Episode 107: Why Do We Serialize in the First Place

Hard to believe I have enough material to actually make a consecutive blog post. Definitely need to keep the streak alive. One streak that I am considering keeping up is this whole inability to sleep. On the one hand, no rest is bad for a lot of reasons which are actually hard to decipher from a purely biological standard (scientists aren’t sure exactly why we sleep besides “because we get sleepy”). On the other hand, your mind wanders in a myriad of different directions when you are unsuccessfully trying to will yourself to dream and after a lot of wrong turns you eventually get to a few nice spots you didn’t even know existed. Last night, I mentally stumbled unto this idea of why we serialize in the first place. Let’s see how well I can develop this one before getting back in contact with my pillow.

So why are stories serialized in the first place? The first reason that came to me is the overall physical limitation for the medium of storytelling. Some stories are just too big to be able to be told “in one sitting”. Thousands of years ago, as I so often use when saying about anything happening in any form of the past, travelling bards/minstrels could talk for a few hours before needing a rest (this figure is based entirely on my own attempts to try and speak almost non stop for various endeavors). There wasn’t that much paper around either so what little things were being written down needed to be broken up amongst various forms of scrolls and papyrus. The idea behind this made sense but further attempts at analysis and problematization reminded me that there are a whole ton of stories that are super duper long that were never intended to be serialized. The medium of publication/delivery has problems and limits that help serialization become a viable form of storytelling from the emitter’s perspective but advances in technology quickly rendered this point moot.

So if it is not based on media then maybe the finesse lies in the reader. From my time in the classroom, I know firsthand on both ends that a professor can talk for far longer than what students are willing to listen to. Hence, the limit might be more in attention span than anything else. Rather than having to tackle a brick sized text with far too many pages, you get it in slightly more digestible literary chunks. Plus, if you are going to make it in multiple parts, might as well have some cliffhangers at the end of each installment so that people will be interested in what happens next. Again, a bit of over thinking got me to realize that we already break up the story of just about everything. Plays have scenes and acts that have a very specific function of showing the introduction of characters and setting changes but they also give the viewer a break, a very literal intermission, as the story progresses. The pause is designed with a particular emotion to resonate throughout the narrative receiver and hopefully have some sort of reflection occur before the story continues. Novels have chapters but you don’t need to stop at the chapter breaks. In plays, the actors and playwrights control this. TV does this with commercial breaks and with the end of the episode. Movies, which have a much slower serial progression don’t really have these pauses. Though I do remember when Titanic came out in theaters and a bunch of cinemas decided to put a bathroom break somewhere around the 2/3 mark of the film. You get the physical limitation that I was surmising before but if anything is entertaining enough you can watch out without much pause as every account of Netflix binging that you won’t admit to can tell you. Then again you can have something be short (say a few chapters of a book that would be the length of a serial version of it, and for a lot of texts which were originally serialized this a common way to divvy it up, but be so bored that you can’t get through it in a single sitting.

So why do we serialize then if the medium can handle it and readers can just as easily marathon through a text or make their own intervals? Well there are a few standards of media that impose certain time limits again like TV time slots and page lengths for comic books. Beyond that I believe that the author has an interesting point of storytelling done via serialization. Some of it is money and some is narrative, plus there is always the chance that he/she has no idea what to do next and needs the time to finish the next part later. Speaking of breaks, this seems like a good one for tonight. Tomorrow will keep going as to the authorial choice to serialize.


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