Anyone can think up a story concept, but it’s a whole other ballgame writing a conclusion to a series. And now you’re looking to tie up a multi-book series? Forget about it.
Well, not really – it can be done, it’s just really tricky unless you have a clear vision and intriguing idea neatly organized and ready to go in your back pocket. For a brief overview on how to write endings in general, take a look at my recent article HERE.
Series are special in the sense that they’re not just one plot; they’re actually many sub-plots tied in knots around a bigger main plot. In my own writing, I’ve even spontaneously added sequels to books that I fully believed would be stand-alones. But sometimes, the ideas just strike, and you have no choice but to chase them down lest they haunt you forever.
Ideally, you hope that each installment of your series introduces small central plots that get resolved in each book. In this way, each installment almost acts like a stand-alone. Key word here, being almost. The “almost” comes into play thanks to the bigger plot that is interwoven throughout each book – that’s the thing you want to bring to a head in the final book’s conclusion.
Final books can be quite the undertaking to write for that reason. Not only do they have to wrap up their own plot; it’s also responsible for the central plot that runs through everything else too. With all this in mind, I’m going to share my biggest do’s and don’ts to help you navigate this plot-based juggling act with ease.
Get so wrapped up in every little detail.
Yes, sensory details are a key part of any good story, but the point at which you’re starting to wrap things up is not the time to be too fixated on those. Instead, focus on your plot and what needs to build and explode into your character’s final battle or personal breakthrough. By this point, your reader already knows what the flower bouquet smells like and what color the bedroom walls are.
Write what you think your readers want to see in your series.
You are king (or queen) of the world and story that you’ve built. So just because you think your readers want a happy ending, doesn’t mean you have to necessarily deliver one. Shocking endings can be equally satisfying in a different way, as long as they’re foreshadowed and introduced thoughtfully throughout. Adding these as an afterthought is a massive no-no.
Jump ship when things get hard.
Writing a series, not to mention just ending one, is a lot of pressure. When you think about all the hours your readers have invested in your story – and in you – it’s easy to feel obligated to deliver perfection or nothing at all. But that’s a grave mistake. Even if you’re like me and hold yourself to only the highest expectations, you must realize that the casual everyday reader will probably still really enjoy what you bring to the table. Do your best, but let your story unfold however it pleases. It’s what comes out of mental blocks, that often yields the best results.
Immerse yourself in the moment.
To fuel your characters with the energy and emotion needed to carry everything to a satisfying finish, you need to have spent time in their world. To do this properly, I recommend stepping away from your work, and reading everything through again casually as the reader. Bonus points if you can download a PDF and read it as a printout or on a tablet. That way your brain clicks into the reader mode and off the writer mode. Live it, breathe it, and then reflect and move forward the best you can with what you’ve experienced.
Let series regulars go if it’s their time.
Killing off characters is a whole other challenge in itself. It can be done in some cases, but in others, it’s a cheesy vanity piece. Only opt for this if it makes sense in the grand scheme of the narrative. The inverse of this problem is stringing flat, underdeveloped characters along simply because you don’t know what to do with them. Sometimes, you don’t even kill them off – as it may be better just to cut them out of your story completely. Only you will know what’s best with this, so trust your gut, and when the end of the series comes, move forward with a renewed gusto.
Be confident in your expertise.
You’re a writer and storyteller, after all! Even if this is your first foray into the publishing world, pat yourself on the back for taking this on. Follow your vision and trust where it leads you. As long as it feels satisfying to you, there’s a good chance your readers will agree (even if they’re frustrated with the ending, they’ll be glad to have at least felt anything at all).
At the end of the day, you have to be the one satisfied with your work. Whatever that means to you, bring your series into the world bravely – you deserve that much, and so much more.