One of the first tales about a professional storyteller has some pretty high stakes. Shahrazad is trying to keep her wits — and her head — by creating the first cliffhanger. One Thousand and One Arabian Nights later and history was made. The serialized story was born.
After my podcast with Mur Lafferty and Brian Francis Slattery, I realized how much today’s geeky/pop culture has its foundations in serial storytelling. From the newspapers that featured Sherlock Holmes and a whole city of Dickensian characters to the cliffhanger reels that directly inspired Star Wars and Indiana Jones, there’s a lot of that pulpy DNA going on in there.
And there’s still a bit of a class war going on when it comes to admitting love for the serialized story. For a long time, the man on the street’s reading diet came from the aforementioned newspapers and the pulpy magazines of the day, while the upper class enjoyed “true” literature that merited the cost of a hardback. The vectors that crossed that class boundary were the paperback novels given to WWII era G.I.s so they could enjoy “true” literature in the foxholes.
But that sparked a hunger for content that the paperback market had to fill, giving quite a few pulpy and serial writers got a second, healthier, career by repackaging their short or serialized stories.
That repackaging, though, hid the serialized origins of those stories. So while the obvious serialized story seemed to fade a little the mainstream, quite a few anthology magazine fans can point you to great serialized stories from the 70’s onward.
That paperback boom made some characters, like Philip Marlowe, become immortal while others, like Doc Savage, cling on to life support as cult favorites.
So at this point, you wouldn’t be the first, or the last, to think that we’re going through another content boom thanks to e publishing. And right now we’ve got talented, big names like Emma Bull and Elizabeth Bear as well as Mur Lafferty and Brian Francis Slattery are tackling the format to bring us a new generation of protagonists. These writers seem hell-bent to prove that the Internet seems to be a natural medium for the serialized story.
And they’re probably right. So that begs some questions:
Out of the new generation of serialized protagonist we see and fall in love with, which ones are destined to become permanent fixtures on our pop culture wall while others crumble away?
Will we be able, thanks to the interwebs, to finally ascertain what gives a heroine/hero lasting appeal? Or will it all still turn out to be the same gamble on being the right voice with the right story at the right time?