A Definitive vs. Open Ending

Today I finished wrapping up the last book in the Riven trilogy – it’s going through the editing/formatting/cover and whatnot stuff now, but should be making it’s way out soon.

Beyond pesky things like genre and setting, the differences between my first trilogy (Wild Nines) and this one are, namely, that Wild Nines ends with room for the future. The characters still have additional arcs they could pursue, journeys to go on, etc. Spirit’s End, however, doesn’t leave as many paths for its characters to walk once the story concludes.

There’s a trend in writing today, borne out by that unfortunate necessity known as ‘economics’, that genre fiction authors should write in series. Series, in this case, not merely being trilogies but continuing stories that can go for a dozen or more books. Continuing on and on with new adventures for characters that readers love. A successful series is as close to a “sure thing” as authors have. You know, when you put out that next book, that the swarm of readers that read the last one are going to go after it. And that’s awesome. It’s fun to keep reading on and on about the exploits of characters and worlds we’ve fallen in love with.

However, that does present some challenges in how the author can construct a conclusion. Namely, they have to be careful with what happens to characters. To the setting. The writer may want to kill a character off, but if that character is a fan favorite, then they might lose a bunch of readers for the next novel. You might want to drastically alter the setting, or eliminate a major villain, but if you’re expecting the story to continue, there has to be somewhere for it to go. Your book can’t just end. There has to be a next.

If you’re ready for the fat lady to sing, though, a whole bunch of options open up. Now, as George R.R. Martin likes to impress on the people in his works, no one is safe. No place or object is sacred. You can surprise your readers, and a response that might have been negative (killing a favorite character) in an ongoing series might be a positive in the concluding volume. A powerful move that readers don’t see coming. Not that it has to be death either – simply wrapping up with a “Happily Ever After” might be nice after all the torment your cast went through.

As with most things writing, there’s not a certain type of ending that’s better than the other. Doing both is about the only way to find what ones you, as either a writer or a reader, prefer. I think the only thing to watch for is to make sure the ending serves the story – having characters miraculously escape again and again gets dull after a while. Just as having everyone conveniently explode to force a dramatic conclusion isn’t very satisfying either.

But, however you get there, actually typing out “The End” is one of the most satisfying things you’ll ever do as a writer. I never get tired of it.

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