It’s not surprising that many writers want to create a book series. A series will often sell more books, and they can be faster and easier to write. Writing a series is such a big deal it’s not uncommon to hear aspiring novelists, many of them still working on the first draft of their first book, already talking about books two, three and beyond. There are many resources for plotting a series, but few on how to transition between series books smoothly.
Here are six ways to end a book in a series.
- Make it a forgone conclusion:
Weave clues about the follow-up books from the opening chapters of the first book and never stop. Even if a reader had no background knowledge of the Harry Potter universe, they would still realize there are more books to come. One clue the books end at the natural transition point of summer vacation, and all the characters mention returning for the next term. Although we don’t know what adventures Harry will face in the next book, we know he has many years of schooling to have these adventures in.
- Leave the boss villain in play:
This is something else the Harry Potter books use as a clue. Voldemort and his minions are still alive. When Sherlock Holmes defeats a plan of Moriarty’s, or James Bond defeats one of Specter’s agents, the source of the conflict, the evil mastermind, or the agency that controls the criminal element, often remains alive. The hero has won the battle, but not the war. It’s only a matter of time before these forces are ready to launch a fresh attack.
- Cliffhanger it:
I love a good chapter cliffhanger, but in series books, not as much of a fan. However, the cliffhanger ending is super popular. There are two prevailing methods of doing a series cliffhanger. The first is to maintain a single story arc that bridges over many volumes. Lord of the Rings is a perfect example. For this method the author will try to select an exciting part of the story and stop. The second way is to resolve the main plot of the book, but throw in a last-minute ending twist. This critical new plot development leaves the characters in fresh conflict and often still in peril. Catching Fire has a fantastic cliffhanger, and it creates the perfect transition into the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy.
- Shut the door, but open a window:
This method gives the reader a full experience: there is a completed story arc, and it includes a satisfying conclusion. However, there is also a lurking loose end, something that doesn’t promise of another book, but leaves a lingering possibility of one. My favorite example of this is The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Although the Professor seems sure no one can return to Narnia by way of the wardrobe, he seems equally sure (with good reason) that there are other methods still available. After all, once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen of Narnia.
- Include the first chapter of the next book:
This works great when book one is fully resolved, but there will be a subplot or secondary character from book one that will spark the action of book two. It’s an increasingly common method, and can be highly effective, especially if the next book has a strong hook in the opening pages. To use this method, the author sometimes conceals the first chapter of the next book as the last chapter or as the epilogue in the current book. Other times the chapter is clearly marked with the name and future release date of the next book. Both methods work, but using the first chapter of the next book method means the next book needs to be completely done. If not, there is a risk the first chapter will need changes.
- Don’t transition, create a standalone with close ties:
This method is popular with mystery writers. Agatha Christie favored it and created several highly popular series by making sure readers could jump around within each series and not feel confused. It’s also very popular with Sci-fi writers who build huge universes. This method works best for stories that feature strong external plotlines.
Many of the most popular authors, both traditional and indie, founded their success on the strength of a series. A successful series takes on a life of its own, and often spawns its own fan community. The stakes are high, so finding the right method for closing each of your series books might take some extra effort, but it’s well worth it.
I think everyone has read a series book with an unforgettable ending. Please share your favorites in the comments below.
16 thoughts on “6 Ways to End a Book in a Series”
A great ending of a story is one of the bases of a memorable book. Once readers open a book, they tend to anticipate what the ending will be. Thank you so much for sharing this perfect steps on how to end book endings <3. This is a great help.
When I saw forgone conclusion, bells went off but I wasn’t sure. I googled it, and it’s foregone, not forgone? All grammar geeks aside, I wanted to thank you for your article. I wrote the entire thing in a period of months (historical romance in 1897 England) and realized that it was nearly a 300,000 word count that nobody (in their right mind or otherwise) would ever publish. I split it into a trilogy but I had and have so much happening, Book One is at 105,000 and I lack the space to finish it and still have it at a readable level, but it’s been critiqued, tweaked, edited, and cut to the marrow. The ending is HFN (happy for now) but with an as yet unsolved mystery. Could I be forgiven if I offered both books at the same time, or a glance at Book Two’s first chapter and a definite pub date in say three months – in the back of Book One? HELP.
Caden St. Claire
One of the many joys of blogging, the odd typo is always cropping up. While I don’t think 100,000 is too long for a historical novel (readers expect them to be longer) I would still say keep book two as a separate unit and release it about six weeks later. Absolutely add a chapter (or two) from book two at the back of book one. It’s such a common feature and it’s one I totally enjoy. I’m sure other readers feel the same way. Good luck with the book launch.
I seeded my WIP with a tragedy in the live of the MC, to be explained in a prequel.
Great, concise ways to end a series. I’m researching endings for a class I’m teaching, and your breakdown is definitely something I’ll point my students towards.
I’ve laways wanted to write a series, and in fact it’s what I’m attempting to do with my next project. My problem is that I hate series that meander around, with ever new elements, becuse they always give me the feeling they are not telling a story, but they are just gambling along. There won’t be definite characters’ arc and there won’t be any kind of definite conclusion.
It’s a bit like cheating, in my opinion.
I like stories that are complete. They may take a long time ot complete, but they finally come to that point. Stories are not real life. They don’t (or they shouldn’t go) on randomly. They must have a point, and that point only exists if the story has been planned from the beginning.
Anyways… I’m going off track 😉
I like your breakdown of the possible methodes of ending a novel in a series. I prefers stories that end with soem kind of resolution, or I feel cheated (that’s why I don’t particulalry like cliffhangers either and they actually tend to turn me off). I’d say my favourite – both as writer and reader – is the ‘make it a foregone conclusion’. It’s the more organic way, in my opinion 🙂
This is such a hard thing for writers to do, yet it is so important. I’ve read series books where too much is left unresolved, to where it feels like “why did we even read book one, when clearly all the action that leads to a resolution is going to happen later?” They are so focused on pacing a book out as a series that they don’t pace the book as a single book, which can be very frustrating, especially when the next book isn’t out yet.
Thanks for gathering all these options in a single post! Very convenient. 🙂
I think you’re right about that. I hate it when authors try to stretch out a story to fill a series and the plot can’t sustain it. They need to be fair to the reader. If they can’t give the reader a good story in every book, they’re doing something wrong.
And I wonder sometimes if they just aren’t starting in the right place, if they’re giving us a prequel, that sets up the main action and fills in how the characters got there, instead of giving us the main story in the first place. I think there is a place for prequels, to give us backstory and let fans of the main story see what came before, but I don’t think a series should start with that part of the narrative.
Avoid the Cliffhanger like the plague! THis only really works where the next book in the series is already slated for publishing. Now Tolkien’s method works because LOTR was written as a single book, not three, it was more by the request of his editors and publisher that forced him to ivide the story into three books. THis is actually true for a great many successful fantasy and sci-fi series. The other parts were already written.
THe Twist ending however can be considered a crime against your reader and while it can pique interest in the next book it creats an odd problem in that the book they’ve just read, cannot stand on its own and worse…it creates growing annoyance when the next book is delayed or worse never comes. In such scenarios the ending becomes a promise and betrayal rolled into one and your readers will resent you for it, it will make your name a black mark on any book you publish. Not to mention it will retroactively hurt and keep new readers from getting into the series at all if they know it ends on a cliff hanger that will never be resolved.
So the best way. Either conceive your books as individual stories that share the same background, characters and places, or conceive and write your series as one novel that you then cut to multiple parts.
I don’t think there is “best” way, it all depends on the story. You can find good and bad examples for each of these methods. Thanks for dropping by.
I love the endings of each of the books in Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ series – he ties some things up but still leaves you dying to know what happens next!
Hi Susie, I happen to agree with you, Pullman is very good at binding his books together.
This is a terrific article, Robin. Making sure any book has a great ending is important, but for a book that’s part of a series, it’s essential.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the series I remember best. The plot of each story was complex because so many people were involved, but not every character cared about the problems of other characters. Larsson managed to carry the issues from book to book by solving parts but leaving the overarching problems intact with the MCs still in pursuit of solutions. Each book had me on the edge of my seat throughout and looking forward to the next in the series.
Thanks, Sharon. I think that is a perfect suggestion. That book was on my series book list, but I just forgot about it as I was writing this. Thanks for reminding me.
Thank you for an informative post. I am on the third historic novel in a series on a late 1800’s family. I have researched them for 12 years and was told by descendants I would never find enough to write a story, let alone a novel. In saying that, I did not start out to write a series but found so much on an amazing life that was tied to many notorious and famous people that it has turned into a four-part series. The woman’s life was full of courage and tragedy and the natural breaking point at around 150000 words was always at a cliff hanger. I have gone with that out of somewhat of a necessity to stay true to her story. But I always question leaving my readers hanging. In researching and writing, I have found that there are many ways to make a story work well and when I fill my head with worry over doing it right, my writing suffers. I like that you give several ways for endings to go and tie to the next book. As authors we must often follow our gut and follow our characters lead. Thank you