Storytelling in a Hybrid Serial Model
A few months back, after literally years of being away from writing on a regular basis, I decided to begin the relaunch of my online life. Like many people in today’s day and age, I decided to use Patreon as a means of organizing my activities and hopefully giving people value for their money — as well as adding a little jingle in my jeans, to quote Crow T. Robot. In doing all of this, I had three major goals:
- Be active in writing, particularly fiction.
- Complete the things I started.
- Be flexible for those times of year my day job would take me from the writing life.
Initially, I decided I would accomplish these goals through wordcount minimums and through Folios — structured documents that would form the core of my writing. Rather than do a monthly Patreon charge, I would charge for completed folios. I set my wordcount goal modestly — 25,000 words, which if you know me isn’t huge. I set goals which would increase it ultimately to 40,000 words. I also included art, poetry, some webcomics stuff… ambition was my byword.
This… ultimately didn’t work out. I got mired in the minutia. My goals being met, I had a 40K minimum but ended up breaking 100K on my first Folio without quite meeting the specific materials I’d set, which to me meant I wasn’t done. It was clear months might pass where I wouldn’t actually get paid even though I’d gone well above the commitment.
So, after checking with patrons, I decided to adjust things. I would go to a monthly model, with a 40k commit, and while I’d still use the (more loosely defined) Folios as my guide, the idea would be production. If I couldn’t make it to 40k in the timeframe, I’d suspend the campaign for a month — so if the day job stole my time, I wouldn’t charge people for low traffic months.
I have had more than one person patiently tell me that they’d rather I just keep the thing running — these things happen, and I need to calm down about it. But I gotta be me, right?
So. I have a model and I like it in theory. Folio #2 is proceeding. Folio #1 is about to get sent to the appropriate subscribers. I have tens of thousands of words for an anthology done, and only a few more stories left to do for it. I have picked up several serials left off. And I have new ones planned. In particular, I’m working in two different superhero style worlds, each with their own intentionality:
- 001JW: Justice Wing: stories set in a universe with a reasonable number of pastiches and common tropes, with a view to both telling stories and explaining how a four color superheroic world would even work. This in turn has let me build a ‘super’ world where I can explore what heroes should be (at least in my opinion) even if they don’t always live up to that.
- 023SG: Mythic Heroes: stories recasting and retelling fiction I’ve written over the past thirty years (with hopefully improvements), often for the venerable humorous superhero fiction mailing list called Superguy. Dramedies, to use the current term. This led off with the essentially straight (and often depressing) Home Front series, about the mystery men of the 20s through World War II, and ultimately led to the far lighter-in-tone Age of Heroic Intent, which tell the stories of Civil Servants of the Night and magical koi.
- There’s also other stories like Lovelace½ which don’t fall into either of these broader universes, of course.
This is all well and good, and as I said I’m pleased with how it’s going. Only… the question now is not just how to keep it going… but how to actually tell the broader stories that I want to tell in a moderately timely fashion. I mean, if all this works there will be novels upon novels, anthologies upon anthologies… stuff galore for the reading. The long tail will finally get a chance to be long… and a tail (which is to say actually available for sale).
But I have to get there. And in the process of getting there, I have to avoid boring or offending my readers — or driving them nuts. The question is… how?
Well, I’ve had most of my success in the past with serials. Stories like “Interviewing Leather” which get told over time. And that’s great. I’m actually looking to expand my serial writing — both on Banter Latte and on the Patreon. If things go well in July my (free) Banter Latte serial count will include:
- Interviewing Trey: This posted to the Patreon just this morning, in fact, with the free version scheduled for tomorrow.
- Lovelace½: Its first revival post went very, very well.
- Vilify 5: A story I’ve always wanted to tell and which has surprising longevity. It needs to be restarted, mind, but that’s no huge deal.
- Corbett-877: A story that for now’s stalled out but I have hopes that will change.
- Homecoming: A Home Front story that’s not that far from finished.
- The Goldfish: Rise of the Icthyomancer: The launching point for the Age of Heroic Intent
- The Paragirl from West Littleton: The first all new Justice Wing serial for this iteration of Banter Latte.
Those plus the anthology Mythology of the Modern World would be the keystone of the offerings on Banter Latte. They’d appear one day early on the Patreon, but then would appear for free. That’s all fine and good.
However… there’s not really much chance they’ll make it to paid, published status in a timely fashion. Even the stories that are quite a ways along have a lot of posts left to go. And, of course, I want to make sure to keep things clear for everyone.
And then there’s the patreon specific content. In Folio #1, that was largely short fiction and novellas, which makes sense — it was focused around a specific anthology meant to publish one of my more successful pieces. And there’s still a few stories floating around that, waiting to go up.
But… those short stories — like the Banter Latte serials — are filling in small pieces of a puzzle… small squares of a quilt that I hope will be pretty huge. We need something more. If I’m going to really tell the story of Justice Wing and Mythic Heroes, I need to… well, get to the nitty gritty of it. All while making sure there’s lots of good content for Banter Latte readers and for patrons of all levels.
I have two sites. A free site and a patron-driven site. Both are meant to ultimately feed self-publication. In order to successfully do that, I need content that moves forward — that tells the stories I want to tell, and that tells the stories I need to tell in order to tell the stories I want to tell.
Which is where the Hybrid Serial Model comes in.
Serials are old news. Serialized fiction goes back to the dawn of printed material as entertainment. Charles Dickens made much of his living off of serials. For a long while, novels were serialized in fiction magazines (especially SF magazines) before publication or concurrently with publication.
What’s more — a lot of what I write is ‘super hero’ based. (Is that a genre unto itself? It likely should be.) And until recent years, the serial model is how comics simply worked. This actually led to one of the best writer’s tools out there — the Levitz Paradigm — named for Paul Levitz… legendary comics writer, editor, executive editor, publisher, teacher, and… well, genius. Levitz was the writer of Legion of Super-Heroes during its heyday — a heyday that saw it as the single most popular comic being sold in an era where comic sales were many multiples what they are now. And one reason the Legion did so well under Levitz was his ability to write serialized open ended fiction. Not a serialized novel or novella, but a serial that had many highs and lows and plotlines all at once… all in a superhero team that had cut down to twenty-five members. Plus supporting cast. Plus villains.
He did it through what we now call the Levitz Paradigm — a grid, more or less, that listed out his plotlines and listed where they fit in the comics. One plot was the A plot — the main plot of a given comic or series of comics. One or two others were B plots — simmering plots that were ready to boil up into A plots as soon as the A plot finished. And then there were C (and even D and lower) plots, which had a few nods in an issue but nothing else.
The practical effect was simple — there was never a point where the Legion was ‘over.’ A massive plot resolution double sized issue didn’t clear the decks… it ended an A plot, but there were still the B, C, and other plots. Hints dropped a year ahead of time built momentum and became stories that took more and more focus until they were center stage. And this unwieldy mass of characters moved into and out of the spotlight with the grace of a ballet.
I have serials right now, of course — but they’re the old school of serials. They tell specific stories. “Interviewing Leather” was a serialized novella. Interviewing Trey is a serialized novel. So is Corbett-877 and Lovelace½. They have one plot, and if there are subplots, they are still in service to the main plot.
But for the things I mean to write… I need something more. I need serials the way comics were serials — serials that tell not one character’s story or one plot’s arc, but many, coordinated.
I need Levitz paradigms.
So. That’s my plan. Continued novellas and novels serialized for folks’ pleasure… but ongoing serials to tell the stories of the worlds they’re connected to. Written and posted in beta form up on the Patreon, then edited and put up on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, et al for 99¢ a pop. They’ll need to be longer than the 2,000–4,000 word Banter Latte posts, to justify a buck. And obviously over time they’ll be collected into single volumes, maybe with some editing and maybe not. But that’s what it needs to be.
This, in one sense, harkens fully back to what I — and most of the rest of the gang — did on Superguy all those years ago. We were intentionally replicating the comics model. A number of us consciously or unconsciously used the Levitz Paradigm technique as we did it, even.
So that’s what it needs to be.
Now, back in 2014 when I was thinking strongly about my return (and unifying Mythic Heroes and Justice Wing in the bargain) I thought in terms of era. There were five eras of this unified universe I was writing in — the Mythic era, the Emergent era, the Halcyon era, the Catastrophic era, and the Nadiral era. I posted a cryptic post to that effect, even.
Yeah, I gave up on that when I gave up on merging the universes. Call it the never was.
But there’s still something to be said for the different points in a given history. Mythic Heroes has tight historical tracking — I list dates on things. I know when they take place. It’s all essentially period pieces. Justice Wing used to have that, but I’ve given up on it — it’s now part of the nebulous realm of comics in general. I may have a time period in my head when I write it, but that time period’s not set in stone and I’m going to try to keep it timeless.
But there’s still specific ‘phases’ in the history of the heroic team called Justice Wing. So that’s what the Serials for those will track. Justice Wing: Emergence, an ongoing serial about the first days of Paragon, Freya, Nightstick, Centurion, Beacon, the Lieutenant, Whipporwill, the Ancient Mariner, the Exile, and Lynette Hardesty, along with their supporting cast and, of course, their villains. When that serial’s complete, then Justice Wing: Halcyon Days will tell the story of Justice Wing during its zenith years, with Justice Wing: Halcyon Academy as a secondary story. Those would be followed by Justice Wing: Apocalypse Agenda, and finally Justice Wing: In Nadir.
Assuming plans don’t change by the time those other serials would be written, of course. No promises.
The other Justice Wing stories? The novels, short stories, plot-specific serials and the like? Would be placed around or concurrent with those serials. “Interviewing Leather,” Interviewing Trey, and “Vilify 5” all take place between Justice Wing: Apocolypse Agenda and Justice Wing: In Nadir. Specifically when between them? Who cares! “Between them” is close enough for these purposes.
Likewise, individual story serials like Goldfish: Rise of the Icthyomancer will keep running, but Age of Heroic Intent: ALU would actually be the heart of the story. (With Age of Heroic Intent: Pantheon to follow at some point, followed by other stuff.)
The key to making this work is balance. The paid serials would be Patreon exclusive until publication. The Banter Latte serials obviously would run here. Individual stories would do what they do. Stuff has to appear in a regular basis in all locations or none of this will work out the way I want.
Barring work or life slamming? I’d like to see 1–2 Banter Latte posts every week, and a Patreon Serial every week to week and a half, with other stuff filtering around the edges. The Patreon Serials would clock in quite a bit longer, of course.
Will it work? I don’t know. I’m continuing to experiment with the balance of giving people value for their time and money and building up my stock as a writer alongside building a long tail of paid work and keeping my day job.
Regardless, it’s worth a try. If nothing else, because it’s a lot of fun to write a Levitz Paradigm grid for Justice Wing: Emergence.
None of which gets that next damn Myth finished. Which, given the subject matter, is weirdly ironic.
Originally published at banter-latte.com on July 5, 2017.
Eric Burns-White’s internet writing spans the past thirty years. He is best known, perhaps, for Websnark — his site for critical essays — and Banter Latte — his site for creative work. He is a published writer, essayist, poet, and award winning RPG developer in the most technical of senses. As with so many, he uses Patreon to try and get by, and Twitter when he’s of a mood to babble. He can define Zeugma, for whatever that’s worth.