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A Never-Ending Story

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:

  1. On a high note. Nobody wants to read a book where the heroes are defeated, then never heard from again.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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:

 

Lyddie Hartington: Galaxy Sleuth

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

30 Comments
  1. Hmm … I have to say that I began zoning out on Sue Grafton’s alphabet series around the middle of the alphabet. The earlier books in the series were crisply-written, fairly fast-paced, but about the time that the heroine began to rediscover her old family ties, they turned into long, slogging exercises in goat-gagging.
    I’m not tired of writing the Luna City stories, at this point, but I suspect that I had already milked the Texas family saga dry. At least, I ended the last of the books on a high note …

    May 1, 2019
    • Dang it Celia I’m really going to miss that bunch.

      May 2, 2019
      • Sigh. Well, I have the first couple of chapters of the Civil War story written, and a tentative outline for the Revolution story … but at the rate I’m getting them done, it may take me as long as it did to finish the Gold Rush adventure … and that wound up taking three or four years…

        May 3, 2019
    • Carrington Dixon #

      One does suspect that committing to a twenty-six book series at the very outset was a ‘risky’ idea. I ran out of interest in the similarly alphabetized Midnite-Louie series before the author ran out of books. I like all that i read but somehow felt no need to purchase the next.

      May 3, 2019
  2. I spent several months trying to make myself write a fifth book in my series of novels before I faced the fact that there would be no fifth book because the story was over. I’ve had a couple of readers complain and tell me they want another book, but I don’t have anything else to say in that world.

    In my opinion the best ending for a continuing series was the TV show “Life”. It ran two seasons and the second season finale wrapped up everything very neatly, with all of the supporting characters getting endings that were fitting. I strongly recommend checking it out as a exercise in plotting.

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0874936/

    May 1, 2019
  3. 23 skidoo

    May 1, 2019
  4. Robert Jordan’s series outstayed its welcome around volume 5 or 6. By then it had become apparent that he didn’t know where to go with the series. Several of the terrifying bad guys had turned out to be boobs. The women had been turned into clones of one another. Ancient races which had not had contact with anyone else for thousands of years showed up and aside from having an accent were able to speak the same language. I tend to be very dedicated to series once I start them (I read all of the Malazan books), but I just could not stand to read one more of Jordan’s. I’d had my fill of braid tugging and detailed scrutiny of other’s mode of dress.

    May 1, 2019
    • Mary #

      Originally it was planned to be six, I believe.

      May 1, 2019
      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

        I’ve heard that part of Jordan’s problem was he listened too much to suggestions from people in Tor’s “editorial staff” so the books got bigger.

        Later, apparently his wife who worked for Tor started “shouting don’t make any more suggestions”.

        May 1, 2019
  5. Janet Evanovich. I opened book eighteen . . . and couldn’t make myself read it. What would the never-aging heroine get in her hair this time? What amusing way would she find to destroy her car? Which proto-abusive/possessive male would she not marry this time? They were all the same.

    And then there’s what I write . . . I’m about done on the first draft of book 43, and the MC of Book 1 is the Grandfather of the MC of the stories itching to be written right now. My other books sell half what the series sells, so I guess I’ll keep writing as long as _I’m_ having fun.

    May 1, 2019
    • mrsizer #

      You’ve managed to avoid the traps, imho. They’re still fresh and I look forward to them. It helps that you have so many MCs and they show up as cameos when they aren’t the main character.

      May 2, 2019
  6. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    Series sustainment is an interesting problem.

    For a sci fi TV series, aging is going to require changes in casts. But the stable of writers is also important, as are strategic direction of both the writing, and the gimmicks. You want to plan out your fantastical ingredients so that the special effects people can support them. Bunch of complexity, and you don’t know everything that is actually important. My go to is Star Gate, because Trek isn’t my interest, and I quit Wars years ago. Star Gate SG1 worked very well, but the property owners had challenges continuing to produce new series in the property. The third series was not done well, but there is room to debate about the second series, and about late seasons of SG1.

    Beyond that fairly standard boilerplate, today I haven’t the sense to say much on this.

    May 1, 2019
  7. I’ve heard you want to end it when people are saying “Why are you ending it so soon?” And not when they’re saying, “what? Is that still around?”

    May 1, 2019
  8. Zsuzsa #

    The Cat Who… definitely went on too long. The last one that I read in the series couldn’t really be called a mystery. There were more mentions of Yum Yum playing with a thimble than there were of the alleged main plot.

    May 1, 2019
    • “…walked through walls?”

      May 2, 2019
      • Uncle Lar #

        The Cat Who… is a series of twenty-nine mystery novels and three related collections by Lilian Jackson Braun and published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, featuring a reporter named Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cats, Kao K’o-Kung (Koko for short) and Yum Yum. The first was written in 1966, with two more following in 1967 and 1968. The fourth appeared eighteen years later, after which at least one new novel was published every year until 2007. A thirtieth novel, originally announced for 2008, was postponed indefinitely by its publisher and then canceled after the author’s death in 2011. It remains unpublished.

        May 2, 2019
        • Color me enlightened. Thanks, Uncle Lar. The onliest one that previously came to mind was the RAH work.

          May 2, 2019
  9. *cries* I haven’t managed a sequel yet. I don’t know.

    May 1, 2019
    • You have two books in the same universe, so it is a series. A loosely connected one, but a series.

      May 1, 2019
    • Bright side: Then this is a class of problem not of concern to you at the moment.

      May 2, 2019
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      In hindsight, I think that has been bothering you a lot lately.

      You shouldn’t.

      It is a weird mental process that varies a lot from person to person, and has a significant learning component.

      Your process is going to take some learning before you get it feeding you new projects at a rate that you deem sufficient. You are naturally going to be weighting Pete heavily in your guesses of correct or incorrect.

      You wouldn’t expect the same pattern of inventions from every engineer. You also need to remember that you have had other demands on your learning ability. There is whatever continuing education requirement your day job requires, and the learning of your marketing work. Pete has you marketing for him, and you study a lot to keep up with the market, and present to us.

      You are an orange to the apples that are probably shaping your expectations. You write well, have drive, motivation, and should give yourself a little slack.

      May 2, 2019
      • Jane Meyerhofer #

        What he says…

        May 2, 2019
    • Uncle Lar #

      “*cries* I haven’t managed a sequel yet. I don’t know.”
      Slacker. Pound those keys.

      May 2, 2019
      • Mary #

        I’ve pounded a lot of keys without writing any sequels. The muse just doesn’t like them.

        Had a few ideas that might prove to be series, but the first works need to get finished.

        May 2, 2019
  10. *chuckle* I’ll settle for managing consistent output. One day, I’ll get life settled enough that I can. *sigh*

    For now? I have a baby that suddenly decided that during the day, Mummy has to hold her 95% of the time. And the Townsend youtube channel has to run in the background. I think she likes the sound of that guy’s voice; he sounds certainly cheerful.

    As a reader though, I think it wholly depends. My son finished Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera just last weekend, and asked me what the next book was. The absolutely crestfallen jaw drop I got and “Nooo!” when I told him that it was the last book in the series would have been satisfying, perhaps, to Butcher-sensei if he’d been there to see it. “Is he going to write about the kid? And the next war?” was the next sentence out of my son’s mouth. So while I think the series was neatly concluded, with ‘and the story continued on…’ sort of ending let you imagine on the what ifs, he wanted to read MORE.

    If you know a series is going ot be a long-runner, like the Dresden Files, you have different expectations, versus ‘it keeps going on and on…’ I also have different expectations if it’s a light novel series; I rather expect light novels to be multi-volume serials, really; minimum of 8 or 10. (I WANT MORE LOG HORIZON IN ENGLISH RAWR)

    If you want a really never-ending story, a friend of mine introduced me to an ongoing Chinese webnovel that has over 1400 chapters translated into English that is apparently still ongoing. Asian readership, and especially Chinese readership for these things is very different; they’re quick, consumed, gimme more (thus I’m not surprised that there are authors there who are ‘webnovel millionaires.’); and they certainly have the population to sustain such a fandom. It’s a bit like the TV series long-runners, I suppose.

    And no I haven’t started reading it yet. I want to collect the chapters, 100 at a time, into epub or something, for easier reading, versus reading it online.

    It might not be for everyone though, because how the Chinese and Japanese write in text is very different from how things are written in English fiction. Takes a lot of getting used to.

    May 2, 2019
  11. mrsizer #

    One of the best endings ever: Numbers. The plots were ridiculous – although probably not any sillier than magic via topology 😉 – but the characters were great. They wrapped it up with everyone going their separate ways.

    May 2, 2019
    • RCPete #

      CSI: Miami managed the step-on-rake stunt of ending the season on a cliffhanger, only to be cancelled. We’d stopped watching a season or two earlier, but it made the news. Oops.

      May 3, 2019
  12. Mary #

    sits back, pondering philosophically in her study

    The aesthetic problem with the repeating description stems from the way both the series as a whole and the individual books in it can be regarded as complete works of art. The unity and structure of the series and the books are in tension.

    Economics, of course, is wholly on the books’ side.

    May 2, 2019
  13. Aimee Morgan #

    I have a whole list of series that I’ve just written off because they lost what interested me in the first place, or because the characters changed so much that I don’t like them anymore. I’ve also given up on any more of the Harry Potter series because I’m sick and tired of the constant ret-conning from JKR to assure her fans that the world is sufficiently diverse and inclusive.

    May 3, 2019
  14. Carrington Dixon #

    If Edgar Rice Burroughs were still alive today, he would still be turning out a ‘new’ Tarzan book every year. And judging by the flurry of books coming out from ERB Inc, they would still be selling. Your mileage may vary.

    May 3, 2019

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