by Katriena Knights
No matter how much you love a series, sooner or later it has to end. Well, this is true for television—in series fiction, you could probably keep going until you expire in front of your keyboard. However, there are plenty of reasons you might want to wrap up a book series, and when you do, you want to be sure you do it right.
I think the most effective way to wrap up a series is to know where you’re going from the beginning. In the old days, when people rarely went beyond a trilogy, this was easier. Now, when you can go to thirty or more books (see J. D. Robb and Laurel K. Hamilton, who I keep talking about), you might never have to plot out an ending. (See above, expiring on your keyboard. Then your daughter can continue your series like Tony Hillerman’s is doing right now.) However, if you don’t trust your offspring, you might want to be sure your book’s main story is brought to a conclusion before you are.
On television, this kind of planning is fairly rare. Generally, the showrunners find out they need to wrap up a story at the beginning of a season at the earliest, and that’s usually because they’ve made the decision to end the show. When the network makes the decision, often they don’t get to bring things to a satisfactory conclusion at all.
A couple of shows do come to mind, though, where the plan was in place from the beginning or at least from close to the beginning. One of the best examples of this is Babylon 5, where showrunner J. Michael Straczynski had a five-year plan in place from day one. Even this didn’t quite go as planned, since key characters had to be redone on the fly when actors left or didn’t work out, and the network put the kibosh on the last season by cutting it short due to ratings. Still, it remains one of the most fully realized genre plotlines on TV. (There might be other examples, probably from syndicated shows, but they’re probably not things I’ve watched.)
I’m not sure Lost is a great example of anything, although I did enjoy the show, but during the second season into the third, ratings slipped to the point where the network told the showrunners to build a plan to be done after the end of season five. They did, and managed to answer most of the questions that had built up over the course of the five seasons, though whether they were satisfactory answers mostly depends on who you talk to.
In the book world, a few series also come to mind where the author planned the storyline to run to a certain length. Rachel Caine’s Weather Wardens was intended from the beginning to run to twelve books, and the spinoff series was planned at only four. Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series will end when she runs out of alphabet, and based on interviews, she also has a plan for how her adventures with Kinsey Milhone will come to a close.
In addition to having a plan for how you’d ideally like your series to wind up, I think it’s probably a good idea to build your underlying plot in arcs so that it could conceivably end at several different points. Say you write the first three books and end a major story arc there—then if for whatever reason you’re unable to continue the series, you’ve still given your readers a mostly satisfactory conclusion. The showrunners of Supernatural mentioned this strategy at the end of that show’s second season, when they were uncertain of renewal. They answered most of the major questions that had lingered through the first two seasons and set up a new plot arc that would carry the third season if they actually had one. Now in its ninth season, Supernatural now blithely drops massive, life-ruining cliffhangers at the end of each season because they know they’ll have another year to work them out.
In general, it’s important to know what questions you’ve raised throughout your series and have answers to those questions. Your ending should match the tone of the rest of the series—don’t have a massive, apocalyptic siege of destruction at the end of a comedic romance series. Avoid deus ex machina type solutions, and try not to handwave questions that have taken on greater importance in the story than you might have expected at the beginning. If you like the idea, set up story arcs within the longer series so you can end at earlier points if necessary. If you keep these issues in mind, you’ll be likely to construct a series ending that both you and your readers will be happy with.
Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog.