Advice about writing a series

A big thanks to Craig for hosting a guest post to celebrate the release of the newest volume in the Legends of Windemere saga. The topic he tossed my way is a real head-scratcher too. Being the author of a long series, I have to keep the final book in mind when I write. Everything needs to be tied up and continuity has to be retained for the end to make sense. If you’re ending with a giant battle then you have to at least consider killing characters off. Not only the villains, but the heroes too. In fact this topic stems from J.K. Rowling’s teasing of character deaths and closure before the release of Deathly Hallows. The real trick here is to tackle this topic without revealing a bunch of spoilers. Fingers crossed there.

Going by how popular series have ended, I would say that the first thing to accept is that some people won’t be happy. Yet this is probably a sign that you did a good job. If you wrote every character with depth and relatability then each one will have fans who want them to get a happy ending. There are also those who think certain couples should be created by the end and those who believe some of the survivors should be dead. In other words, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to please everyone or you’ll end up in a padded room eating tapioca pudding without a spoon. Follow where you want the story to go and make sure that the finale makes sense from your perspective. That’s really the only one you can trust without fail.

Now for myself, I have a 15 book series, which means I have to put a lot of ups and downs in there. With an ensemble cast that has a 7 protagonist core and several high profile supporting characters, I can actually do multiple ending types. Some of my heroes will get happy endings while others won’t be walking out of the final battle. There’s more variety than live and die if you think about it. Those are the basic categories, but what condition the character is in determines part of what I do. For example, a hero who survives to find that they have nothing left doesn’t really get happiness. They claimed victory at such a cost that they having become broken and isolated. Will I be doing this? Not sure yet, but it’s a possibility.

One of the ‘complaints’ I get is that my fantasy series lacks a high body count, but I do enjoy battering my characters and having them grow through the hardship. Once they’re dead then that’s the end of their evolution even if they appear as a ghost. Yet I did add a piece into the story that has been gnawing on the heroes and might be a slight spoiler. Destiny and free will get brought up a lot. The champions are chosen to face a great evil, but their actions determine how they get there and in what condition. Also if they win, which is where the little wrinkle came up due to the God of Destiny being a jerk.

Since Legends of Windemere: The Compass Key, my heroes have known that at least one of them will die in the final battle. It could be all of them and the Baron wins or one who simply has terrible luck. They don’t know and the worry comes up from time to time. Some characters are worried that they will die, but they carry on because leaving would mean abandoning their friends. Others are determined to use their free will to prevent this from happening or sacrifice themselves to save the others. The point of this revelation is to show that these heroes all know that they could be walking to their demise. From my own reading experience, most heroes are told they will survive the final battle or never have any doubt that they will. So it’s fun to keep this needle of fear in all of them.

Returning to the original topic, I do think a final battle requires at least one death and for there to be some scars. Especially when you put the world at stake, it’s rather unbelievable for the good guys to win unscathed. It doesn’t even have to be death, but there needs to be a sense that the heroes lost something to make the final hurdle. Just so happens that offing a character in a violent battle is the easiest and most expected path. Even wiping the memory of everyone involved so that they don’t realize they’re the champions wouldn’t sit well with some people because that can be undone. You do need some level of permanency in your finale because that’s what closure is about. Leaving a few openings for future stories or appearances is fine and recommended if you plan on continuing to write in the same world. Yet you need a limit and have to bring home the fact that the heroes’ journey is complete. That’s really the central part of finishing off a long series. Alive, dead, or whatever, you need to make sure the readers know that this is the end. Hopefully I can pull that off when the time comes.

Then again, maybe I’ve already done it for a character or two in the latest volume. Mwahaha!

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24 responses to “Advice about writing a series

  1. Reblogged this on Legends of Windemere and commented:
    Visit my newest guest blog where I ramble about shtuff.

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  2. Fifteen books! That’s a massive undertaking.I can’t imagine how hard it will be for you to leave those characters and their world behind when the series concludes.

    You made a good point about endings. I’m reminded of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and how even those characters who survived were forever changed. I remember reading the books in high school and being upset at the way Frodo’s journey ended,,,,an example of a character who survived but sacrificed much of himself in the process.

    Best wishes with the series, Charles!

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    • I’ve noticed that fantasy has a long history of lengthy series. You have stuff like Shannara, Discworld, and others that go even further than what I’m doing. Though most of my series take place in Windemere, so I’m not going to be leaving the world behind. As for the characters, the survivors might show up in brief cameos from time to time. Only if it makes sense though.

      It’s definitely the sign of a good story when the survivors aren’t the same as when they started. I never got upset about how LOTR or the Hobbit ended. Forget which series taught me that every hero deserves an ending. Though it could have stemmed from reading a lot of comic books where there’s never a finale.

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      • That would be really fun to have cameos in the future. It can also be dangerous in a deus ex machina way.


      • Yes and no. It depends on what I do with them. I’m planning on the champions who survive simply retiring. They won’t be in positions to step into the action without making the situations worse. At least until I write a final book and everyone who is still standing gets drawn into Windemere’s final Destiny War.

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      • Not really. Closer to Return of the King finale. Windemere will remain standing, but it’ll be forever changed. Not sure if I can say more without revealing too much. That and I’m not 100% certain how it will go. Don’t have all of the players yet since it depends on who lives and dies in the other series.

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      • I love that. My outlines kind of work like that too. The situations change the more I write. It’s almost like every chapter builds a fence, and my job is to stay within the fences. Hmm, I may write that up as a post.


      • Interesting topic and perspective. My outlines tend to be loose guidelines for a bit. I’m still very structured with specific plot points that I need to work to for evolution and continuity. This final book is actually going to be an oddity for me since I can’t plan a lot until all of the players are clearly made. I mean, I know a bunch of them, but there’s always the chance a future character will find a story that fits the finale. This is reminding me that I still have that alien bounty hunter that I can’t get to work right.

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      • I admit I couldn’t hang with Discworld or Shannara, though I did read several of each. It’s great your other works are set in Windemere, too. You must know that world as well as our own.

        I wanted Frodo to receive recognition in the Shire for what he accomplished.I think I even wrote a lengthy book report on it in school, LOL.

        And hey, comic books—I still have collections wrapped up in plastic sleeves. One of these days, I’ve got to trot those out on eBay!

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      • Somehow I managed to find smaller series and totally miss the big ones. Then again, I spent a long time reading a lot of science fiction while I wanted to be a zoologist. Fantasy didn’t really kick in until high school.

        The funny thing about Frodo is that I think a peaceful ending and being a memory was a good reward. Mostly because Sam kind of did the things that really earned the recognition. He never had to go along, but he was there until the end. Sam carried the ring, carried Frodo, and did so much that I go along with him being the real hero. I guess this is older me though because the movie made me notice that Frodo sort of failed. He wanted to keep the Ring, but Gollum tackled him and finished the deed by accident. The breaking and torture is probably why I liked Frodo getting a quiet ending. Again, this is older me talking. Back then, I was fascinated by Aragorn.

        I don’t think comics are worth much these days outside of the really, really old ones. The market got saturated.

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    • The changes in Frodo and Bilbo are great examples. I find this stuff really interesting.

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      • They changed so dramatically, they could never go back to their old way of living. Compare that to Samwise who was content to despite all he had endured. It says a lot about the definition of characters, I think, and hold the author molds them. I love being taken along on those journeys!

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  3. Thanks for this, Charles. I’m just learning that writing a series is a daunting prospect. Finishing book 3 and beginning book 4 has turned my knees (but hopefully not my mind) to jelly! It helps to see what other series authors think about

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    • It always feels like going beyond 3 is an endurance test. I had a ‘benefit’ of writing my third book in 2007 and then didn’t get to book 4 until 2013. That created a mental cushion as well as an odd urge to keep going out of fear of another delay.

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  4. I’ll have to keep this in mind!!

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  5. Nice post, Charles, and thanks to Craig for giving you the opportunity.

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  6. Charles, what do you do if you have an advance plan like characters falling in love or somebody being taken prisoner, but by the time you write it that wouldn’t make sense after all? Do you change the characters or change the plot?


    • Usually the plot. The only reason a romance or capture scene wouldn’t work is because it no longer fits the character. When writing the outlines and bios, I don’t have the full persona in mind. I know what I’d like them to do, but prior events or a quirk that I forgot could change that. A good example of this is the Luke/Kira/Sari thing. It was originally only Luke/Sari with there being no complications and Kira nothing more than a one scene character. Then Kira evolved and there was a spark between her and Luke. I tried to leave it alone, but they had too much in common to ignore the situation. By the time I got to writing Sari, she wasn’t turning out the way I planned, which meant she needed the competition to stay interesting. None of this happened in the early outlines, so it became flying by the seat of my pants.

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