The Art of Writing the First in a Series (and a Tangent)

Nice to see the blog again! I have to issue an apology for being so bad at posting on time. But I got a bit of a nasty shock on Tuesday – my thesis defense was on Friday, and nobody thought I was important enough to know about it. That’s university bureaucracy for you.

The good news is, I did well, I am now a Master of Egyptology (whatever that means), and I have been offered the chance to publish parts of my MA thesis as an article in an upcoming collection. Exciting.

Before I found out that I had to make a presentation and prepare to be raked over the coals by my supervisor and assorted others, I had been cogitating about something. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books that are the beginning of a series. Now, I love a good series. Nothing’s better than immersing myself in a really good world when I know there are three or four books waiting for me.

The popularity of YA series such as The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Twilight have led people to like series, and when one particular series is finished they’ll start looking around for the next big thing. So I understand why editors want to publish someone who says that they’ve got a series planned.

However, I think that perhaps some people more loosely define the term series than I do. Let’s take a book I purchased recently, Opal. Opal was published by World Weaver Press and brought some fresh perspective to the Snow White fairy tale. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, with one exception: I felt a bit cheated by the ending.

The book gears us up, provides mounting tension and excitement and gets us ready for a big finish. And then –

Then there’s an advert for Book Number Two, Coming Soon!

This is something that I’m starting to come across with more regularity. The same thing happened to a lesser extent in Cinder, which was a fun, action-packed, and overall brilliant adaptation of Cinderella. Without spoiling anything, the end of the book is a bit more climactic than Opal, but I still got the feeling that I’d been cheated of my proper conclusion.

It’s basically like ending The Fellowship of the Ring right after the Fellowship has been chosen at the Council of Elrond. Wouldn’t that have been disappointing?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good ending that leaves you wanting more. And in a series, endings don’t have to provide all the answers. You can leave a lot set up for next time. But these days, it’s a gimmick. Everything’s set up for the big climax, and then you get to wait six months or longer just to get the end.

I don’t want to buy a book like that. I want a book that blows me away and leaves me reeling all the way through the last line. If I think the book ended on a cheap note in a blatant attempt to keep people interested, I’ll be disappointed in it. And if I’m disappointed in it, I’ll be less likely to buy the next in the series.

So that’s my latest pet peeve. Is it just me? Do you think I’m crazy?

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19 thoughts on “The Art of Writing the First in a Series (and a Tangent)

  1. Congrats on your MA. As someone who writes (or plans on it) series, I have to agree with you. The ending of the first book is very important because you want to give closure while leaving it open for the next book. While it’s great to leave stories on a cliffhanger, some authors aren’t as careful with it. They think the suspense will hold until the release of the next book or that it makes them worth talking about. Now, if they already have the next book written or will get it out within a month of the first book, it might have more merit, but that doesn’t seem to be the case most times.

    • forgingshadows says:

      Thank you for your comment. That sums it up really nicely. I also think that this constant ‘need’ for a series means that sometimes people write mediocre series instead of good one-offs. Which is a pity, because there are a lot of good books of both kinds out there. Good luck with yours!

      • Thanks. I have to admit that I go with series because I always come up with another story for my characters. I do a lot of subplots and character-building plots, which tends to bring about other main stories. I have noticed that series do happen more often when you have an ensemble set of protagonists instead of a solitary.

  2. Starstone says:

    I write series, and it is very important to me, that every book can “stand alone,” that you can read each one of them without reading the others, because you are right. A book should capture, and keep you interested all the way through and it shouldn’t leave you hanging in a weak attempt to make you buy the next one.

    That said, I write series, because I have a hard time letting go of my world and my persons, and every time I try to walk away, I come up with another story line… 😛

    Congrats on the MA 🙂

    • forgingshadows says:

      Thanks! And thanks for the comment. It can be hard to let go of a world you work so hard to create – but as long as you have a story to tell about it, no reason not to keep going.

  3. As a writer, series always intimidated me because it seemed like such a big bite to take. I’m getting my mind wrapped around a series I just started, so this title really piqued my interest.

    I don’t have an issue with either version of a series or whether an author decides to conclude or leave you hanging. I have an issue when a series gets dragged out past the author’s interest and the fourth or fifth book is published with inconsistent details and sounds rushed–as if telling the story has become less of a passion and more of a job. They are big with publishers, so they are more and more common, but I’m a fan of the three or four book runs rather than the eight or nine book runs (even though I still read them).

    • forgingshadows says:

      Thank you for your comment. My big issue with books isn’t ones that leave you on some kind of cliffhanger, but the ones that use the book’s climax as a cliffhanger. When I read those, I feel like I’ve only read three quarters of the book I’ve been promised and they want me to buy the next one in order to finish the book.

      But take, for example, Game of Thrones. It has a cliffhanger at the end, and everyone can see that things are just getting started. At the same time, it has a climax that the book has been working towards for the past four or five hundred pages. That kind of cliffhanger is much more enjoyable to me because I still feel like I’ve gotten a full book experience out of it.

      I totally agree with your other point. And I think that a lot of publishers are majorly responsible for that shift, as well as supporting it. They can’t stand the idea that they might lose a major moneymaker.

  4. amanda p says:

    Congrats on your Master’s. And I totally agree with you.

  5. Congratulations! What are your future plans as an Egyptologist? And I completely agree as well. It’s a rare author who can write the first book in a series to have its own beginning, middle, and end and still leave just the perfect amount of an opening through which to enter a second. That being said, I have to admit that I usually only read a series if at least two or three books are published so I’m not caught hanging too badly… Of course, thinking about all the series I’ve ever read (a lot), there are plenty of cliff-hangery ones that I do adore. But in general, I feel it’s a difficult thing to get right.

    • forgingshadows says:

      Thanks for your comment! At the moment I plan to try and find some work, though I don’t think it will be specifically related to Egypt. Maybe I will be able to devote more time to writing.

  6. Maggie Bean says:

    Shared this one with my readers, too. I hope your future includes any writing — period. I enjoy your posts.

    • forgingshadows says:

      Thank you very much! That is a very sweet comment and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I’ll try to keep up the good work – and do let me know if I steer off course.

  7. Any good book should have a solid ending even if the next book is considered “mandatory” by the author. Leaving people “hanging” works great if you’ve ended a major storyline but made it clear much more needs resolution in the next book. That’s the right way to do that. Not doing so certainly feels like a trick!

    • forgingshadows says:

      Thank you for your comment – I couldn’t agree more. Especially when I think that the author is good and doesn’t need to rely on a gimmick like that to make people interested in reading on.

  8. Oh, I completely agree. That’s not a series. A series is complete stories that either share the same world and characters. It’s nice, but not absolutely necessary, if they also have an over-arching conflict that pulls them together. I do expect each to be a story in its own right, though–and that includes coming to a satisfying (even if only temporary) ending.

  9. Paul J. Stam says:

    So glad you liked “What Makes An Artist? – Revised” on Paper, Mud and Me. Till next time – Aloha – pjs.

    • forgingshadows says:

      Thank you for visiting! You had a nice perspective on how something can be art even if you don’t have much of a preference for it.

  10. […] Story is Complete, but has an Open Ending: I was griping about this a couple of months ago. You’re reading along, your book’s just winding up to a climax, […]

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