I’ve already mentioned a few of the pitfalls of writing a weekly serial as you go but, having been writing a serial for six months, I think I can see why Dickens sometimes lost the plot. It’s not like writing a novel then looking back at the first draft and filling in the missing bits or building up other bits to untangle the plots and keep them clear. Sometimes when writing a serial you think, ‘damn, I mentioned X plot, what the heck happens?’
Not having a complete version for an overview can make it difficult to decide which plots need the most attention, where they should be mentioned, or if they should be removed. There is a sense that this piece isn’t as polished as your standard novel would be and a worry that you’ll disappoint your reader if X plot isn’t resolved or Y plot gets a bit tangled. You don’t just think ‘well, I’m letting them read it for free so they won’t mind’. You still want it to be the best it can be and sometimes feel painfully aware when you don’t think it is.
An example I might choose from my serial is the Aubrey subplot. I can’t help but think that needed more development and more interaction between the characters. Not having that complete draft to look at I couldn’t say for certain how much time I could’ve dedicated to this subplot without losing sight of the main plot which is Charlotte learning more about the supernatural world, what happened to Bran and where her own abilities come from.
There also the fact that I’ve, theoretically, limited myself to a novella length which, on average, wouldn’t be more than 50,000 words. It leaves you wondering how much time you can spend on subplots without over shooting your word count. That said, perhaps the advantage of a weekly serial is also that you can explore subplots that you discover along the way and you don’t have a fixed word count. If you’re publish an episode once a week then you could keep going until the story is told, like a soap, but with an ending. Whether this plays out well I couldn’t say yet, I think I’m going to have to get to the end of Victorian Mistress and then decide based upon a complete draft.
Another problem with the subplot is that sometimes, if you don’t have a plan, you open a subplot and then realise a few weeks down the line you appear to have forgotten about it. I know that happened with Aubrey when I dropped a line into The Rose and Crown mentioning that he was out to get Charlotte then realised some weeks later that might need mentioning again. Could I have dropped it? Perhaps, but it would’ve felt on unfair on the reader the dangle something that might look a bit tasty then take it away. I can’t say I’m entirely satisfied with how it turned out but perhaps from a reader’s perspective it works and I’m just being a pedantic writer.
I wish I could offer a solution to plot dropping but I haven’t found one yet. Perhaps I need to write a follow up article at the end of Victorian Mistress if I find an answer, or don’t.