Endings are inevitable. Try as you might, nothing continues forever. It sounds trite, but it’s a reality that every author faces sooner or later.
I remember when the TV show Frasier ended. For eleven seasons, viewers had followed the madcap adventures of the titular character and his rich supporting cast. You can still catch reruns, but the show has been off the air now longer than it was on. That world, so carefully created and cultivated, finally came to an end, giving us closure.
Frasier was one of the lucky ones. Far too many shows end with the nail-biter cliffhanger that is never concluded. Our heroes forever live in a state of limbo and uncertainty. Did they escape? Did they die? Were the lovers reunited? No doubt the screen writers wanted to leave the audience begging for more, hoping that another season would be granted. When they didn’t get it, there was no closure and the characters live in world of unresolved question. For those writers, their exit strategy didn’t marry up to that of external forces.
Literary authors face a similar challenge of how to put a story to bed. We spend months and years creating a world, fleshing out characters, and building a plot in the hopes that readers will fall in love with the story as much as we have. But once a series begins, the question becomes when and where to end it. Do you continue writing as long as people are willing to buy your books? Do you close the door when it’s at the peak of readership? Or do you create an arc that begins and ends no matter what happens exterior to your story?
Most times the answer is, "it depends".
Scott Westerfeld’s Succession duology (The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds) is one of the greatest space operas of modern times. Would I love for there to be more than two? Absolutely. But the life of the story only required a pair of books. J.K. Rowling, however, needed seven (possibly more from the rumors). Anyone who has read David Weber’s Honor Harrington series or Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files knows you need to reserve a couple of book shelves for each.
Whether you’re a Westerfeld or a Butcher, at some point you have to call it quits. Pack up the characters and say goodbye. Some creators, however, may be afraid to wrap up their worlds because they fear that they won’t have another one to offer or that their readers won’t follow them to new realms. But that fear could wind up being detrimental. Stay in one place too long and you run the risk of growing stagnant. Characters might lose their shine or plots could become repetitive.
So how do you know when your literary world is complete?
It’s an interesting question, one that was posed to me by my Dragon Brother while I was working on the final book of the Shifter Chronicles. Sure, I could have kept the series going, but to what point in the future? I hadn’t planned an exit strategy when I wrote Undead Chaos many moons ago. Heck, I hadn’t done more than write the opening chapter to a sequel because I never thought it would wind up in print. So when Carina Press offered me the chance to round out the trilogy, I sat down to figure out my exit strategy. How was I going to say goodbye to everyone? How would I complete my literary world?
Ultimately, the question falls to authors themselves. They know their series and their characters better than anyone and hopefully they have a vision for an ending. Maybe it’s one determined by external forces, like books sales or a contract, or maybe it’s something internal. But no matter what, at some point, they have to write “The End” once and for all.
After all, a great work of art can live forever. It just can’t continue forever.
Joshua Roots is a car collector, beekeeper, and storyteller. He enjoys singing with his a cappella chorus, golf, and all facets of Sci-Fi/Fantasy. He's still waiting for his acceptance letter to Hogwarts and Rogue Squadron. He and his wife will talk your ear off about their bees if you let them.
Paranormal Chaos, the final book in the Shifter Chronicles, is available for pre-order wherever digital books are sold.