As I’m a creative writing tutor as well as a writer, it has been suggested that I should include a few hints and tips about writing, here, on my blog. As I’ve just been asked about writing serials, that’s where I’ve decided to begin …
Serials appear in a few weekly magazines. Those magazines I know of in the UK and Ireland are:
- The People’s Friend
- Woman’s Weekly
- My Weekly
- Ireland’s Own
My Weekly arrange two- and three-part serials to be written by writers they already know, so that’s not a good place to begin, unless you already have a sturdy short story track record with them.
The People’s Friend is quite flexible and publishes serials of all lengths. Absorb and understand the ethos of the magazine and send for their writers’ guidelines before you begin. PF is open to several scenes or chapters per episode and the fiction team is looking for an opening instalment of 6,000 to 7,000 words with following instalments a little shorter, around 5,000 words. They’re also happy for multi-viewpoint, which means that you can follow the stories of several characters (so long as they all impact upon one another, of course). Approach Shirley Blair, the fiction editor, with a clear idea for the serial. Don’t outline the whole serial, don’t write the whole serial, just know what you want to write about and the characters. If you’re asked to write the first instalment don’t go further because you might be asked to rewrite and rewrite. Once they have the first instalment as they want it they’ll pay you for it and expect the rest of the serial to follow – one instalment at a time. Think family-related entertainment.
Woman’s Weekly is looking for new serials, right now! The fiction team wants three-parters, 3800 words each. As for The People’s Friend, they need to see the idea before asking to see more. Email Fiction Editor Gaynor Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org with your idea.
The last time that I spoke to Ireland’s Own they were looking for serial ideas. Be aware that Ireland’s Own is a general interest magazine – so make your idea appeal to both genders.
- As with just about any piece of fiction, leap into the story. As it’s a serial, do so for every instalment.
- Magazines like plenty of dialogue to carry the story and develop character.
- Avoid any subjects that are gritty: think decent people and real conflicts (but not too nasty).
- Finish each instalment with a ‘curtain’ ie something to make the reader buy the magazine next week to see what happens. Dramatic dialogue is excellent for curtains. ‘I’m afraid she needs an operation,’ said Dr. Baines. Or freeze the action. Clarissa’s heart lurched as the edge of the cliff began to crumble.
- As with all longer fiction, make certain that you have enough story to carry the wordcount. Having more words at your disposal than in a short story doesn’t mean you can pad or ramble. You’ve got to write tightly, even whilst realising the characters, and absorb your readers. Magazine readers tend to be in a short story frame of mind so a serial instalment can be quite an effort for them. You’ve got to make it worthwhile.
Serials are an important part of a magazine and often planned and laid out ahead of almost every other component. AND, after the magazine has published the serial, you can sell it as a novella, a large print book or even a full novel (although that might take expansion). So you get paid again!
Hands up everyone who’s going to have a go at writing a serial …