“Previously on…” – The problem with gaps

 There are times when a 1000 words story expands beyond the set limits of the flash format. Exceeding with a number of words is one thing ( I hear the flash set’s its boundaries somewhere around 1500, correct me if wrong), but when the story, in the process of writing, starts feeling like it needs more space, more time, more development, it grows into a serial.

I find serials tricky. At first they seem like a great idea, allowing the writer to set a future point, to add more and cut less, and when the installments come once a week there is plenty of time to build the next chapter. There is certain flexibility and new ideas are generated as the process of creating the universe of the story deepens.

I have personally felt much freedom in several cases. I had stories which I couldn’t tell in 1000 words and arranged the initial idea into one, two, three or more parts. The ways into which one flash story may develop, as a serial, are multiple. And because of that I believe them to be tricky and often fall in gaps that sometimes last longer than intended.

John Wiswell pointed himself and his ongoing serial “The Only Thing Worse is the Cure” as examples for such gaps. Maybe based on a few comments, but I still think the gaps between the installments are minor and don’t have effect when it comes to following the story. Perhaps the change in narrators and perspectives did that, but John would know better than me.

Whereas I on the other hand…well I have created gaps as vast as canyons between one part of an ongoing serial and the next. It ends up being paused rather than ongoing. I am going to use myself and my writings as examples.

I battled “Nightshift” a six part serial reasonably fast, with just one small gap. But two other serials I have abandoned at present time. I left creepy, ghostly “Sunflowers” hanging in the dark and am not sure if I am ever getting back to it, at least not soon. I left “Monsters” with only two chapters in order to transform it into a graphic novel which someday will meet light in 2 beautiful volumes.  But there is one which I was super excited about, still am, but I don’t write it.

First to say, I think the problem with the gaps to originate from the fact that some stories are not initially intended to be serials. I trust my gaps to come exactly from that.  The bigger the pause is the less the readers remember. And who would go back to read per se 10 chapters and try to remember what the heck was going on in this story?

I did a little experiment in my political sci-fi thriller (which still doesn’t have a proper name) and wrote some details to hint the upcoming events, and details which led to the first installment. I don’t think they hinted anything. I’ll allow myself to use this serial as the main example because I am working on it (in my head mostly) and thus I count it as an ongoing thing.

Here’s how I picture my failure: I have it planned ahead, but that would require time, something which I don’t always have on my side and sometimes feel the pressure of. Having a clear idea as to what will become of it in future terms I would want to write it down, but take time (extending it even more) to do that properly. That means I won’t be posting every week. Slowing down the tempo means I lose the readers, because they lose the original concept. Thus the gaps swallow all and at times I don’t see how and when this serial will be over and complete.

Now that I’m thinking, what’s the point in blogging a story piece by piece in this bizarre manner, I consider, why not pack it up in a small novelette and then offer the complete “product”? It would be easier, it will relax my anxiety of not meeting each week’s deadline, and it won’t trouble the readers of going back through posts and trying to make sense of what’s been happening and what’s to happen.

Could be the smart thing to do with a longer piece. It has its downsides, but the outcome might be more pleasing.

One thing is sure, gaps are mean and sometimes they stay for more than awhile. How to tackle them?

What do you think?

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4 thoughts on ““Previously on…” – The problem with gaps

  1. Interesting post Cindy. When I wrote I Know You Know , which has just recently been published by Crooked Cat, I wrote as a serial which I showed on my blog as 6 episodes a season with 5 seasons and it lasted almost the year. I found that gap between seasons, didn’t seem to bother anyone and it gave me time to write each new season. This time with Wizard, it was not written as a serial, it was written as a novel, so at the moment I’m rewriting the chapters already written and dividing them into three or four parts each chapter. I have a couple up my sleeve, but if I want to keep this going without a break I’m going to have to start writing the brand new chapters – I’m thinking Wizard will eventually have a break too. ^_^

    • Thanks for commenting Helen.
      Well yeah I suppose I don’t stand quite correct. It develops individually for everyone and depends strongly on the storytelling and the information each part fills in. I’m glad to read your serial grew into a much bigger and wonderful thing and once more I congratulate its publication. I think that when it comes to writing a novel and not posting it online as chopped down pieces a break is more than allowed and even necessery. As you said to give time and think things through.

  2. You may be blessed with a capacity I utterly lack: strong memory among the many narratives you follow. I am the world’s worst serial reader, easily able to forget the plotline and characters in mere days unless they’re extremely striking. If you can follow stories with serious gaps in-between chapters, you’re simply keener than I am. For most serials written by friends, I’ll wait until the end and read the complete work, much to the chagrin of a few.

    I still lament the gaps in my serial. They were less intentional, and more heaped upon by personal tragedies that derailed the work. I sure hope it’s worth the wait for everyone.

    • I think you are in your right to forget the plotline. No one is capable of following a story that has a two-week gap for instance. I might be fortunate to remember the story even with a bigger gap, but thats that. I am awful at keeping a story week by week. And I have to admit, I’m a bit impatient waiting for the complete work. Though for the serials I write I see how it is better to have them wrapped up, full and finished before putting them on for the mass public.

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