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.