(Charles Dickens made the serial seem so easy…)
Indigo is complete. This was my first attempt at online serial fiction. It was quite an amazing experience.
There were a few things I knew from the beginning. The thing about online fiction is that it’s important to take people’s attention very quickly. I’m a very patient person in the outside world, but online I find myself sighing with annoyance if a page takes more than 5 seconds to load. If a piece of writing doesn’t grab my attention within the first few sentences, I’m away to another site – bumble bee style. On the other hand, if I’ve picked up a weighty Victorian novel, I might give it a hundred pages or so before I decide whether or not to continue. It hardly seems fair.
The result is that Indigo is extremely fast-paced. Essentially I wanted the pacing to have the feel of a weekly TV series rather than a novel.
The story wasn’t complete before the first post, or even the half-way mark. I let it unfold online. There’s definitely an element of free falling doing it this way. You have to trust that somewhere in the dark recesses of your brain you actually know the story all the way through – it’s simply in the process of emerging. At least, that’s what you tell yourself when you have a week’s deadline, a blank page and a supportive audience waiting for the next instalment.
One thing this genre definitely does is to help you build trust in yourself. Because if you write your story into a corner, you’re in quite a bit of trouble. It’s not like writing a novel where you can come to the realisation that Lara can’t possibly murder Jessica in the second chapter because this will throw the whole narrative out of whack. Once you’ve put it online, it’s fixed. People have read it. And there’s no way you can say – oops, sorry, just forget that whole Lara / Jessica scene there, I think I’m just going to pop it in later. In a way it brings writing a little step closer to the performing arts (the potential for a public fail is relatively high).
So I wrote honestly and intuitively and, at most, one or two steps ahead. This is where it became difficult. I didn’t know what the end would be. I didn’t know what the whole final third of the narrative would be. I was in suspense just like everyone else. I knew this wouldn’t quite work at the very end. The momentum had to build tightly to the final moments. The problem is I had to pause the story for some months in order to do a big review and to sketch out the ending that I wanted to the quality that I wanted (at last, my latent control freak was allowed free rein). Frustrating for readers. It’s a suspenseful, supernatural thriller. No one wants to be in suspense for over a week, let alone a few months.
So, what I learned …
I will have more of it completed the next time I put up an Indigo story, or any other serial. In fact, I’m writing the next one now and it’s emerging quite strangely as a series of random scenes from various parts of the story (beginning, middle, end) which I am piecing together as a kind of jigsaw, trusting again that my brain has a master plan. All signs are good. I’m looking at a July launch date. This one I plan to make available as a complete novel for a few dollars per download. It’s a no-risk proposition for readers, since Indigo is there to try for free.
The most important part of the experience was having the joy of communicating a story that would otherwise have stayed in my own imagination. To have people telling me they were reading and enjoying it (even better when they said they couldn’t read it when home alone – they were getting the heebie jeebies). I realised that it was not necessary to do the rounds of query letters, encouraging rejections, slush-pile readers and exhausted editors. I could instantly communicate with an audience.
The vision of your book with a pretty cover in a shop is an attractive one (and one any online writer would probably embrace), but at the heart of this dream is usually the desire to tell stories and have your imaginary worlds become part of the inner landscapes of your readers.
It required a lot of courage to write Indigo as a serial, but it was certainly one of my most rewarding writing experiences. So if you read and enjoyed Indigo – I can’t tell you how happy that makes me! And if you’re considering taking the plunge and writing an online serial – seize the day! You’ll be happy that you did.