In digging into this project, I gave a lot of thought to the stories that most grabbed me. I’m not a huge TV watcher, but over the years I have been a dedicated fan of several dramas, especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon Five, Battlestar Galactica, and Rome. What I especially loved about these series was the deep character development that happened over an evolving and fast-moving plot. I looked forward to the weekly installments, and I felt as if I knew the characters and had a clear view into their unfamiliar and exotic worlds. I also love a good villain or worthy adversary.
I wanted the same large canvas for my Russian mafia crime thriller, the same opportunities to develop tight-knitted story and character and conflict. I could have chosen to write the series in four or five long novels and then carved them into pieces for sale. A number of authors are doing just that. This isn’t the approach I chose.
My serial thriller has an uneasy fit with the plot structure of a good novel, unless it’s one that spans over more than a thousand pages. There is plenty of intrigue and suspense, but the major turning points and dark moments happen over the course of the whole story and not necessarily in the right timeframe to create cohesive and good novels, whether delivered whole or in sections. Novellas were also problematic for the same reason.
In length, each of my episodes is a novella (about 25,000 words or 100 pages), but they don’t follow the story structure of a novella. These are not standalone stories as so many novels and novellas are, even ones written in a series. The episodes are designed to be read in order with one building on the action of the next and the action and clues in one leading immediately into the events in the next. Starting in the middle of the series would be like beginning a TV series in the middle, not impossible, but the reader would know they were missing crucial moments that would help them understand the current conflicts.
I am striving with the episodes to recreate the feel of those TV sagas I loved so much, where things weren’t always resolved in each installment, where the pace was fast-moving and designed to hold my attention, where the fabulous characters each got their moments in the spotlight, and where the end of the episode left me eager and impatient for the next installment. I also appreciated, particularly with Babylon Five, that the plot had momentum and an impending and carefully plotted endpoint. My series does too.
Everything old is new again in this digital revolution. Ebooks and print on demand have created the opportunities to publish and sell shorter works, much the way Charles Dickens initially published his now famous novels. With our Twitterified attention spans, it seems readers might also like installments that don’t require extended concentration. The length of the episodes is perfect for a lunch hour or two, a plane trip, or a quiet afternoon. They take the same time to read as watching a blockbuster movie or two-part TV drama, but reading provides an even more intimate way to get inside a character or a world.