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Neo-Epics Made Easy: Writing Neopian Times Series

A series is an extended Neopian Times story that can be up to 12 chapters long. Each chapter is about 1,500-50,000 words long and a new one is released each issue until it concludes. Although there has yet to be a series with a chapter that reaches the upper limit, if I'm not mistaken...

I've tackled the parts and basics of a story under the short story section; you can either go back to that, as much of that guide can also apply to a series (which is just a longer story), or skip on ahead to some series-specific pointers.

How Many Parts?

According to the NT guidelines, an ideal series is around 6-8 parts, not that you're discouraged to take advantage of the full range. All its parts are to be submitted at once, so yes, you have to finish the entire thing before you plug it into the form. In the past, the Neopian Times accepted longer series (the longest ones were comprised of up to 21 parts!), but to give newer writers a chance, and since competition has gotten hotter, a limit and a recommended quantity have been set. This means that if your series better meets the short story limit (4,000 words), it will be rejected and you'll have to squish everything into a short story instead. For example, if you have a two-part series whose chapters are exactly 1,500 words apiece, you will be asked to compress them instead.

The length of your series, needless to say, also depends on your plot and in which places you'll be chopping up your story. But a burning question remains -- where do you divide it, and how? This can influence the flow of your story, after all, and your readers' motivation to keep up with your plot. Each part must be worth the wait, whether it takes a week or so, or a few measly seconds; some people choose to read a series only after all the parts have been released and go through them one after the other.

Cliffhangers sound like the obvious choice. I mean, what better way to draw attention than with an epic heart-stopping or heartbreaking scene? However, not all plots are made to have cliffhangers, so the best you can do is foreshadow upcoming events or seemingly "leave" the course of events, deliberately nixing a rather integral device or concept in the story that won't be revealed until the next chapter. But really, you don't have to resort to these things; cliffhangers are not the only means of capturing your audience, as you may have learned from our short story crash course. Besides, truly experienced authors can use cliffhangers sparingly or not at all -- and still leave you wanting more.

Another concern is the number of words in each part -- once you have figured out where the parts begin and end, you would have to double-check and make sure all of them fulfill the quota. Don't be surprised to see that this particular bit is twice as long as another; it happens when you write a long story. Word counts among parts can fluctuate. A lot.

If you think a dozen parts isn't enough for your great big saga, you can always stash everything else into another story and submit that after. And, quality always trumps quantity. A long series is not necessarily better than a short saga.

So don't churn out ridiculous nonsense for the sake of lengthening a perfectly good story, all right?


*Cue evil laughter and rubbing of hands* Sadly, it's not exactly that kind of plotting...pretty much. Heh.

There are two main ways to plot your series -- either jot down all the events and important details you will include before beginning to write, especially when you're going for a lengthy story... or take a deep breath and wing it with less of a framework and just pull it together as you go along. And of course, they can be combined into some kind of super series-writing combo if you wish! Although, if you're a little prone to forgetting vital concepts, you love being exceedingly organized and/or it's your first time to write something longer than you usually do, I highly recommend making notes; this is especially important if you're planning a big series, or even a series of series. Your "cheat sheet" may include names and descriptions of your characters (helpful if you have a bucketload of them), event sequences, or important quirks and details that may be significant or for comic relief.

Yet, even with all your details scribbled down in a handy notebook or a Notepad file, don't be afraid to deviate and experiment. You never really know what you can come up with, and what kind of impact it will have on your plot. Besides, it's fun.

As with short stories, the sky's the limit (well, sort of) as to what your series will be about. Genres, characters, settings, plot twists, plot devices... you decide what you want to throw into your story. It goes without saying that they should all work together like a well-oiled machine, unless of course you're going for a certain effect.

Famous Last Words

Editing a series can be daunting, not only because of the length, but because you'll be weeding out a lot of inconsistencies and contradictions. It's very easy to get a little too carried away while writing, so be vigilant. Eventually you'll get the hang of it, and besides, there's always reading through your entire story when you're done just to make sure everything that should make sense... well, makes sense. Don't forget that.

It takes loads of practice and experience to write an awesome series, so keep at it. Don't rush the learning process; in the end, all your work will be worth it, and you can pick up so many pointers you will need as you go on.

A note of warning though: writing series can be very addictive. If you've immensely enjoyed creating your own Neo-universe and working with your characters and concepts, you may end up returning to them to weave another tale... perhaps more. A lot of authors (myself included) have revisited series and created sequels, prequels, related stories... the whole enchilada. And ta-da, a series of series!

This author confesses to have written seven NeoQuest II series, six of them published, as of the publication of this article. She's nuts.

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This article was written by: Kat