Today's guest is Penny Alexander, who has kindly offered to give some very useful advice on writing serials for The People's Friend – although actually a lot of it applies to all types of womag writing.
I simply couldn't resist talking Penny into splitting this up into a mini serial. Here's part 1, the rest will follow in a few days. (Comments in purple are me interrupting.)
FIRST EAT YOUR CORNFLAKES
by Penny Alexander
Thank you, Patsy, for inviting me onto your blog!
Hello, I'm Penny Alexander and I write for The People's Friend.
The magazine already offers clear and helpful guidelines on their website (you can find them here). I've been writing fiction for them for only 20 years, while the magazine celebrated its 150th birthday last year. Still, I hope my thoughts will be useful.
Before anything, read the magazine! The Friend has a distinctive, traditional style. I'd suggest also taking note not only of the short stories but also of the non-fiction articles and advertisements. Do they indicate what kind of readers you may have? Keep them in mind, because without readers there would be no magazine. Hint: your readers are not all Ladies of a Certain Age... (This applies to all types of womag writing. Do make sure you're reading current issues, not some you found in the loft. Things change.)
Now, with possibly more than one suitable storyline whirling in your head, I'd suggest pinning down a few ideas. Don't worry about the order. I invariably grab a pencil (a lovely, soft 2B for me, please) and start scribbling. At this stage, I also like to have a decent-sized box handy in which to keep notes, drawings, photos, maps, or to corral conkers and pebbles as, believe me, round things will roll and erasers will bounce away across the floor whenever you're not looking.
I also like to grab the largest empty cornflake packet I can lay my hands on. Cut along one edge, squash it flat and use for spidergrams, useful words, sticky notes, plots and plans. In between scribblings, it can be kept in view while propped sturdily on your desk. (Well, every writer has their eccentricity, and empty cardboard (serial?) packets are mine!) (That's terrible – I love it!)
Every writer has their own methods, of course. Some prefer not to invite chaos by spooling out lots of ideas at once, but instead will expand their story from one specific point. But however you write, I strongly suggest that if tackling a serial you make A Plan. This is because at The People's Friend your editor will want to see, and approve, a detailed outline before going ahead with the first episode. Each episode is accepted and paid for separately, so it's difficult to change afterwards. A clear idea of where your story will end and how your characters reach that destination is essential.
Uncertain what kind of theme will suit? Then you couldn't do better than first submitting a short story. It's true, a serial will have more characters and more narrative threads, as well as a rather different pace or rhythm. (More on that later.) But there's no better way to find out if your ideas work for this market. Another bonus: even if at first unsuccessful, you might gain valuable feedback from a Friendly editor. Inwardly digest all advice, and remember your editor is wiser than you are about the magazine they work for. To coin a well-worn phrase (naturally, you'd never use such hackneyed words in your own highly polished submissions!) you have to be in it to win it.
If there's one thing writers have, it's persistence. So I'm sure you won't think of giving up!
Penny's serial, 'The Quest for The Dove Tree' is published by The People's Friend in seven parts from January 25th, and is the sequel to The Flower of Hope. Follow the adventures of Luke Hathern, a Victorian plant-hunter, and Caroline, his very practical and artistic wife, as they travel to the Far East in search of the Davidia Involucrata.
The photos are of a real Dove Tree, which helped inspire Penny's writing.