It is a sad but understandable fact of modern publishing that most stories will not see the light of day. Whether it be due to a lack of quality, originality or the rigorous standards demanded of writing and publishing a book, for every story told there are countless others, potentially just as good, left unfinished or unnoticed. A way around this issue comes in the form of webserials. Based on the old practice of publishing a story periodically rather than all at once, webserials are books that are freely available online via sites such as WordPress and Reddit that put this style into application. Open for anyone to read and write, they provide a platform and a voice for people with a story to tell.
Painstakingly written chapter by chapter, webserials place a primacy upon user/author interaction, giving readers a degree of control over the story as it is being written whilst also subjecting the author to their constant criticism. This is for the ultimate purpose of ensuring a story is written as consistently, sensibly and entertaining as possible. There is a positive feedback loop that arises as the author typically reciprocates reader criticism about the direction and execution of the story, retroactively changing chapters to cover plot-holes and errors and thus creating a better story for future readers.
Unconstrained by the worries of not being fit for publishing, authors do away with the arbitrary word count imposed by most books and are written to the point where both author and reader feel content
This is not the only benefit a webserial has in comparison to traditional storytelling. Perhaps the most notable, and daunting, feature of webserials is that they are long. Unconstrained by the worries of not being fit for publishing, authors do away with the arbitrary word count imposed by most books and are written to the point where both author and reader feel content. The most prolific, a serial called Worm written by the author John McCrae, caps off at about 1,680,000 words — or 7000 pages — putting it at more than triple the length of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. As long as readers keep wanting more, the author delivers, continuing on with impunity. This can only happen as a consequence of the fact that anybody can publish a serial for people to access. By contrast, few people can write and publish a book, let alone one that is successful.
But what is truly the most amazing part about these often unnoticed labours of love is how deeply earnest they are. Serials provide a nexus in which the grievances of readers and the faraway dreams of aspiring writers can consolidate in pieces that often are more evocative and emotionally resonant than actual books.
While at first glance Worm might be the story of a teenage girl whose traumatic bullying experience triggers the development of the superpower to control bugs, it is so much more than that at its heart. It encapsulates topics and ideas such as the deconstruction of the superhero genre in the real world, the issue of hopeless idealism in the face of a cruel and merciless world and the incredibly morbid reality of a setting in which some people have powers and others simply do not.
It is but one of a plethora of uniquely brilliant stories with dedicated, albeit niche, fanbases
At once, it is both a tale of caped crusaders and epic fights, but also a deeply human lamentation on power, its consequences and whether its means can justify the ends it achieves. During its publication, it featured a loyal and consistent fanbase that were quick to offer editing, marketing and commentary all of their own volition. Worm is perhaps the best encapsulation of how the communal aspect of webserials lends itself to an experience you cannot find elsewhere. Worm is not just a one hit wonder. It is but one of a plethora of uniquely brilliant stories with dedicated, albeit niche, fanbases.
Another serial, The Gods are Bastards, starts off as a simple fantasy story that quickly incorporates ideas of contemporary feminism and modern politics into the setting of a fascinating make-belief world. Its narrative is long and complex, featuring a cast of literally hundreds of characters. Unsong incorporates data technology, computer science, economics, politics and biblical commentary into an apocalyptic story about a corporate monopoly on the name of the biblical God.
The point that is so hard to articulate about web serials is that they capture the full magic of the unrestrained human mind; they openly encourage, rather than limit, the propagation of unique ideas and stories in an otherwise saturated market. They are by no means perfect, that is for certain but, then again, they never try to be. They are fun. And that is what makes them magical.