Sunday, March 1, 2009

Serial Novels Online -- Some Thoughts

There is a quiet revolution happening on the Internet; serialized ficiton seems to have exploded in the last few years. You can explore the phenomenon at Webfiction Guide and Muse's Success. There you will find some intersting stuff. And a few gems.

Here are some serials that have caught my interest.

Mr. Abernathy (Now Defunct): I love the presentation. The only unfortunate thing is the .pdf format—not everyone has a high speed connection.

Tying them together is the elusive “Mr. Abernathy”, a man known only through enigmatic references in scattered documents and journals spanning more than 100 years. His identity and secrets are of intense interest to the CIA, Russian thugs, and a mysterious band of men known only as The Joneses.

Determined to know who his father really was, Parker realizes he must first try to solve a larger and far more dangerous puzzle: who was Mr. Abernathy?

The Legion of Nothing is superhero serial ficiton. Sounds interesting.

The Legion of Nothing is the story of Nick Klein and what happens when he takes on the identity (and powered armor) of “The Rocket.”

Originally his grandfather’s superhero identity, the powered armor comes with a lot of baggage. Ranging from his grandfather’s service in World War II to connections with other heroes (and villains), the past has a way of intruding on Nick’s present.

Ether (Now Defunct) is another lovely site. Lovely premise, too.

The day Daniel Harper inherited his uncle’s old farm, he also inherited a strange key. When he used that key on the cellar door, he found himself not on the rotting wooden steps, but in the path of an oncoming car on a dark city street.

He’s just stepped into Ether, a world of steam powered cars and wooden ships that sail the skies. The key to going home is the key that brought him there, but he’s left it in the cellar door. Now his best chance of finding the way back is to go along with Ether’s most wanted criminal and former bodyguard to the murdered King in the hopes of finding another key.

Steal Tomorrow grabs right away.
Cassie stood in the devastation of the ransacked kitchen. Others had been here before her—young people who were just as hungry, just as desperate. Even the spice rack was empty, a bad sign, since it meant someone was hungry enough to consider cloves and dill weed food.
Children of the Apocalypse also looks great. I love the way that the author has created a community portal rather than just presented the writing.

There are a few things that you can learn from browsing through these sites. They can be summarized in three terms: good design, staying power, and community.

First, design of the site itself is very important. If you're thinking about creating a serial novel online, you should keep in mind that ease of access to the chapters should be one of the paramount concerns. There is nothing worse than having to search for chapters on a site. A good idea is to have a simple list of the chapters in a sidebar, easily seen by a first time visitor. What is also really effective is an arresting visual such as you find at Mr. Abernathy and Ether. Think of this aspect of the site as you would about a book cover--the visual must grab attention, but not in a cheap way. Going deeper into the presentation, you want to create the feeling of turning a page with easy navigation. Think left to right rather than up and down. Finally, you don't want to overload the site with stuff and bury the writing itself.

Should you use Blogger or pay for a hosting service? You want to think staying power here. With Blogger and WordPress, you are unlikely to encounter a bandwidth problem or see your site shut down for whatever reason; both providers are rather stable and can be expected to be around for a while. And if you put your serial on blogger or WordPress, it is likely that your work will not vanish in a few years. But if you decide to pay for hosting, you have to realize that your work will only be around as long as you keep paying the hosting fee. With hosting, you not only have to be prepared to pay for a few years, but you must be willing to cover any possible increases in hosting costs that may come down the line.

It takes more than just the story to make an online serial work. You want to be able to interact with your readers (community) and create ancillary content. These days, you want more than just the ability for the readers to comment. The best practice here is Children of the Apocalypse with tons of stuff that relates to the story line (ancillary content) and community sections: a gallery, a forum section, and extensive polls.

If you look at sites like Children of the Apocalypse, you are reminded of a portal into another world. And that's what a site featuring a serial should be like--it should be a window into another world.

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