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Sunday, 2 February 2014

Writing a serial for Woman's Weekly

My first serial for Woman's Weekly, 'Finders Keepers' is in this week's copy of the magazine. (It's a 3-parter) I've tried short stories with them in the past without success so was really pleased to have this one accepted. I am a bit obsessed at the moment with romantic suspense and have been devouring the novels of Josephine Tey (a blog post about her might follow when I have time, she wrote two of the most interesting crime novels I've come across). People often ask where ideas come from. The one for 'Finders Keepers' was simple speculation. I can't remember how many times I have wondered what on earth I would do if I found a quantity of money in a suitcase, on a train, buried in a wood...... Of course you'd give it up, wouldn't you??? But, given extraordinary circumstances, people do extraordinary things. One way of generating interesting fiction is to put perfectly ordinary people in outlandish situations and test them which is what I did with my heroine Erica McAdam. First of all though, you have to show the reader your character living in their normal life, not for long though, the reader wants to get to the nitty gritty of the problems that face them, as soon as possible. Sometimes I look at a serial, particularly a 3-parter like a three act play. Firstly you need to establish who the main players are and make the reader FEEL for them. That is essential early on. I therefore made my main character a hard working woman on her own and I gave her a daughter who is in trouble through unexpected circumstances. We feel for people who experience misfortune and we like people who are loved or highly regarded by others. Then, in the first episode, I establish a problem, a deep problem for my characters to get out of. That sets everything up for act two, or, in a 3-part serial, episode two. Act two sees our characters fighting for their lives. No, not necessarily literally are they facing murder, or hanging off a cliff edge, but, they must fear destruction of something very important to them. Their way of life, their liberty, their capacity to care for those they love. So now, you see, showing the reader your main characters in their 'element' the person they are, in episode one has been useful. My heroine is not a rich woman in monetary terms, so she has nothing to lose in terms of wealth. But she does have her freedom and the job she loves as an environmental researcher at stake. She also has her role as a mother which defines her as much as her career. She is an honest woman who is faced with potentially being driven to do something dishonest. In episode two therefore, you need to dig your characters deeper into the problems which face them. Maybe let them make some bad mistakes. And, ideally, you need to add another major element to carry that episode forwards. In other words, you need to put even more pressure on your characters. I won't reveal what the second element is as part two of 'Finders Keepers' isn't out yet. However, as a clue, I would say the arrival of another important character can always act as a catalyst which helps to keep the momentum going. By act 3, or rather episode three, I like to create a black moment. A moment when everything looks as if it is lost. Where all that testing appears to have found your heroine or hero wanting, where they question the previous decisions they have taken. Haven't we all thought at times that we've blown it, that the worst is going to happen, that we can never get out of a complete mess we've made of things. But, we survive. Things change. WE CHANGE. Those changes are fascinating for readers to experience with characters for whom they have some sympathy. The resolving of that black moment, how people get out of life's problems and triumph is so important in giving a reader a satisfying result from reading a serial. After all, they have invested a huge amount of time in you. They've spent money on buying the magazine with episode 1 and hopefully have waiting to buy the magazines with episode 2 and 3 in it. So, if you're writing a serial, make the characters sympathetic people we care for, give them a past and give them important elements in their life that they would find it painful to lose. Put them through hell, then get them out of that awful mess. Hopefully then you will come up with a story an editor will have faith in and readers will enjoy. Job done!

9 comments:

Pat Posner said...

Great post, Cara, thank you!
Look forward to reading your serial.

xxPat

Rosie Dean said...

Excellent post.

And tomorrow, I will break the habit of a lifetime and go out and buy Woman's Weekly!

Wendy's Writing said...

Fascinating as always, Cara.

susanjanejones said...

I have the first installment Cara, now I'm going to make sure I get all 3. Well done, hope it's the first of many they accept.

Rena George said...

Another published serial - and in Woman’s Weekly no less – absolutely brilliant, Cara!
It is not easy work being a writer of serials, and even more difficult finding success. I take my hat off to you.
I loved The Lemon Grove, and Finders Keepers promises to be just as enthralling. I can’t wait to read it. Rx

Cara Cooper said...

Thank you gals for your kind comments. There is a particular challenge with serials, I always feel I'm racing against the clock to get as much characterisation and a decent amount of plot in, in a very few words. Still, it's all good discipline I guess!!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Excellent post, Cara - you've explained it very well. Many congrats on another serial!

Cara Cooper said...

Thanks Rosemary, I constantly analyse series as I'm watching them on TV now, and films to try and decide why I do or don't get hooked into the story. Actually I'm annoying the family by asking them what they do and don't like about the characters etc!! I'm in danger of bringing everything back to writing.....

Jamila Adams said...

Hey there, i was just wondering if there is any other way to read the last 2 parts of your story. I have just finished reading the first part and would love to continue reading but as I live in Australia this magazine is pretty hard to come by... Anyway you have me hooked! Thank you for giving us a good read!!!