Series that end but don't really end

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Gary Wassner, Jul 17, 2008.

  1. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    How do you feel about fantasy series that end, but the story really isn't over?

    Okay, so I have an ulterior motive.....

    I'm writing the fifth and final book in GemQuest. Trust me, it's not easy ending this series after so long. In fact it's damn scary. And every ending that I envision just isn't adequate.

    I thought that I knew how it all would conclude from the very beginning. And in a way I do. But I also thought it would be much easier to write my way to that ending. It's not easy.

    So, back to my original question: How do you feel about series that end, but don't really end?
     
  2. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Are you asking writer questions or reader questions here? A writer's question is, what do I do when I'm having trouble getting to the planned ending -- do I lengthen the series? Shorten what I'm doing? Would another book or two work for my audience or not?

    But for readers, a series ends when the author writes the last book in it and stops doing any more in that series or drops dead. So a series cannot end without really ending, except if the readers like to make up stories of their own from the series as fan fiction. :)

    If you are wondering, would readers get upset if there are more books, or a new trilogy set in the same world? Probably not. Would it seem tired, stretching? Depends on the reader. You may finish the series and leave it and go on to other things. Ten years later, you may come back to it and do new books, which means the series is not ending, but specific stories in it have.

    Of is this some other Zen philosophical question about what we mean when we use the word "end" that I'm missing once again? :)
     
  3. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    It's kind of both, author and reader.

    Do readers want closure? I guess you are right when you say it depends. Everything depends, doesn't it? But for the most part, when I read a series and I'm really enjoying it, I rush to the end but I hate to reach it. So what I'm really asking is, is it better for the reader to be strung along (in a good way) with the hope and promise of more books to follow, or is it better to conclude, wrap up, finalize everything with no going back? What's the preference in Fantasy, for in fantasy we write far more series than most (not all, most) other genres.
     
  4. BrianC

    BrianC bmalone.blogspot.com

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    As a reader, I have no problem with a series that is somewhat open-ended as long as the actual plot threads are resolved for the immediate characters. An ending that implies that the (imagined) world and characters still go on after this particular story is over is fine by me, and I think expected by most readers. Maybe the writer is going to come back to it some day.

    Since I have some knowledge of where you're coming from in this question, I think that you do have a difficult job to do in the fifth book. At the end of Revenge you still have a large number of threads that all have to come together. But that's part of the problem in any long fantasy series with a large cast of characters. Your issue here is more specific: can you leave the fate of your main character ambiguous in the end? I think you can but it will be tricky.

    Look at what Scott did at the end of the Prince of Nothing series. What happened to Kellhus and (umm) the (err) wizard guy (whose name I can't remember)? Scott led up to the point where the wizard guy was ready to fight against Kellhus but we don't know how it ended. That bothered me. I would say don't do that. You have to resolve the conflicts between the characters in Gemquest. The twins must confront Colton, and Colton must loose, and somehow the trees (or the spirits that motivate the trees) must withdraw from the world. Beyond that, however, what happens to Colton and the Lalas in the end, beyond the world, . . . well I think that you can and should leave that ultimate ending obscure.
     
  5. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    Yes, I agree with all you've said. As you know....

    But I have some other issues with regard to endings, and this ending in specific. Do I write for the sensation, the satisfaction of a resolution, or do I write from my heart and leave so many of the big questions unanswered? So much of what I'm concerned with revolves around life questions, life issues, value, worth, meaning. I can't resolve them. I've worked hard at raising them and clarifying some of them. But resolutions to the big questions aren't always possible. So I've written myself into a philosophical corner, so to speak.

    I guess some of the conflict comes from editors and publishers who want what the audience wants, and they want what sells best. We live in a world of closures. Everyone demands closure. It seems we can't exist any longer without tying up all the ends. Maybe that's because our world has become so unpredictible and uncertain, and we need certainty and conclusions in our 'fantasy' worlds at least. Or maybe we're all just soft and sentimental and we can't accept too many books that leave us in places like the one The Road leaves us in. Do we want honesty? Do we want fairy tale endings?

    I suppose it is different from person to person, as we should expect. But it's definitely a struggle for me. I want to be hopeful. But wanting is not enough.

    I do know what how I will end this book, book V. I've known for years. But the actions that end a book, the final scenes or chapters, don't necessarily resolve the big issues.
     
  6. BrianC

    BrianC bmalone.blogspot.com

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    As a writer I say be true to yourself, that's the only way that you'll ever be at piece with your work.
     
  7. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    I'd suggest that you take the Stephen King approach and make a few endings that build on each other. Treat the endings themselves like vignettes within the greater story. King ended the Dark Tower with a positive image -- the satisfying, loose ends tied-up, everything is miraculously better now... and then he went on.

    Some people were irritated by the problems that the second ending left, but others -- like myself, and I would suspect you, too, given your reaction to The Road -- really enjoyed the hanging threads and loose ends. It keeps the complexity present in a story that is complex. Simplistic endings in convoluted tales are amongst the greatest faux pas' imaginable.

    And I'm also going to do the "oh man, radical" thing and say -- at 5 books in the series, it's less important that the story ends the way you want it to or the way the reader wants it to. It's most important that it ends the way the book wants it to end.

    I don't mean that in a "the author doesn't matter" sense. Obviously, you're steering the vessel in the end. But don't worry about what you want or what we want. Worry about what the book wants. The book will take you where it wants to be, carving its way forward like a river, seeping into cracks, forging new directions for itself just because it can.

    You can't bank on the reader's reaction. You can't even really bank on yours. Like The Man says, "No story is ever finished, only given up on."
     
  8. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    All good advice. But.....

    The story doesn't want to end. Or at least I don't think it does. But it has to. The good guys are getting frustrated and unsure of what it means to be good any longer. The bad guys are more sympathetic. And half of the characters aren't in either camp.

    I'm kind of teasing here. I really do know where it's all heading. I'm afraid that I know. I wish it were otherwise.
     
  9. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Seriously, it's not like you don't know what I'm going to say here, right? So let's just assume I said it already. Go write your ending the way you want to write your ending, and stop letting the Inner Weasel sit on you about it. :)
     
  10. Hereford Eye

    Hereford Eye Just Another Philistine

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    Stories, like real life, never end. Even when one thread seems stopped by death, the world keeps going on.
     
  11. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    And if the characters are real enough, they definitely have lives after the last page of a book is written.
     
  12. NilsDesperandum

    NilsDesperandum shire dweller

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    I made my peace with Donaldson's Thomas Covenant many years ago, after six books. It was all very final. But, here we are again!
     
  13. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    I'm answering after reading only the first three posts, so I apologize if what I say has been said....

    As a reader, I like closure for a story, I think all readers do. Personally, I also like the idea that the characters live on after the story has finished.
     
  14. Dawnstorm

    Dawnstorm Master Obfuscator

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    I'm not sure what you mean by "big issues", but as it is you sound a bit to me like that combat medic who wonders whether it's enough to heal the wounded, or whether he should achieve world peace. I mean, you're healing soldiers. If you patch them up they're going back to war anyway. So shouldn't you achieve world peace? Wouldn't that be more satisfying?

    History or Allegory? Hybrid: historical commentary? Do you heal the wounded or do you found the Red Cross? (How far can I stretch the analogy, and how long can I reliably interpret the meaning of the relations between the vehicle and tenor? [Now I've gone meta. :p ])
     
  15. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    Well Dawn, there's the story and the emotions of each individual character on the micro level, and then there are the philosophical and ethical issues on the macro level. Each blends into and influences the other, but regardless, i can resolve (or not) many of the personal conflicts and themes, while not resolving any of the thematic ethical issues. A character can die, can come to terms with fate, can reconcile and be satisfied, but the answers that I seek as a human, as an author, can remain undiscovered and unreconciled.

    I always like your analogies. :) Life is a patching up process on the way to the next war. I'm not the medic though. More like the historian.
     
  16. BrianC

    BrianC bmalone.blogspot.com

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    Well on that level, Gary, you will not resolve the big issues. The questions you've raised in Gemquest have no satisfactory answers. If you tried to give those answers to the readers, then you would be a fraud (and you know that, you're worried what the reaction will be to an ending that forces the reader to try to find her own answers).
     
  17. Hereford Eye

    Hereford Eye Just Another Philistine

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    You riddle yourself a problem such as when is pacifism bravery and when is it cowardice and does the distinction matter. What kind of answers can any author provide? In the context of his story, only the answer that fits his character(s).
     
  18. Dawnstorm

    Dawnstorm Master Obfuscator

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    Ah, I see. Well that's me being the relativist again. I like fiction best when it's the thorn in the side of wisdom. ;)

    I do feel that resolving the big issues would place plot at odds with character. We have fate and moral guiding principles. Allegory. Fiction less as mimesis than as psychotropos. Inner space.

    If you're the historian, resolving the issues is dishonest. Unless, of course, you're buying into a teleological model of history.

    Hah, I can't even resolve a simple post. :eek: :rolleyes: :D
     
  19. Hereford Eye

    Hereford Eye Just Another Philistine

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    Have you noticed any historian who uses a different model?
     
  20. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    I feel often when I'm writing that the story has already occurred and I'm just relating what happened. In that sense, I'm the historian. But it's not true of course. So what am I doing? Letting the dialectic play itself out? Guiding the dialectic? Ignoring it?

    If I believed in teleology when it comes to history, writing this would be easier. Each character and action would have a purpose and end, and each would follow their path to their inevitable conclusion. But I don't.

    Brian, what I'm worried about is a very very bleak ending. I started with so much hope. The twins saw 'good'. They believed it was objective and manifest. They believed it was tangible. I tried to define the terms so that this sense of innate good was not so simplistic and silly sounding. I looked to nature, to love, to relationships, to parenting, to give this some stability. And as I near the end of this long study of mine, I've been unable to convince myself that what I hoped would become clear, has become clear. In fact, the opposite has occurred. It's less clear.

    My villian was never bad. He's what I feared actually. He's the truth in many respects, if I dare to say it. He's the embodiment of moral relativism, his supporters, those who love him, understand the arbitrariness of morality. He's the only honest one.

    So what of my heroes? The characters I tried so hard to love and to nurture? How do they survive? How do they justify themselves?

    Hereford, you hit it on the head. The saddest part, the most poignant of all, is that it doesn't really matter.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2008