12.43: Serialized Storytelling

Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard

We’re talking about the extreme long-form serial story here, and how to keep things interesting without forcing the main characters into an absurdly high number of character-developing moments. Brandon leads by aiming the question at Howard, since Schlock Mercenary has been running now for seventeen years (it was only 16 at the time we recorded.) We also talk about how long romance serials avoid “sequelitis” by swapping out the love interests, and how the tools used here apply across multiple styles and genres.

Credits: this episode was recorded in Cosmere House Studios by Dan Dan the Audioman Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Create a “Beat Chart” identifying iconic moments, questions and answers, and new promises to readers, and then break these out into book-sized groups.

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

16 thoughts on “12.43: Serialized Storytelling”

  1. The “abuse of character” that’s most common in television writing has become a growing peeve of mine — whether it’s hamhandedly putting off or complicating a relationship in the attempt to maintain romantic tension, or ignoring what’s been established about a character because it would be inconvenient for the story that week’s writer wants to tell.

    Example — it’s been established that a character is highly adept at picking locks, but the writers and/or producers want to do an episode with them locked in a room… so the character never even tries to pick what looks like a very pickable lock.

  2. “breaking the character to give him an arc” was the big problem with the second and third Iron man films.

    And Civil War as I think of it. Breaking Tony Stark to give our film a plot is getting to be a tiresome trope on the MCU movies.

    1. That’s another good example.

      Heck, even the second Avengers movie had a faint wiff of “repeat performance” with the team once again at each other’s throats after the arc of the first film already covered that ground.

  3. “breaking the character to give him an arc” was the big problem with the second and third Iron man films.

    And Civil War as I think of it. Breaking Tony Stark to give our film a plot is getting to be a tiresome trope with the MCU movies.

  4. Okay, the prize in our cereal box this morning is… a cliffhanger? No, no, it’s the other serial! And the Utah foursome, talking about how to keep characters and their growth under control in serial tales, really long, long stories. Webcomics, fantasy series, horror series, even romance series get looked at, with plenty of good advice to help you make your series great! So take a look at the transcript, now available in the archives and over here


    and then lay out your design space, and start writing!

  5. Thanks for doing an episode on serials. That’s what I write, and I’ve been hoping to hear it addressed this season for a while now. :D

    As for the question that Howard raised, “what does it mean to be in love?”, my answer goes something like this:

    “In love” is nothing but an emotion. It’s caused by hormones, and it tends to be every bit as fickle, fleeting, and irrational as any other emotion. As such, it’s a very bad basis from which to make important decisions.

    *Love*, on the other hand, is something entirely different, and it’s quite unfortunate that the names are so similar. Love is not an emotion; it’s a way of life. Truly loving someone means consistently practicing the same principles of love in your dealings with them, them no matter how you are currently feeling about them in any given moment.

  6. Regarding the distinction between epic and iconic heroes (using Jim Zub’s terminology) — that’s actually something I appreciate about certain long-running fiction. Character’s don’t have to constantly change and “grow” to be interesting, compelling, and entertaining.

    How a character reacts to new things and deals with new situations is as interesting to me as how a character changes.

  7. At first glance I thought this was “Sterilized Storytelling.” That seemed pretty interesting, too…

  8. You should look into the online serialised story Worm by Wildbow .Worm | A Complete Web Serial
    It is pretty a pretty popular but still underrated serious and realistic take on superheroes, and are about a young girl who’s bullied, who has a hard time connecting to her father, and who’s discovered she has the power to control insects. Wildbow is also a widely talented writer who really knows what he’s doing, having studied applied language. You should get him on the podcast one day! I think his real name is Jonathan. He always have such great advice on his WordPress and subreddit. And he also has a IRRC chat thing for fans and himself.

    Loved episode by the way!

    1. Please, no. Worm was *terrible.*

      It started off interesting enough, a story about a teen girl who gains powers and wants to be a superheroine, but accidentally falls in with a team of villains, trying to figure out the best way to navigate this situation without becoming evil, while also dealing with the pressures of high school life and home. *That* would have been a great story, if the author had kept it up.

      But then Leviathan, an invincible monster that can be beaten back but never actually destroyed, attacks the city, and from that point on everything breaks down entirely. The story slowly degenerates into a thinly-veiled excuse to tear apart everything that’s awesome about superheroes as the author catches the Grimdark disease, which becomes progressively worse as the story goes on. The more we learn about the heroes, the less heroic they look, until the whole “heroes vs. villains” battle ends up as nothing more than a gang war in which one gang has better publicity.

      The whole thing builds towards an apocalyptic, world-threatening battle against an invincible foe, which really ought to have been awesome, but it failed badly due to how utterly incoherent the plot became. The next-to-last arc takes place as several characters raid a hidden super-fortress, and you completely lose track of who’s fighting who and for what reason. And then at the 11th hour, the author pulls a group of story-breaking powers out of nowhere that completely violates Sanderson’s First and Second Laws in order to resolve a plot that is, quite frankly, not possible to resolve within the established rules of the world.

      Worm would make a good case study, all right, but it would be a study in what not to do.

      1. I disagree, but only to an extent. Like you said, it became rather muddy and bad near the end, but it is still clear to me that he has talent as a writer. Which can be seen with Twig and especially Pact. He’s bettered himself greatly, especially writing that much that often. He writes constantly, which you ought to do when you do serialized things, because you want to keep up with your story.

        I still think he would be an interesting guest. He doesn’t really outline, which might be why it became what it did later on, but does almost purely discovery writing. But seriously, trust me, or at least try to take my word for it for a brief moment, when I say that his other two stories are great.

        Moreso the latest one. I think that’s Twig. Maybe he will improve upon some of the issues Worm had with the sequel :)

        1. Man, the site really need an edit button for comments. I forgot to add: If anything, Jonathan/Wildbow would be an interesting guest, since he could talk about how to motivate yourself to keep up with a serialised story constantly like he does all the time. I am sure it is hard work.

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