Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Storytelling through Serials - How and Why?

aseidman's picture


I think it would be an interesting idea for us to study serial fiction as a genre.

By serial fiction, I mean anything that is published in segments. Webcomics, for example, tell either a story, or create a world in short, weekly/monthly panels, building and establishing characters and sometimes element of plot over a long period of time. Fanfiction, which several member of the class have expressed interest in, is sometimes published in a similar way, with authors adding chapters every few days or weeks. Serial fiction, which goes back into at least the Victorian age, has been made a great deal easier and more accessible lately because of the advent of internet publishing, making updates easier. One no longer has to wait for a new issue of the a popular literary magazine to a get a few new pages of their serial story. Instead, they can access them as soon as the author has written them, if the author chooses to publish on the internet.

Text that were original published as serials include the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, and several other set of similar short stories. I am more well versed in mystery novels than in many other things, but mysteries at least have taken advantage of serial publishing for years and years. We could look at Black Mask Magazine, where Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler published.

Online serials are many and various, ranging from the webcomic (an example of a plot-driven weekly serial webcomic can be found at ) to the full-fledged online novel (amateur fiction published in this way can be found at ).

There is also an excellent article on JSTOR about serially published fiction and how it evolved, which I would be happy to print and provide for the class.


There are other benefits of this way of looking at thing. Following serials doe not require an extensive amount of reading, meaning that we can structure the class in a number of different ways. We might follow serial fiction through the ages, and look, each week, at two, four, even six different chapters, articles, comics, or short stories in a single series. Many serials are structured in such a way that each piece of them can stand alone, and we can examine them that way. Others really require one to follow the story each week, and we could choose to follow a single one of those, instead. We might look into the different ways in which they are published, and the different mediums used, to discover which is, in our humble class opinion, the most effective.


Selfishly, I add this: if we are interested in graphic storytelling, looking at serials allows those of us who are visually challenged to have less to deal with all at once. Not a perfect solution to the problem, but definitely an improvement. In order to properly understand the story of the graphic novel “Watchmen” for example, one must read ten to twenty pages, which is visually excrutiating. When it comes to serial graphic storytelling, coherent chapters are often much shorter (and, when published on the internet, can be enlarged and/or given better visual contrast!)


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
3 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.