My last post, back in May, was about serial online writing, so I thought it would be apt to review an online literary journal devoted to serial writing, Five Chapters. Five Chapters publishes one short story each week, but in five parts which are released sequentially Monday through Friday.
I really like the concept of Five Chapters because it offers a different kind of experience reading a short story than we would normally have reading one in a literary magazine or an anthology. Five Chapters is clearly catering to readers’ diminishing attention spans, but it does not do so by lowering the quality of the writing it publishes. The stories I have read on Five Chapters have been well-worded and thought-provoking, although they tend to be strictly literary in style and academic in content. The journal seems to be going for a New Yorker-esque vibe, which doesn’t always appeal to me.
For example, latest story they published, “HTLV-III” by Matt Sailor is told from the perspective of a philosophy graduate student. It has a compelling narrative, but in my opinion, the overly-jargonistic narrator who contemplates the narrative structure and effect of his own story as he is telling it is quite off-putting, albeit true to the personality of the character.
On the other hand, I really liked the story “Dubrovnik 1989” by Paula Whyman, which is about a young single woman who feels listless, drifting from one man to another just as she drifts from job to job. I like the story’s narrator, who talks in a very detached manner about her own life, but at the same time is frank and observant.
To read Five Chapters properly requires one to diligently check the website every weekday or to subscribe to their email list. I haven’t yet done either, but I did stick with the serial reading experience for one week, back in May, reading the installments on the days they came out, instead of reading all of them at once (which is what I did today).
The story I read was “Somewhere Around Then” by Nick Kocz. I enjoyed the story, which is about a boy’s summer romance before he goes off to college. Reading the story in parts, I realized, made me engage with the plot and the language more deeply than I would have otherwise, just skipping through it to reach the next important plot point. Each day while I was reading it, I had to go back to the earlier part so I could remember the context for what was currently going on in the story. So delivering the story in bits actually helped me improve my absorption of it, funnily enough.
The authors or the editor of Five Chapters choose deliberately when to break the story in a way that enhances suspense. Most of the time, the breaks feel natural because it comes during a change of scene. That doesn’t mean that the story must consist of only five parts. Some of the stories that I read had smaller breaks within the chapters. I’m not sure whether the editor looks for stories that could easily be broken into five parts or whether he works with the author to make the stories fit.
The editor of Five Chapters is Dave Daley, the editor in chief at Salon.com. The journal accepts unsolicited submissions of stories between 5,000-10,000 words. Since they have published Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award winners, and PEN/Faulkner award winners, having your story published on this website would put you in great company.
One critique I must make of the website is that is has a funky logo and backdrop, which could be much improved upon, but that doesn’t detract from the high-quality writing they publish.
Submissions are accepted year-round and the site does charge a $3 fee for submitting
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