For the last few posts, we’ve been talking about endings. You can link to the blog for tips on ending a scene or chapter here: Five Tips for Ending Your Scene, and for thoughts on ending your book here: Writing the End. Today let’s talk about ending a series.
As readers, we know there are different types of novel series. One type features the same cast of characters but sends them on unique adventures in every book. Detective or crime novel series are a good example. The other type of series is one that takes more than a single book to complete the story arc. A few weeks into writing my first science fiction novel, I realized it was too long and complicated to adequately finish it in one book. Thus, it morphed into a trilogy. For this kind of series, each book should be complete in its own right but should also march the plot and characters toward an overarching conclusion.
There are different things to consider depending on which kind of series you’re writing, but some advice applies to both.
Know when it’s time to end it.
The Alex Delaware murder mystery series by Jonathan Kellerman is one of my favorites. With around thirty books out and no end in sight I still look forward to his newest release, excited to check in with my favorite characters and certain I’ll get a fresh story. This isn’t the case with every series. One of my pet peeves is a series that carries on long after its expiration date. When the story begins to feel stale to readers, it’s time to end it.
I’ve read series that complete a story arc, in a trilogy say, and then keep going into another multi-book adventure. Sometimes this is done well, but sometimes the story feels forced and the additional plot lines just aren’t as good. If you, the writer, feel you’ve told the tale and can’t bring a fresh take, move on.
Leave room for more.
Although maybe you want to leave room for more? If you’ve created a world that still has potential, consider telling a different character’s story. Or, if you really have another unique adventure mapped out for your original cast, by all means continue.
Wrap up the major plot points.
The end of the series should feel like the end, with no major dangling plots. Deliver on the set-up or it’s unfair to readers, whether you end after two books or ten. That doesn’t mean every single detail needs to be spelled out. You can leave some things to the reader’s imagination, but give them the satisfaction of a completed story arc.
Be aware of expectations.
There are certain expectations based on genre, and readers may be put-off if you don’t follow them. If you’re writing a high fantasy trilogy, the quest has to be finished by book three. You can allude to something new at the end, but this particular adventure needs to wrap up. Likewise, a murder mystery has to be solved at the end of each book, and a romance needs its happy ending.
Prepare for the emotions.
As a writer, you’ve spent considerable time with your characters – years probably, and now it’s time to say goodbye to them. Be prepared to feel, well, all kinds of things. You’ll probably be ready to move on if you’ve exhausted this storyline. You’ll probably feel satisfied that you’ve finally brought this project to a close. You’ll probably also feel sad to let go and maybe a little lost. After all, this story had been living inside your head for a long time. Celebrate your accomplishment, and give yourself permission to feel all the feelings!
A good ending, whether to a scene, chapter, book, or series, brings satisfaction to readers and keeps them coming back for more of what you’re writing!