I wanted to talk about serial fiction, stories that don’t necessarily have an end. Different pieces of the tale might wrap up, but several characters continue on either to new dilemmas or struggle with longer, overarching challenges. The best examples of these stories come from soap operas, but you see it in things like the X Files or Supernatural as well.
Shorter plots fit within a single episode while tidbits or even large segments forward a longer arc. When talking about American television, we tend to get a LOT of those smaller stories, especially in a 22+ episode season. Fringe is a great example of micro stories tying together a larger narrative.
Malevolence is greatly inspired by the old 1960s show Dark Shadows. That was in the classic soap opera format where thirty minute episodes played all five days of the work week, with Friday terminating in a bit of a cliffhanger. It took quite a while to get anywhere in this format, especially with commercials.
From 1966 to 1971, Dark Shadows produced 1,230 episodes. The characters tackled everything from blackmail to vampirism to werewolves, Lovecraftian beings, possession, ghosts and a lot more. Their characters traveled through time, found love and lost it.
Dark Shadows managed to transition from black and white to color as well, spawned numerous movies, a reboot in the 1990s, a movie in 2012, and a whole bunch of audio dramas. Many people who saw Dark Shadows during its initial run talk about running home from school to catch it.
Long running narratives have an advantage over two hour films. They can provide some serious character development, allowing them to grow and change in ways shorter productions cannot. This is especially true of soap operas. While Dark Shadows managed over 1200 episodes, Days of Our Lives is still on today and has over 14,000 episodes.
The disadvantage is attracting new people. While most examples of serial fiction offer a jump on point, it can be intimidating when coming into something which already released 300 episodes or 8 books. These days, there are so many options, its hard to commit to catching up. Then there’s the endless threat of spoilers, particularly with an older series.
Many of these character driven dramas don’t necessarily require a viewer or reader to start from the beginning. With a little patience, you should pick up the thread of what’s currently happening. A few winks or nods to the past might be missed, but you’ll get the next ones.
Literature and audio dramas aren’t quite so easy. This is one of the reasons I made each episode of The Curse of Carter’s Grove so short. It isn’t a massive time commitment to jump back in. There are a number of story arcs addressed in the first 11 books. In the novel format, they’re a bit more imperative to keep up with from the beginning.
All around, falling in love with serial fiction in any format can be rewarding. Shorter work doesn’t give you the time to really KNOW the people you’re reading about. At the same time, a serial story can be a slow burn, rewarding patience and perseverance.
If you haven’t tried this kind of entertainment before, give it a go. You may find your next addiction.
What’re some of your favorite stories? What kind of novels do you tend to read? If you watch TV, what’s your top tier example of a serial story? Let us know!