We’ve all watched that TV show or read that series that never seems to end. It just metastasizes out of control and usually spirals down, down, down until finally the writer gets the hint or the network decides not to review it for another season.
Some never-ending series can be relatively successful. I’ve never watched Star Trek (among some groups, that’s enough to get me burned at the stake, I know) but it’s gone through a few different incarnations and still has rabid fans. Star Wars was in a similar situation, including tie-in novels. Being taken over by Disney seems to have chased away some of the fans, but not all. NCIS has been on the air for nearly twenty years, and is still one of the most-watched shows on TV. The Marvel Universe has produced almost two dozen movies in eleven years, some of them earning over a billion dollars, with more to come.
But more common is The Slog. That’s when a writer keeps putting out books, or a TV series gets renewed yet again, even though nobody really seems to like it. Most writers are admonished to stay away from Slogs, but sometimes you really don’t want to kill that golden goose.
Eventually the goose gets old. She stops laying golden eggs, and starts to look really bedraggled. Best to put the poor thing out of her misery. Okay, maybe I took that metaphor too far, but it sort of works. We, as writers, need to know when enough is enough.
How? Dunno; what are you looking at me for? I don’t know a thing about writing; I’m just faking it. But I’m also a reader, so I can take a couple of guesses. My advice is to end a series:
- On a high note. Nobody wants to read a book where the heroes are defeated, then never heard from again.
- When the characters reach a major milestone. Maybe your protagonists get married. Someone has a career change or retires from the hero-for-hire business. And so on. You can always pick back up again with the next generation, if readers are clamoring for more.
- When you get tired of writing it. It’s possible to disguise when you’re getting bored with your own series, but it’s not easy and readers tend to pick up on it. Write something else.
- When you run out of tropes. Or start recycling plots. There’s an old adage that only seven unique plots exist in the world. It’s not precisely true, and you can disguise recycled plots, but after a while, the disguise wears thin. Unless of course, the standard save-the-day or rescue-the-damsel-in-distress is part of your hero’s shtick. Bernard Cornwell wrote twenty-one books and two shorts about Richard Sharpe, and though they’re hardly interchangeable, the basic plot doesn’t vary much. (Spoiler alert: Sharpe saves the day, kills the bad guy, and gets the girl.)
- When your readers start throwing roadkill at you every time you put out a new book in the series.
Okay, I confess. As you read this, I’m trying to navigate an airport in Portugal while seriously jet-lagged and really confused because I don’t speak the language. And I just released the third book in the Hartington series (probably the last one unless I get a wild hair and decide to write about the next generation). So this is a thinly disguised promo post, and one of my usual talk-among-yourselves posts, all at once. Aren’t you lucky?
Inquiring minds want to know: Have you ever written a series that went on too long? Not long enough? Which beloved series ended before their time was up? Which ones have gone on way too long?
And of course, a fun space opera (complete with murder mystery!) for your reading pleasure:
Facing poverty after a childhood among the wealthy and powerful, Lyddie Hartington decamps to Ceres, a newly colonized planet on the edges of the galaxy. Armed only with a change of clothes, a letter of introduction to the directors of the Andromeda Company, and a blaster, she is determined to make her fortune.
But Ceres is nothing like Orion-14, and before she knows it, Lyddie is witness to a murder- a murder that goes to the heart of the Andromeda Company and puts her life in danger. With the help of her new friend, an entirely too handsome captain of the Galaxy Watch, she must discover the murderer and solve the mystery of her family’s downfall.
If she can survive long enough to do it.
Cover art by our very own Sarah A. Hoyt