Lately 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 I have all kinds of ideas that I’m stealing from my unpublished work to enrich this new companion story.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!
- Why an author’s discarded material is never wasted
- Five ways to recycle your writing
- Three kinds of series: which do you like to write (or read)?
- The benefits of writing series novels: why authors (and readers) love them
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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