The Fiction-writing Apocalypse…Or Not?


In the ever-tweakable world of writing on, if not for, the internet:  E-publishing Division, Amazon has added another tweak:  Kindle Serials, as expounded upon by Porter Anderson (on the great Jane Friedman’s blog).  Home base of the discussion seems to be, “If Charles Dickens could serialize his novels, why not 21st Century writers?”  And Amazon, as usual, is the provider (or enabler) of such writer-friendly venues.  Kindle Serials is subtitled, “Great Reads, one episode at a time.”  Sounds great, right?  To me, too.  But Porter Anderson raises an interesting and important question (marketing- related, of course) for would-be serializers to consider:  If a story is going to be serialized (i.e., released piecemeal to the public over time), why not “improve it,” given the opportunity to get feedback from readers over that time?

I put “improve it” in quotes because that’s the issue, isn’t it, whether the likes/dislikes/ideas of readers would improve the author’s product, especially when those are the people presumably buying it?  Would that process improve a piece of writing, or simply result in the proverbial camel, venerably defined as a horse designed by committee.  Well, here is my unabashedly sarcasm-loaded opinion on that:

Reader-influenced serialized stories, hmmm. Why not apply that process to musical compositions, even opera? Or how about paintings? Or dance. Have each performance stop at several points and have the audience vote on the next movements, whether or not they know anything about dance. Seems great for Broadway productions, right? The ultimate in audience participation.

But why stop there? Let readers—writing seems the most available for this, given its unfolding nature and the time it takes—grab each subsequent chapter and run with it, submitting their individual efforts to the “readership,” then have that readership—for a fee. Weee!—vote for the best submitted chapter, and so and so on. ‘T’would be the ultimate in this our Interactive/Interconnected Age. I just love 21st Century progress.

Missing in this commentary, of course, are other issues, such as ownership of a work, artistic unity, and the author’s original intent, etc, which should be considered.  Soooo, consider them, please, and let me/us know your thinking.




2 thoughts on “The Fiction-writing Apocalypse…Or Not?”

  1. I was fascinated by Porter’s post too.

    I think a book written by committee would not really be a novel. It would be the verbal version of a videogame. It might be great fun for creating community, but it wouldn’t be a novel. I worked in improvisational theater for a time, and we would take suggestions from the audience for characters and plot turns. They were often hilarious, and a great showcase for an actor’s talents, but what was produced was not a “play” an didn’t have any lasting value.

    Back in the dear dead days before the Interwebz, I wrote a serialized novel for our local entertainment weekly, New Times. I had the book pretty much mapped out, but the editor kept making suggestions, saying “we have readers in North County, too. You’ve got to have a scene up there. Or ‘one of our advertisers wants to be in the next installment” It made for some challenging and crazy rewrites. Would the book ever be publishable as a novel? Not without an extensive overhaul–removing all the “suggestions.”

  2. I have a serial novel on my blog, “Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee” ( Every 10 episodes, I package them into a volume and release them for free on Smashwords. I’ll release Episode 26 this week.

    I haven’t solicited comments from my readers in terms of what they want to see happen, but when people tell me they like X, Y, or Z, I try to do more of that. One reader told me she couldn’t wait to see my character’s newly-renovated apartment, so I’m working that into an episode this week.

    There are benefits to listening to your readers. They can give you inspiration when yours is flagging (which it will do after you’ve written a lot). I have beta readers for my novels, and I treat my serial readers the same way: I maintain final say-so, but I almost always use their suggestions, at least in part.

    There’s a difference between incorporating feedback (which is a good thing) and writing a novel by committee. But even writing something by committee isn’t necessarily bad, so long as that’s what you set out to do. It could end up like one of those “choose your own adventure” novels. “Roger skidded to a stop, his toes a mere inch from the edge of a cliff. Readers, does he a) attempt to climb down, b) jump, c) turn and face the rabid, knife-wielding mob?” You then take their answer and write an installment (mine are 2-5 pages long) and stop with another decision.

    I think writing a “choose your own adventure” serial would be fun. If I didn’t have so much on my plate already, I’d try it with a new storyline. Although, if I run completely out of steam with Vampire Lawyers, I may turn to that. Obviously you need a readership built up on your blog (or similar) for that idea to work.

    My husband has joked that he would like to write a vampire slayer character to counter my vampire-positive novel. I told him to bring it. He could write a chapter, then I could respond with a chapter. We would use our characters as weapons against one another. God only knows what sort of book it would be at the end, but it sounds fun as hell to write.

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