Why I Chose A Serial Over A Novel

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Why I Chose A Serial Over A Novel

Vanguard-Season-01-3D-DTFThere was actually a whole lot of thought, planning, and hemming and hawing that went on behind the scenes of my superhero series, Vanguard. All before I’d even created a Scrivener file for it.

You see, I’ve long been a fan of superhero comics. My first experiences in writing were writing superhero stories, initially in elementary school crafting tales about my friends and I gaining powers and later writing Marvel and DC fanfiction for a variety of websites.

But when I made the decision to break into writing original stories, I didn’t even think about doing a superhero series. I’m not sure if it was fear or lack of desire or what, but the thought just never entered into my head. So when I did get the idea of an original team of superheroes, I began scribbling out ideas for characters.

When I sat down to write the very first Vanguard novel, I hit a roadblock about 10,000 words in. There was something missing. I knew I wanted to write something that was influenced by the X-Men and Avengers comics of the Bronze Age that I loved so much, but something just wasn’t clicking. I felt like my major villain was being introduced far too early. I felt like he needed more build-up behind the scenes, but how could I do that when a novel is supposed to be one complete story?

Then I thought I’ll just save that villain for a later novel and in this first one, I’ll find another threat. But all the other threats I came up with just didn’t seem grand enough for the first novel. They were all perfectly good for a build-up, but as the central plot in a whole novel dedicated to them? It just didn’t fit.

Around this time, I discovered Write, Publish, Repeat, a book on self-publishing by Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, and David Wright, the hosts of the Self Publishing Podcast. One of the things they did, especially early on, was write serials. Instead of doing a novel, they would write shorter episodes and release them only in ebook form on a weekly schedule. Then once all the episodes were out, they’d collect them in a season set and publish that in both print and digital formats.

Suddenly, everything clicked.

The reason the novel format wasn’t working for me is because it’s not what I wanted to do. The superhero comics I loved and wanted to pay homage to were serialized. I was doing a disservice to myself by trying to force a format on it that didn’t fit.

But the serial format, that opened a whole new world for me. Now I could write those smaller stories about these smaller threats. Not enough to fill a novel, sure. But they provided the perfect amount of story for the shorter episodes. And that would also allow me to build up a larger threat in the background which would culminate in the final episode of the season.

The result was the first season of Vanguard, and I’m very proud of the result. Writing in this format has given me a new appreciation for different styles of storytelling. I feel like I have a lot more freedom when writing a serial to explore the characters bit by bit, to switch perspectives, and to take risks. The second season (launching September 21st) doesn’t even feature all the characters of the team. Now that they’ve all been introduced, I can take the time to phase out some characters for an episode or two in order to focus on others. I can bring back villains I’d like to use again even if they’re not intended as a major threat.

And it’s given me the chance to play with some longer-form storytelling. I’ve got an overarching five-season plan for Vanguard. Now that I’ve finished the second season, that plan is beginning to take larger shape. And with each episode, I get deeper and deeper into that plan. As I do, I get even more excited about this series.

By | 2015-09-16T21:35:49+00:00 September 16th, 2015|On Writing, Percival Constantine, Serial|7 Comments

About the Author:

Born and raised in the Chicagoland area, Percival Constantine grew up on a steady diet of superhero comics, video games, and action movies, and now he writes the stories he grew up voraciously consuming. He is the author of several series—VANGUARD (superhero serial), THE MYTH HUNTER (pulp adventure novellas), INFERNUM (espionage thriller novellas), and LUTHER CROSS (occult investigator short story series). His website is PercivalConstantine.com.

7 Comments

  1. Christopher Wright September 17, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    Did you decide to adopt a weekly schedule too? I’m struggling with monthly releases. Weekly seems downright terrifying.

    • percivalconstantine September 17, 2015 at 9:26 pm

      Season one was on a monthly schedule, but I feel like that was actually detrimental because serial readers prefer a quicker release schedule. For season two, I’m switching to bi-weekly. If I can swing it, I might go to weekly for season three.

      Last year, the thought of doing monthly releases would have caused me to struggle, too. But I made some changes to my writing process that really helped. I started writing every day in the morning (used to be a night writer but after a hard day at work, I would come home and not want to do anything other than just make a drink and watch Netflix), I split up my writing sessions into twenty-minute sprints, and I tracked my word count and that’s helped me stay consistent.

      Also, I make sure I write the entire season before I publish the first episode. So even though #5 wasn’t supposed to come out until May, I had it finished by December. That also makes it easier to craft a more cohesive season in case something comes up in later episodes that makes me want to change stuff in the earlier ones. And it takes a lot of stress out of the idea of a release schedule.

      • Christopher Wright September 17, 2015 at 10:34 pm

        It depends on the kind of serial, I guess. Comic book readers are pretty familiar with monthly releases.

        • percivalconstantine September 17, 2015 at 10:53 pm

          That’s true and that was my thought process when I went for monthly releases. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to just focus on what works for comic readers. There are comic readers who have no interest in reading superheroes in prose. And on the flip-side, there are book readers who are interested in superheroes but don’t like comics.

          I made the mistake of going for a mainly comic audience with the first season. My original cover had very classic superhero comic-style artwork and I released monthly. I got some reviews from comic readers complaining that it wasn’t a comic at all but prose and I know that some prose readers were initially turned off by the cover because they thought it was a comic.

          So that’s why I changed the cover to something that still conveys the superhero/sci-fi feel, but isn’t comic book-y. That change has increased the sales of the first season. I can’t speak for the release schedule because the second season launches next week, but I think the more frequent schedule will help keep it fresh in readers’ minds.

          Basically, you want to aim for that area where superhero comic fans and superhero prose fans intersect.

          • Christopher Wright September 18, 2015 at 3:02 am

            I know the readers who go to my website would prefer I release more than once a month. But on a storefront, where it’s being sold… I worry about buyer’s fatigue. With so many full-length novels out for 99 cents, buying 12 issues at 99 cents a pop (which, in the end, equals a full-length novel) is a hard sell. At one issue per month it lines up with “well, you do this for comic books.” If I released more frequently I’m not sure the enthusiasm for more story would exceed the lack of enthusiasm for spending more money. So I’ll be interested to hear how it goes for you.

          • percivalconstantine September 19, 2015 at 7:23 pm

            It’s actually an easier sale than you might think. There are people who will prefer to wait for a compilation, but there are also people who buy every single episode the day it comes out. My readers know that if they wait a few months, they can get the season compilation for cheaper than the individual episodes. Despite that, a good chunk of them have gone ahead and pre-ordered every single individual episode.

            I found that with the first season, too. A lot of people would just pre-order all the episodes at once. Of course, my seasons are also five episodes as opposed to twelve. So money could be more of a concern with your readers.

  2. zoetewey September 17, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    My approach to serials was mostly formed by reading web comics. I tend to forget about comics that update less than weekly. As such, I update twice a week. I’d update three times a week if I had time.

    It’s also worth noting that I write my serial the night before it’s due.

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