Monday 16 October 2017
Series & Standalone:When It's Time To End A Series
SERIES & STANDALONE: WHEN IT'S TIME TO END A SERIES
If you're like me then you'll me aware that there are some book series that go on for too long. I won't name and shame, everyone's reading experience is different, but there does come a point where you start to think that maybe the series should've ended before that point. When I started writing the Dying Thoughts series, it was one big thing that stuck in my head and made me more than a little nervous. I didn't want my series to jump the shark, but I also didn't want to end it before the story was done. This is less of a problem for series that have an arc that carries on through the books, such as the Harry Potter series because in those cases, you generally know where the story ends and therefore where the series will finish.
That said, even if you don't know the actual end point of your series before starting, it's generally a good idea to sit down and think about where this story is going and where you want to get to before you finally close the door on those characters and that world. When I started writing Tara's story, initially I was only going to go as far as getting her out of secondary school because I felt that was the natural end of the book. When I reached that point, I realised her tale wasn't done and extended it tentatively to seven books before finally writing the eighth and final book last year. The end of the book was still a similar point, but as the story had grown, Tara as a character had also grown and evolved and she had more to say and more to do before I could happily stop writing.
So how do you know when it's time to end a series? If you do have an end point in mind that's all well and good, but what if that end point is not a solid time and can happen at any point? Unlike with the Harry Potter books, which took you from Harry's first year to his last, where each book was a school year, the Dying Thoughts series didn't have such a timeline. It takes place at different points along the last two years of Tara's secondary school and beyond into college. I was very careful with how many books I did, never over-planning, but still have some semblance of a plan in place, because I didn't want readers to get to the point I've gotten to with other series. Which is where you read it and think: really?? Like seriously? I didn't want to over-extend the belief that Tara could go through these different scenarios and still come out the other side.
I looked for three key things when I realised it was near the end of her story and I made sure that as I plotted out each new book past the original five, that I checked in at several stages to be sure that I wasn't going too far. It's very easy to get attached to characters and their worlds, and it's very easy to be so comfortable writing them that you don't want to stop. By the end of the Dying Thoughts series, it had become almost second nature to be writing one of those books while I also wrote a standalone. It's not surprising considering that was pretty much the case the whole of my writing career. It took me just under fifteen years to finish all eight books, and saying goodbye was hard, but I also knew it was right.
So what did I look for? I basically asked myself the following questions, making sure that I really examined every point in full before I made my final decision and I kept doing that throughout the writing process as well.
#1. IS THIS POSSIBLE?
I had created a world where Tara, at fifteen, has a psychic gift that allows her to see the last moments of someone's life when she touches something that used to belong to them. She, in the first book and into the second, uses this gift sparingly and mostly keeps it to herself, but at the end of First Touch, she's approached by a police officer who knew her mother (from whom Tara inherited the gift) and asked to help consult on cases. In the real world, that would be a difficult feat to pull off for anyone with those powers. So in essence, I'm already stretching the powers of believability to a point. When writing the later books, as Tara grew as a character, I was asking myself whether or not, considering all she had been through, would it be possible for her to get wrapped up in another crime that needed her intervention? If I couldn't present the facts of the case to someone who'd read the books (mostly B or Kim) without having to go into too much detail and background information, then it wasn't going to be a story I could keep telling. I made sure that I was able to justify every book. Although I had always planned to do five, even as early as Third Wish I was asking for help to see if my series had jumped the shark. I used the people I did because they knew me well enough that I trusted their honest opinion on whether or not the story was just too out there to be carried out.
#2. WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE?
At the end of Fifth Secret, when I decided to continue the series, I was pretty sold on where I wanted that epilogue to take place. I wanted to get to that point with as few books as possible. So every book that followed it got broken down into whether or not it furthered the story (something you should do with any series to be honest) and got me to my goal or if it was just a story that I wanted to tell because of other reasons. When writing Sixth Change which will come out in May 2018, I knew where I wanted to start, but I also knew that because of what happened in Fifth Secret, I would have to be careful how far forward in time I jumped. Because of that the seventh book takes place further along than usual. I made sure that I could justify each new story so that I didn't have to worry that it wasn't needed. If the storyline passed the first hurdle, this second one was in place to make sure that I told the right kind of stories.
And finally, #3. IS IT THE END?
If my plotlines got passed the first two questions, I would then sit and seriously consider if this was the story that ended the series. I would weigh up the start points with the projected end point and see whether or not this would be the final book. I finally had the answer to that when I started to plot out the eighth book. The kind of story I wanted to tell called for it to be the end. There was no way I could've continued the series with what happens, and no way I would've wanted to. The eighth book fulfilled all three questions and because of that, it's where I left Tara.
So those are my three questions as to whether it's time to end a series. At the end of the day, it's something on you as an author can decide because you're the one with the story, plot and characters all in your head. But one piece of advice, just because you pause a series if you don't know it's the end, doesn't mean you can't pick it up later, and same as if you reach the end before you think you're ready, it's better to quit before you arrive at the jumping the shark moment. Your mileage may, of course, vary, and that's okay.
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