It would not be too much of a stretch to say that the serialized format for creative writing has made a comeback in the internet age. Blog writers, video essayists, fanfic writers, youtube educators, web comic artists, online journalists, and many other content creators operating in various formats are working on and releasing smaller pieces of content at frequent intervals.
Novelists, especially from 100 years or more back, are no strangers to serialization. One of the all-time masters of the serialized format was Alexandre Dumas, whose international success as a writer has continued into modern day with the enduring popularity of such tales as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. Paying attention to one of his works (for our purposes, the epic tale of the Count) provides an internet writer (or artist or videographer) with plenty of good advice. Five pieces of that advice are listed below.
1. Plan your work out:
The Count of Monte Cristo is an immense book full of intricate details and numerous distinct characters. Weighing in at over 1200 pages, the book is so dauntingly large (and, most scholars would add, commercially viable as-is) that most presentations of the book in English even today are merely reworkings of abridged or censored previous English translations. In fact, the full translation of the book from French into English by Robin Buss for the 1996 Penguin Classics edition of the book was the first widely distributed full translation of the book into English for roughly 100 years. Still, despite this immensity, the entire book was complete before its serialization had begun.
Now, no one expects you to write 1200 pages of articles or videos before you start releasing any of them, but there is a clear advantage to having even the largest projects well planned out: no deadline can ever overtake you. Pick your writing schedule, and stick to it. Write well in advance, and see even your biggest ideas through to the end. This is especially important when working with complex ideas or plots, as was Dumas when writing The Count of Monte Cristo. If you write an introduction to a fresh new video series, write at least the first few episodes of the series as well before releasing the introduction; in this way, there can be less delay between releases and you can be sure that your project is doable before promising your audience that you will do it.
2. Be prolific:
Dumas wrote a staggeringly huge amount, considering the length of his individual works. In Buss’ words,
During his most productive decade, from 1841 to 1850, [Dumas] wrote forty-one novels, twenty-three plays, seven historical works and half a dozen travel books. The nineteenth century was an age of mass production, which is precisely why Art felt the need to distinguish itself by its individuality and craftsmanship: ‘Alexandre Dumas and Co., novel factory’, was the contemptuous title given to one critical pamphlet, published at the same time as [The Count of Monte Cristo]. (Dumas xii)
A large part of Dumas’ success as a writer can be traced to this penchant for working. He was constantly working, and he consequently had tons of material. The statistical likelihood of your success as a writer goes up rapidly as you go from trying to build interest in your one masterpiece to having more and more works with differing subjects and styles, any one of which could have the appeal needed for success. The odds are very good that Dumas wrote a few novels which totally lack the force and captivation of The Count of Monte Cristo, but he is not remembered for the novels which did not succeed.
3. Learn from your audience:
Internet writers are in a much better position for this one than Dumas. Whereas Dumas would have to wait for distribution before feedback could reach him, online content creators can receive immediate feedback from any consumer who cares to offer it. Still, Dumas knew that his public was hungry for both historical details and melodrama, and The Count of Monte Cristo provides both throughout. First, decide who you are trying to reach. Second, think about how best to engage those people. Third, refine your content and your process after considering advice from your audience.
4. You don’t have to work alone:
Dumas’ towering achievement as an incredibly prolific and successful writer owed much to the co-writing of Auguste Maquet. In the case of The Count of Monte Cristo, Maquet proffered outlines of the plot, which were then modified and greatly lengthened in being completed by Dumas. Some would argue that this makes Dumas’ books somehow less artistic or impressive, as they do not represent the work of one genius laboriously operating alone as do, for instance, the novels of James Joyce or Gustave Flaubert. But almost everyone would acknowledge that film can be art (or, in Dumas’ times, theatre), which almost always results from large amounts of collaboration.
There is certainly nothing wrong with working alone, if that suits you and you feel that you have or can learn all of the relevant skills for your projects. But part of working well at something is being able to recognize when the task is beyond the abilities of just one person.
5. Write something interesting, exciting, or useful:
Remember the discussion in the first list item above about the hugeness of The Count of Monte Cristo? Well, this is a book that certainly does not feel its length. Reading only intermittently, I finished it in under two months, and was enthralled the entire time. If I had more spare time available, I know I could have and would have read it in a fraction of that period. The book is driven by an inexorable rhythm of fated or plotted events, and is told from a wide array of narrative perspectives. In its day, the novel’s serialization so captivated its audience that they would discuss it as today one might discuss a hugely popular television series or final series of games in a season of a given sport. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas wrote something both interesting and exciting.
But Dumas did not limit himself to one track toward reaching his audience. As mentioned in the above quote, Dumas also penned travel books. When he did not have the explicit aim of writing something exciting, he was instead writing something useful. One or more of interesting, exciting, or useful should be the aim of any writer who, like Dumas, is releasing smaller pieces of content consistently, in order to keep readers returning again and again. And if you are not being interesting or exciting, so that your audience is not entertained, at least try to be useful, like (hopefully) this article.
Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo. Trans. Robin Buss. New York: Penguin, 1996. Print.
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