How should a series end, particularly one we’re writing?
It might seem to some that this is a strange question for a young author who is just starting out to ask, but we (writers) all think in epic ways. We don’t see ourselves as what we are now, but what we will become, and for a project that will take us years, perhaps the rest of our life, this question needs an answer.
I propose two kinds of series each of which might have a slightly different answer to this question. The first is the “episodic” series, often in the mystery or thriller genre. This follows a single character or set of characters who may grow and change over a series of books, but each book is self contained and the quantity of books is more determined by the desire of readers to keep reading and writers to keep writing. The second is the epic story, think “Wheel of time” a story we in all seriousness might not finish in our lifetime.
For the episodic story the solution can sometimes be very simple. If the author does not want to write the series anymore, or knows it will be their last, they will kill their main character. Agatha Christie did it Poirot, Colin Dexter did it to Morse, and Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill Sherlock Holmes (who much to his dismay just didn’t stay dead). I understand this impulse if you are the sort who does not trust your characters in the hands of others. There is a lot of regrettable (though some good) Sherlock Holmes novels out there, and much as I love Poirot I don’t trust anyone but Christie to write him properly.
There’s just one problem with this solution, it kinda sucks for the readers.
Take Morse for example. Dying in the fashion he did was the ultimate conclusion of his alcoholism and his depressive life. But we wanted to see him redeemed, both through his association with the young detective Lewis, and perhaps finding some kind of love with someone. You invest in a character for a long time and you want payoff, and if you don’t get it, then you don’t know why you spent the time (just ask those who watched Lost all the way to the end).
You want the reader left with some sense of finality, that maybe this is the detective’s last case if it really is the last, but with a ray of hope that things will keep going on. The story that’s being told is over, but not the lift of the character.
What about the epic?
Well, that can be a different story. A lot of epic science fiction story tellers either tell generational stories, or stories set in a vast universe which they can dip a lot of characters in and out of. My own “epic” series is structured in this fashion, with two or three book groupings all set against a 105 year timeline.
But let’s face it, I’ve got firm outlines for 4-5 but have only written parts of a couple and these are not going to be my next projects out the door, or even the one’s after them. It’s possible that with all of the different fascinating stories I want to tell that my epic will be unfinished. What then?
Well, not being a Wheel of Time fan myself I don’t know how that went, though I hear fairly well. But another series that was a favorite of mine, The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov, did not fair so well. The three B’s of modern sci-fi, Benford, Brin and Bear teamed up to write the “Second Foundation” trilogy. I didn’t make it past book one, I stopped somewhere around the 120 foot holograms of Voltaire and Joan of Arc making love. No joke.
I think if an author is to do a hand off then it needs to be someone chosen by the author, or with a real stake in making the work excellent, like Christopher Tolkien or Brian Herbert (maybe). But I think the safest path might be to not write yourself into a corner. Keep your audience yearning for more, but sated should they not get it.
Now I just have to figure out how to do that and I’ll be all set 🙂
Who would you trust to finish your work (if anyone)?