Neall Currie, VP, Creative Director, Palio
Our hero rushes ahead – his fingers twitching, his pulse a stampede – not knowing what lies ahead. It may be the answer he’s so desperately sought. It may be the peril he thought he’d already avoided. But the one thing he will conquer is the uncertainty that’s plagued him. Finally, he’ll have resolution. Finally, he’ll know. Because the final outcome lies just beyond the next
Serialized fiction is built on cliffhangers, and that foundation made the novel the most involving art form in human history. The earliest serialized fiction was “One Thousand and One Nights” (or, Arabian Nights), wherein the narrator – the convicted Scheherazade – uses cliffhangers to ensure her king will stay her execution one more day, just to hear the outcome of the story she told the night before.
Some of the most influential novelists of all time wrote for audiences that, rather than wielding the threat of execution, offered the lure of a good living. They desperately followed their prose in monthly publications. Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and Arthur Conan Doyle all supported themselves – and often subsidized other work that they preferred – by selling chapter stories in monthly installments to publishers who knew their gripping tales ensured a devoted audience.
Serialized fiction meant more readership, which made the magazine more attractive to advertisers, which allowed the publisher to charge more, both for the publication, and for the ad space within it. And the model held up through the years. Soap operas are so named because they started as serial radio dramas that were produced by the advertisers themselves – soap makers targeting homemakers – who wanted to retain an audience for their promotional messaging. Even today, cliffhangers sell.
Neal Stephenson is a contemporary writer who pays close attention to the narrative form (the main character of his most popular novel, “Snow Crash,” was named Hiro Protagonist, after all). So it’s fitting that he is part of a group of authors and other artists exploring serialized fiction in the digital format.
Stephenson, Greg Bear and others are “publishing” an expansive work called “The Mongoliad” through digital media. Their forward-looking take on the form improves the experience for the artists by cutting out the publisher – and for the writer by expanding the concept of the serialized novel.
Installments of the Mongoliad – published periodically to mongoliad.com, or to its proprietary apps – are, usually, chapter-length adventure tales that build toward a vast story with all the hallmarks of a classic serialized tale. A panoply of complex characters. Multiple intertwined story lines. Epic stakes. Personal drama. But its creators use other installments to enrich the story in other ways. Artists will provide sketches of important characters or locations. The creators and their consultants will post videos where they discuss the historical context or technical details that inform the story.
The Mongoliad doesn’t rely on advertising; it’s a subscription-based model. Readers pay to be in the audience – and in the community. Subscribers can post to the forums, discussing the stories and often interacting with the creators. Sometimes they’re rewarded by seeing an earlier installment get updated, after the authors, influenced by their audience, make small but important revisions to the work.
Is the Mongoliad the future of publishing? It’s difficult to say it will replace traditional publishing – after all, Stephenson and Bear have both released new novels while working on it, and the creators have recently announced their intention to eventually offer the completed work in print. Could it provide a new model for the “soap opera” – highly targeted stories written to appeal to a very specific audience that a particular group of advertisers want?
To find out, we’ll just have to keep reading. Which was the point all along.
Palio is an advertising agency revolutionizing pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing to create experiences that will Never Be Forgotten.