AUTHORS: 3 Signals It Might Be Time To End Your Series

1327661_the_end_4Lately as an author I have been thinking a lot about the right moment to end a series: how do you know it’s come? Sure, we all know what happens when you extend a series past its expiration date. But how can you avoid reaching that point?

MAYBE YOU CAN’T…. OR AT LEAST, YOU DON’T HAVE TO AVOID IT. WRITE PAST THE PROPER END IF YOU HAVE TO….YOU JUST DON’T HAVE TO PUBLISH!

That’s the personal reflection I’ve been contemplating, based on my experience with my Herezoth trilogy.

I tried to extend it to a fourth book, and wrote that draft in NaNoWriMo for 2012. I felt, reading it through, that some things were just OFF. And I spent more than a year trying to make the draft cohesive. To make myself feel like it had some amount of potential. I’ve finally thrown in the towel, and I feel great about it!

That fourth novel has really put me in position to write a new novel about Herezoth. Rather than extending my series, I’m going back to my favorite aspect of its roots: the coup of sorcerer-nobleman Zalski Forzythe, which sets up the action of “The Crimson League.” I am recycling characters and settings. I have all kinds of ideas that I’m stealing from my unpublished work to enrich this new companion story.

I’ve learned a lot from working with this “failed” draft: specifically, about when it’s time to end a series. Here are some things to look out for. You know, signs I might have heeded at the beginning.

Make sure your premise is fluid and adaptable enough to keep going.

I  write my Herezoth novels about powerful, misguided people with magic, usually sorcerers, and the people who stand up to them: a sector of the nobility, the royal family, common people who have magical talents. This premise was great to start, and it worked well through three books, in which the crisis of the previous novel set up what would happen next.

I realize now my premise is not adaptable for much beyond those three stories: I mean, if I say magic is rare, there are only so many sorcerers I can have running around trying to take over or otherwise alter the structure of the kingdom. At some point, my basic story structure crosses from “believable in context” to “this is a stretch.”

Ask yourself: at this point, can I maintain the spirit of my series–the things I and other people enjoy most about it–while still writing something new and exciting?

Every series comes to a point where things kind of break down: you either have to turn repetitive, really exaggerate or push things, or you have to stop. I realized my use of magic was turning repetitive, and not in an artsy, creative way. It was getting really tough to expand magic’s use, and keep it exciting, while sticking to my self-imposed and already established rules about how magic works in my fictional world.

To be honest, I think I got creative about that problem. And I loved the solutions I came up. But there were aspects that were stretching suspension of disbelief.

(I don’t really care what grand scheme an evil sorceress might have. If she’s supporting another kingdom in war against Herezoth, and she’s infiltrated the king’s palace, she’s not going to be careless or play games in her attempts to kill the suspicion-less royal family. She’s going to succeed in that in a pretty direct, matter-of-fact way. It’s ridiculous to think she wouldn’t.)

Ask yourself: Have I basically reached a point where I have wrapped things up? Tied up loose ends all nice and pretty?

I had done that. And I would have done better to let that be. I thought it could be fun to start a new series that could stand alone, with different problems for the children of my original set of characters. But I found myself falling into old patterns, and it just didn’t work as I figured it would.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m really glad I made the attempt. Now I won’t ever wonder if I should have, or could have, written about Princess Melinda :-) And I feel I’ve learned tons emotionally just from the emotional journey my characters took in that unpublished novel.

But I think, in terms of writing something I hope to publish, this new companion piece will work much better.

  • I can still write about Herezoth while avoiding the “too many, varied, and unbelievable villains” problem. That’s because I can go back to my favorite of all the villains I’ve ever written about. The most complex.  One, if my reviews are any indication at all, that readers genuinely responded to in a way that is positive.
  • I can return to an era where magic is more hidden in Herezoth. This makes it far easier to handle writing about magic in a realistic way, at least for me.
  • I have always kind of wanted to write a story where the bad guys “win,” kind of like “The Empire Strikes Back.” And this companion piece, telling the start of the story and the given of Zalski’s success in his coup, gives me that opportunity if I want to take it/ can find a way to make that work. It’s as much about tone as it is plot, portraying failure.

But anyway, I guess the point of this rambling post is: maybe it’s possible to recognize ahead of time when it’s time to end a series. But if you go ahead and write too much, that experience is far from wasted!

RELATED POSTS

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

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24 responses to “AUTHORS: 3 Signals It Might Be Time To End Your Series

  1. It’s always tough when it’s time to end something in your writing. I often ask myself, do I have another part of this left in me? Most times the answer is yes but you can get tired of your characters, or at least that’s me sometimes. I started your book and these writing tips are really good. Question: Do you have guest blogging on your page? If so I’m interested. Maybe I can share my views on the writing world.

  2. Very nice. You raise important issues. It could be easy for a writer to cling to a series and just keep on going.

    Mine started off as one book, then expanded, but the ending I had planned for that one became the ending of the series. Since then, and while still writing the series, I realize another book is needed to tidy up various loose ends from the new stories and characters who have and will come along.

    Beyond that point, however, I do plan an extension, although not with those characters. I’m thinking of doing so, not to keep the series going but because by that point I will have so many worlds to choose from (I write science fiction) with Imperial and Galactic structure in place, it would be silly not to play and write there.

    There is also a good chance that a fair few readers would like that too.

    First of all, my aim is to complete the series I’m working on and see it to a complete and fitting ending, then it will be one book at a time, unless a new run (a new series) suggests itself.

    Repetitiveness can be a real killer and I’m very much on the alert for that. So far, so good. I believe I have diversity enough to keep every book and story (and act) fresh, but that might have been more luck and development than initial planning.

    • You are SO right…. repetitiveness is the killer. And with a whole universe to explore it seems to me you should be able to find ways to avoid that! :-P How fun!!!! I write fantasy but I have always enjoyed science fiction too!

      • I think it happened by accident. I started off with an alien world and ordinary people doing an ordinary job, made interesting because it was on an alien world. :D Then, when I brought in the Empires, suddenly the gate was open and I realized I could go anywhere.

        I have always enjoyed fantasy, too, for that same reason – freedom to move – although I don’t write it. That said, however, I have been “accused” of writing fantasy because I have an acceptance of psychic skills and other dimensional beings.

        I guess this is why, for many, science fiction and fantasy are entwined.

        • They really do tend to get lumped together even though in some ways they can be quite distinct. Thematically, though, they can have lots in common: either technology or magic granting people special abilities we don’t actually have, the capacity to travel that you mention…. Alternate or non-existing universes….

        • Even magic has a place down through history, and seers exist in every culture. Hard to say what’s not real. I write from fact and research (even science accepts other dimensions), but, of course, I can’t expect my readers to have the same level of understanding. So, to some, I write fantasy and I have to shrug that off.

          Funnily enough, the things that are accepted in sci-fi are more strongly fantasy – such as teleport. You also got Mr Spock with his mind-meld and Star Wars using “the Force” – yet they’re counted as science fiction, perhaps because no one used the word “psychic” or maybe because a human wasn’t doing it.

          I guess in this area – fantasy and sci-fi – we, as writers, push against people’s perceptions and acceptances more so than with any other genre. We’ll always be borderline when it comes to belief.

          Ah well. So long as we enjoy ourselves. :D

        • that is the key thing!!!

  3. This is why I get nervous having a 15 book series. So far, the stories have been fresh because the characters still having growing to do and secrets to reveal. Yet, I keep worrying that they’ll fully mature long before the final book, which means a limp along at some point. I think I’m learning that doing a series of this length is something that shouldn’t be repeated. Though I have a few 8 & 9 book series on the backburner too.

    • I am always so blown away by how many ideas you have, and how fully developed you have them before you write! I just don’t work that way and I sometimes wish I could!

      • Nearly 15 years of getting bored in class, slow periods at retail jobs, and working in a cubicle really made my mind wander. A lot of it is simply following the threads that pop up instead of ignoring them.

        • That makes sense! I HEAR you about class and retail jobs! I had two retail jobs and spent 6 years in grad school. Now I’m working with animals/for animals and I love it!

        • I went for the writing degree, so retail and office were where I ended up going. Honestly, I liked the retail jobs a little more because I met more interesting people. Felt like being in that environment was more creatively stimulating than being in a cube. Very cool that you work with/for animals. Though, I’m not 100% you’re talking about real animals or coworkers. ;)

        • hahaha! Real animals. Cats and dogs :-)

        • I have a friend who works for the ASPCA in NYC and he tends to mean both. :)

  4. With the series I’m writing now, I already know how it will end, and I doubt I’d want to go on after that. However, I guess we’ll see what happens when I get there.

  5. I occasionally see an author who has only published one or two books of a series publicize that there will be X volumes in the series, where sometimes X is a pretty big number (so, not close to being a little ol’ trilogy). I think, wow, that’s a big commitment and a lot of confidence (plus, until you get to the end, everyone knows the series isn’t complete yet). Sometimes a series isn’t working, so keeping the number of volumes flexible may be a good idea (along with writing volumes where each provides its own sense of closure). Then, the author can simply do the “Grefer-test” to determine when to cut the series off. :-)

    • I love this suggestion! I am so glad that you mentioned each series novel standing alone as its own complete story. I TOTALLY agree with that. Cliff hanger endings are a HUGE pet peeve of mine!

  6. I’m on the second of a planned three series. I hope it can last for three now. The trick is not to get bored or overwhelmed with the vastness of story possibilities, in MHO. :) You raised some great questions for me here. X

    shahwharton.com

    • Glad this had you thinking!!! You are so right…. It is SO easy to get overwhelmed. I feel overwhelmed by my stories quite a bit. It’s funny how I’ve learned to manage it THERE but not so much in other aspects of my life yet. Well, we all start somewhere when it comes to making progress :-)

  7. Knowing when to end a series or a story is also important because you want to end it when your readers or viewers still appreciate your story. Thanks for sharing.

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