The serial novel

Another part of the Running Flat experiment was to write a serial novel—a novel that is delivered and digested in installments (like a comic or a television show) rather than delivered and designed to be digested as one unit (like a novel or a movie). This would allow us to explore the effects of modern technology on the form of a novel.

Serial novels are not new, even if they are not common today. Charles Dickens and many other classic authors had famous novels originally published as serial novels for the papers. However, modern technology places additional constraints. If it is to be delivered by email, there is a limit to the amount of time email readers expect to read an installment, so the installments need to be short and precise. Along the same lines, smartphone screens also demand smaller more compact installments, so they can be read with a minimum of scrolling.

One of the great things about serial literature is the use of time BETWEEN installments. There is something unique about the feeling of wanting to continue with a story or to find more about a character and not be able to. This anticipation ratchets up the emotional bond between the reader and the story.

Here are some famous novels that had been released originally as serial novels in periodicals:

Pickwick Papers

Three Musketeers

Count of Monte Cristo

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Madame Bovary

Anna Karenina

Brothers Karamazov

Bonfire of the Vanities (as recently as the 1980s in Rolling Stone)