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The Serial Life: Re-reading some 'classics'


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I recently re-read two online stories. I read Just Hit Send (by Grasshopper) available at http://www.iomfats.org/storyshelf/hosted/grasshopper/and Human Condition (by jfinn) available at http://archerland.disbelieve.org/jfinn.htmI'm going to use this blog entry to discuss online serial posting, and I'll rely on these specific stories - both of which you should go READ NOW if you haven't - to illustrate some points. Neither of these stories is 'complete' though I am skeptical that we'll be seeing much more of either.Imagine that there is a story that will be completed in two months and contain 8 total chapters. Consider the following two options:1) You can read one chapter of this story every single week.2) You can wait two months and then read the entire story at once.Everything else is identical. We know that this story WILL be completed. The quality and length will be exactly the same. What do you choose?Given those two options, I'd pick #2. First off, I'm one of those people who likes having things resolved. You know those movies where they tell you at the end what happens to each character? It's meant for people like me. Beyond that, though, I would much rather get engrossed in a story and be able to follow the flow from one chapter to the next. And most important, when things are posted even one week apart, I tend to forget in between (let alone with longer gaps).Some of you have asked me in live chat if I've read a specific online story. My answer is typically: I don't remember. It sounds vaguely familiar. What's it about, again?But even though it often seems that stories pass through me without anything 'sticking,' there is a whole category of serial stories that I find it exceptionally hard to reread, because once I'm looking at it again, I DO remember enough of what happens. At the same time, I find that I can't keep up with the new additions/posting either, because I don't remember quite enough of what's going on in the story for them to make sense.I originally read Human Condition as it was being posted, whereas I am fairly certain that I did not read Just Hit Send until it was near as complete as it is now. (It is possible that I tried starting Just Hit Send when it was first going up and it just didn't 'stick' with me. I am a big fan of Grasshopper's Dreamchasers, so I would have had more patience to keep going with Just Hit Send once I had already enjoyed Dreamchasers.)Human ConditionAccording to the story description: It's 1985. Reagan is president, The Cosby Show is the most popular show on television and the radio blares Shout incessantly. At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mike Ross spills some acid on himself in a lab and is rescued by football star Joe Lassiter. What ensues is funny, touching, realistic and riveting reading. When I first read Human Condition, I was bothered by the story layout. Each chapter begins with a description of Joe/Mike in the 'present,' which means that the story telegraphs that Joe and Mike wind up together even from Chapter One. On re-read, the same technique didn't really bug me the same way. I'm not sure if it's because I KNEW they'd wind up together already OR because I knew the story had never been completed, so it gave me that 'final resolution' that I always crave without needing to see the story finished. Just Hit SendJordan and Danny meet as teenagers online. Eventually, they grow up into adults. Much angst ensues. Seriously, I'm not going to 'ruin' this story for anyone who hasn't read it. One of the things I like best about it, though, is how the story always keeps its emotional center on Jordan/Danny, while still adding characters to their extended 'family' that matter (and not everyone in this family is gay - a problem that hampers other family stories). I can't imagine reading Just Hit Send as a serial. There are just too many different characters and events going on. The last chapter added to this story was posted in June, some 4 months after the prior one. At the time, I had forgotten so much of the storyline/characters that even reading the next to last chapter didn't help me remember enough. I had to go back and re-read a lot more. It is a testament to the quality of this story that I enjoy rereading it - even when vague or specific details come back to me about it.Serial posting - Yay or nay?I don't think I'll ever be the biggest fan of serial posting. Given the choice of getting a completed story, I'd almost always rather wait for it. But looking at these two stories - would we have gotten either of them if the author had to say "Yes, this is it and it's complete"? I'd rather have what has been posted than nothing at all. In the end, I think serial online posting is what keeps a lot of writers going, and it's not really about the readers at all.

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