Thursday, 11 April 2013
How to write a magazine serial part 1
Hi - I feel awful at not blogging in so long. However my Spring resolution is to improve by doing a series of blogs about how to write a serial for a woman's magazine as that's what's kept me away from the blogosphere. I can't claim to be an expert but I can claim to have an 8-part serial coming out this summer in The People's Friend. It has been a long, at times painful and at times joyous experience. I know lots of writers wonder about doing serials so thought I'd share what I've learnt in the hope it might be useful. Getting started..... Very occasionally in life you get lucky like I did when PF asked me to try writing a serial. BUT mostly 'lucky' is a misnomer. By and large I believe you make your own luck. I made mine by being persistent in submitting short stories to women's magazines, I'd been trying for years and finally broke through with PF taking about five of my shorts. Having short stories accepted made me try pocket novels. Once I'd had my sixth one of these published, one of the editors at PF e-mailed and said you can obviously write long as well as short, would you like to try a serial? Would I? You betcha! I wouldn't dream of turning down an offer like that even though it terrified me. I had two possible ideas, one was set in a helicopter rescue squadron in Scotland, the other was a cosy crime/romance set in sunny Italy. I tried the latter on them as I loved the setting and had just been on holiday to Sorrento. I'd done my usual research keeping tickets from ferries and trains, brochures from tourist sites, underground maps etc. I always do this so that I can set a story in a location even if it's years after I've visited. Armed with my research and a hazy plotline about someone who buys a house by the sea in an internet auction I was set to begin. That was my route into serial writing, different writers have different routes to breaking into that genre. One thing's for certain, magazine readers love an absorbing serial and editors are always keen to have good ones because once a reader is hooked they'll come back again and again. One of the main things to remember is what a commitment a serial is. During the two years from start to finish I had numerous other writing commitments on the go from critiquing to writing novellas. Every time I got a serial instalment back though I had to drop those and get cracking on the serial. The editors would gently remind me if there was silence for too long and I knew then, however difficult I was finding it to come up with new plotlines or resolve old plot issues, I needed to come up with the goods. If your writing world is one where because of your day job or other commitments you would find it impossible to keep up the momentum and work to an editor's beck and call you may want to consider whether serial writing is really for you. As editors pay on the submission of each instalment, they are investing pretty highly in your capacity to keep going and come up with the goods right to the last instalment. What to send..... Firstly, read the magazine's submission guidelines very carefully. If they ask for a two page synopsis and the first instalment, do exactly that, no more, no less. Secondly, read the magazine, get hold of back copies. Study what other serials there have been and try and come up with something different but not so different that it wouldn't be in keeping with what the magazine's values are. Ask friends, neighbours, your FaceBook and Twitter contacts, the lady standing next to you in the supermarket queue, anyone about what magazines they read and why. Hopefully you'll find people who read fiction in mags and they will tell you what grabs them and what doesn't. Be prepared to do amendments .......... Very lucky is the writer who DOESN'T have to do revisions and remember for a serial you have to have each instalment approved before writing the next. That is one of the frustrations. With a pocket novels I have zoomed along at my own pace and been able to see the novel form in its entirety as one whole piece of work. With a serial be prepared for the stopping and starting. You cannot get into your groove and sail along. You have to hold yourself back and wait sometimes for many weeks (by which time you've forgotten half the story and will have to go back and reread) before you can gear up again. Often, whilst writing one episode I would make notes on the next but I never went further than notes before getting the go ahead as I simply don't have the time to waste. So, in short, accept changes and be open to them. The editors really do know their readers. My first instalment had about nine requests for amendments. I nearly folded up into a little ball and started shaking. They gradually reduced as the instalments went on but then 7&8 both had significant reworkings requested. The main change was, by that time I had become used to them and what looked impossible I knew, with a lot of work, would be sorted. In my next blogs I'll cover setting, plotting, emotional involvement and characterisation within the serial world.