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5 tips for writing kick ass serial fiction

PJ Kaiser and Tony Noland of Tuesday's Serial asked me if I would do a series of posts on writing serial fiction.

I was like: "Seriously? You want me? For reals?" in the valley girl voice that reappears after doing cartwheels in the grass with my big blue eyed 8 year old friend Addy.

They were like: "Yes, seriously," in their best adult voices.

I was like: "Ok." And here we are. On the last Thursday of the month for a while, I'll share some of the 'how tos' of serial fiction on Tuesday's Serial.

After this awesome introduction, you've got to wonder why the heck they would ask me to do anything. Here's three reasons: 1) I've been writing the fun, sexy, addicting, crunchy but sweet serial fiction set in Denver, Denver Cereal for three years; 2) I started my second serial about young widow and Fitness model Lo Downs, The Queen of Cool, set in Fort Worth and published by She is Dallas, in April; and 3) I've studied, read and know a lot about serial fiction. If there's something you're dying to know about serial fiction, be sure to let me know in the comment section.

5 tips for writing kick ass serial fiction

So you woke up one morning and decided to write a serial fiction or maybe someone told you serial fiction was the best way to hone your skills and expand your audience or you were channeling Lucille Ball and came up with a 'hair brained' scheme or... Gosh, I can only hope you weren't driving at the time. When you came to your senses, you realize you want your serial to be awesome but don't know how.

Here's five easy tips for writing kick ass serial fiction:

1. Don't just jump right into your serial fiction: In serial fiction, the first three chapters are the anchor of the story. A great first three chapters is not only a fabulous way to hook readers but also your best resource. When you get stuck or confused or not sure where to go next, the first three chapters of any serial will light your way. Take your time with these chapters. Around here, everyone works on the first three chapters. Content editors come up with the weirdest and most perfect stuff. So do husbands, wives and children. Let your freak flag fly in the first three chapters.  You'll gather readers and create a depth you will need to keep your serial going.

2. Pantsers rule the serial fiction universe: I grew up in Southern California in a moment in time where lemon and orange grows stretched from Pasadena to the San Bernardino National Forest. Housing developments and towns were plopped along the mountains, Base Line Road, the railroad and the growing highway system. But the rest was uncharted territory. As a young child, we'll say 16 since that's legal driving age and we don't know each other very well, I would take the family station wagon and try to out drive my sadness. In the dark, I'd start down a dusty road and drive. The mountains ran East to West, so I knew I was going East. I knew if I drove a long, long way, I'd end up in Riverside or San Bernardino. I'd peer over the steering wheel, pop in a tape cassette in and press the pedal. Great serial fiction is created in the same fashion. I could only see to the edges of the headlights. You have to have some idea of where you're going, and enough gas to get there, but otherwise, the writer can only see to the edge of your headlights. This is how Dickens wrote. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes in this manner. Heck, it's how J.J. Abrams creates his successful TV shows, Lost, Fringe and others.  It's just how it's done.

3. Build a great team: When you write serial fiction, no matter how fast you type and how inspired you are, you cannot do everything. You simply do not have time. You need a team of people to help you with proof reading, content editing, art, website maintenance, and anything else you can't seem to get to. (For me, that includes someone to clean the house.)  While it sounds expensive, you can't afford not to find people you can trust. We've bartered, traded, used our friends, and paid for services to make this happen. In the end, we all feel like we're creating a product we can be proud of.

4. Create memorable characters and reintroduce them: Spend time brainstorming about your characters and their lives. What are their quirkiest characteristics? What do they do when they're not in your story? Sure, what they look like is important, but for a serial fiction, how they look is a lot less important than the intimate odd familiarity of their personalities. If you're looking for inspiration, look at the great character actors of our time. For example, Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester in Glee and Paula Newcomb as Director Vance's wife in NCIS. These women have almost no screen time and yet they create memorable characters. How do they do it? That's exactly what you want.

5. Remember your basics: Don't groan. Basics matter more in serial fiction because you're carrying people from one week or one month to the next. In case you've forgotten, here's a few: adjectives and adverbs are the ebil; omit needless words; you have 5 seconds to grab someone's attention; ridiculing your characters makes you look like a jerk; every reader blesses you the tremendous gift of their time. In order to keep the basics in my mind, I read Stunk and White's The Elements of Style (4th Edition)

and Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun & Profit

at least once a year. Writing isn't magic. It takes inspiration and hard work to make it happen.

Here are my top 5 tips for writing serial fiction. Next month, we'll talk about why your serial fiction is likely to fail (and what to do about it).

Before we get there, I'd love to know what's your favorite tip for writing serial fiction?

This post is simultaneously posted at Tuesday Serial