Plotting a Web Serial…

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The Fire Man

Kuzeytac via Compfight

Melanie Edmonds is one of those indie-authors who’s managed to make a a success out of the web-serial.  A real success.  She produces smart, concise, professional looking tales and she does it all by the seat of her pants.  Imagine!

My own serial flopped tremendously, plot holes and inconsistencies abounded, and I couldn’t, so close to the end figure out how to fix the flaws.  I thought that a seat of your pants web serial was impossible to pull off…at least for me.  According to Melanie, there are some rules or not rules to keep in mind though.  This is what else Melanie had to say…

Plotting a web serial…

Or, how to keep your pants on fire.

There are many ways to approach writing a web serial. Some writers have the whole serial written before they start to post. Some have at least a large portion of it complete: half, or three quarters, or enough for several months’ worth of entries. Others always have a handful of posts in hand.

I’m not one of those writers. In some ways, I’d like to be, but it just doesn’t work like that for me.

On my first web serial, the Apocalypse Blog, I had a strict schedule of at least one post a day. For the last eight months of the year-long project, I was writing, editing, and posting in the same day. Every day. It was insane, and I loved it.

Writing that way doesn’t leave much time for planning, so I fell into the discovery, ‘seat of the pants’ kind of writing. This works well for me, but it has a number of pitfalls that are worth keeping in mind. It’s easy to write yourself into a corner or meander through the posts without direction if you don’t have some way to control the plot.

So how do you plot a web serial you’re writing by the seat of your pants?

Have strong, fully-formed characters. These are the people you’re taking this journey with, and they’ll help you through it. When you get stuck, they will help you get out of it. Trust your characters to help you tell their story, and you’ll be fine.

My writing is character-centric. The action (and plot) is driven by their personalities and decisions, their steps and missteps. Having a good mix of people is essential, even if they don’t all get along (in fact, it can be more fun if they don’t!).

Even the gaps they can’t fill can help to drive the story. Do they need a mechanic but don’t have one to hand? Then they’ll need to find a way around their broken gadget, or go find someone who can fix it for them. And maybe that will lead to an important lack that they’ll need to work around later on, or they’ll have to deal with someone who exacts an awkward price…

Have a  plan in mind. You might be writing by the seat of your pants, but that doesn’t meant you can’t have a long-range plan you’re working towards. In fact, if you don’t, you’re likely to end up with a long, rambling story that goes nowhere at all. Your readers will be able to tell and this isn’t a good thing!

You don’t have to have a 3-act structure and you don’t have to have every twist and turn nailed down beforehand. You don’t even have to have it written down. But if you have an idea about the plot arc (or arcs!) you want to create, where your story is going, then it will help your story maintain a direction.

I use the ‘stepping stone’ method of planning my stories, including my web serials. I know specific plot points I want to hit and the rough ending point I want to get to in each ‘book’ (roughly 100,000 words in a web serial).

This helps create arcs for the story to travel through, allowing it to have crescendos and payoffs, which is less exhausting for the audience than a continuous level of excitement (or, worse, lack of excitement!). In the project I’m currently working on, Starwalker, there are three books planned out, each one with its own arc which builds up into a bigger arc running through the whole trilogy.

Everything in between those stepping-stone plot points is written discovery-style. I might know where I want them to get to but I don’t always know how they’ll get there! I take the journey with my characters, and that’s part of the fun for me as a writer. I ask myself a lot of questions, examining my goal, options, and characters, to pick the best path for the story.

No, really.

Doug Geisler via Compfight

For example, I want them to get to point D, but how do I make them want to get there? If they don’t want to get there, how do I make it necessary for them to go anyway? Do I need to throw in a roadblock, or have them remove one? Do they need to go through points B and C first? What choices will this group of people need to make? What won’t/can’t they do? How can I juggle the pieces I have at my command to make this happen?

Whatever you do, don’t force the plot. You should never need to. No-one wants to see the author’s hand in there, pushing the story towards where you want it to be; you should be invisible. It’s important to stay true to your characters and the rules of your game; your audience will hate you if you don’t.

A lot of this comes down to experience, experimentation, and keeping your options open. You will get better with practice! There is always a way out of where you are, and a way to where you want to get to. Find the one that fits your characters, story, and world.

If you find yourself stuck in a corner, or with no idea what to do next, find a tactic that works for you. Raymond Chandler famously used the ‘man enters the scene with a gun’ tactic when he didn’t know what to do next. For me, I tend to ask myself ‘what’s the worst thing I can do to this/these character/s at this moment?’ I may not do that worst thing, but it tends to generate some interesting ideas!

Lastly, don’t forget to have fun with it. Writing as if your pants are on fire is exhilarating and sometimes exhausting, rather like trying to keep control of a sackful of ferrets. But it’s worth it!

Strap in, light the match, and let yourself get carried away!

*****

Melanie Edmonds is a technical writer by trade and fiction writer by love. She has a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, and has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pen. She writes primarily science and speculative fiction, and her published work includes web serials such as the Apocalypse Blog and Starwalker.

You can read Melanie’s work at: Apocalypse Blog and Starwalker Blog

You can follow Melanie at: Facebook, blog, Twitter

Awesome Serial Fiction

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I didn’t do very well with my serial web fiction Honor&Truth, but now that I’ve decided to begin again with the tale, I know what mistakes I’ve made.  That said, there are some pretty awesome web serials out there and I thought I’d take the time to tell you about the ones I most admire.

1.  Steal Tomorrow by Ann Pino – This is one of the first web serials I’ve ever read and one of the best by far.  You can read the entire story along with multiple extra short stories.

When her parents died in a global pandemic, seventeen-year-old Cassie Thompson thought her biggest problem was finding her next meal. But “Telo” is a virally-transmitted genetic disease that targets adults, and no one is immune. Surviving to adulthood isn’t looking very good as her city succumbs to food shortages, sanitation problems, and gang violence. When Cassie accepts an invitation to join a group of young people living in a luxury hotel, she thinks her most immediate troubles are over. Her new tribe appears committed to alliance-building, order, and civility. She soon finds, however, that her new friends have dark secrets and the boy she is falling in love with might be the most dangerous of them all.

Steal Tomorrow can be purchased for Kindle on Amazon.  You can see more of Ann Pino’s writing at http://www.ampino.com/.

2.  Caught Somewhere In Time by David Schick – I started reading CSiT over a year ago and unfortunately never finished (something I intend to do soon), but that is certainly not an indication of how incredibly awesome this story is.  This glossy professional tale combines cool hard science, space, and aliens.  It is so very worth the read.

In the twenty-third century, humanity will live in colonies on many different worlds, all of them still within this Solar system. We will not be part of any league of alien cultures living peacefully among the stars, because even though we can move around the solar system in a matter of hours or days, the next nearest star is not close enough to reach in a human’s lifetime, or even a hundred generations. We are caught somewhere in space, unable to leave this part of the galaxy, and no one ever really comes here for a visit.

The recent discovery of our ability to move through time presents alternate ideas on how to reach alien cultures. The prevailing idea is that we could feasibly go back in time and meet any extraterrestrial culture that might have previously visited us, maybe at a time in our history when we were simply not evolved enough to understand the implications of such a meeting.  The most likely candidate is the alleged crash of an alien ship outside of Roswell, New Mexico in 1947.

Caught Somewhere in Time follows a team of humans as they embark on a journey to encounter alien life in our own past, while discovering the seeds of a project called The Children of Time.

3.  Dark Roads by Lazlo Azavaar – I read this story to completion in a short period of time.  I loved the swift pace and this story is about as unpredictable as they come.

Alex Abian (Also on flickr.com/alexabian) / Foter

Two runaways, their psycho dad, and an unseen enemy.  No longer able to withstand his abuse any longer, Callie Longstreet, in a fit of anger, takes a frying pan to the back of her father’s head and knocks him out cold. Now, she and her older brother Michael must ride the dark roads, pursued by nightmares, their psychotic father, and an unseen enemy who watches their every move.

There is a sequel called The War of the Ma’jai.  Lazlo Azavaar says it’s stalled.  Perhaps if you went over to the site and made some noise you’d prompt him to get a move on…

4.  Starwalker by Melanie Edmonds – Like CSiT, Starwalker is one of those ubber slick and professional looking serial blogs.  The writing is just as terrific.  I found Starwalker around the same time I started my blog as well and was unable to finish it.  Again, the fact that I didn’t finish reading is absolutely no indication of how wonderfully smart and tightly written this piece of serial fiction is.  It is simply golden and is on my list to go back and complete.

NASA Goddard Photo and Video / Foter

The Starwalker is a starship with an experimental star-stepping drive. Designed to use the gravity wells of stars to fold space, she can travel between star systems faster than FTL. That is, if they can get it to work.

She is run by a sophisticated AI who doesn’t always follow her programming. She has only just been born, and she has a lot to figure out. She is often torn between the needs of the crew and the demands of the scientists responsible for running the tests on the new drive. There are politics surrounding this new drive of hers that she has to get a grip on before they get a grip on her.

Most of all, she needs to track down and explain the glitches in her software before someone notices and wipes her memory drives. What she doesn’t know is that it wouldn’t be the first time.

5.  The Apocalypse Blog – also by Melanie Edmonds – The end of the world, zombies, and a girl who blogs about it…nuf said.  Zombies are always a good addition, or a bad one, depending on the situation you’re in.

Scabeater / Foter

On 24 December 2008, a bomb was detonated over Faith’s home city and her world ended. This blog is the chronicle of her struggle to survive and make sense of the broken remains left behind by the bomb, told in real-time.

She must battle through acid rain, sickness, and the descent of her own society. Then, the dead start shambling. With a small group of like-minded survivors, Faith has to find a way to live without losing all sight of who she is in a world ready to devour her.

You can read the Apocalypse Blog online or you can purchase it at Amazon.  Melanie Edmonds can also be found on Twitter and Goodreads.

 

(All descriptions come from author websites or other places they are visible.)