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!
Check out my newest book
And visit me at