Friday, November 13, 2015

Serialized stories in newspapers

I've been reading the great Japanese novel Musashi recently.  It's a fictionalized account of the life of Miyamoto Musashi, the legendary Japanese samurai.  I rarely read novels, and normally Asian fiction wouldn't be my cup of tea, but it is very good.

This novel, which is sometimes called Japan's "Gone With The Wind", was originally run as a serialized story in a newspaper.  Indeed, the chapters of the book are fairly short, which is likely explained by that.

This wasn't uncommon anywhere.  I think, for example, A Mule for the Marquesa, which was made into the movie The Professionals, was likewise a serialized novel before it was released as a book, and then later a movie. 

Everyone knows that newspapers are in trouble. And while our local paper won't admit it (it's part of the larger Lee chain) it's a shadow of its former self.  The paper has columnist, most of whom I'm not impressed with.  I wouldn't, for example, continue to subscribe to the paper just to read what Mary Billiter or Edith Cook have to say every week, although in fairness it does have columnist that I really like to read.

But what I would note is that I'll find myself following cartoons that have story lines, even if I don't really like the cartoon.  I read, for example, Mary Worth and Rex Morgan everyday, even though I really don't like either cartoon.  It's hard to drop off a story. When the paper used to run Prince Valiant on the weekend it was the same way.  I don't really like the cartoon, but I'd get caught up in the story line and find that I was resolving to read that line out and then stop reading the cartoon.

I suspect that this would be all the more the case for a well written serialized novel.

So, in this era when newspapers are biting the dust everywhere, and even major papers like The New York Times are increasingly irrelevant, why not revive this old practice?  I suspect that there are a lot of local novelist who could turn out the appropriate length of text every week, or at least every month, and people would follow it.  And in an era when certain types of novels have a hard time getting to press, but we all claim to love the local, why not give this a try?

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