If you're a regular reader of the women's magazines, then the name of Geraldine Ryan will be familiar to you. Geri has had hundreds of stories published, and dozens of serials. She has a large print book just out with Ulverscroft- Leave Over - and unlike the other large print books I've talked about on this blog, this one is not a reprint of a pocket novel. It's two serials, featuring the same central character, republished in one volume.
I know hardly anything about serial writing, and so far have not featured much about it on this blog. So to help advertise Geri's book I asked her to write a guest post about serials. They're more of a challenge than short stories, obviously, but pay well and as Geri's found, you may be able to resell them in book format! Definitely worth a go!
So - over to Geri. There's a competition here too!
The first serial I wrote came as a request from Gaynor Davies, Fiction Editor of Woman’s Weekly. The magazine had published two 6000 word “cosy crime” stories of mine within a period of a year, both featuring the same heroine, DC Casey Clunes. When some seven years ago Gaynor suggested I might try my hand at writing a full-length, 3 or 4 part crime serial I must admit that initially I was thrown into total panic.
First of all I didn’t write crime. Not really. Those two long crime stories had been a bit of a fluke I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to repeat. Second of all she was asking for something in the region of 12500 words (serials were longer in those days) and I was a short story writer! Thirdly she appeared to making noises about sub-plots and cliff-hangers. I didn’t actually say, ‘You’ve got the wrong person, here, Gaynor,’ but it was pretty much what I was thinking. So of course I said yes, I’d have a go.
Casey Clunes has subsequently featured in a total of seven Woman’s Weekly serials. She’s been promoted to DI, got herself a romantic partner, journalist Dom Talbot and become a mum to baby Findlay, while solving a caseload of crimes along the way.
Since that first serial I’ve been lucky enough to have had twenty-one serials
published by Woman’s Weekly, mostly crime. No, I don’t have that number etched on my brain – it’s just that last year a great opportunity arose to sell some of these serials on and it was in my interest to make a tally of them.
On February 1st “Leave Over”, containing the Casey Clunes’ serial of that name alongside “A Tough Workout”, will be published by Ulverscroft Large Print Books Ltd, a non-profit organisation whose books are both for sale and distributed to public libraries throughout the world, bringing the pleasure of reading to millions with failing eyesight.
I wouldn’t have known anything about Ulverscroft had it not been for writer Sally Quilford generously sharing the information that she’d sold on some of her previously published pocket novels to them. I’ve thanked her in private but now I’d like to acknowledge in public how much in her debt I am. Thanks, Sally and I owe you!
Do I have the definitive answer to How To Write A Serial? I wish I could offer you a formula. Damn it if I knew it I wouldn’t have had all those rejections in among the successes! The truth is that no matter how many successful ones I write the process doesn’t get any easier. Just recently for example, with my latest serial, “Breaking The Rules” which also comes out on 1st February, I ended up writing episode one four times before I got it right.
But if I can’t offer you a winning formula maybe I can at least offer you a couple of do’s and don’ts. For instance, don’t expect to get it right first time. Ask yourself, has this idea of mine got legs? Could it hold up for three, four or five episodes of 3400 words each or is it best suited to a one thousand-word “moment in time” story? What about my characters? Are they complex enough to hold the reader’s interest or have I just created stereotypes? And when I write ‘End of Part One’ will anyone care enough to buy next week’s magazine so they can find out what happens next?
Even if your answer to all the above turns out to be yes, don’t start writing too soon. You’ll kick yourself if you find you’ve boxed yourself into a corner round about half way through episode four because you haven’t thought something through or if, towards the end you have a sudden brilliant idea but you can’t use it unless you go right back to the beginning and make some drastic alterations.
Now here’s the biggest don’t. Don’t get precious! You really don’t know better than Gaynor Davies and Diane Kenwood about what Woman’s Weekly readers want. If their criticism hurts try stamping around the house for a bit till your fury wears off but if you want to sell your serial you’ll get straight back to your computer and work on their advice.
Oh, dear, that’s three don’ts. So what about the do’s? The first is common sense, though why they call it common when it’s most uncommon in my experience I’ll never know. I can’t be the only writer who’s taught courses on writing fiction for women’s magazines to get the answer ‘Oh, I never read them’ to the question ‘When did you last read a story in a woman’s magazine?’
So it’s this - do make sure you follow the serials as they’re published, week for week, before you decide to have a go.
And do have a go! You’ll learn masses about pace and plotting as you struggle to squeeze an episode into the 3400-word mould you’ve been given. You’ll find out how to craft characters who are consistent over four episodes and who can all interact convincingly. You’ll struggle with all sorts of technicalities you won’t be able to foresee until you actually start writing. And your writing will improve enormously from the challenge.
*Ulverscroft only want to see previously published (not self-published or manuscript) full-length work – (for their romance series 25,000 –60,000 words and for their mystery series 30,000 – 70,000 words) rather than the short story length.
**To win a copy of “Leave Over’ why not have a go at the following competition – to be judged by Geri. Write the first two hundred words of Episode One of a crime serial in which your sleuth must make an appearance. Please post your entries beneath this blogpost. Deadline: noon 15 February. Winner to be announced a week later.
I've read one or two of Geri's Casey Clunes serials and she has indeed created a memorable character there. So go on - have a go at the competition and who knows, you might even want to carry on beyond the 200 word mark. Guidelines for Woman's Weekly serials are here.