Serial stories—a what a novel idea!

Drood_serial_coverCara/Andrea here, We’ve recently been talking here about our writing processes, and how time, ambiance, computer vs pen and paper affect how we create our stories. And deadlines—those were mentioned a lot too! In thinking about the subject, it seems to me that some things have been universal angts to writers across the ages. Inspiration. Struggle. How the words flow. And yes, the dreaded deadline! It’s never easy. But on reading a recent article on Charles Dickens and his The Mystery of Edwin Drood, it reminded me that during the 19th century, a phenomena developed—one that proved hugely popular with the public—that put even more pressure on authors.

DickensDickens, who was forced to leave home and find work in a factory after his father was put in debtor’s prison, helped pioneer the “serial” novel, which involved publishing the book in either weekly or monthly installments within the pages of a high-circulation popular magazine of the times. Pickwick Papers, his first book to be serialized, was showcased to the public in 1836, and launched the author on his way to literary fame.

PressSerialization was an interesting confluence of tech and creativity. The Industrial Revolution had spread to the publishing world, and the new high-powered steam presses were making possible the mass production of inexpensive magazines and newspapers. It’s said that Dickens would gauge reader reaction to the story and in response would actually noodle with his original plot to meet. For example, word is he altered Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield, to be shown in a better light.

The_StrandNow, back to "Drood." His works were so popular that The Mystery of Edwin Drood created a huge crisis for his readers. Designed to be released in 12 parts, the book, which had a very complicated plot revolving around opium dens, a romance complete with evil characters, and the sudden disappearance of the hero—had just released part 6 when Dickens inconveniently passed away without having completed the story! There have been many attempts by others to finish the book since then—including one in 1873 by a printer in Vermont who claimed to have the words dictated to him by the spirit of Dickens. Um, talk about giving new meaning to the term “ghostwriter.”

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