Breaking Up The Story: What is Serialized Fiction?

serialized fiction

In many ways, the Internet completely changed how we look at fiction. What was once a very tangible thing—think magazines, books, newspapers, etc.—has become somewhat immaterial. You can’t hold a magazine issue digitally; you’re holding your phone or tablet, and it’s just not the same.

If you didn’t have a subscription to your favorite science fiction magazines back then, you could head to the library, borrow a friend’s or check out the corner store.

Now, it seems that physical magazine subscriptions are few and far between. Why pay for a tangible thing when you can save money by reading the stuff online for a fraction of the cost, sometimes for free?

That paradigm shift comes with its own quirks. If you happen to forget to bookmark a short story you read in some magazine, it might be completely lost to you if you end up forgetting author, title, and place of publication.

If you had the magazine on your shelf, all you had to do was flick through until you found it. Now you have to scroll through the archives, opening a thousand tabs to find the story. Or worse, attempt to prod the collective mind on Reddit or Twitter.

However, one of the interesting things about the relationship between the Internet and fiction is serialized fiction, which is a format that predates the Internet, but has gotten so much more traction because of it.

What is Serialized Fiction?

Serial fiction, or serialized fiction, is when a longer work is broken up into smaller installments that are released on a set schedule. Think TV episodes, but for fiction.

Where do serials appear? They can pop up in monthly, bi-monthly, weekly, or daily publications, like magazines or newspapers. Not only is serialized fiction a great way for authors to keep interest in their work going for a long time, it’s also used as a tool to sell more magazines or newspapers. If people get invested in the serial, they’re going to have to keep buying to read!

Serialized fiction is by no means a new concept. It’s been around for hundreds of years, and picked up popularity when the printing press made reading material more readily available for people outside of the aristocracy.

Charles Dickens had Great Expectations serialized in 1860, and Arthur Conan Doyle wrote many of the Sherlock Holmes stories to appear sequentially in various magazines.

Fast forward a hundred years, radio and television drastically changed the world of serialized fiction, bringing a more lifelike element to it. Even comic books work on the same principle as early serialized specials.

But what about today? And what about SFF publications? Where do they stand?

Serialized Fiction in 2022

The Internet has made writing fiction like Charles Dickens did nearly impossible. Sometimes, scenes in Dickens’ novels stretch for pages at a time, barely broken by dialogue or action of any kind. Unless you’re hyper-focused on the text, it’s difficult to read it without drifting off into daydreams or switching to a more engaging activity.

And we have the Internet and social media to blame for a lot of that. Recent studies have shown that the human attention span is about 8 seconds, which is why so many videos on Instagram and TikTok are limited to under 60 seconds. Anything longer, people just won’t watch it.

Even the way we have to format writing has changed. Gone are the long paragraphs, which were replaced with white space every two or three sentences.

So, it was only natural that serialized fiction would make an appearance in the new digital world. The bite-sized installments are easy to handle, and fit into even the busiest schedules.

Ways to Read (and Listen)

Now, more than ever, serialized science fiction and fantasy works are on the rise. Serial Box, which has since become Realm, features episodic fiction from authors like Max Gladston, K. Arsenault Rivera, E.C. Meyers, Yoon Ha Lee, Mary Robinette Kowal, and so many more.

Realm offers readers multiple installments of the same story in podcast format. Generally, each episode is about an hour and a half long, which makes it easy to find a stopping point.

However, the contrast between the 8 second attention span and the 1.5 hr episode length is pretty distinct.

Other serialized fiction platforms, like Mythrill Fiction, break stories down into much more manageable chunks.

On their app, Mythrill has a handful of different stories, ranging in themes from pirates and sea monsters to cyberpunk cities.

mythrill serialized fiction app

Each story is broken up into 20 episodes, with each episode taking about 5 minutes to read.

But, the really interesting thing about Mythrill is their lore cards. These story add-ons help readers quickly get a grasp of the characters and the world, and each come with an illustration.

There are also many serialized fiction podcasts out there, similar to Realm, that have continuous stories that are released in episode installments. Check out our article on SFF podcasts to learn more.

Conclusion

Why do I think serialized fiction is the way we’re going to be reading and listening to SFF in the future? It’s tailored to the current human experience. It might sound dumb, but having fiction that fits into your lifestyle—almost like how Duolingo makes language-learning manageable—is the key to garnering a following.

Don’t get me wrong, I love big books. The Stormlight Archive, Dandelion Dynasty, The Wheel of Time, etc., but more and more I find myself daunted by the sheer size of them.

Who knows, I might be wrong, but now, I see serialized fiction becoming much more popular in the coming years simply because it formats its content in ways we’re accustomed to consuming Internet media.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.

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