Today’s great tips and guest post were provided by popular Australian author, Ian Irvine. Ian is visiting on a blog tour to celebrate the release of The Calamitous Queen, the last book in his Grim & Grimmer series.
HOW TO FINISH A SERIES
By Ian Irvine
1. Tying up all the loose ends
There’s nothing more annoying than getting to the end of a series and discovering that half your questions remain unanswered, either because the author forget that he’d raised them in earlier books, or didn’t know how to answer them and hoped no one would notice.
One way to keep track of all the plot threads is to simply read the book through, note down all the questions raised and tick them off as they’re answered. A more visual approach, because you can see how all the threads interact, is to mark them on a huge wall chart. You can also keep them on index cards or in a spreadsheet or database. It doesn’t matter what system you use, as long as you have one.
And this isn’t always easy. My epic fantasy quartet, The Well of Echoes, is 910,000 words, and itself forms the middle section of the 11-book Three Worlds sequence which all up is over 7,000 pages. It would have been impossible to keep track of all the questions raised and loose ends without a good system. More about these books, and the first chapters, here: http://www.ian-irvine.com/threeworlds.html.
When you’re writing a series, remember that you have both story questions and series questions to answer. The story questions must be answered at the end of each book, but the series questions can’t be fully answered until the climax of the final book. The series questions (e.g., will Harry Potter finally defeat Voldemort, and can Harry survive it?) create the suspense that keeps your readers reading to the end.
In Grim and Grimmer, the key story question in Book 1, The Headless Highwayman, is: can Useless Ike overcome his name and nature and make up for accidentally betraying Princess Aurora by rescuing her, or will the Fey Queen kill the princess first? This question is answered at the end of the book (though not to Ike’s entire satisfaction. In the great storytelling tradition, this victory actually makes things worse).
There are three series questions: Can Ike free the Collected Children from the wicked Fey Queen? Can he clear his parents’ names? And can he discover the secret of the Gate Guardians in time to free Grimmery? Despite striving with all his might, Ike makes little progress on any of these goals until well into the final book, The Calamitous Queen. He can’t make better progress, because if he did it would destroy the suspense and readers would feel so let down they might not bother to read on. Covers, blurbs, reviews and first chapters can be found here: http://www.ian-irvine.com/grimgrimmer.html.
2. Deciding when and how to end a series
I normally know how each book and the series is going to end before I begin writing, though I rarely know how I’m going to get to the ending. I do a lot of planning for the first book in a series, but when I start writing I have little idea what will happen in the remaining books. This is deliberate. Planning a book can be a dry and largely analytical process, and for me the story never seems real at this stage. It only becomes real once I’ve written the first draft. In writing it I often have much better ideas than I could have in the planning stage, and I create new characters whose individual choices take the story to places I could not have imagined in advance.
This is an important point to bear in mind – different characters must, necessarily, make different choices in difficult situations, thus taking the story in different directions. Therefore, for me, detailed planning of later books at the beginning is a wasted effort. I only plan each book as I’m about to write it.
But a series isn’t always under the author’s control. I originally planned Grim and Grimmer as a 6-book series, but when I sent my proposal in, in the middle of the GFC, the publisher was concerned about the economic situation and reluctant to commit to more than four books. If I’d planned the series in detail I would have had a lot of cutting to do. Also, it’s not common, if a series is not selling well, for a publisher to suggest that it be cut short. Sometimes the author feels burnt out and can’t bear to write any more in the series, and pulls the plug.
On more felicitous occasions, if a series is doing brilliantly, readers and the publisher will be clamouring for more. For all the above reasons, it pays to not close off the story options too finally, as Conan Doyle did. He killed off Sherlock Holmes when he couldn’t bear to write about him any more, then, after being deafened by the clamour for more Holmes stories, had to find a plausible way to bring the great detective back to life.
3. Deciding outcomes for your characters
Though they’re relatively short books, the Grim and Grimmers have a considerable cast of wild and zany and outright mad characters, and because these were humorous books I wanted to bring all the key characters back at the end (at least, all those who have survived) so I could devise suitably humorous farewells or ironic fates for them.
In The Calamitous Queen there’s a gigantic feast and honours night at the end, after Grimmery has been saved (and most of the story questions resolved), and everyone is there. Not just Ike’s allies, but also his enemies Emajicka the Fey Queen, Grogire the firewyrm, the vicious little imp, Nuckl, plus a host of demons and other villains. This gave me the opportunity to show what happens to each character – such as the fateful romance between the disgustingly unwashed hermit, Gorm, and the violent but fussy old granny, Fluffia Tralalee, each manipulating the other to try and get what they want, and each doomed to failure.
And I wanted to send Ike off with full, humorous honours. He does achieve all his goals in the end. Then, in what is supposed to be Ike’s proudest moment, he’s about to come down the stairs from the upper stage, to be honoured by a grateful princess, when he’s waylaid by our old friend Creepy Cripts the hunchbacked troll. Creepy Cripts demands that Ike fix the troll-bum door he created at the end of The Headless Highwayman. And the only way it can be fixed is from the inside, in front of the assembled nobility and Ike’s gleeful enemies.
4. What happens to the author once the series is finished
I’ve been known to finish a big fantasy series in the morning and start another one that afternoon, though that was a while back and I dare say I’m not so obsessive these days. I know writers who immediately go down with the flu (or total immune system collapse) and can’t get up for days. Others spend a week grieving for the world and the characters they’ve spent years and thousands of hours immersed in. Or run amok. Or get drunk.
I can’t say I’ve ever felt the need for any of the above, but it is important to both celebrate the ending of the series, and punctuate your writing career. Celebrate the ending with a night out or a trip overseas, a massage or a special little reward for all your hard work. And punctuate your career by having a total break from writing for a day, a week, a month or whatever is needed.
Finally, don’t forget to look after the friends and family who have been neglected in your single-minded drive for the perfect ending. They deserve some thought as well.
Then, while you’re waiting for the final book to appear, start work on the next series. And if you have some free time, do pop by to my Facebook author site, where I’m giving away 10 of my books a week all year, plus there’s plenty of other fun things going on: http://www.facebook.com/ianirvine.author.
BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE
Here are the other great blogs Ian is visiting or has visited already on his tour.