Serial (literature)
In literature, a serial is a publishing format by which a single large work, most often a work of narrative fiction, is presented in contiguous (typically chronological) installments—also known as numbers, parts, or fascicles—either issued as separate publications or appearing in sequential issues of a single periodical publication
Periodical publication
Periodical literature is a published work that appears in a new edition on a regular schedule. The most familiar examples are the newspaper, often published daily, or weekly; or the magazine, typically published weekly, monthly or as a quarterly...

. More generally, serial is applied in library and information science
Library science
Library science is an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary field that applies the practices, perspectives, and tools of management, information technology, education, and other areas to libraries; the collection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information resources; and the...

 to materials "in any medium issued under the same title in a succession of discrete parts, usually numbered (or dated) and appearing at regular or irregular intervals with no predetermined conclusion."

Early History

The idea of stories being told in serial form dates back to at least the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), which consisted of a series of serialized stories, or "serialized novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

s" or novella
A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative usually longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000...

s. Its frame story
Frame story
A frame story is a literary technique that sometimes serves as a companion piece to a story within a story, whereby an introductory or main narrative is presented, at least in part, for the purpose of setting the stage either for a more emphasized second narrative or for a set of shorter stories...

 is about Scheherazade
Scheherazade , sometimes Scheherazadea, Persian transliteration Shahrazad or Shahrzād is a legendary Persian queen and the storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights.-Narration :...

 telling stories to King Shahriyar, and she needs to keep him interested in each of the stories, to prevent his executing her the next morning. She often tells the stories in a series, beginning each story with a narrative hook
Narrative hook
A narrative hook is a literary technique in the opening of a story that "hooks" the reader's attention so that he or she will keep on reading...

, leaving off with a cliffhanger
A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction...

, and continuing the story the next night. This leaves the King in suspense
Suspense is a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety about the outcome of certain actions, most often referring to an audience's perceptions in a dramatic work. Suspense is not exclusive to fiction, though. Suspense may operate in any situation where there is a lead-up to a big event or dramatic...

, waiting until the next night to hear what will happen next. Many of her tales often stretch over many nights or episodes. For example, "The Three Apples" is narrated in five nights, "The City of Brass" is narrated in 12 nights, "Sinbad the Sailor
Sinbad the Sailor
Sinbad the Sailor is a fictional sailor from Basrah, living during the Abbasid Caliphate – the hero of a story-cycle of Middle Eastern origin...

" is narrated in 30 nights, and "Aladdin
Aladdin is a Middle Eastern folk tale. It is one of the tales in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights , and one of the most famous, although it was actually added to the collection by Antoine Galland ....

" is narrated in 78 nights.

The growth of moveable type in the 17th century prompted episodic and often disconnected narratives such as L'Astree
L’Astrée is a pastoral novel by Honoré d'Urfé, published between 1607 and 1627.Possibly the single most influential work of 17th century French literature, Astrée has been called the "novel of novels", partly for its immense length but also for the success it had throughout Europe: it was...

and Le Grand Cyrus
Artamène, or Cyrus the Great is a novel in ten volumes by siblings Madeleine and Georges de Scudéry. At over 2,100,000 words, it is considered the longest novel ever written, with the possible exception of Henry Darger's unpublished The Story of the Vivian Girls....

At that time, books remained a premium item, so to reduce the price and expand the market, publishers produced large works in lower-cost installments called fascicles.

19th Century

Serialized fiction surged in popularity during Britain's Victorian era
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

, due to a combination of the rise of literacy, technological advances in printing, and improved economics of distribution. A significant majority of 'original' novels from the Victorian era actually first appeared in either monthly or weekly installments in magazines or newspapers. The wild success of Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers
The Pickwick Papers
The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club is the first novel by Charles Dickens. After the publication, the widow of the illustrator Robert Seymour claimed that the idea for the novel was originally her husband's; however, in his preface to the 1867 edition, Dickens strenuously denied any...

, first published in 1836, is widely considered to have established the viability and appeal of the serialized format within periodical literature. During that era, the line between "quality" and "commercial" literature was not distinct.

While American periodicals first syndicated British writers, over time they drew from a growing base of domestic authors. The rise of the periodicals like Harpers
The Harpers are a fictional and semi-secret organization in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons...

 and the Atlantic Monthly grew in symbiotic tandem with American literary talent. The magazines nurtured and provided an economic sustainability for writers, while the writers helped grow the periodicals' circulation base. During the late 19th century, those that were considered the best American writers first published their work first in serial form and then only later in a completed volume format. As a piece in Scribner's Monthly explained in 1878, it is only the "second and third rate novelist who could not get published in a magazine and is obliged to publish in a volume, and it is in a magazine that the best novelists always appear first." Among the American writers that wrote in serial form were Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

, Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American abolitionist and author. Her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was a depiction of life for African-Americans under slavery; it reached millions as a novel and play, and became influential in the United States and United Kingdom...

, Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

, and Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

. A large part of the appeal for writers at the time was the broad audiences that serialization could reach, which would then grow their following for published works.

One of the first significant American works to be released in serial format is Uncle Tom's Cabin
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly is an anti-slavery novel by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Published in 1852, the novel "helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War", according to Will Kaufman....

, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which was published over a 40-week period by National Era,
an abolitionist periodical, starting with the June 5, 1851 issue.

Serialization was so standard in American literature that authors from that era often built installment structure into their creative process. Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

, for example, often had his works divided into multi-part segments of similar length. The consumption of fiction during that time was different than the 20th century. Instead of being read in single volume, a novel would often be consumered by readers in installments over a period as long as a year, with the authors and periodicals often reacting to audience reaction.

Serialization was also popular throughout Europe. In France, Gustave Flaubert
Gustave Flaubert
Gustave Flaubert was a French writer who is counted among the greatest Western novelists. He is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary , and for his scrupulous devotion to his art and style.-Early life and education:Flaubert was born on December 12, 1821, in Rouen,...

's Madame Bovary
Madame Bovary
Madame Bovary is Gustave Flaubert's first published novel and is considered his masterpiece. The story focuses on a doctor's wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life...

was serialized in La Revue de Paris in 1856. In Russia, The Russian Messenger
The Russian Messenger
The Russian Messenger has been the title of three notable magazines published in Russia in the 19th century.-The Russian Messenger of Sergey Glinka:...

serialized Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist...

's Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina is a novel by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877 in the periodical The Russian Messenger...

from 1873 to 1877 and Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky was a Russian writer of novels, short stories and essays. He is best known for his novels Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov....

's The Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers Karamazov is the final novel by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky spent nearly two years writing The Brothers Karamazov, which was published as a serial in The Russian Messenger and completed in November 1880...

from 1879 to 1880.

Other famous English language writers who wrote serial literature for popular magazines included Wilkie Collins
Wilkie Collins
William Wilkie Collins was an English novelist, playwright, and author of short stories. He was very popular during the Victorian era and wrote 30 novels, more than 60 short stories, 14 plays, and over 100 non-fiction pieces...

, inventor of the English detective novel
Detective fiction
Detective fiction is a sub-genre of crime fiction and mystery fiction in which an investigator , either professional or amateur, investigates a crime, often murder.-In ancient literature:...

 and author of The Moonstone
The Moonstone
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is a 19th-century British epistolary novel, generally considered the first detective novel in the English language. The story was originally serialized in Charles Dickens' magazine All the Year Round. The Moonstone and The Woman in White are considered Wilkie...

; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle DL was a Scottish physician and writer, most noted for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, generally considered a milestone in the field of crime fiction, and for the adventures of Professor Challenger...

, who created the Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective created by Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The fantastic London-based "consulting detective", Holmes is famous for his astute logical reasoning, his ability to take almost any disguise, and his use of forensic science skills to solve...

 stories originally for serialization in The Strand
Strand Magazine
The Strand Magazine was a monthly magazine composed of fictional stories and factual articles founded by George Newnes. It was first published in the United Kingdom from January 1891 to March 1950 running to 711 issues, though the first issue was on sale well before Christmas 1890.Its immediate...

magazine; and the Polish
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 writer Bolesław Prus, author of the serialized novels The Outpost
The Outpost (novel)
The Outpost was the first of four major novels by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus. The author sought to bring attention to the plight of rural Poland, which had to contend with poverty, ignorance, neglect on the part of the country's upper crust, and colonization by German settlers backed by Otto...

(1885–86), The Doll
The Doll (novel)
The Doll is the second of four major novels by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus. It was composed for periodical serialization in 1887-89 and appeared in book form in 1890....

(1887–89), The New Woman (1890–93) and his sole historical novel
Historical novel
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is-Development:An early example of historical prose fiction is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history and left a lasting impact on Chinese culture.The...

, Pharaoh
Pharaoh (novel)
Pharaoh is the fourth and last major novel by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus . Composed over a year's time in 1894–95, it was the sole historical novel by an author who had earlier disapproved of historical novels on the ground that they inevitably distort history.Pharaoh has been described...

(the latter, exceptionally, written entire over a year's time in 1894–95 and serialized only after completion, in 1895–96).

Late 20th Century

With the rise of broadcast — both radio and television series — in the first half of the 20th century, printed periodical fiction began a slow decline as newspapers and magazines shifted their focus from entertainment to information and news. However, some serialization of novels in periodicals continued, with mixed success.

Starting in 1984, Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe
Thomas Kennerly "Tom" Wolfe, Jr. is a best-selling American author and journalist. He is one of the founders of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s.-Early life and education:...

's The Bonfire of the Vanities
The Bonfire of the Vanities
The Bonfire of the Vanities is a 1987 novel by Tom Wolfe. The story is a drama about ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed in 1980s New York City and centers on four main characters: WASP bond trader Sherman McCoy, Jewish assistant district attorney Larry Kramer, British expatriate...

, about 1980s New York City, ran in 27 parts in Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone is a US-based magazine devoted to music, liberal politics, and popular culture that is published every two weeks. Rolling Stone was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and music critic Ralph J...

, partially inspired by the model of Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

. Rolling Stone paid $200,000 for his work, but Wolfe heavily revised the work before publication as a standalone novel. Michael Chabon
Michael Chabon
Michael Chabon born May 24, 1963) is an American author and "one of the most celebrated writers of his generation", according to The Virginia Quarterly Review....

 also serialized Gentlemen of the Road
Gentlemen of the Road
Gentlemen of the Road is a 2007 serial novel by American author Michael Chabon. It is a "swashbuckling adventure" set in the kaganate of Khazaria around AD 950...

 in The New York Times Magazine in 2007,

During the late 20th century, the emergence of the World Wide Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

 prompted some authors to again try a serial format. Stephen King
Stephen King
Stephen Edwin King is an American author of contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction and fantasy fiction. His books have sold more than 350 million copies and have been adapted into a number of feature films, television movies and comic books...

 experimented with this format with The Plant
The Plant
The Plant is an unfinished serial novel published in 2000 as an e-book by American author Stephen King.The novel is about the editor in a paperback publishing house, who gets a manuscript from what seems like a crackpot. The manuscript is about magic, but it also contains photographs that seem very...

(2000), and Michel Faber
Michel Faber
Michel Faber is a Dutch-born writer of fiction. He writes in English.Faber was born in The Hague, Netherlands. He and his parents emigrated to Australia in 1967...

 allowed The Guardian to serialise his novel, The Crimson Petal and the White
The Crimson Petal and the White
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber is a 2002 novel set in Victorian-era England.The title is from a 1847 poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson entitled "Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal", the opening line of which is "Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white".-Publication history:Canongate...

. In 2005, Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card is an American author, critic, public speaker, essayist, columnist, and political activist. He writes in several genres, but is primarily known for his science fiction. His novel Ender's Game and its sequel Speaker for the Dead both won Hugo and Nebula Awards, making Card the...

 serialized his out of print novel, Hot Sleep
Hot Sleep
Hot Sleep: The Worthing Chronicle is a science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card set in the Worthing series. Although it is currently out of print, Card's novel The Worthing Chronicle covers some of the same ground.-Plot summary:...

, in the first issue of his online magazine, Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show
Intergalactic Medicine Show
InterGalactic Medicine Show is an American online fantasy and science fiction magazine. It was founded by multiple award-winning author Orson Scott Card. An anthology also called Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show was published by Tor in August, 2008, featuring selected stories from...

. In 2010, Tracy and Laura Hickman
Tracy Hickman
Tracy Raye Hickman is a best-selling fantasy author, best known for his work on Dragonlance as a game designer and co-author with Margaret Weis, while he worked for TSR...

 launched a direct to internet serialized fantasy series, "Dragon's Bard" which introduced the concept of 'novel as souvenir' where subscribers would download periodical ebook chapters as the book was written and then receive a copy of the physical book upon the completion of the subscription. Hickman
Tracy Hickman
Tracy Raye Hickman is a best-selling fantasy author, best known for his work on Dragonlance as a game designer and co-author with Margaret Weis, while he worked for TSR...

 called the concept 'web like the Dickens' after its merging of 19th century literature
19th century in literature
See also: 19th century in poetry, 18th century in literature, other events of the 19th century, 20th century in literature, list of years in literature....

 serial techniques with modern internet distribution. Lawrence Watt-Evans
Lawrence Watt-Evans
Lawrence Watt-Evans is one of the pseudonyms of American science fiction and fantasy author Lawrence Watt Evans...

 serialized three novels of his Ethshar
Ethshar is a constructed world first developed by American fantasy author Lawrence Watt-Evans for use in role-playing games, in which he later set a number of novels and short stories...

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