Crazy things keep happening to Natalie Pollack. This week, she had a scandalous photo shoot for the book cover of her favorite vampire series. Last week, she found out that somebody might be stalking her. And on Thursday, she posted a photo of a dead squirrel (which her stalker left for her as a threat) on her Facebook profile.
Natalie and I are friends on Facebook, but she isn’t actually…real. She is the main character in a new young-adult novel by Lauren Mechling and Laura Moser called “My Darklyng,” published serially on slate.com. Not only is the story of her wild journey from gushing vampire fandom to real-life vampire-filled mishap posted weekly, but I can also follow her and other characters on Twitter and Facebook. There’s even a Wikipedia page for Natalie’s (fake) favorite author, Fiona St. Claire.
Serialized fiction is more than just suspense these days. Not only has the Internet made publishing and sharing serials easy and inexpensive, but it has also enabled readers to interact with stories, authors, characters, and fellow readers in ways never before possible. The experience feels collaborative and personal. Stories can become part of our social (media) landscape.
Serials are currently staging a quiet comeback. Writers around the world are experimenting with this type of publication on the Internet as an easy way to reach—and engage with—large audiences who can access their work regularly.
In August 2007, South Korean author Park Bum-shin began serializing his novel “Cholatse” on his blog. His story generated millions of hits and kicked off a hugely popular trend in South Korea: authors began posting stories online in one or two-page segments. Readers would respond with feedback and encouragement, and once the serial was finished, it was taken off the Internet and sold as a physical book.
It turns out that serializing a book online has benefits for all involved. Writers not only get to hear feedback while they work, but their books are promoted and shared online, building enthusiasm and support before they’re actually printed. Publishers, in turn, sell books to a pre-exisiting fan base.
And most importantly, readers feel like they are participant in the story’s creation. The anticipation of the next installment, and the sense that the story was unfolding in real time is what has always made serialized fiction, from Dickens to Hardy, so compelling.
Online serialization has been a persistent underground phenomenon in the U.S. since the 1990s mainly among the sci-fi/fantasy and fan-fiction crowds. Like serialized fiction in 19th century England (and Japanese cell phone novels this decade) it was looked down upon by the literary elite as distinctly low-brow. Only recently has the genre become more mainstream, although its audience has partly been limited to the adult bibliophile/social-media-buzzed/140-character-count crowd.
Yes, I’m about to talk about the Twitter novel.
Last fall, in 153 tweets over a period of three days, Rick Moody wrote “Some Contemporary Characters,” about the trials and tribulations of online dating. Moody gained more than 10,000 followers to his story, and the editors he worked with say they see more Twitter fiction in the future.
And Alexander McCall Smith, the author of the “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” began serializing his new book, “A Dog Who Came In From the Cold” on telegraph.co.uk. The story is available both on the site and as free audiochapters on iTunes.
“The interesting thing about writing a serial novel is that you don’t necessarily have a very clear idea at the beginning of how the plot is going to develop.” Smith said in an interview for the Telegraph. In a sense, the serial novel is rather like real life, because that’s what real life is like: it happens in a rather unexpected way.”
In the most fundamental sense, serialization is just short chunks of fiction. And even without reader involvement, this limitation has a compelling power, especially in the digital age. Companies like DailyLit, who deliver installments of published books in 1,000-ish word segments to your email/inbox/mobile phone, give readers the illusion of serialization from works that weren’t written with that in mind. Anticipation can be very alluring.
As tech-fluent generations continue to develop their relationship with reading, my guess is that the audience for short fiction and fiction posted serially will continue to grow. This isn’t some upstart young whippersnapper of a form, either. It’s the genre that literally invented the word “cliffhanger.” And it’s destined for a comeback.
Written by Lindsay Van Thoen. Research by Becca Goldstein. Snarky photo caption by Emily Steele.
(Becca loves reading, writing, and cooking. She wants to travel the world and meet lots of new people. She’s heading off to UPenn in the fall. Emily is a fanatical speed reader who needs to get better at using real bookmarks instead of keys, cell phones, stray pebbles, hair ties, and (once) a piece of bacon. She is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in English at NYU, with minors in Creative Writing and American Sign Language.)