What do The Three Musketeers, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Stephen King's The Green Mile have in common? They were all novels originally published in installments in magazines or newspapers before being released as a complete novel. Today, there is a resurgence in episodic fiction reading. Serialized novels are nothing new. It's been around since the Victorian Age. It's only been adapted for the Netflix and smartphone age. Before we get into the eight reasons why you may find serial novels a great way to read, let's take a look at the difference between a "series of novels" and "novel serials."
Series Versus Serials
In a series of novels like my Malone series, each book can be read individually. They are built around a recurring set of characters set in the same world. You can get away with reading them in any order you wish because each book is standalone. No mysteries or questions go unanswered between the books.
Novel serials like Perdido County, on the other hand, have an overarching, unifying story line, but come in episodes or installments. Episodes are separately published in the eBook format. Once the story arc has been finished, the episodes may be grouped together and published as a complete novel (sometimes called a season).
Now, here are the eight reasons why you may find serial novels a great way to read.
8 Reasons to Read Episodic Fiction
- Perfect for Shorter Attention Spans: Many people today don’t have the attention span to sit down and read an entire book. A Microsoft study claims that in only the fifteen years from 2000 to 2015, attention spans declined from 12 seconds to only 8 seconds. Some attribute this to our increasing exposure to technology and its conditioning effects. Reading serial novels suits our reduced attention spans since an episode takes only around 40 minutes to read.
- Ideal for Smartphone Reading: Nearly sixty percent of people who enjoy eBooks now use their smartphones to read them at least some of the time, up from 24 percent from only a couple of years ago. Bit-size serial novel episodes are ideal content for smartphone reading.
- Less Time: Many people today don't have the time to sit down and read a complete novel. But books read in installments are easy to read on public transportation, while waiting in line, during work breaks, and other short periods of downtime.
- Lower Investment: Because you aren't buying a whole book, shorter serial episodes require less of an upfront investment. Additionally, if after reading an episode, if you didn't like it, you only spent a couple of bucks or less on it, and you don't have to buy the rest of the series.
- Familiar Format: Serialized fiction is episodic like a television series. For people familiar and happy with the format, reading a book in episodes can be as enjoyable as watching a favorite television series.
- Anticipation: Some readers delight in the time between episodes (usually two weeks), a time of anticipating and speculating about what’s going to happen next. Delayed gratification isn't always a bad thing. For some, there is something special (or even a little agonizing) about waiting for the next installment of a riveting story. Love it or hate it, the serial format enhances that awesome sense of anticipation.
- Fresh Content Regularly: Every two weeks or so, you get another original piece of fiction that reads like watching a television show. You get a fresh chance to hang out with characters you love with each new episode.
- Complete Stories: While there is the larger overall story arc, each episode stands on its own with its own plot, a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
The Style of Episodic Fiction
The style of serial fiction tends to be more colloquial and direct. The story structure is fragmented like a season of a television show. Rather than release it in one go, serial novel writers publish their stories in regular episodes in the same way as "Game of Thrones" is broken into episodes rather than watched whole.
Good serial fiction draws you in and makes you want to know what happens in the next episode. It builds reader excitement.
Given the inevitable trend towards increasing smartphone reading, more publishers and writers are now producing serial fiction, content optimized for the smartphone reading experience.
Many people today may have fallen out of love with books, but most have not fallen out of love with stories. This demographic is best served through a medium they are most comfortable with, stories that capture a technologically conditioned attention span. With a rapidly expanding portion of everyday life revolving around smartphone screens, serial fiction offers reading entertainment that is cheaper, more compact, and more accessible than ever before.