When does a story end? At what point can you confidentially type the words ‘the end’, and not be forced to use ‘to be continued’?
There is a trend at the moment to push everything through as a series if possible (and, as a writer of two series, I’m as culpable as the next author). This sometimes results in stories that could have easily been condensed into a single volume. The worst culprits for this are graphic novels, in which writers are ambling their way through multiple books to tell their tale.
As a consumer, I find this highly annoying. When I buy a book, I want to be able to enjoy the full story. I’m quite happy to have a few unresolved strands that lead the way to future books, but I do want some form of resolution. I have paid good money to be entertained, not left on tenterhooks for a year before the author publishes the next part.
Harry Potter was an enjoyable read because each book was a self-contained story, with just enough to propel you on to the next book, but not so much to make you feel you had been cheated.
I try to make sure my series have books that are self-contained stories, something you can pick up without the need to read any other book in the series and walk away having read through a complete story. I aim to make the characters evolve enough through the books so the casual reader feels happy, and leave just enough ‘extras’ so that the fan can get even more from the story because of the subtle ways it connects to the other books. When I write graphic novels I refuse to make a series that runs across multiple books. Each one must be a satisfying self-contained story with a solid ending. Otherwise, why buy it in the first place?
Speaking to many budding writers, I often hear the phrase it’s part of a series of X books, with X usually spanning between 3 and 7 for some peculiar reason. I think their reasoning is that it proves their story is worthy and complex, when in actuality they will end up padding the prose out with extraneous details that slow the pace down to a crawl. I have read many series that could have done with a pair of editor’s scissors slicing through the pages. People don’t like to admit their story is only suitable for a single book. For some reason they feel that lessens the quality of their work, when in fact it simply proves that they have no idea when to stop. Many times I have read a book and thought I have reached the end only to flick through the remaining pages and wonder what could possibly happen next. The answer is usually: nothing. Or, worse, some surprise ending that makes no sense at all and would have worked better as a separate story.
One of the hardest things I have been asked to write was a short story. Warrior Number One is aimed at reluctant readers, so brevity was the key. It’s incredibly difficult! Cramming a whole story into 3,000 words is a more difficult task than expanding it into three, 500+ page volumes.
So, when you have completed your story and typed the exciting words ’the end’, go back and read your story with a sense of urgency. Could this have ended several chapters back? Your readers are busy people. They have lives. Maybe they’re reading your book while on vacation so need to finish it before returning home, or they have a stack of other books vying for their attention. Don’t be greedy. Respect your reader’s time. They will thank you for it and come back for more.
Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk
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