I serialised a novel here: The fall of Almadel.
That fall, the classroom of Master Jeremiah and part of the attaching corridor was cast into hell. — Extract from “The History of Almadel” vol 2.
A class of sixth-form students are thrown into a life-or-death struggle in an unfamiliar world. Can they survive and return home, or will they be stuck there forever, opening the door for evil to complete its spread across Britain.
I finally published the last chapter of my first story: The fall of Almadel. It took me from the 10th of July until the 13th of Febuary. It ended up shorter than planned at 60,000 words. This puts me at 250 words published per day, not including the time I spent working on the book before publishing the first chapter.
I can’t say I’m happy with the result, but the process was worthwhile.
What didn’t work
The story was unfocused. There were too many characters: it was unclear who the main character was, I was unable to spend enough time with any one person to fully develop them. I had five main POVs. I would have struggled enough with one! This also left character motivations unclear, especially without a clear and present adversary for most of the book. I should have merged some of the characters, spend more time on backstory, given them clearer personal motivations, and put them in more direct opposition to the adversary. Only Salome felt like she had any real character to her, because I enjoyed writing her dialogue, and because she was the only person with any sort of real internal drama (albeit barely and badly shown).
I didn’t have a clear picture of the core of the story in mind when I started (theme, conceit, hook, etc.). I leapt in with a very vague concept in mind, really just a single scene, which I ended up cutting in the second draft of the opening. A hundred pages in, on a whim, I completely changed tone. I had an outline, but it was vague beyond the first part of the story, and I ended up deviating from it almost immediately.
Because I serialised the story, I was unable to go back and make large changes when something wasn’t working. I would have liked to get rid of one of the POV characters, merge him into someone else, but this would have meant changing many published chapters. Having to edit each chapter and publish it immediately slowed my already plodding pace, making it harder to keep the whole story in my head when writing. Writing slowly, like reading slowly, makes the characters and plot lose definition and become fuzzy. Many Chekhov guns were left unfired, because I was sprinkling them in without considering how they would fit with later parts of the story, or because I forgot about them.
I had originally thought I’d go back through the book at this point and do some structural editing to iron out this sort of issue. I won’t, I can’t bear to look at the thing any longer.
What did work
I finished a book. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. There was an arc of sorts, the characters changed and grew, albeit in ugly spurts. I built a habit of daily writing.
Starting with the poor idea I had was the right choice, I just needed something good enough to get going with. I knew I was stuck waiting for the right idea, the lightning strike of inspiration, the perfect plot to emerge fully formed in my mind. Like trying to learn Japanese by watching anime with English subtitles, waiting passively for a good story idea doesn’t work. As soon as I was actively writing, ideas came.
In the same way, serialising the story was useful despite the drawbacks. If I had been writing this without publishing until the end, I would certainly have stopped and deleted everything at around 100 pages in. “This isn’t working! I should start from scratch with a new idea!” I’ve done this exact thing twice before. Forcing myself to finish the book (people were waiting for the next chapter!) allowed me to get deep enough into the process to see the errors I made at the beginning begin to cause issues. I hoped to get feedback as I wrote. I got one review. It was still useful.
The first 15k words felt stronger than the rest due to the more thorough outline, and because I rewrote that part out of the initial 20k words that I mostly threw away. Focusing on the planning phase and allowing myself to make large edits before publishing might work for me. Having the outline also helped with my slow pace of writing, since it made it easier to step back and see the bones of the story.
If I were to do well with a serialised story, I think it would be wiser to write short arcs, planning each one carefully ahead of time, with a very clear conceit right from the beginning that ties things together: TV series style. The focus would be the slow build up of character development, tying the arcs together.
What I’m doing differently this time
I will not serialise the next story. I now have the discipline to commit to finishing the damn thing if I start. It will be nice to be able to jump around, make large structural changes, write a first draft straight through without pause. I’d like to be moving at at least 2k words a day once I start writing. Speed seems important.
I’m going to spend more time at the planning stage, making sure that I’m clear on the theme and the characters and how they fit together.
I’m focusing on a single POV so I can spend more time exploring a single character. I think this is my biggest weak point, so I want to make things easier for myself.
I am still filtering what I put down on the page, I’d like to strip some of that away. I find myself shying away from certain themes and tones that interest me. Writing what one knows feels revealing.
To replace the motivation of publishing as I go, I’ll be tracking progress and sharing updates. I commit to finishing the next book, however badly it goes.