Serial Novels and Closure

For the past two years, I have been reading a number of serialized works of fiction. Many of the series are very well written. Of these, some are brilliantly written in terms of description and excitement but make me wonder why the authors use the gimmick of–well,  foreshadowing.  They narrate a continuing story that had no closure in the individual books. I began to wonder whether some authors have difficulty with closure. 

One writer who uses this technique overmuch is Sara King.

Sara King is a wonderful writer, but not a single one of her books has any real closure to the story lines developed in a given volume of a series. At the end of each book, rather than closure, she dangles the enticement of starting the next book. I’m not talking about providing the first chapter of the next book. I am talking about not ending the current book but stating or strongly implying what she plans for the next book in the series. That is, the story arc for any given book is not completed before another is being introduced as “to be elaborated” in the next book. 

It’s not that this isn’t a great gimmick (or device, if an author prefers). It’s just that the way she “foreshadows” makes it difficult for readers who have to await the next volume of the series–often for years–with no closure for current and past books. Based on my experience with Ms. King’s series, however, I hold out no hope for any of the story arcs to reach conclusion, especially since she appears to write several series simultaneously. 

Personally, I have given up waiting for the next book in the Zero series, despite wanting very much to know what happens next in a series where there are multiple arcs dangling.

Reading a series like this leaves me with a tremendous amount of respect for authors like Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series, Jeff Wheeler and his Muirwood series, Jonathan Kellerman and his Alex Delaware series, Charles Stross and his Merchants series and Laundry Files, Laurie R. King and her Mary Russell series, Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum series, etc. All the books in these series are individual works of art that can be appreciated and enjoyed individually, without all the other books in the series. Each adds to our understanding of characters or places, but each is mostly independent of the other stories. Each book has a set of story arcs to which closure is brought by the end of the volume. Each stands alone, but makes us anticipate the next story or adventure in the protagonist’s life. Ms. King seems to avoid closure. 

As descriptively and excitingly as Ms. King writes, I have grown tired of the lack of closure on even the simplest themes in her books. It doesn’t take long for readers to stop chasing a lure that is always–always!–beyond reach. It’s like the boy who cried wolf–I no longer believe that she will provide closure for any of the main story arcs. I am bored with the chase that will never bring fulfillment on the simplest level. Perhaps Ms. King believes that life never brings complete closure. However, we don’t read novels for real life. As readers, we expect closure. Books are not serial cartoon strips or comic book series, some of which can drag out a single story arc for years. We accept the prolongment in certain comic strips. Books should have some sort of clear ending to a major story arc–it’s what we expect. It’s why we read novels, regardless of genre. We want to be surprised by the next adventure after the current one has been completed

But that’s the key–completion. Closure. This leads to a certain amount of reader satisfaction even if the author never writes another book for the series. It’s the writing and the characters that leave us wanting more. It’s not the manipulation of story arcs that are never finished, which makes the reader wonder if all the author wants is more sales. 

As much as I enjoy Sara King’s writing style as a whole, her overuse of non-endings–and, perhaps, misinterpretation of serial fiction (although it may be I who is misinterpreting serials)–coupled with not providing adequate closure to any single main story arc, makes me wonder how much respect she has for her readers. As the author of several dangling serials, she has an obligation to her readers to either continue on a regular basis or write “final books” for the series that bring closure. 

Before her followers write me off or tell me I don’t understand the developments in Ms. King’s life, let me say this: If one is a writer of serialized fiction, he or she needs to consider this as a job. Whatever obstacles the “worker” has in his or her life–whether a marriage or problems with book rights–the job needs to be completed if the author does not wish to be fired. An unsatisfactory ending to a series the author has given up on is better than no closure for the readers. When a writer uses a gimmick such as never bringing closure to major story arcs, that writer has an obligation of bringing closure for readers–any type of closure except leaving the series dangling. Maybe it’s my age showing, but I have expectations of writers that I know are shared by a lot of much younger readers–that the writer can bring closure to each book within a series so that if he or she loses interest readers are still left satisfied. 

To all you authors who continue to use the device of heavy foreshadowing to entice readership for the next book–and do so without closure for any major theme introduced in a “completed” work–consider how popular your writing will be when you drop the series, as you undoubtedly will at some point. Do yourself and your writing reputation a favor and keep each story arc within a single volume, even as you regale us with many stories of the protagonists or regions that bring it all together across multiple volumes. In the end, each of your stories will be admired as individual works of art. You will not be known as an author who can’t–or just wouldn’t–finish a story. 


About DrEMiller

Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT). Home: Sint Maarten. K-12 teacher for 13 years (Special Education for 10 years); Post-secondary educator since 2002; Education consulting since 1995. When teaching, held teaching certificates in K-12 special education, reading specialist; and secondary social studies. Doctorate: Educational Psychology Programmer/analyst for 10 years, including project management and training of corporate execs.
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2 Responses to Serial Novels and Closure

  1. Libby Sommer says:

    interesting point that you make Ellie. i agree, so annoying when an ending is unsatisfying, and when it’s not really an ending.

    • DrEMiller says:

      Thanks, Libby. I just think that there is an implied covenant between writer and reader. This gimmick of not resolving conflicts or not bringing a story arc to closure in a single volume works fine if the writing is presented as a trilogy or limited volume story, but not when it is a serial. I should follow an author because I enjoy his or her style; not because I am chasing closure.
      But that’s just my opinion as a reader. 😉

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