I’m publishing my first serialized novel in a little over a week, so I wanted to share some things I’ve learned along the way. Every book, no matter the genre or series, presents its own set of challenges. Angel Blue is no exception. If anything, I made things harder on myself by writing in a new perspective and general style. Not to mention this is a novel in three episodes. But, crazy as it may sound to change my format, it felt right for this story. This doesn’t mean I haven’t struggled through this book as much as the others. Keep reading to learn how I kept my head together, and why I went from a five to three episode serial.
Piecing Your Novel Together
Angel Blue Edition
About a year ago I decided to finally finish what I’m now calling Angel Blue. I kid you not, the draft I recently completed was the seventh. Yes, I said it, the seventh draft. To be fair, not all of these drafts were completed. Often I would begin the story one way, only to change my mind and start over. This is how I ended up writing extra scenes you may see glimpses of in later seasons. Eventually, I found myself swimming in so much world building and character building material, I knew I needed to create an easier way to sort through it. After all, what makes sense to my manic mind will not make sense to a reader diving in for the first time. My beta reader, Allison was the one to point this out to me.
Earlier this year, I shared a similar story regarding my journey re-writing Silver Hollow. To keep my head above water with the sheer size of the story, I split it into five parts. It helped to break up the story into acts, to better see the rising and falling action. I enjoyed writing this format so much I knew I’d revisit the concept when I dove further into Angel Blue.
I split it up into five episodes, each with its own mini-arc for my main characters. Having written novellas in the past, I was already familiar with the formula I needed. But for those of you who aren’t, here’s a simple outline that works great for short stories:
II. Inciting Incident (the scene/action that gets the reader into the main action/ARC of your story)
III. Plot Point #1 (the scene where everything changes.)
IV. First Culmination
V. Midpoint (halfway mark/big action scene)
VI. Plot Point #2 (where things change again)
VIII. Resolution (instead of wrapping things up like a novel, set things up for the next serial. Avoid cliffhangers, but still leave readers with a desire to pick up the next book.)
*credit for this template goes to Meg Collett’s lovely blog
Here is how I put the above into practice for my fellow visual nerds:
I. Opening – Two unnamed soldiers are about to torch a castle in the distant medieval past. One feels remorse, the other banishes his brother.
II. Inciting Incident – Present Day Canada–Human Club– Meet Eanna who is not human pretending to be human for a night for unnamed reasons. She meets a tall handsome stranger. (draws in with romance and wanting to learn who and what she is. A scary thing enters the club, even Eanna is slightly afraid. The man and his “girlfriend” flee the scene.)
III. Plot Point #1 – Etlu arrives to claim Eanna. They argue over why she’s there, about the Cursed, hinting at overall arc stuff. Also hint at a romantic history and that time is running out for them. Malku is coming and he’s no bueno. When Etlu tries to take her out of the club, she has an “episode” and nearly blows up.
Intermission- flashback to the first time Eanna woke up to Etlu.
To learn the rest, you’ll just have to read the first episode, won’t you? 😉
So I outlined and wrote/rewrote five episodes, but by the fifth, I felt stretched a little thin. Here is where my new developmental editor Victoria DeLuis stepped in.
side bar: I should state here, before sending anything to Victoria, I had already sent this over to my beta and critique partner, Melissa (hey Mel!). Always, always have your beta readers and critique partners pitch in before sending a messy draft to your editors!
Victoria helped me spot inconsistencies and story flow issues. She created a write-up of strengths and weaknesses. Generally, she helped give me that outsider’s impression I was too close to the manuscript to see for myself. One of her biggest complaints was the serialized format. This didn’t completely shock me. Serialized stories aren’t for everyone, I understand. But in this case, the trouble had to do with the final episode seeming too rushed. My solution? Since I wanted to maintain the serial format for Seven Deadly Sins, I decided to make this into a three-episode season, rather than five. Once I decided this, it added extra workload for my poor editor (you’re amazing Krystle!) and me. But in the end it was worth it. Interestingly enough, each subsequent episode grew longer. I like to keep things even if I’m splitting something up. But in this case, it felt right. Sometimes, in this business, you have to go with your gut instinct.
So what have I learned?
- Keep a working outline, like the simple one I shared above. Other options include physical or digital flashcards, if you like mapping out your “scenes” more.
- Make a continuity list. Put all those pesky details in there, backstory tidbits, eye colors, favorite colors. That list will save your life later in your draft, and especially when you’re writing the sequels.
- Keep a permanent beta partner. Having someone around who also knows your story and characters will help you in those moments they say, “didn’t you change ____’s name for this revision?”
- Save your deleted & revised scenes. You never know when you’ll use them, either in your current WIP or the next. This will also help you to keep track of what you’re using/not using. Or what’s necessary & what’s pure unnecessary fluff.
- Keep track of your word count & page count for chapters or parts. It’s okay if some chapters contain more content, but it will help you with overall pacing if you can think ahead to how much space you have to devote to specific scenes.
- If you’re struggling to remember certain scenes or feel the echo of past chapters, do the smart thing and actually re-read. While you don’t want to do this too much while writing the first draft, there’s no excuse during revisions. When revising and rewriting, it’s two-fold. Focus on the end goal, but don’t let yourself go too far into left field.
There’s probably more I’m not thinking of, but hopefully, that helps you keep track. I make a lot of lists. Lists can be your friend too. Simple sentences, straight to the point will help you see the strengths in your chapters. Books are full of “moments.” You want a strong beginning, middle, and end, but don’t forget, every chapter is its own story. No matter if you’re writing a 400 page novel or a short story, every part is like an “episode” of the whole narrative.