East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Planning the Serial – part I


170px-Spaziergang_im_Garten_Amarna_BerlinBe warned, what follows is a post on writing, so you might find it boring, uninteresting or basically a waste of time.
Forewarned is forearmed or something like that.

As I mentioned, my next big work will be called AMARNA and it will be a serial.
Not a series – like all the rest of the stuff I wrote so far – but a serial.
What’s the difference?

Elric-1976Basically, a series is a bunch of stories that share characters and settings, and that can be read in more or less any order. Each story is self-contained, and references to previous episodes do not hinder the enjoyment of the current narrative.
Indeed, a lot of famous series were written out-of-sequence: the Conan tales by R.E. Howard, the Elric stories by Michael Moorcock, and so on.
My Aculeo & Amunet stories were/are being written out of sequence.
Both BUSCAFUSCO and The Corsair do have a chronological order, but you can read any of the ebooks in any order you please.

Crimson-Ghost-posterA serial, on the other hand, is a strictly sequential narrative. You can’t pick up any book at random, or you’ll lose part of the story.
It is, in a way, a novel published in a certain number of installments – and each installment must be self-contained. It must be, in other words, a good satisfactory read, but it must also push the overall narrative forward.
In this sense, the serial model is today mostly found in TV entertainment – but it’s been making a big comeback with the advent of ebooks, e-readers and Kindle Unlimited.

This means that a serial needs to be written in a different manner compared both to a series and a novel.
It requires much more planning.
I must start with a structure – say, a 48.000-words story, and then break it up into episodes; say, 4 12.000 words episodes, or 8 6000-words episodes etc.
At this point I must have a number of plots – an overarching plot, the plot of the whole serial, and a number of smaller plots, for the single episodes.
And If I am reasoning in terms of seasons – meaning, my 48K-words story is just the first season in the serial, it would be a good idea to have an even larger plot, or a hook, to tie the first season with the second.


Plotting a serial leads to strange maps drawn into large workbooks, with sketches of stuff that looks like bridges: a major arch, underscored by a number of minor arches supporting it.
How long the main arch, and how many minor arches (e.g., episodes) is also a matter requiring some thought, because the writer will need to balance writing time with the readers’ reading time.


Characters too need to be developed with seriality in mind – and this is more or less the same with series and serials. I have a long story of runaway characters and unexpected spin-offs to know that characters must come with a certain maneuvering room.

What changes is also the marketing of the serial – and if the good news are that serial usually rack in more money, the bad news is that a serial requires a specific and well-thought-out marketing strategy. The sort of thing that requires special promotions, behind-the-scenes for the fans, extra perks.
This, too, must be mapped in detail before the start.
And in case you wondered, no, I did not start writing to become an expert on marketing strategies for serial fiction, but I will have to become one – through trial and error.


All this to say that AMARNA is coming up nicely – I’ve yet to write a word of the first episode, the deadline I imposed on myself is drawing near, but biy do I have a huge stack of mind maps and engineering plans!

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Planning the Serial – part I

  1. Great tips here. Thank you!


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