What novelists can learn from Serial Podcast

Anyone else get into the Serial podcast these past few months?

True crime, compelling storytelling, angle by angle each week–I was hooked!

Serial is the most popular podcast in the history of the format, 5 million downloads and streams. So what makes it so powerful? Let’s unpack it.

So what can novelists learn from the power of podcasts, and Serial?

1. Power of narrative. Everyone knows what great storytelling can do: make you cry watching a commercial, make a book unforgettable. Even the simplest stories, if done well, can bring you to the brink of tears. (Opening of Up anyone?)

2. Serialization format. Like Wattpad, Serial worked because we learn a little at a time which ends up contributing to the greater picture and brings anticipation with each instalment. Wattpad has had many success stories that lead to traditional publishing deals and is a great way for writers to see if they have what it takes to tell a story chapter by chapter.

3. Learning character motivation. One of the most interesting things about Serial was trying to figure out who had the motivation to commit Hae’s murder. People are complex (and your characters should be too) and there often isn’t a reason for everything. So how do you make characters 3D? Give them real life situations and life-or-death motivations. Everything they do should feel bigger than what’s on the page.

4. Universal themes. The reason Serial was such a big hit was that it touched on emotions and triggers that are universal in nature: love, loss, jealousy, revenge, friendship, secrecy, trust. Don’t try to make human nature more complex than it is. We’re simple in that we’ve had the same concerns since Shakespeare, and even earlier than that really.

5. (Un)reliable narrators. Who do you trust? Who is telling the truth? A classic dilemma in literature and in life. Do we really know anyone? How can you bring this dilemma to your writing and to your narrators?

6. Multiple angles. Serial had experts, friends and family weighing in. Seeing the act of murder from many people’s eyes makes you wonder which perspective is the most accurate one. Can anyone have an opinion worth hearing if they weren’t there? Think about how multiple POV can bring more to your book than a single POV.

7. Memory. Memory is a very strange thing. What do we really know? And if we don’t remember something does that mean it didn’t happen the way people tell us it did? Memory has had a long history in literature, but it’s always an interesting writing trope. Human’s don’t have perfect memory and it shouldn’t be surprising when your characters don’t either.

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Q: That’s what I took from Serial. What was your favorite part of Serial from a writer’s perspective?

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