NaNoCoDo #11 Endpoints and Sequels

You have to end your book by wrapping up the story it started with. Sounds simple, but if you’re writing the first books in a series, you don’t want to end your plot. You want to leave things open for the sequel. And if you’re writing the middle of a five-book saga, it’s even worse – because you don’t even have a clear point to begin your tale.
But you have to.

If you look at books that form a series you’ve enjoyed, each volume has its own identity. Yes, there are threads which pass from one to the next, but there are more that get tied-off.

In television terms, this is the difference between a continuing drama and a soap opera. Drama may have plots that carry from one episode to the next, but there is character development and an overall structure that you can see if you stand back from the action. Soap opera may have development of some characters, but there is no overall plot. I’m not knocking soaps, millions of people enjoy them, but they are a different type of drama. And many series sit somewhere between the two extremes. So if you’re going to turn out books in a series that doesn’t go anywhere, you’ll be alright as long as you produce two a week for the indefinite future.

Think of sci-fi series. Good old Star Trek had no overall plot. Each episode was contained in its own little bubble. If a character was aged by fifty years at the start, they were miraculously restored by the end of the show. Whereas Babylon 5 had a plan, there were plots setup very early on that didn’t come to fruition for years!

More examples.

James Bond can get married in a book / film – but she’s bumped off at the end, leaving him free for the next one.

Doctor Who can be on trial at the start of an episode, but he’s free by the end. (Unless the story runs over a few weeks, but the same rule applies.)

The way to check this is to imagine reading / watching the stories out of order. Do they still make sense? Then there’s no overall story arc.

But what if you don’t have a plan for your saga? You just want the same characters to have a series of adventures, each of which is self-contained. Then you simply tie off all the threads at the end of a book and very little is carried forward. You’re writing a soap opera – and that’s fine.

But if you want an overall plot and don’t actually know what it will be, you’ve got the toughest job. One good tactic is to use a different viewpoint character for each phase of your story. So:

Book1: Tom’s Story – ends when he dies heroically, saving a younger man.
Book 2: Dick’s Story – starts when he’s saved and ends when he falls in love with a woman he’s only just met.
Book 3: Harriet’s Story – starts when she’s being stalked by an admirer and ends when she marries him.

You get the idea.

This may be more structured than you want for NaNoWriMo – but why not use this month as a practice run for a novel you actually want to sell someday? Even if you don’t have a detailed structure at the start, think about it as you’re writing and look out for the point where you can wrap up the plots you want to, even if you leave some open for next year.