Writing: mid-series book endings

In today’s post, I’ll explore the topic of ending a book in a series considering the lead into the next book.

When writing a series, there are a couple of ways to end a mid-series book, though they can be condensed into two or three main options. Each has its pros and cons, and I’d say each has situations they favor.

Long outro

A long outro is a scenario that is more likely to happen in sprawling sagas where each book is a tome and, typically, at least a side plot thread is closed. That way, despite being a part of series, each book also functions well as a book of its own, for the time being before the sequel comes out.

“Long” doesn’t necessarily have to mean 10% of the total book length, though these cases probably exist. I’d classify “long outro” as more than a chapter providing the chapter length across the book is consistent – if not, then the comparison may be a bit trickier.

I think that this scenario is the best for books when the book’s end completely closes a plot thread. This may be the defeat of a secondary antagonist (or a whole secondary faction) as this may need the story to properly close things off. More so when there’s a significant PoV character that tends to look back and analyze, and thus would likely look back and reflect, both for what was done, and what is likely to come next. It’s also a favorable option for situations where the story gives a bit of rest to the characters, and the next book in the series doesn’t pick up right the next (or even the same) day.

As for reader interactions, this scenario will work better for longer books, more so if there are larger gaps in publication time because it makes the book end feel like one and the reader can easily take a break (though this could end up turning against the author, especially in the case of binge readers).

Also, keep in mind that some people prefer the book to end quickly after the antagonist is defeated, and may even end up skipping this part if there aren’t many questions left unanswered.

Short outro

A short outro is probably the typical scenario – the ending sequence is a chapter long at most (often just an epilogue that’s even shorter). This favors situations in stories where the books follow closely together, and the end of the book wasn’t closing a separate plot thread. Such a situation could be the defeat of a villain’s major follower – a major event on the way to the end that doesn’t fully end any major plot threads.

As for reader interaction, this works quite well – shows that there’s still more to come and may work much better leading the reader right to the next book if it’s already finished. Retaining the attention of readers who tend to read series in one go will be much easier.

Action ending

The action ending is the exact opposite of the long outro. In this case, the ending sequence has minimal – if any – fade-out. The typical scenario to use an action ending is especially in a sticky situation for the hero, often a confrontation with a powerful enemy that ends with the protagonist captured, incapacitated, or free but indisposed for a while. In this scenario, the ending of the book may be just a couple of paragraphs after the final blow of the fight lands. And sometimes not even that – the end of the book may be the very last strike in the fight.

What this option does quite well is to entice the reader to go on to the next book. For that reason, it favors fast writers (where the wait for the sequel won’t be long) as well as series of shorter books (where the pacing tends to be higher and there often is just one major plot line). For longer sagas with several plot threads, this is often a poor choice, as you typically have several plot threads going on at the same time, and each may need to be closed off, even if temporarily. That’s not to say it can’t work for longer series – only that it may be harder to pull off successfully and may require a bit more planning, such as closing the other plotlines a bit ahead so the reader’s attention by the end of the book is fully on the one thread the book ends with.

I’ll admit here that the way I approach my project means that both book one and book two have a long outro – the introspective main character makes it feel right. But as a reader, I’ve seen all three used to good effect.

I’ll welcome your opinions – what is your experience with book endings? Which do you favor as a reader, and why? Which of these have you written, and which do you favor?

3 thoughts on “Writing: mid-series book endings

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