In the 19th century, many of the most popular novels ever written began their lives as serials in magazines or newspapers. Such diverse authors as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, and William Makepeace Thackeray all published novels in serial form.
At times, these intrepid writers missed deadlines, and I can see why: life intrudes, and writing halts, for whatever reason. It’s been said that Thackeray was highly critical of authors who didn’t have the endings worked out before the opening chapters were published–which just about covered all of his contemporaries.
Today we’re talking with my good friend and fellow co-founder of Myrddin Publishing Group, UK author, Shaun Allan. He is the author of several award-winning children’s stories, copious amounts of poetry, and the adult horror novel, Sin, which has garnered a great deal of critical acclaim and is one of the most popular books on Wattpad.
According to Wikipedia, as of April 2014:
- 85% of Wattpad’s traffic and usage comes from mobile devices,
- the site has 35 million unique visitors per month,
- there are over 100,000 story uploads per day,
- there have been over two million writers.
Along with writing novels and poetry, Shaun was approached by the people at Wattpad, asking if he would be willing to write an original story based on the premise of the movie The Purge. Of course, he was, and out of that came the five-part serial, Mr. Composure.
Mr. Composure was wildly successful, and since then, Shaun has had great success with his most recent serial, And the Meek Shall Walk, a thirty-three-part story which he also published on Wattpad as he wrote it. Already it has garnered close to 10,000 reads.
On Sunday, Shaun and I were able to chat a bit about the experience of serializing your work as you are writing it.
CJJ: From my perspective, serializing a novel has many pros and cons—in some ways it’s a double-edged blade. For me, I have to have an outline and a story arc to write to, so that I don’t get sidetracked. How do you approach this?
SA: Sometimes I wish I could, or think I should, create an outline. I’m not sure if it’s because of my time issue. I have so little, I want to get into the story and, if I’m outlining, I’m not writing. On the other hand, I quite enjoy finding out the story as I go. I like to be surprised when I meet new characters and wonder how I (or my characters) might get out of sticky situations.
As such, I’ve almost always written off the cuff. I’ve followed the story where it would take me, following its meandering course to what is, hopefully, a brilliant ending.
With the writing I’ve done for Wattpad and their partners, such as Universal, that’s changed somewhat. For Suffer the Little Children, written for the movie Sinister 2, I was asked to write an overview first to present to them. Luckily I’d seen, and enjoyed, the first film, but I had to, in the space of a weekend, produce the path the story was going to take. That wasn’t an easy task for someone unused to doing so. I found, when I’d started, the idea came quite easily.
With the serialization of And the Meek Shall Walk, it was a little easier. Knowing both the Disney version and the classic Hans Christian Anderson original meant the story arc, or the basis of one, was already written. I felt I was writing just the current chapter rather than the story in its entirety. I only needed to work on the existing part. I did get to the point, however, where I thought it best to put down my own version of events. I was about two-thirds of the way through the book at this point. I knew, more or less, what was going to happen (teasing parts from both previous versions), but I was giving the story my own twist. The overview I wrote was very brief, but it gave me some focus.
CJJ: You have to be able to write quickly and concisely, and edit your work well, because what goes out will be an immediate reflection of your entire body of work. I always worry that if it’s crap, I will have turned off all my potential readers! Has that idea affected how you work in any way?
SA: Not at all. Well, not really! I write, essentially, for me. My dream was to become a writer. The fact people really seem to be enjoying what I produce is both wonderful and humbling. I write to the best of my ability and feel I can do little more than that. If I like my work, I’m happy with that. If others do too, I’m ecstatic. I usually find, too, if I reread my stories, I generally don’t change things. That’s not to say I shouldn’t, but I try not to second guess myself. The frame of mind and ‘alternative world’ I’m in when I write isn’t the one I’m in when editing so changes don’t… taste right. Another pair of eyes could find things which should be changed, and I’m fine with that. Maybe I’m blind to my errors lol!
CJJ: You have a high-profile job in the corporate world, and you are also the owner of a barber salon. On top of that, you are a dedicated, hands-on father of two daughters. Yet you turn out new installments on time, and also find the inspiration and time to write new, separate literary work. How do you make the time to be as prolific as you are? Do you have that Harry Potter Time Turner thingy?
SA: I wish I did have the Harry Potter Time Turner doodad. I don’t. I have a half hour lunch break. I have an understanding wife. And I have a burning need where ideas bug the hell out of me until I get them down. I wake up thinking of what’s going to happen next. I even deliberately think of the story arc at night. It relaxes me, and I drift off to sleep. I’ve yet to dream it through, though. Smartphones help – I can scribble sentences or paragraphs down and save it to the Cloud ready for joining it up with the main story when I can.
Oh, the Tardis parked out back comes in useful now and again.
CJJ: Let’s talk about And the Meek Shall Walk. It is dark, as all your mainstream fiction is, definitely fantasy with a horror twist. I found it really scary. Yet it was your daughter who gave you the idea?
SA: It certainly was! I’m so proud! I’d just finished Suffer the Little Children whilst on holiday in the Lake District. Wattpad does a regular #JustWriteIt promotion inviting you to write 10,000 words in a month. I fancied having a go (I sometimes have a break between stories but was buzzing in this case) but, after having just written about pagan deities and child possession, my mind was a little fried. My daughter (12) threw the idea in the air: The Little Mermaid where, instead of magically being given legs, she cuts her own tail off and sews a pair of human legs in their place. That was the start. How could I resist?
She’s also got me working on the Rapunzel story too, but I won’t give away what she came up with. I’m currently, now that And the Meek Shall Walk is done, writing a new take on the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. This is a story close to my heart. I dressed as the Mad Hatter for a themed birthday party for my daughters, and also have the Cheshire Cat tattooed on my shoulder!
As for the darkness, you can’t have the darkness without the light.
CJJ: Kurt Vonnegut famously said (and I find it true) that every character should want something. Who is your main character and what does she want? And who is the villain, and what do they want?
SA: My main character is Aren. She is a mermaid and a princess. Her father believes her to be meek, but she regularly flouts the rules governing their lives beneath the sea. She has a secret cave where human body parts float, tied to vines. The parts are from the people she has killed.
Aren believes humans were responsible for her mother’s death. As such, she seeks revenge on those responsible and goes to excessive lengths to carry this out – including, as I have said, cutting off her own tail and having her forked tongue sealed together, rendering her mute.
I’d rather not say who the villain is as you don’t know immediately, and I don’t want to give it away. You might, indeed, say it’s Aren herself!
CJJ: What setbacks have you overcome in this endeavor with Wattpad and what advice would you give authors new to publishing their work on Wattpad?
SA: Apart from my time limitations, I’ve generally found Wattpad to be an amazing experience. I’m one of the Wattpad Stars, a program of their most popular writers. This has led to exposure and opportunities I would otherwise, potentially, never have been offered. One of the things I love about the site is it’s a real community. I have had some of the most amazing comments you could imagine. Mr. Composure was called the ‘best story ever’ and And the Meek Shall Walk has already been described as ‘one of the best stories on Wattpad.’
Sin was my first serialized novel on the site. I’d originally posted the Prologue, and they asked if I’d be willing to put the whole story up. I agreed, and it’s now had almost 765,000 reads!
On Wattpad, you can connect with so many other writers and readers. Those readers can connect with you, vote and leave comments. It’s wonderful.
CJJ: And finally, do you have any writing-craft advice for authors who want to serialize their work?
SA: Trust in yourself. Trust in your story. Whether you create overviews or write as you go, it’s your story. As you post each chapter, engage with your readers. Let them know you appreciate their feedback. As much as you enjoy their contact with you, they enjoy yours with them.
Writing should be about enjoyment, after all.
To Read: And the Meek Shall Walk on Wattpad click HERE
Princess Aren is determined to make the human who killed her mother and exiled her people to the bottom of the ocean pay. To do so, she must go to extremes of pain and heartache in her search for justice. Aren, however, is no sweet, happy mermaid. To kill is to ignite a fire of passion in her heart which only the savage letting of blood can satiate. She will go to any lengths to find the man responsible, including cutting off her own tail and sewing, in its place, a pair of human legs – legs she tore from one of the many humans she had murdered. With the unwilling help of the sea witch, Princess Aren must go ashore and hunt for her mother’s killer. But, in doing so, the worlds above and below the ocean will clash in ways neither thought possible!
A creator of many prize winning short stories and poems, Shaun Allan has written for more years than he would perhaps care to remember. Having once run an online poetry and prose magazine, he has appeared on Sky television to debate, against a major literary agent, the pros and cons of internet publishing as opposed to the more traditional method. Many of his personal experiences and memories are woven into the point of view and sense of humour of Sin, the main character in his best-selling novel of the same name, although he can’t, at this point, teleport.
A writer of multiple genres, including horror, humour and children’s fiction, Shaun goes where the Muse takes him – even if that is kicking and screaming. He has written for Universal, DC Vertigo Comics and Goosebumps and regularly holds writing workshops at local schools.
Shaun lives with his wife, two daughters and two cats. Oh and a manic dog. Though his life might, at times, seem crazy, he is not.