do you prevent making a mistake like this? Go through the previous chapters and your own, then ask yourself – Is this logical? If you take a day off before doing this it helps to give you perspective on your own chapter.
Continuity errors
This happens when you contradict facts that have been written in previous chapters. I found that I made these mistakes when I had preconceived notions of the serial or characters. That is one of the reasons that I stopped reading the serial chapters before my own. As an example; a character is described as clear faced in chapter one, but then described as having acne scars in chapter eight. Small contradictions that make the reader “hiccup” when reading the serial. Other types of continuity errors are unwarranted changes in point of view and change of tense.
Lack of pace
This is one of the more challenging problems. Each story has a timeline that varies according to the type of story. Some serials take place in the space of a day and others might continue over several months or years. The timeline of the serial is sometimes determined by the starter or the first two chapters. Again this is where you can ask yourself if it is logical to stay within the same day as the previous chapter, or if time has moved on. Don't be afraid to add to the timeline with a few sentences if you think it is warranted.
Take into account that a serial about a journey would require a description of how the journey is progressing. But, if you are writing a chapter in a mystery you don’t have time to describe the journey from one place to the next in detail unless it directly affects the mystery. This is where you have to question where this serial is going. Are you adding to the main theme of the serial?
Lack of research
This isn’t always a problem when writing about something that you are very familiar with or is common knowledge, but when you are not and don’t do the research it can create questions in the mind of the reader. The first example would be Cold Courage one of the first serials, where I didn’t do the necessary research on how long a fissure takes to form on a glacier, or in House Hunting where I didn’t check how a whistling kettle makes a loud noise. Those were things that looked good to me in the chapters, but readers who had actual experience on those two aspects found it jarring.
Chapter framework
Preface and chapters 1 and 2 are setting the scene and introducing the characters. Background and character development are important in this part. 
Chapters 3 to 7 should build the tension. These writers should also remember to keep their writing in character and follow up on the cues from previous chapters while leaving the chapter open for the next writer to follow on.
Chapter 8 starts to bring things to a conclusion/climax and chapters 9 and 10 tidies up loose ends and concludes the serial. 
Therefore, these writers need to make sure that the story and timeline lead to a believable ending to the serial. This is also the reason why The Story Mint prefers that you don’t add new characters in the last three chapters. Sometimes it is unavoidable, but ask yourself if it is truly necessary or if what you want to achieve can be done with the established characters.
This is another aspect that I’ve noticed and have found myself guilty of. I have learned to let go of my ego and write the chapter to fit in with the serial, to not try to add a cliff-hanger to every chapter just because I can. Sometimes a cliff-hanger adds to the story, but frequently it doesn’t, especially not if the next writer can’t figure out what to do with it.
With a 500 word limit on chapters, it is important to understand that the pace and objective is to add to the story in a way that is consistent with the type of serial you are writing. The 500 word limit is there because when writers learn to write 500 words well they will be able to write any length of story well.
Recently, Suraya pointed out the following to me. I believe it is very good advice:
  • Read and study the previous chapters – draw up a timeline or references if you need to. I’ve done it. Add questions to the chapters when you find something you don’t understand or want an answer to. If you have these questions, so will the reader. Try to incorporate these answers into your chapter. You won’t be able to include all but focus on the main points.
  • Strive for consistency – keep the protagonists in character, maintain point of view and tense.
  • Do your research – especially if you are adding information that can be checked online. I spent two days doing research for The Bal Maid of Great Condurrow.
  • Leave the chapter open for the next writer.
Some questions you can ask when reading the chapters:
  • Why?
  • How?
  • Is this logical?
  • Is this in character?
  • Did I check the details I am unsure off?
  • Is my chapter moving the story and timeline along?
  • Did I follow up or expand on cues in the previous chapters?
And the icing on the cake is the anthology of serials that The Story Mint wants to publish. Just imagine being a published author! Remember not all of us “old Minters” are published yet. We want this just as much as you do.  :-D
Happy writing
chapter framework
errors in serials
benefits of writing in serials