Often novels come as part of a series. Typically, this is good for everyone: writers can delve deeper since a back-story has been established, readers know what they’re getting into in later books and publishers have some predictability in a capricious industry. Lovely. It has, however, led to the pernicious habit of not fully completing a book, by which I mean no major issue raised in the book is brought to resolution. The book cannot stand on its own outside of the series.
Was it the evil influence of the otherwise benign publishers Allen and Unwin (now part of HarperCollins) who started this evil trend by deciding to break up Lord of the Rings into three books? Maybe we should lay this trend at the feet of Charles Dickens and his serial publishing. Whatever its origins, this is a plea to stop (not series, but incomplete books in a series). Even Fellowship of the Ring has some resolution despite its origins as part of a single book. There are authors whom I respect and whose work I love that have the “just stop, don’t end” disease. Two recent examples that come to mind are Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles, Cassandra Rose Clarke’s Assassin’s Curse-related series. Delightful books except they have no end.
They lead us on the these incredibly great journeys overlooking beautiful worlds and leave us hanging. Now, this is not a request for no cliff-hangers or to avoid foreshadowing the future. I’m fine with pointing to more on future literary horizons, whetting our appetite with hints of further vistas in the next book and for the journey to be a partial one. I’m actually OK with leaving some ends untied even at the completion of a series. This is a plea to have some resolution in each book. We should move on to the next book because we love it, not simply to answer unresolved questions. There may be some thought that this is a good way to capture readers. First, we’ll only do it so long and second, we won’t fall into this trap again. That is, we’ll avoid future work in any new books, especially any new series, by authors who refuse to complete each book. Adopt the golden rule on this, my dear author friends. Would you like to listen to a symphony with unresolved themes or books with utterly unresolved plot components? Remember, it’s likely to be a year or two down the line until we’ll have access to that resolution. It is possible to wrap-up while leaving the next part of the story to be told. Hugh Howey’s Wool is a great example. It was essentially written as a series of novellas that became available in the Omnibus (single book) edition. Even with such relatively short pieces, Mr. Howey wrapped-up the sub-plot in each novella even while leaving room for the next part of the story. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone was complete even with six more books to come. Yes, we want to hear about Hogwarts for next year, but year one is complete. Shoot, I would love to find out what’s going on with Harry and Ginny and their children, but all good tales must come to an end.
Emma Newman handles this nicely in her Split Worlds series, building a bridge between each work. Each book in the trilogy is completed even whilst we look forward to the next one. One of the things she conveys is a recognition that a story is a point-in-time picture. She builds her world so that it’s quite clear that it was vibrant before the events in her books and it will go on long after all of the characters we’ve come to know and love are no longer part of the story. Mr. Tolkien is quite explicit regarding this notion:
And why , sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got – you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why , to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’ ‘No, they never end as tales,’ said Frodo. ‘But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later – or sooner.’
Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-02-15). The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings (p. 363). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
We should have a sense that the tale is told but there’s more to come (if it’s in a series). Too often we come away with the notion that the tale is partially told and we’ll get the full tale later. We are abandoned for the year or two in between.
Please don’t leave us stranded. Bring to conclusion your book so that part of the journey is done. Yet it is part of the never ending story and, nicely enough, you, dear author, are going to give us a glimpse of a part of that story in your next book in the series. Indeed, I would even recommend to all writers that they should do one book that is completely stand alone; not part of a series.
Thank you for your stories, but let the words ring true: “That’s a wrap.”