Serial Novels

Before television… before radio… many people got their fiction fix via serial novels. [1]

This is especially true for Rose in the late 1920s and early 1930s. While radios were getting their start, it wasn’t until the mid-30s that nearly every household could afford one. And since books were expensive and libraries few and far between, newspapers filled the void by publishing serial stories that readers looked forward to each week. [2]

This month, the writing exercise I’m participating in is being presented in serial format. And frankly, I think it’s harder than writing a novel. We’re being asked to write a Short Story [3] in only 500 words. For reference, that’s about two type-written 8-1/2 x 11 pages.

I thought it might be fun to drag you along for the ride. This week: 100 words to introduce setting, character, and the inciting incident [4]. And to make it interesting, we have to use five of the six provided prompt words [5]: amber, doctor, evacuation, killjoy, daisy, proof.

Working Title [6]: What Price, Charlie?

Amber hooch was the hardest to fake. That’s what Edna the waitress had told Charlie the night the raid evacuated them to the alley.

He called her Daisy. She was beautiful and a little helpless, like the flower. He’d fallen in love with her.

Tonight, he needed one-hundred proof courage to ask her out. One perk of working in a gin joint was the gin, colored amber or otherwise. He didn’t care that it was made in someone’s bathtub.

He downed his drink. But before he could utter a word, the muscled brute they called The Doctor walked in.

Sources & Notes

  1. A Serial Novel is a novel that’s published in installments. Some very famous authors published this way: Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (1844); Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859); Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901); Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929); Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None (1939); source: The Serial Novel: A Brief History; by Andrea Schlottman.
  2. In the 16 November 1929 Mason City Globe (a newspaper that I use to comp my fictional town of Henderson), the 42nd chapter of The Luxury Husband, by Maysie Grieg appears on page 12. An image of that newspaper headline appears as my header image.
  3. Because Short Stories are… well… short, they force the writer to really focus on the important points of story and minimize the amount of backstory and unnecessary fluff one includes. This requires the writer to really, really understand their craft. (Which is why I find it so difficult.)
  4. The Inciting Incident is that point in the story where the main character is forced to make a decision that starts the story. In Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, the inciting incident is when Luke Skywalker finds his aunt and uncle dead.
  5. Prompt words are usually randomly chosen words to help an author get started writing, or, in this case, issued as a challenge to find a way to include them in one’s submission.
  6. That working title may change since I’m not entirely sure what all is going to happen in my short, short story. I’m leaving myself a bit of wiggle room so that I can work in the next several batches of prompts (each week, the new section will come with new prompts).

5 thoughts on “Serial Novels

    • Thanks so much, Sheryl. I’ve really been enjoying the old serials in the period newspaper I referenced. It’s really interesting to see how literature has changed since then. Today’s lit is much more fast paced.


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