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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Serial Killer: On Ending a Series


 

It’s been a long time since I wrapped up a series--2011’s The Dark Tide, to be precise--but I’m currently writing the final book in the All’s Fair series and I’m daily reminded of just how tricky it is to pen that final chapter.

Part of the challenge in writing a series is remembering everything that came before. Not just the obvious stuff like the protagonist’s age and eye color and job title and best friend’s name (I think most writers remember to note that stuff down). Not only the more complicated stuff like every single character dynamic, every single character’s evolving relationship with the main character. Oh, and all the legal stuff (wait, how long did I sentence him to prison for…?!) No, the real challenge is keeping track of the main character’s arc through each part of the series, making sure that the growth of the previous books is not lost or forgotten in the next episode. Making sure that when the final chapter comes, the reader feels satisfied and content to arrive at journey’s end.

Of course, some readers don’t care about the character arc--they don’t want the adventure to ever end, period. And, as much as we love those readers, we have to ignore them because every story ultimately comes to an end. It’s better to end on a high note than a death bed (be it ours or the characters’).

But delivering that emotional payoff depends on the particular character and their unique journey.

In Fair Game, the first book of the trilogy, Elliot Mills is a former FBI agent who has been sidelined by a serious injury.

A crippling knee injury forced Elliot Mills to trade in his FBI badge for dusty chalkboards and bored college students. Now a history professor at Puget Sound University, the former agent has put his old life behind him -- but it seems his old life isn't finished with him.

A young man has gone missing from campus -- and as a favor to a family friend, Elliot agrees to do a little sniffing around. His investigations bring him face-to-face with his former lover, Tucker Lance, the special agent handling the case.  

At the end of the book, Elliot has made peace with his choices and settled down to a life in academia and a new relationship with Tucker. That should not come as a surprise to anyone, this being genre fiction.

However, it’s a series so…Elliot has to believably get involved in another investigation without reversing the progress achieved in the first book. And because these books are M/M romance, there has to be believable conflict and strain between Elliot and Tucker--again without manufacturing some artificial drama that will only irritate readers.

This is where that extended cast of characters every series needs becomes invaluable.

Setting up house with his new lover was tricky before arson landed his former radical father in the guest bedroom. Now ex-FBI agent Elliot Mills has to figure out who is willing to kill to keep Roland's memoirs from being published.

All’s well that ends well in Fair Play. Or close enough. Elliot and Tucker are still alive and still in love.

But now we come to the third and final installment and all the loose threads of the first two books have to be woven into this final tapestry. The story needs to come full circle--without actually going in circles. That means shaking up some expectations. Maybe even my own!

The basic premise of Fair Chance:

In an effort to bring closure to grieving families and loved ones, former FBI agent Elliot Mills allows himself to be drawn into a final game of cat and mouse with the dangerous psychopath known as the Sculptor. But when the lead agent on the case, Elliot’s partner Tucker, suddenly disappears without a trace, the only person with the answers is Elliot’s most dangerous enemy.

This is the book where every choice Elliot has previously made comes up for reevaluation and where everything he holds dears is on the line. This book has to be the payoff book for fans of the series--while still being involving and interesting to those readers coming in on the final installment (it’s surprising how many readers jump in any old where in a series).

While I know what I think readers will be looking for in this final book, I’m always surprised to hear the little things readers are hoping to find. That’s where the pressure comes in. This is it. If I fail to deliver, there’s no do-over in the next book. Elliot’s life will go on (OR WILL IT??!!) but we will not be peeking through that particular keyhole anymore.

So while I'd love to hear from my fellow writers on the challenges of winding up a series, I think I’ll throw this post open to readers of the series as well.

If you’re a reader of the All’s Fair series, what are you hoping to find in this final book?

36 comments:

Clare London said...

I've enjoyed this series, and actually appreciate it not going on for "too long". I don't mean any insult! because it's always been fresh and rewarding to read, but I mean not strung out for the sake of it, and beyond its capacity. So many series do that: as a reader, I love to read more about the characters, but I'm following their journey to a destination, not just repeating book#1 every time, or - worse! - the manufactured romantic conflict just so we can have a repeat of the get-together!

Rita said...

Josh, as always, I get so much from your posts. I very much agree with Clare's points. I'd much rather a series end leaving me thinking how the characters will go on and not sad that the characters have become stale and I no longer care about them.

Josh Lanyon said...

Thank you, Clare! I do absolutely understand what you mean. In fact, I'm that strange reader who inwardly groans every time a book I really like suddenly gets turned into a series. There's a reason most authors "break-out" with a standalone. :-)

Josh Lanyon said...

Rita, I'm one hundred percent behind that. I much prefer to have to deal with the "Have you ever thought of writing another..." than "STOP ALREADY!!!" :-D

Tom Patchen said...

Elliot and Tucker need to be estranged and in conflict throughout much of the last book... I always like it when one character discovers something dark (but not unforgiveable) about the other that makes them question the foundations of the relationship. Also, the ending does not have to be a total HEA... I prefer that it end with the person who most questions the relationship making some small but very meaningful statement or gesture that they are willing to forgive the other and to try for HEA. I love it when conflict is resolved by a simple gesture and leaving the details to the reader's imagination.

Lynn Lorenz said...

I love love the mystery element, but I'm a romantic at heart, so I'm looking for a definite HEA.o be of my fav series. Three is perfect for me!

Anne Marie Becker said...

Isn't there a saying like "all good things must come to an end"? I think there's a reason for this. As much as we love characters, they can lose their freshness, if that makes sense. I chose to end a 6-book series a couple years ago and it was both difficult and freeing. As someone who reads and writes romance, I'm definitely in favor of a great HEA to wrap it all up. ;) Good luck!

Gwen said...

I loved the dynamic between Elliot and Tucker, with Elliot craving dominance sexually, but not in the rest of their relationship, leaving Tucker perhaps confused. If there is any way to fit more exploration of this in, I would enjoy that.

I am probably in the minority, but I'll keep reading a series with people I love forever. I know most authors get tired of writing the same characters after awhile, but I never get tired of reading them!

Ruby2 said...

This is romance, so I know that Tucker and Elliott will end up together. But I'd like to see Elliott tempted while Tucker is missing.

Sabine said...

I don't like a series, that goes on forever and I grew tired of the characters or I don't like them anymore, because the changed to people I don't like. That's especially aggravating, then I can't reread the good ones in the series, because I can't forget the last book(s).
I would like to read, that Tucker needs for a while Elliot strength, not essential his physical, but his mental strength. Perhaps, that Tucker has time to fear for his own life. He is a very dominant man, self confident, someone, who is not often anxious.

Nikki said...

"If we live through this, will you marry me?"

Katherine ellett said...

I agree with Nikki, I would love a forever commitment between Tucker and Elliot. They have gone through so much and totally deserve it. Love this series and your writing. I know whatever path you choose for the boys will be right. Your books never disappoint!! Thank You!!

Christine said...

I'd like to see them really hit their stride and work capably as partners in the conclusion. For me, that's been the thing I most want to see resolved--can they really reconcile the way their impulses and responsibilities are sometimes at odds.

M. Raven Croft said...

I'm not complicated or deep...I just want a happy ending with some excitement, intrique, romance and humor. Not demanding at all...
And I miss Jake and Adrien very much. I'm so happy to see them in The Boy with the Painful Tattoo.

Kirsten said...

I would really like to see the villain get his in the end-- his arrogance taken down a notch or two. I would also like to see Elliot make some compromises for Tucker. (Sometimes I feel Tucker does all the compromising.) And finally, I would like Elliot's former class TA to make an appearance. I liked him. (Can't wait for this book!)

Conan the Knitter said...

I want Elliot and Tucker to get married. Definitely for Elliot's dad to accept Tucker and get along with him... and for the series to never end. LOL

Josh Lanyon said...

Oh Tom! But I like it. That kind of dynamic can work really well depending on the couple. In fairness, I don't think Elliot and Tucker are that couple, but there are dark moments ahead.

Josh Lanyon said...

Lynn, I really like trilogies. It gives me a chance to more deeply and completely explore the characters and their relationships -- and I think readers love that! -- but it doesn't lock me in for too long, which is something I'm starting to dread.

Josh Lanyon said...

Thanks, Anne Marie! And yes, I think knowing when and where you will wrap up the series is one of the first considerations in deciding to write a series.

Josh Lanyon said...

Gwen, I totally understand. If you enjoy something and it's going well, why would you want it to end? As a writer, the challenge is coming up with believable conflict for the romantic pairing (because romance is a huge part of these books). The last thing I want to do is start manufacturing artificial problems. I have too much love for my characters and too much respect for my readers.

Josh Lanyon said...

RUBY2, YOU ARE A HOMEWRECKER. ;-D

Josh Lanyon said...

Sabine, that's an interesting point because if a series stretches for too long, the writer changes, ages (let's be honest here) and I think that's where you have these character shifts in personality that don't seem to reflect the characters' fictional adventures. Which to me is another incentive for not dragging things out too long.

Josh Lanyon said...

Nikki: :-D :-D :-D

Josh Lanyon said...

Thank you so much for the kind words, Katherine!

Josh Lanyon said...

Christine, duly noted!

Josh Lanyon said...

Hey, M Raven Croft, thank you! And I think you will therefore enjoy SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS. ;-D

Josh Lanyon said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Kirsten! Good point.

Josh Lanyon said...

Conan the Knitter, you don't ask for much! :-D

Carol Holland March said...

I love these characters, and am so glad there will be another book. I don't always read series, and am generallly not a mystery reader, but these characters were too engaging to put down. I generally don't require hea, but for these two, I hope they get it. Appreciate the comments about writing a series, as I am embarking on my second trilogy, and am learning as I go. I do read for the character arc way more than the plot. Anybody can plot. Not all can write believable characters.

M. Raven Croft said...

*happy dance*

M. Raven Croft said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
slb said...

The reference to trilogies Mae's me worried for more Kit & JX!!!
But for Tucker and Elliott, I am not sure. I felt like Elliott made such strides in the first book when he forgave Tucker for not knowing exactly how to respond after the shooting. The Sculptor himself was the loose thread I felt in these books. So I trust you to wrap it up.

I also like resolutions, but i still love to revisit them in the codes. ;)

nblibgirl said...

I hope I'm not too late here. I love these characters and can't wait to see what wonderfulness you have in store for them (because I know it will all come right in the end :-). But what I'd love to find in the next book is more about Tucker's backstory. I love Elliot's Dad and the relationship between Elliot and his Dad; I'm hoping to find out more about Tucker in the next book.

Thank you for asking, BTW. What a treat!

Josh Lanyon said...

Carroll, I agree. The challenge is always in creating not just believable characters, but characters readers care about. :-)

Josh Lanyon said...

Thanks, slb, this is definitely the book where we tie up that particular loose end. :-)

Josh Lanyon said...

You're not too late, nblibgirl! :-D

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