Maybe you’ve written just a single novel, and you consider that the ending leads to possible sequels. Maybe you’ve written multiple books in the same series and consider that you could continue writing about these characters forever. Maybe you’ve developed a fan-base and think that if you start another series, your fans won’t stick around for a new kind of journey.
Whether you’ve looked up to Robert Jordan, J.K. Rowling, Cassandra Clare, or Rick Riordan, we’ve all wondered when the series will finally be over.
We all grew up with different series we loved reading, but how many of them had official endings? And how many of them were re-booted with terrible results? Here are three reasons why you should always end your book series. For good.
My friend Brandon told us recently that he only just started watching the Avenger-based Marvel movies. When we asked him what made him decide to start watching them now that the series was “finished” in a way, he said that because the series was over, he felt like he could actually enjoy the movies more.
Without an end in sight, watching all of the movies, especially when he was so far behind, was more of a task than a journey. Because he now had End Game to look forward to, he could build up to it in anticipation.
I had a similar experience with the Harry Potter books. We all knew there would be seven books, and we all knew that when it was over, it was over. But was it? There was the release of the new Harry Potter-based book written in an entirely new format. There was an entire movie series based off an animal field-guide.
Did these movies and new book additions take away from the original series? No, but they certainly distracted us, and made us feel like maybe we didn’t have conclusion. Maybe we should always be expecting more.
Sometimes, you’ll have readers who will be such dedicated fans that they want anything new from the wonderful world you’ve created. But should we always give them extra information that doesn’t exactly fit into the original story? Should we continue to edit and revise our books just so they stay relevant and part of the mainstream culture?
If you write a full, complete story — even in multiple books — you must trust that the story is strong enough to stand the test of time.
Good writers know that there is a lot of information about the world, characters, and plot that might not make the final cut of the writing. But there’s a reason for that. As Stephen King said, “The most important things to remember about backstory are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried away with the rest. Life stories are best received in bars, and only then an hour or so before closing time, and if you are buying.” If we tack on another two books after the knight has already defeated the big bad, because we as writers know that the knight would revisit his home town and go eat a sandwich at his favorite bar after all that hard work…aren’t we kind of dismissing all of his hard work?
No one wants to get sick of their favorite writer making retcons to their favorite book series. Whether you only have a single book, or you’ve written eight monsters of books that tell the most cohesive story about a fire-breathing cat, trust that your story is strong enough to maintain itself through great writing and great marketing.
Sometimes your characters deserve to live the rest of their lives in peace. The Adventure Zone, a podcast run by three brothers and a dad playing Dungeons and Dragons and other table-top games, created an almost 70-episode arc that inspired a following up to the standard of bestselling fantasy books. People made fan-fiction, they made art, they made t-shirts, and dressed up like the characters.
The McElroy brother Griffin ended the series with the promise that there would only be revisits of their characters for fun in live shows. As they concluded their heroes’ journeys, he stated, “And even more happier days were to come. That was the world you had made. That was the ending you earned.”
The family agreed that if they continued to play as these characters, it wouldn’t be the same. In fact, it would diminish the significance of the character development, undermine the climax, and burn them and the listeners out entirely. The point is, the story had ended. And it was time to move on. They took a risk doing this. By the end of their Arc called Balance, the boys had become financially supported by the podcast. If they had decided to continue playing as these characters, no one would have complained.
“That was the world you had made. That was the ending you earned.”
The fact is, they didn’t. They tried new stories and experimented. They learned new skills by sharing the role of story-maker and trying new game formats. They didn’t get burned out. In fact, the opposite happened. They became anxious to tell a real story again and found just the right one. Maybe their listeners dipped during this time. I’m sure it did. But they held to their belief that the story was over. They trusted their fans to stay. And more importantly they trusted themselves to move on and create something new and stronger than running their finished story into the ground.
Now The Adventure Zone cast has created graphic novels of their Arc Balance (already bestsellers), and I recently heard they have a card-game coming out. If money was ever their concern by ending their story, it shouldn’t be now. Is this selling out? No. They’ve made their audio-format story into one that can also be read and remembered by their fans. They’ve maintained and added to the integrity of their creation.
Unlike the McElroy brothers, Cassandra Clare, a YA Fantasy writer, originally wrote six books that worked as a complete story of shadow-hunting, gorgeous teens that fell in love during a time of war. Beautiful, right? Absolutely. But then she added anthology books, a prequel series, another series that exists in the same world but takes place after the original war, etc. Are you exhausted yet? Because I am. Don’t get me wrong, I read everything she put out, because like most obsessed readers, I thought I couldn’t wait to hear what happened to the characters from the original series. And —
They were fighting. They weren’t as in love as they were in the original series (during which they had fought through everything to be together). The first six books contained one of the best character development sequences I have ever seen happen to a teenage boy in YA fiction. And while I liked reading about the Shadowhunters in her latest books, I felt like these same characters I had grown to know and love were short-changed and flatter than I remembered.
The beauty of stories is that we can make them different than real life. We can make them better. Don’t be afraid to make your characters suffer. In fact, suffering is encouraged. Suffering is conflict, inside and out, and it’s necessary for characters to grow. But too often writers make their characters suffer, give them a happy ending, and then throw them right back into the fire.
The best part about having an ending to your series is that whether it’s satisfying or not, either way it will inspire the next generation of writers. When I was finished reading Harry Potter, I felt so empty — a feeling I know a lot of other readers have felt after finishing their favorite series. But I also wanted more. I was thirsty for an ending to a story I didn’t realize at the time was my own book series, Spell Bound.
Whatever genre you write, allow your readers to be so inspired (or so angry) that they write their own stories. Maybe it will stay fan-fiction. Or maybe they will create amazing stories of their own.
Challenge yourself to be the writer who actually has an ending to their series. While The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan can be a little long-winded at times, it remains one of the most influential Fantasy series in the genre. Jordan managed to end the series with the help of Brandon Sanderson, but Jordan died before he could finish the series himself. Imagine if he didn’t have a ghost writer. He had built an entire world leading up to a grand finale, but he took FOREVER to get there. His readers would have been devastated.
Finishing a series allows writers to have the freedom to explore new genres, new stories, and new characters. Writers get so attached to their stories that they sometimes believe they won’t be able to write anything else. It’s like making new friends. No one likes it, but you never know who you’ll end up meeting. They could be better characters than you’ve ever encountered before.
Don’t be a sell out. The happily ever after ending may not be appealing. We live in a world where happily ever after means “we didn’t want to tell you that they weren’t actually in love.” The thing about writing a good story is that by the end, your characters are your children. And children leave the house and get up to all kinds of mayhem that you, the parent, will never even know about. You, the writer, must let you child live the rest of their lives without being a helicopter parent.
Whatever you do, no matter how hard your fans may beg, no matter how much money you’re promised, if your kids want to leave the house and make their own path without you, you must let them go. And you can take a breath, knowing you did a good job raising them.