Serial Analysis: Four Lives

My recent serial Four Lives concluded yesterday with the 30th episode. As usual, I like to look at how it was received, and the stats it generated on my blog.

This serial was written mainly from the point of view of four very different women, not that easy for a 70 year-old man. It was inspired in part by those women who are badly served by the justice system, and others who befriend and marry prisoners, denying their crimes and background.

Although it contained themes of domestic violence, controlling behaviour, and sexual assault, I tried to make sure it was not graphic enough to upset readers. As usual, I had the ending in notes first, and worked back some years in the story timeline to get to that ending.

So far, it has achieved daily views averaging 50. So not one of the favourite serials with readers. Views for the later parts are still coming in, but if I take 50 views as the benchmark, then the story generated a total of 1,500 views.

Reader interaction and engagement was good; with regular comments, some involvement with the characters, and also guessing of the outcome. That is the most satisfying thing for me as the writer.

I would like to thank everyone who followed it all, and shared parts on social media.

The complete story is now available for those who like to wait to read the whole thing at once.

Serial Overview: “Come And See”

My recent serial “Come And See” concluded on Sunday. As usual, I am publishing an overview of the process and results, for anyone interested.

In most cases, I start with the ending, and work backwards, and I did this with “Come And See”. Covering a time period from 1967-2019, I needed some research into disease outbreaks during that period, leading up to the Coronavirus pandemic beginning in China at the end of 2019. As this is easily available online, it was no hardship to get the factual elements correct.

As for Jimmy’s work at Porton Down, and the involvement of the British government in the deliberate spread of disease, this was mostly guesswork and invention. For his early experiences with his very religious mother, and his reading of the whole of The Bible, I did need some research into the order of the books of The Bible. It has been a very long time since I opened mine!

(I do have one, a very old one given to me as a child.)

Reader response for this series was immediately good, which was encouraging. Comments were regular and varied, and daily views stayed at around 115 for each episode, with no drop off noticed. This gave a total of 3,450 views for the thirty episodes, with more to come, allowing for time differences and ‘binge-readers’.

Overall, it was an enjoyable and satisfying writing experience for me, and I was happy to see it well-received. Once again, I thank everyone who also shared parts on Twitter, and other social media. The complete story, all thirty episodes in one post, will follow one day this week.

Serial Overview: The Homestead

Yesterday saw the conclusion of my longest serial so far, ‘The Homestead’.

Spanning a period from 1864 until 1957, as you might imagine this took a great deal of careful research. Set in America, a country I have never visited, it included the Civil War, The Wild West, The Cattle Ranch explosion, The Oil Boom, and both world wars.

Not only that, it featured numerous real people, alongside my own cast of fictional characters. And they included Conferderate veterans, northerners from New York State, Native Americans, former slaves, as well as a gambler from Louisiana. I had to consider their accents, phrases, speech patterns, life experiences, and aspirations, getting that all across to the readers as best as I could.

And remembering that 65% of my readers are Americans, I had to make sure to be as accurate as possible.

This saga presented me with many problems, some of which were geographical. How long does it take to travel from Virginia to Kansas in a wagon pulled by two horses? And in 1865, with no major roads, only trails? How far is is from Topeka to Wichita? How long can horses pull a wagon before needing water?

What is the range of a hunting rifle? One loaded through the muzzle, and discharged by use of a percussion cap. When did a railroad arrive in Kansas? And when did that get to Wichita? How long did Wyatt Earp work as a policeman in that city, and why did he leave?

Every paragraph presented a research problem, most of which were fortunately solved through the wonders of Google Search. I can only imagine how hard it was to write a piece like this before the Internet, having to use contmporary writing as a source, and physically travelling to view the archives of newspapers in the western states.

Over such a long period, dates are also a problem. How old was Phin in 1890? If Julian was born when his mother was 35 years old, what year was that? Two full pages of notes, and a lot of subtraction and additon were required to keep an accurate track of events. The research took as long as writing each episode, and developed its own form of ‘reference library’ on those notebook pages.

As the writer, it was an immensely satisfying experience, and something of an achievement. But as a blogger, it was disappointing. After so much work, this serial proved to be the least attractive to readers. Rareley getting more than 50 views for each episode, and never exceeding 60 on the best day, total views amounted to around 2,600. Considering the 48 episodes, that was my least read serial so far. Comments were low as well, restricted to much the same core of regular readers every day.

There were times during this serial when I seriously thought about abandoning fiction completely, and wondered if I had any skill at it whatsoever.

But I continued to write it, because I love the daily discipline of writing a serial.

From episode 36, two thirds of the way through the story, there was a ‘time jump’ combined with a new ‘narrator’ who entered unannounced. This sudden change of scene proved to be too much for some readers, and at least 10 people abandoned the serial, going by the by the daily views.

I feel that warrants some explanation.

The story was based on a photo seen on Maggie’s blog.
Like my photo-prompt short stories, this was a serial prompted by an idea after seeing a photo, and that photo appeared at the head of each episode. It is dated ‘Sep 57’, and shows a house. So my story started in my head in 1957, and was worked back 93 years to get to the start in a circular fashion. In my mind, there was no ‘time jump’. But I knew that might confuse readers, so did my best to issue a few warnings in the comments.

There was also a possible ‘secret’ in the life of the main character. I had an idea that readers would expect that to be revealed, pehaps anticipating a last minute twist. But that would have been contrived and unrealistic, so I did not succumb to inventing a solution to that secret.

As usual, I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who read this serial, and especially those who read every single episode. With a word count of around 800-900 words every day, for 48 episodes, that is a huge ask of anyone. And we were still in the throes of a pandemic, as well as including the approach to Christmas, followed by New Year.

Thank you all. That means a great deal to me, more than you know. Thanks also to everyone who shared parts on social media, took the time to leave regular comments and likes, and a few who also reblogged some parts.

The complete story will be available soon, in one very long blog post. I hope that still works for those of you who like to read the whole thing as one long story.

Another serial will undoubtedly follow in due course, afte a short rest.

Best wishes to everyone, Pete.

An Unpopular Serial

Yesterday, I concluded my latest serial, ‘The Fear’. It will be published in one complete story soon, but meanwhile I will give this overview, as I always do.

I was asked by my good blogging friend Suzan to write a ‘straight horror’ serial, as that is her favourite genre. I thought about that for a while, as I had previously written ‘Little Annie’, which had a supernatural theme bordering on horror. Also ‘Moving Day’, which was more of a conventional ghost story.

In the end, I had the idea to examine the theme of fears and phobias, and the unfortunate young man who was attracted to studying them. With the ending already written up as notes, I worked back from there to show how he arrived at that conclusion by Part 30.

On the way, there were some unpleasant scenes that immediately put off quite a few readers. Most of those who chose not to continue to read the serial let me know in the comments. That’s fine, and I understand how disturbing psychological horror is not to everyone’s taste. The daily views also soon showed other readers bailing out in significant numbers; either bored with the story, or uneasy with the theme.

But as we all know, we write for ourselves, (and in this case for Suzan) so I do not let falling views stop me continuing with a serial I had started. There were many with the opposite opinion too, and I receieved some positive and enthusiastic comments as the story continued.

However, I cannot get away from the fact that this was my least popular serial so far.

Starting with around 70 views a day, this dropped as low as 30 some days, before settling into an average of 45 a day. Over the 30 parts, total views to this date are just 1,350. Comments were fewer than usual, as were likes.

Perhaps I do not write that well in the horror genre? Or maybe the pandemic has delivered enough real horror that people don’t need to read more? Whatever the reason, I am still glad I tried this theme, and send my thanks to everyone who stuck with it to the end, and shared parts on social media.

Serial Overview: The Block

Whenever I complete a fiction serial, I always look back on the process, and how it was received. This interests me, and some readers like to read about it.
But if you don’t care about that, you can skip this post, with my blessing.

I had an idea about an ending, the ending that appeared in Part Twenty-Five. It was potentially shocking, and also had the benefit of leaving the story open-ended for a sequel. Or better still, readers could choose their own version of what happened, and therefore decide their own conclusion to the serial.

Once that ending was down in my notes, I had to ‘work back’, and decide how to start off a serial that would arrive at its predestined conclusion.

This story had an intentional ‘London’ feel, and characters based on people similar to (or exactly like) some people I had met during the sixty years I lived in that city. Although many regular readers embraced it happily, it did not get the same level of readership as the last three serials, and some violence in graphic detail in later episodes did disturb some readers too.

Despite that, readership actually increased as the serial went on, and the last episode had the biggest number of views. As of today, total views of the twenty-five parts stand at just over 1900. Comments were fairly high this time, with individual characters attracting many remarks, along with the change of pace toward the end which caught some readers off guard.

I really enjoyed writing it. When I write something set in London, heavily based on personal experience, it does give me an interest above my more regular fiction. If I did something like this again, I would consider adding a content warning for the scenes that some people found hard to read. If you are considering writing something with murders described in some detail, then you might want to think about that too.

There was some research involved, but nothing at the level required with historical fiction. I looked up some Law questions, and some of the history of Rampton Hospital, the maximum security psychiatric hospital involved in the story. The rest was all based on my experiences as an EMT, and from working for the Police in London for twelve years after that.

The serial will be available as a complete story in one long post, later this week.

Thanks as always to everyone who read, liked, commented, and shared on social media.

My Fiction Serial: A Thank You

My long-running serial, ‘A Pillar Of The Community’, has now come to an end after 29 episodes. At some stage, I will be compiling the whole thing into one long post, for the benefit of anyone who missed some parts, or prefers to read a story in one go.

I have enjoyed writing it every day, and will be carrying on with short stories ocasionally, and another serial, during the coming weeks. I was delighted to see the engagement it received, and the way that so many readers invested in the characters, and expressed their own hopes and fears for them. I am aware that the majority wanted to see the villain get his comeuppance, but I tried as much as possible to reflect what often happens in ‘real life’. It also left open the option for a sequel, which may or may not happen.

Some of you asked me about the process, and this is how I approached this particular story. I thought up the title first, imagining it would be a 1500 word short story about a murder by someone very respectable, and therefore not suspected. I soon realised that it would have to be a serial, which would be necessary to include all the details, and enough characters to populate the story with. I guessed it might run to around 20 parts, but it exceeded that, even though I somewhat abbreviated the finale, by using an ‘Epilogue’ option. Some characters were included to confuse, making the reader wonder if they had more significant parts to play. That was deliberate.

I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who stuck with it to the end, something very much appreciated when writing a serial on a blog, I assure you. I also want to add more thanks to all of you who commented regularly, offered suggestions and ideas, and engaged not only with me, but with others in the comments too. Special mention goes to my blogging friend David Miller, who emailed me with small corrections and typos on a regular basis. My unpaid proof-reader! To those of you who gave up after a few episodes, or others who apologised for not reading any, please do not concern yourself. Reading over 1,000 words every day, just on my blog, is a big ask.

If you are thinking of doing something similar, then rest assured I will read it. If you want to know how much work it is, and what the response is, then this might be helpful.
I used no notes or layout, just let the story play out in my head like a film, transferring my mental images of the action and characters into descriptions on the page. In some cases, I left the details of those descriptions vague, allowing you to fill in your own impression of the locations, faces, and clothing.
Each episode took me around 90 minutes to write. I had thought through some of what would happen next, as I wrote each episode, and tried to imagine story conversations in my head before sitting down at the keyboard. So around 120 minutes at the most, to prepare and write. Then I would go over the draft, making small corrections, changing some sequences, and making sure the right character name was talking. That took another 15 minutes or so, before pressing ‘Save Draft’.

Once the story was ‘live’ on the blog, then I wrote the next episode, using the current one as a guide to keep events flowing naturally. I had to resist the pleas of some readers to change outcomes, and stick to my original plans for the fate of each of the characters. Where Police procedure was used, I was as accurate as possible, given the limits of my own knowledge. But some time sequences had to be compressed, and a few procedural processes omitted, or it would have been in 40 parts, instead of 29.

Views were very consistent from Part One. Each episode received 75-90 views on the day of publication, rising to over 100 views during the week following. Most views for one part (the night of the murder) were 127, and the least 101, indicating a small drop-out rate. Even this week, parts are still being viewed daily, so the overall stats will increase in time. Over the whole serial, I received more than 3,000 views for that alone. Allowing for some re-reading, or coming back to read later, I am content with my estimate that at least 100 people have read all or most of the story.

It is also worth noting that none of the episodes received the highest views on my blog, during this time. That prize was won by my ‘Thinking Aloud’ posts, which beat the serial episode by some 40 views or more, on the days they were published.

And in case anyone was wondering, the answer is ‘No’. I haven’t murdered a neighbour. Honest!

I close by saying ‘Thanks again’ to all of you. You make blogging and writing worthwhile.

Best wishes to everyone. Pete.