Here’s Where the Story Ends*

In March, my first Patricia Stanley novel came out. I’m thinking now about what might happen in the next book in that series. I’m also planning the next in my Joel Williams series. I’m not sure when those next books will come out (right now I’m working on another project – a standalone novella), but I do know there will be at least one more story for each of those series. How long will the series last? I don’t know, and that question has got me thinking about series finales. How do authors know when it’s time to end a series?

Sometimes, of course, authors don’t make that decision. A publisher might end a series, or it  might end abruptly with the author’s passing. But there are cases when the author decides that it’s time.

That’s what happened with Colin Dexter and his iconic creation, Inspector Morse. In an interview with The Strand, Dexter said he had no idea that the Morse series would be as successful as it was. But it was. There are thirteen books in the series, and plenty of fans would have wanted more. The television series based on the novels was also very successful. So, why did Dexter stop writing the series? Here’s what he said:

‘I didn’t get fed up with Morse, but I felt that everything was getting a little bit clichéd, that things lacked freshness…Certainly I was feeling a little tired and had a fairly busy life, but probably above all I felt I was running out of potential ideas.’

And Dexter was wise enough to end the series before he got too tired of writing Morse stories.

At the moment, Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant series is on hiatus. In part that’s because Bidulka’s moved on to other things. Is the series over permanently? Here’s what he had to say about the matter a few years ago:

‘I can tell you this: I never say never. So if you were to ask if the Russell Quant series is over, that would be my response. Should there never be another Russell Quant book, I feel I left him in a very good place at the end of the 8th book, Dos Equis. But that book could also be a great starting point for an interesting turn in his life both professionally and personally.’   

There’s something to be said when a series ends (or pauses for a long time) on a high note. Readers feel a sense that all’s well (or will be well), and that can offer some closure, if that’s the word. It also gives the author the chance to write another story about the character if that’s what happens. And it doesn’t require bringing a character back from the dead…

Helene Tursten’s Göteborg-based Inspector Irene Huss has ‘starred’ in ten novels. The last, Protected by the Shadows, was published in 2012. It’s been a well-regarded, popular series that led to a television adaptation. In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Tursten explained why she ended the series:

‘After 10 books about Irene, I strongly felt that I had to recharge my batteries.’

She did this by creating a new series with a very different sort of protagonist. And it shows that sometimes, authors need to step back from a series. After all, writing a series can be draining.

On 10 September, Cat Connor will release Vapourbyte, the 12th and final entry into her Ellie (Conway) Iverson series. Iverson is an FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC), which means she supervises several investigation teams. In the novel, what starts out as a botched kidnapping ends up in intrigue, frightening scientific possibilities, and murder. And that’s to say nothing of the global politics involved. These thrillers have followed Iverson’s professional career from her days as a Special Agent, and her personal life as well. Here’s what Connor had to say about ending this series:

Why did I decide to end the series now? I wanted to end it a couple of books back but the stars wouldn’t align. (Or Ellie wouldn’t be quiet, one or the other.) 
We’re ending on the 12th book and not the 10th because now there will be four 3-book digital boxed sets (that last boxed set is on the cards for mid-2021). 
But the real reason, that not so tidy and understandable reason … I saw the end of the series, maybe five books back. I saw how it ends, I just didn’t know then how that end would come to pass. 
And then after Cryptobyte I knew the ending came next. I felt it in my bones.
And I prepared to say goodbye … although I could’ve prepared better. It’s not been easy saying goodbye to Ellie and Delta A. 

So, with that knowledge I followed the story and as the end approached I realised I’d seen two endings. What I thought was the “END” was just part of one ending.
Hence, Vaporbyte is two books. Red and Purple. The endings are quite different. But the series does end.
It’s time for me to let Ellie go and to start playing with new characters.
So, the answer really is – it’s time.

 What do you think? As a reader, do you get a sense that it’s time for a series to end? How do you know? If you’re a writer, how do you make that decision?

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Harriet Wheeler and David Gavurin.

Published by Margot Kinberg

I'm a mystery novelist and professor who loves to read, write, and talk about crime fiction.

16 thoughts on “Here’s Where the Story Ends*

    1. It’s my pleasure to plug your work, Cat. And you’re right; it is hard to know what the right time is to end a series, and then to go and do it. But at some point, it has to happen. What happens later…well…who knows?

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    1. Thank you, Neeru! It’s very kind of you. And thanks for stopping by; I look foreward to your comments on the blog as you get to them.

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  1. As a reader, I think it’s when books start to feel a bit recycled that I feel the series should probably end. Or alternatively when, in an effort to stop them feeling stale, the author begins to lose sight of credibility. There are only so many times I can accept that the same protagonist ends up in hospital recovering from a near-fatal injury, for example, or that another protagonist can continue to have love interests who become victims. I always remember the old Starsky and Hutch series which I adored, but every single time either of them got a girlfriend she died horribly within the hour… 😉

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    1. Ha! Yes, I remember that, FictionFan! It never paid to go out with either of them, did it? You make some good points here. I’ve read series where the protagonist was severely injured in several books in a row. How often can that really happen? And when every one of the protagonist’s family members, partners, close friends and workmates die and no new, interesting characters are introduced, you start to wonder. The main thing, though, is the point you make about plots. If each book starts to be exactly like the others, it really is time to end the series.

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  2. There are long series I love where the characters, and authos, continue to grow. There are series which have gone flat, that feel as though the author is adding fill just to meet their page length. Those I stop reading. Then there are series that have ended either because the author lost their publisher or, most sadly, the author dies. Those are the hardest to accept.

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    1. Oh, they are hard to accept, LJ! I think that’s especially true when the author dies. It’s difficult, too, when the publisher backs off from a series, especially if the novels were still engaging. On the other hand, as you say, there are series where it feels as though the author is just going through the motions. For me, that’s enough to make me stop reading a series. And, of course, different series reach that point at different times (and some never do reach it). In the end, it’s all about the quality of the plots and characters.

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  3. I could not agree more, Margot. Knowing when to end a series is a tough decision. I *thought* I was writing the last Mayhem Series book to make room for me to write more true crime. Then I reached the Midpoint of the story. And now, I see the potential for a few more books. Still, I plan to end it in a way that will allow me to work on other projects before I get back to this series. I may do the same with my other series as well.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your process, Sue. It is both important and tricky to understand when a series should end. I think it’s a good idea to plan for it, so the series is engaging, but ends in a way that gives closure. At the same time, you make a well-taken point about paying attention to how the characters and plots are going. As you say, sometimes the characters have more to say. Or more and different things could happen. Or… And that inspiration has to be balanced with other projects, and with simply understanding that all series end.

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  4. Margot: I got somewhat discouraged long into Sue Grafton’s series featuring Kinsey Milhone. I did not read the last few. I am not sure I will make the effort.

    On the other hand as you well know I continue to regret there are no further Russell Quant mysteries. I wish Anthony had continue to write the series and other books rather than simply ending the series. I doubt there will be a return.

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    1. I hope there will be more Russell Quant novels, Bill. I doubt it, too, but you never know, so I’ll be optimistic. And you’re not the only one who stopped reading the Grafton series before it ended. That one went on for a long time, and a lot of people thought it had started to show its age, if I can put it that way.

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  5. There’s a couple of series I gave up on because I felt they had gone on too long – Burke’s Robicheaux for example. I kind of lost any belief in the character as credible or believable so despite the odd tug or twinge of regret when I see a new book drop and praise lavished on it I know I’m done even if he isn’t I was going the same way with Connelly and Bosch but took a few years off after struggling with a couple of the books, when I went back he was back on form. That said I’m a few books behind now.

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    1. I know what you mean, Col, about series where the protagonist loses credibility. It’s not easy, I think, to sustain a strong, believable character through a long series. Connelly, though, does do it well. He really has a lot of talent, and one of his skills is that his characters have stayed interesting and believable, at least in my opinion.

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