What I Learned From Ada

Yesterday, I posted the final episode of my ten-part serial called “Ada.” It’s a story about domestic abuse that has a twist. It didn’t begin that way. In fact, the whole idea of my story about Ada began as the scene from the very first episode that sees her taking her last breath on her kitchen floor. It started with the end and grew from there.

Any time my mind grows idle, story ideas fill the gaps. Most of these story ideas are throwaways – scenes that burst to life but fizzle once I start to flesh them out. The ones that survive this sporadic creative process (I get ideas at the weirdest moments) get an entry in my notebook and an outline that preserves the idea for future use. I have many of these recorded ideas in my notebook – more than enough to keep me writing for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I’m slow when it comes to writing novels. I can only write about one or two a year (I’ve been writing seriously for almost three years, and by the time my third anniversary rolls around in July, I will have only completed five novels).

Some ideas get turned into short stories (I’m slowly building a library of those), but other ideas languish, their potential lost to the ether, which brings me back to Ada. The original scene that I envisioned excited me, not because of the gore of the moment, but because I wanted to know who killed her and why. Did the story have novel potential? Possibly, but I already have a queue of ideas waiting for my attention. The story of Ada was threatened with waiting in a long line to see the light of day.

But, there’s the matter of this blog, which I’ve treated as a true writer’s notebook, a place to share story concepts, scenes, and my thoughts on writing. My goal is to post here once per week using it as a test kitchen of sorts to see what works and what doesn’t. Despite that freewheeling nature, I want to put good content out here. I want to engage the audience and see what responses I get, and that’s what prompted the serial experiment.

There were really no rules when I started the serial. My plan was to write extemporaneously, so each Monday, the day I planned a release, I’d write an episode and publish it. I didn’t outline the story. I just wrote what I felt like at that moment. I wanted to see how the creativity would unfold in an unbridled way. Outlines are great for an organization freak like me, but they can also be limiting, which is why many writers refuse to use them.

As a result the story shifted many times over the ten weeks. I wanted to convey a social message about domestic violence and its impact on the victims and society at large. I wanted to peel back the layers on the often inscrutable decisions victims make (why go back to someone who hurts you???), but I also wanted the story to be interesting. From the first episode, everyone knew that Ada died, so how do you hold your readers’ interest when you’ve given away the punch line from the beginning?

This presented a challenge. Originally, I posted the first episode simply as a scene for a potential novel. I had no intention of continuing the story on this blog, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of bringing the story to readers in an episodic approach that peeled back the layers week-by-week and let them into the world that Ada inhabited. The only thing was that I didn’t even know what that world was like until I wrote the episode each week. It sounded like a fun challenge, and it was.

So what did I learn? Serials are a fun way to engage your audience. Unlike short stories and novels, the story unfolds quickly and unexpectedly. My approach didn’t allow for a lot of editing and rewrites, which was refreshing from my standard writing. The extemporaneous creative approach can reinvigorate other writing. In between episodes I continued to write my current novel and another short story. I found those stories flowed more easily after the vigorous exercise of writing Ada. I’m an outliner, but even for a steadfast process guy like me, letting it loose feels good. Just pounding out the words on the keyboard with reckless abandon like a child coloring a picture excitedly without any regard for the lines gave me a different sense of accomplishment, an edgy thrill.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I’m glad I did it. Is another serial in the offing? Most likely. I’m just waiting for the inspiration to strike again.

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