If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably read a series of books. Sometimes three or four books long. And sometimes, in several cases, series spanning seven, thirteen, twenty, thirty or more books. That’s a lot of time to invest in characters, their lives, their situations, their emotional growth. Heck, you might end up knowing more about these non-entities, feeling more for their predicaments, than some of your real-life acquaintances. (Honestly? Totally understandable. Book-people make SO much more sense.)
But when that series inevitably comes to an end, as they all do at one time or another, it can be hard to say goodbye. For the writer who has to craft an ending that both satisfies, makes sense, and doesn’t piss off long-time fans. For those same fans, who have to say goodbye to characters they’ve grown to know and love so well. Writing ‘The End,’ metaphorically, or reading it, is really freakin’ hard.
I’m in the unique position of learning how it feels to be on both ends of the process when it comes to figuring out how to lead up to those two sweet, dreaded words. As a fervent and life-long reader, I have had to say goodbye to my fair share of beloved characters. That isn’t to say that you can’t read their stories over and over again–literature is beautiful in that way, that you can revisit places and people that you love, share them, lend them out–but of course we all know that it will never be new again. We’ll never have that feeling of rushing to find out what happens, to explore those twists and turns as the characters do. A little bit of that magic is always lost after the first reading.
Just this summer I’ve read lots of books. Each had their own ending, which was bad enough, but a couple were the last in their series, which is always a little worse. I finished the Across the Universe scifi series by Beth Revis. And just a few hours ago I set down the last of the Sookie Stackhouse books, Dead Ever After.
To put that in perspective, Charlaine Harris has been writing Sookie for fourteen years. I haven’t been reading them QUITE that long, but for a good portion of my life–almost half. Definitely before the show started. My mom, bless her, noticing my interest in vampires (yeah, it was around the beginning of the Twilight series,) borrowed the first one for me. (Something she said that she would never have done if she realized how much sex was in it, ha ha! Though obviously not as much as is in the HBO series.) I’ve been following all of her ups and downs, her growth, her aches and pains ever since.
And it was really hard to say goodbye. To know that every time a character came through, it might be the last time. To wonder and worry over how it would finish, and then to finally read those final sentences. (I made myself not peek, but it was hard!) I would just set the book down at times and remember that feeling when I’d read the first book, when these were new people. When I had no idea where Sookie’s story would go.
After reading the book, I did a general search online to see what other people thought, and was surprised and saddened to see the backlash of reaction from so-called ‘fans.’ People who felt they had (or deserved) more of a say over Harris’ characters than she did, who weren’t happy with the way the series ended. And as a writer, that is probably the hardest part of the whole thing–the ending. Yeah, believe it or not. Because it never seems like there is a perfect way, a perfect place, to end it. I guess there is as much skill in finding the right way to end as there is in the right way to begin, but when you’ve put ALL THAT WORK leading up to it, the ending is definitely the scarier place.
If the reaction to Dead Ever After is anything to go by, sometimes it can make you really question what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it for.
I have, as a matter of fact, already written the ending to my first book, the as-yet-name-up-in-the-air Gaia series. Yet I mentally tweak it constantly. Am I ending on the right note? Will people want to read more? Is it a comprehensive wrap-up of everything that came before? Does it fit the characters, what they’ve just been through, who they are? And I know that when I get to the end of this series, that ending will only be harder still.
As the reader that I am, I know I want to write an ending that would make me happy. As a realist, I try to understand that it’s just not possible to please everyone.
I’m not sure what i’m saying exactly, which happens entirely too often… But I guess that the point is, it’s important to know how to say goodbye. As a writer, that’s part of the craft.
But it’s also important to know how to let go, gracefully, as a reader.
After all, if you think it should have ended differently, there’s always fanfiction.