Is Serial Fiction Dead? (Hopefully not, ‘cuz I’m writing one.)
A little while ago, I was listening to a podcast in which the subject of serial webfiction was brought up. One of the authors being interviewed said that it was great in theory, but that the online serial format just didn’t really work for written fiction.
I was kind of taken aback. I really enjoy a good serial story—the excitement of waiting for the next installment, watching a well-written character arc play out over an extended period of time, and even the world-shattering heartbreak and denial when it’s finally OVER. It’s a great story experience, and while the online serial seems pretty much ruled by comics and video webseries, I’ve always thought that it would be a fantastic way to deliver written fiction as well.
A vast majority of fiction used to be serial, back in the day. Most of Charles Dickens’s novels were written and published in short installments, keeping Victorian England breathlessly speculating and fangirling while they waited for the next “episode”. (Imagine, if you will, a bearded Victorian gentleman in a top hat and monocle, wildly FANGURLING over the latest episode of the Pickwick Papers. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, you must be having a really bad day.)
And while there aren’t just a ton of really great or popular webfics out there in cyberspace, there are a few online serial writers (like the notorious Wildbow) who have achieved fame and loyal followings. Andy Weir first published his novel The Martian in serial form on his blog, and it garnered a huge response that led to a publishing contract, and now a movie starring Matt Damon.
So it can be done. And soon, I’m hoping to try my hand at it with my upcoming serial webfic, The Firewall Saga.
Some of you have heard me dropping hints on social media about this project, and I’m happy to say that, although I’m not sure when exactly it will be happening, it will be happening in the not-too-distant future. Right after I’m finished with the third draft of my current project.
The idea is that it will be organized into multiple “episodes”, which will be somewhere around novella length. Here’s a summary of the first episode:
Soon after cybernetic neural implants became mandatory for all global citizens, the Weedly computer virus was unleashed. Allegedly designed by an underground anti-Cybernetics cult, Weedly swept the nation, turning anyone equipped with neural cybernetics into an Infect–a mindless killer drone.
Now, the remaining population of the world huddles behind the Firewalls, areas of the globe that are protected by teams of engineers who work around the clock to keep Weedly out. Outside, the only living are the Infects and a few surviving anti-Cybernetic cults.
Lyan has spent his seventeen years isolated in a secure cell behind Firewall Three, being trained to fight Infects. He possesses powerful cybernetics that enhance his ability for combat, but the real weapon is the experimental minature Firewall in his brain that, theoretically, makes him immune to Weedly.
Bored and lonely, connected to the outside world only by a video feed, Lyan has used his neural implants to discover a new world—the StratosGrid. Here he finds a dazzling new frontier, and a wealth of forgotten information free for the taking. He also finds a girl named Jazzy, who seems to have found the Grid in much the same way he has.
A fast friendship develops, but Lyan soon learns that Jazzy may harbor a terrible secret. Something in the Grid is keeping her prisoner—something that doesn’t like Lyan.
When Jazzy disappears, Lyan is determined to find her, even if it means scouring the depths of a virtual reality that wants him dead.
Decker is a former member of the largest anti-Cybernetic cult on the North American continent, and now a Firewall-hired mercenary whose lack of cybernetics allows him to travel without fear of infection. After a nightmarish Infect encounter which cost him his partner and a little of his sanity, he has spent almost a year recovering behind Firewall Zero. Now, the Firewall wants him to go on one last mission—one they tell him could bring an end to the virus once and for all.
Things may not be as they seem, though, and as Decker begins to uncover the truth behind what happened to him a year ago, he can’t help but wonder if the Firewall, the last bastion of humanity, can really be trusted.
Demo knows that he used to be one of them, one of the men in white coats who now torture him in the name of science. He doesn’t remember what happened to him, but he does know that if he got out of the chains, all of the others would be dead in seconds.
He has an ally, someone only he can see, who has a plan for his escape. In return, all Demo has to do is kill a boy named Lyan.
Escape. Kill the boy. It’ll be easy, Weedly says.
I really like this story, and I’m excited to share this experiment with you guys.
And I’m curious—do any of you read serial webfiction?
photo credit: Le Jour ni l’Heure 8537 : Francisco de Zurbaran, 1598-1664, L’Annonciation, 1638-1639, dét. (table de lecture de la Vierge), musée de Grenoble, Isère, jeudi 28 juillet 2011, 12:40:20 via photopin (license)