Introducing Serial Fiction by Tessa Gratton

Tremontaine is the critically acclaimed prequel to Ellen Kushner’s beloved Riverside novels, which developed a cult following beginning with Swordspoint in 1987. The “Fantasy of Manners” focuses on decadent world building and interpersonal intrigue, and has been noted for its progressive expression of gender and sexuality. Team-written by some of today’s most exciting authors, Tremontaine season 3 is brought to you by Ellen Kushner, Joel Derfner, Karen Lord, Delia Sherman, Racheline Maltese, Paul Witcover, Tessa Gratton, and Liz Duffy Adams. The first episode is available for free at Serial Box and can be found here.

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When I began working for Tremontaine, my understanding of serialized fiction was rather Dickensian. It’s a single story, written usually by a single person, with installments at intervals in magazines or newspapers, or more lately, on a blog. I suppose any series technically is serialized—but we don’t think of book series like Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire as a serial, and presumably the reason is the length of the installments. An entire novel followed by another novel is not serialized fiction, but if you took one of those novels and published a chapter at a time it would be.

I published a serialized novel on my personal blog in 2008, and it was both fun and terrifying because I did not plan very far ahead. Every day of the workweek I simply sat down and wrote an installment, trying to offer at least one kernel of momentum for characters or plot, and end on a cliffhanger. When I finished it, I put it all together and it had been a great story for daily teasing chapters, as a novel it didn’t work and needed significant revisions both structurally and with regards to pacing. My new novel, The Queens of Innis Lear, certainly would not easily be translated into serial form, as the structure is very spiraling and tension builds slowly and carefully. (Maybe this is one of the reasons I’ve never liked much of Dickens’ “novels:” Novels and serial fiction are very much different genres.)

So although I had some minimal experience with serialized fiction, when I joined Tremontaine for season two, I did not really know what I was in for.

The most popular form of serialized fiction that I can think of is television. We tune in every week for the next installment, and often individual episodes tease the next one, both standing alone but promising if we watch again we’ll achieve some emotional satisfaction. It’s all about promises—big and small. I love television. A great TV show is one of my favorite ways to unwind and refill my creative well. The structure and slow-burn of relationships and plots, when done well, is some of the most creative and satisfying writing one can find. I knew I was interested in Serial Box Publishing because they were pitched to me as “the HBO of publishing.” With the serials published, we’re trying to find a way to take the fun, community, and specific serial writing of TV and transform it into something readable (or listenable, as every episode is available as prose and audio-format).

It creates some exciting challenges. I’m not a plotter or user of outlines when I write my novels, but working on a serial with co-writers when we have to plan the entire season upfront requires outlines and knowing the ending when you’re writing the beginning. It also requires trusting other writers not only to stick to schedules and work with your characters and ideas, but to be more creative than you sometimes. Frequently we’re writing a late episode while we’re revising a middle one and reading final proofs for an early one!

I think not only do our readers enjoy following the show as the excitement is parceled out one episode at a time, but it’s fun for me, too, as a writer, to reread episodes when they air, and to witness the readers’ reactions in real time! Even though a season is nearly complete by the time the first episode goes live, it’s one of the most interactive writing experiences I’ve had—not only with my co-writers, but with the readers. I already can’t wait to start plotting out season four!


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​Tessa Gratton is the author of the Blood Journals Series and Gods of New Asgard Series, co-author of YA writing books The Curiosities and The Anatomy of Curiosity, as well as dozens of short stories available in anthologies and on merryfates.com. Though she’s lived all over the world, she’s finally returned to her prairie roots in Kansas with her wife. Her current projects include Tremontaine at Serial Box Publishing, her 2018 YA fantasy Strange Grace from McElderry, and her adult fantasy debut, The Queens of Innis Lear, coming in 2018 from Tor. She is the associate director of Madcap Retreats. Visit her at tessagratton.com

 

 

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