Last week I enjoyed an immensely informative day in Derby taking part in Joanna Barnden’s course on writing serials for women’s magazines. Joanna’s aim was for all of us to go home with a cast of characters and a basic outline for a serial that we could further develop ourselves. I thought it was a tall order but she succeeded!
There were 7 of us around the table (the picture shows us half way through a home-cooked lunch and waiting for pudding!) and as the day progressed so did our serials. From nowhere we produced story settings ranging from a Greek island, a solicitor’s office and a belfry. An equally disparate list of characters came to life and then we had to work on the bit I found really hard – a main plot plus a couple of sub plots…
Later it was down to planning that crucial first episode which has to grip the reader and make her buy the magazine again next week. But, most importantly, along with an episode by episode summary, it also has to sell the whole serial to the editor.
As we went through the day Joanna gave us a few rules to work with:
- Have lots of characters – all with their own problems. These people should be part of a linked group – perhaps they work together, belong to the same sports club or live around the same village green.
- The timeframe can be as long as you like
- Keep to a linear story
- Use several settings – think how often the camera moves to a different view in a TV drama
- Tease the reader by revealing things gradually
- Each episode needs to be satisfying read in itself – this is so that readers who have bought the magazine for the first time can still enjoy the story.
Most of these ‘rules’ are the exact opposite of short story writing where only a few characters play out the story in one setting within a tight time frame – so as someone who loves writing very short ‘coffee break’ fiction, this went totally against the grain for me.
One of the most important elements of a serial is the cliffhanger – and just to keep you on tenterhooks I’m going to save that plus how to submit your story to an editor for the next post !
In the meantime if you want to find out more about Joanna, her courses or her reasonably priced critiques – her website is here.