How to End a Series with a Bang
By Brendan Reichs
In my opinion, ending a series is much, much more difficult than starting one. I’ve found that executing the initial inspiration that made you want to write a story in the first place is easier than navigating the hundreds of little details that must be dealt with before a story is truly complete. My experience with Project Nemesis proved this beyond all doubt.
Previously in my career I published the five-volume Virals series, so I was familiar with some of the challenges to concluding a multi-volume story, but that was a mystery/detective series and much of the action and character development was self-contained within each separate book. It wasn’t until the final volume, Terminal, that I recognized all of the pesky differences implicit in crafting a satisfying conclusion. And yet, knowing those lessons didn’t make it any easier with Min, Noah, Tack, and the rest of the gang from Fire Lake.
With Nemesis, I had a startling clear vision of the story from the beginning, and Genesis was an extension and expansion of that vision. Some authors bemoan second books as the most difficult in a trilogy, and often rightly so, but in many ways I knew the story I wanted to tell in Genesis best of all. The Program and its diabolical requirements were the core idea I had prior to writing the first word of the Project Nemesis series, even before Nemesis. It just took me a while to realize that a whole book’s worth of stuff had to happened to get there. But none of that prepared me to create Chrysalis.
Simply put, I didn’t know how to end the story. Not at first, anyway. I knew my characters would end up in a certain place at the end of Genesis, but the “what next?” of it all eluded me beyond several deadlines. Plus, in a concluding volume, an author must also address all of the ideas, themes, and storylines that were seeded in along the way. This includes the resolution to all subplots, the carrying through and final evolution of emotional arcs, and satisfying conclusions to each and every unanswered question throughout the preceding novels. Unlike in, say, a book two, you can’t punt anything you are unsure of to the next book. There isn’t one. Everything has to be resolved, at once, yet it must all fit neatly into a new story capable of engaging longtime readers as much as the previous works. Also, um … THE BIG ANSWERS HAVE TO BE GOOD! You have to deliver on the promise of your prior works. And there is simply no way you’re going to please everyone.
Scary. So my advice is simple, and I tried to follow it in Chrysalis. It’s this: make the best standalone story you possible can in the concluding volume, and then meld in the pieces of the overarching series within that sturdy framework. Do not neglect the current plot for the sake of overplaying previous issues that you might feel weren’t fully developed. I’m not saying to ignore loose ends—each and every one must be tied off!—but I am saying that taking the story forward on its own two feet is far more effective than spending a novel wrapping up what came before. Make sure the new adventure or conflict is as engaging as the ones that came before it. Make the final book sing in its own right.
In Chrysalis, I had two ideas: one that went in a more linear direction and would represent a stylist break from the storylines before it, and a second that was simply insane, and followed the twisty, mind-bending formula of Nemesis and Genesis. I took the path that was weirder, and I think it’s made all the difference. If I’m going down, I’m going down swinging, with purpose, in a bizarre world every bit as unique as those in Nemesis and Genesis. We’re going deep down the rabbit hole to close out Project Nemesis in the way I think it most deserves. I ended up loving writing this book. I’m excited for my readers to finally see it!