Up through the 1950’s and even into the ’60’s, serials were popular. Radio programs would bring us to the edge of our seats as the heroine headed for disaster. Just as it appeared there was no hope for her, the announcer would come in with, “Listen next week for the next installment.” Of course most of us would be listening the next week in the hopes that the hero was about to arrive. Stories in magazines and newspapers often interrupted the action with, “to be continued”. I am told that back in the 1930’s, children would line up at the theater with their dime in hand to see the Saturday movie which usually included not only the feature, but also a newsreel and a serial. At least a few of the children would be back the next Saturday to see what happened next in the serial.
Serials were fun and frustrating. The suspense while waiting for the next issue of the periodical would have us waiting eagerly for the mailman. On the other hand, there was nothing worse than picking up a magazine at the dentist’s office only to discover the interesting story is to be continued in the next issue and you have no way of locating that issue. I hope the art of writing a serial is not completely lost. Perhaps the art has only been misplaced.
A serial consisted of a number of installments, each ended with a hook, some piece of unresolved plot that the author promised to resolve in the next installment. Most serial installments were relatively short. Between resolving the previous installment’s hook and setting up a new hook, there was little room for extensive plot or character development. Thus few serials were “great literature”, but they were fun to read.
Several years ago, a periodical sent out a call for serials. I gave it a try. The specification was that each installment had to have exactly 1000 words. Pacing differs from a traditional story, because you need to keep the reader interested and yet hold material back for future installments. It was challenging hitting the word limit on the head. Spacing the hooks 1000 word apart got interesting. It was fun to write, but alas, my story was not accepted.
Recently I pulled the document out of the file and revised it. Since there is currently no market for a serial, you might as well enjoy it. My next post will be the first installment of Life on the Left Side of the Fast Lane.
Tune in to this Blog in a few days for the first thrilling installment.