Serial fiction enjoys a revival... on the Internet

Denver Cereal: One of the most popular webserials on the web.

SERIALISED fiction - bite-sized fiction published periodically - is making a comeback after languishing in obscurity for more than a few decades.

The proliferation and popularity of tablets, smartphones and e-ink devices mean that fiction is more portable and accessible than before. And since people are busier these days, they are gravitating towards tales that can be consumed in one sitting.

Yet, in the 19th century, most novels were serialised. Rare is the novel that appears all at once in book form. Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and Joseph Conrad were some authors who published their works this way. For writers, it's a way to test the viability of the fiction - should it continue or die a quick death? For publishers, it's a great way to lure readers into buying newspapers. However, by the mid-20th century, thanks to the cost-effective paperback format, serial fiction fell out of favour as novels became the preferred format.

Still, a few modern authors did attempt serial fiction. There's Stephen King, who published The Green Mile in a few novella-sized installments. Alexander McCall Smith, who wrote The Ladies #1 Detective Agency, published his serial 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh's The Scotsman in 2004 for six months weekly.

However, it was generally acknowledged that the author needed to have a hefty literary clout to pull in the number of readers to justify the cost.

But in the last few years, authors - from the unknown to the famous - are uploading their stories online.

What's fascinating is that serial fiction in the digital era appears in different forms.

Will write for feedback
Before iPads, e-book devices and smartphones became a norm rather than a novelty, some folks were publishing their stories on their blogs or websites. They did so not to earn dollars and cents but to indulge in the passion for writing.

"Serial fiction authors slave day in and day out to make sure their fiction continues week after week. Sure, most authors write ahead a little bit. But at some point or another, there’s a moment in time when they are up in the middle of the night attempting to get their chapter done. Serial fiction is the A-game. It takes all the writer has to give and then some. It's consistent, hard work year in and year out," said Claudia Hall Christian, who is the author of the popular webserial Denver Cereal at the webserial website Tuesday Serial.

Marc de Faoite is the author of Tropical Madness, a collection of tales set in Malaysia published by Fixi Novo. The short stories were originally published on his blog.

"I learn a lot from the sort of feedback that I get from readers. I see it as a way to Beta-test a story," he said when asked why he decided to publish his stories online.

"If I see a story is getting shared around on Facebook or Twitter, I take that as a good sign. I find it hard to have an impartial perspective on my writing. Feedback from friends, or even complete strangers, really helps. I try to do the same for other writers who share their work. An extra pair of eyes is always an advantage. Plus I read so much stuff online for free, it’s a way to give something back," he said.

In fact, it is because he published his stories that they ended up being published by Fixi Novo in the first place.

"Amir Muhammad had read some of the stories I posted online and approached me when he was looking for stories to include in the first KL Noir collection – RED. So we established contact over that and I met him in person at the book launch a few months later and I asked him if he would be interested in publishing a collection of my stories. I had a manuscript of some short stories that I had already submitted to all the major Malaysian and Singaporean publishers, but hadn’t found a home," he said.

Here are some great places to find serial fiction online:

Webfiction Guide
This is a vibrant gathering place for webserial writers and readers. Browse for web-based fiction according to genre. Read the reviews and decide what to read. Want to write a webserial? Join the forum and meet other writers. The webserials highlighted here are available to read for free online and are mostly authored by indie authors who publish their stories on websites or blogs.

Tuesday Serials
Having a tough time keeping track of your favourite webserials? Tuesday Serials highlight updates from webserials around the web every Tuesday. Writers are encouraged to submit links to their current chapters via the website's "collector". There are also features by webserial authors about the genre.

Wattpad has a very handy app that enables you to read stories on your smartphone and tablet. People can publish and read for free, so it has a huge catalogue of stories that vary severely in quality. One Direction fanfiction mingles with A-list stories by popular authors and carcasses of unfinished tales. Therefore, it can be a frustrating process trying to find something that is to your taste but you may just stumble on a gem.

Jukepop Serials
Jukepop Serials' authors are vetted and paid, so there's some measure of quality to the stories. Readers vote for their favourite writers who in turn get monetary rewards from Jukepop.

This is the spot to find the crème de la crème of serials. The tales are written by literary luminaries such as Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Jodi Picoult and Chuck Palahnuik. The only catch is that you need to fork out US$5.99 a month to read these gems.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. 

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