More tips picked up at Joanna Barnden’s highly informative course on writing serials for women’s magazines:
Each episode of a serial needs a cliffhanger to make the reader buy the next edition of the magazine. The cliffhanger has to leave the reader wondering about what has just happened or desperate to find out what is going to happen next. It should open up the story for lots of possibilities in the next episode rather than answering any questions or tying up any loose ends.
Try to do this by revealing something that suddenly changes the reader’s assumptions about the story line, such as a dead body, a person who is not what he seemed or dropping in a face from the past. Alternatively leave your character in a perilous situation, for example in charge of a runaway horse or at the mercy of a gun man in a post office hold-up.
I mentioned in my previous post that it is the opening episode plus further episode by episode summaries that sell a serial to an editor. Joanna referred to this first episode as the ‘pilot’ that really has to ‘wow’ a very critical audience. This episode should try to include all your main characters. There are 2 obvious ways of doing this:
- Have everyone get together at a big important event such as a party, funeral or on a coach journey. Show how they react to each other and the event they are attending.
- Have a crisis (such as a road accident, outbreak of war) and show how the different characters react to it.
Following on from this, the episode summaries need to be concise and easy to read. Around 500 words per episode is sufficient. Also include a cast list with your submission listing a very brief sentence about each character. Finally, write a short summary of the whole story. This should be similar to the blurb found on a novel or DVD.
Three magazines currently use serials:
- People’s Friend – around 10 episodes with a total word count of 60,000
- Women’s Weekly – serials of either 3 or 4 parts of 3800 words each, they want ‘serials that reflect life but in a way that is utterly compelling’
- My Weekly – they don’t always run one but prefer 3 episodes of 2,500 words each
Once a magazine has accepted the first episode and summaries you will usually be asked to submit each episode in turn to the editor. She may request changes to get things just right before you move on to write the next episode. There is no need to write the whole serial ‘on spec’.
So there you have it – serial writing in a nutshell!