Ending books within a series


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Thread: Ending books within a series

  1. #1

    Ending books within a series

    How do you end books within a series?

    The series Im writing now is about the evolution of the human species over several thousand years, each book within the series is a part of that overall story, and is complete within itself (they can stand-alone).

    Other authors write cliff-hangers at the end of each book to drive the customer to buy the next. I ran across this in a book I finished last night: The enemy comes through the compound gates, guns are drawn and ready to kill everyone. THE END. Some authors can get away with this, but this ending pissed me off enough that I wont buy the next book, and may not purchase anything by this author again.

    Id like to start a conversation here about how to end books within a series.

  2. #2
    I can see both ways being acceptable, though maybe the ending you describe is taking it too far. There are a number of 'series' with consistent features, such as a central character who is a detective, like 'Poirot, in which each book is a separate story. Finishing them off in the same way as any other book seems logical. On the other hand there are books where the story is continuous over more than one book, such as Lord of the rings, or children's books about progressing through a boarding school, some hint of what is to come seems reasonable in them, but I don't see that there are any rules saying it must go one way or the other. In the 'Cormoran Strike' series, for example, each is a separate story, but there is also a continuous narrative concerning his life and relationships which tends to dominate the ending.

    BTW "The series I’m writing now is about the evolution of the human species over several thousand years". The evolution of a species takes a lot longer than that, do you mean man's social evolution?
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  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    [...]
    BTW "The series I’m writing now is about the evolution of the human species over several thousand years". The evolution of a species takes a lot longer than that, do you mean man's social evolution?
    I realize that. But tipping points are often reached in evolution where change quickens. I was thinking of Clarke's Childhood's End when I created the plot. There are other drivers to the story - such as environmental catastrophe and an advanced interstellar entity that has taken notice of us.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by indianroads View Post
    I realize that. But tipping points are often reached in evolution where change quickens. I was thinking of Clarke's Childhood's End when I created the plot. There are other drivers to the story - such as environmental catastrophe and an advanced interstellar entity that has taken notice of us.
    Honestly I have several different races that evolve and take shape over the course of 8 centuries in my own series and I plan on doing a spin off set even further in the future so I say as long as you can justify it within the story and keep it consistent then go for it.
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  5. #5
    As a new author, you may reconsider using a cliff hanger on the first book.
    Sure, you want to write a series...but what happens if the first book flops like a fish?
    Sequels are something that is done as a response to good sales.
    Why write a sequel if no one read the first book?

    I'd suggest making this book stand on its own.
    If it is successful then do a sequel.
    But keep in mind that sequels suffer from half-life.
    Only half the people who read the first book will read the second, and only half of those will read the third book...
    So do the math; did enough people read the first book to make it worthwhile to write 3 more?

  6. #6
    I think the kind of cliffhanger you described is cheap, and unimaginative. Over my life, when I've run into that I've dumped the author.

    I prefer to have two goals the heroes work on: an overarching goal for the series, and a 'local' goal for the current book. That way the local goal can be achieved to provide satisfaction with the ending, while there is still work to do on the overarching goal, providing a hook for the next book.

    Another idea is for the heroes to achieve their goal in the current book, but as they do so discover another intriguing goal to consider for the next book. And you can do both at the same time.

    But leaving the reader in the middle of a deadly crisis? No. What if the author fails to even publish the next book? That's happened many times.

  7. #7
    I don't mind a cliffhanger if the majority of the main story is completed in the book. I like books where there is a planned journey or undertaking. This and other similar formats establish the concept of a continuous story in the background. At the same time it allows a specific plot to be told completely within the book.
    The other way I enjoy a sequel is when the only connection is the character(s) in the book. Other than that it's a completely separate story. Lee Child uses this method for his Jack Reacher novels. Because of this you can read most of the novels in any order. It all depends of whether you want to have an overall plot objective between books be a focus or have all the attention be on the characters.
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  8. #8
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    I think by definition a book series must have some sort of ongoing situation. While a series does not have to have the same characters throughout, I think most readers would have difficulty accepting a series that has different characters in each book. But, what else makes a series? If you write about a detective solving a crime, is it enough to have similar crimes with a different person acting as the detective in each book? I suppose another way to write a series is to look at the same situation from different points of view. Or, as you are doing, create an ongoing history of something. All of that is more complicated and I don't think would necessarily entice a reader to pick up the next book in the series. I am working on the fifth book of my own series. Each book has the same major characters and each contains a similar plot. That being said, the two main characters have a relationship that develops over the series. Obviously they meet in the first book and by the forth they are happily married. I think a reader will take comfort in reading about the same people in each book and, hopefully, will pick up the next book not only to see how they solve the next situation they face but also learn more about the relationship. The idea of ending with a clif hanger is more appropriate for a TV series.

  9. #9
    I have not written a series but I have written a book which I am intending to become a series. My opinion is that cliffhangers aren't the way. A better route is to simply leave certain items not completely addressed, primarily through plotlines besides the main arc.

    The end of each book in a series should feel like a satisfactory end, not least because series are seldom released at the same time by publishers. A book within the series should end in a manner that is an ending but hints at unfinished business for at least one of its characters and the world as a whole. Harry Potter does this well. So do the Chronicles of Narnia books. So did The Hobbit.

    In my example, the novel concerns time travel and the first book in the series concerns the traveler going back in time and, to simplify massively, resolving his main conflict, including overcoming the primary antagonist. To that extent, it's a standalone and could easily be read as that.

    What makes it a 'series' is the fact that he is still trapped in the past at the end of the book. He is still in the world, and while his personal conflict is resolved the way it is left does not address the fact he has not yet come home and that the past is all manner of fucked up.

    So, there's a kind of symbiotic relationship between the 'small plot' of the main character dealing with his personal challenge and the 'big plot' of the 'big plot' of the past and its lack of repair.

    There is no cliff-hanger at the end. Essentially, he kills the antagonist and narrowly escapes. His situation at the end offers both lack of resolution (he is adrift in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean) and absolute resolution (he has killed his tormentor and won his freedom). This may go back to a 'depends how you write it' thing. While the apparent hopelessness of the cliffhanger is obvious, because it is the end of the book I deliberately focused on what was there as far as a resolution.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    The end of each book in a series should feel like a satisfactory end, not least because series are seldom released at the same time by publishers. A book within the series should end in a manner that is an ending but hints at unfinished business for at least one of its characters and the world as a whole. Harry Potter does this well. So do the Chronicles of Narnia books. So did The Hobbit.
    I think Harry Potter is a great example. Each book has a resolution and is satisfying but the mystery of Voldemort and his defeat are still unresolved.

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