Feature: Wrapping up a Trilogy

Jay-Posey-300x300 Dawnbreaker-144dpiJay Posey is a narrative designer, author, and screenwriter by trade. He started working in the video game industry in 1998, and has been writing professionally for over a decade. Currently employed as Senior Narrative Designer at Red Storm Entertainment, he’s spent around eight years writing and designing for Tom Clancy’s award-winning Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six franchises, as well as lecturing on topics ranging from basic creative writing skills to advanced material specific to the video game industry. His most recent book, Dawnbreaker, completes his first trilogy for Angry Robot, and here he discusses some of the specific problems in bringing the series to a close…

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My latest book Dawnbreaker is the final installment in the Legends of the Duskwalker trilogy. Every book comes with its own unique challenges, but bringing a trilogy to an end can be especially tricky. The last book in a series has to stand on its own as a complete work while also giving additional depth, perspective, and meaning to everything that came before. And, of course, it should probably close the series in an emotionally satisfying way.

It’s hard enough to decide what the end of trilogy needs to include. But something I wasn’t quite prepared for was how much effort it took to determine what I could leave out.

As I was writing, I kept discovering little threads I had opened, or small questions I hadn’t answered in the previous books, and the temptation to resolve them all was strong. Dawnbreaker ended up being a very long book (for its genre). It could have been much longer.

This was a puzzle I had to figure out along the way. I wish I could say the things I learned were Actual Rules, but hey, this is writing, and the only rule I’ve found so far that actually applies consistently is the one that says “What worked last time, won’t necessarily work this time.” But with that in mind, here are some thoughts that helped me figure out what to include and what I could leave out while wrapping up a trilogy:

The Final Book has a story to tell too.

Three-144dpiIt’s easy to get distracted by All the Loose Ends, but it’s important to remember that the Final Book has its own beginning, middle, and end. It’s asking and answering its own questions. If I ever had to choose between resolving a minor arc from Book One and resolving one from Final Book, Final Book won the day. Typically that thread is more immediate in readers’ minds anyway, and that Clever Thought I had back in 2013 when Book One came out might not be as present and important to anyone else.

The emotional arc is more important than every individual detail.

Some questions are going to be left unanswered. Some relationships aren’t going to be explored fully. Some characters aren’t going to get complete Endings. But as long as the Final Book closes the major arc of the trilogy in a satisfying way, those little details won’t make or break the series.

It’s OK to answer the Big Questions “well enough”.

Readers are smart. If you give them enough of a framework, they can fill in the gaps on their own. And trying to answer everything perfectly is an easy road to madness and despair. As long as you know what those Big Questions are, covering them with a broad brush can give readers enough closure to be satisfying, even if some of the details aren’t expressly covered.

When in doubt, provide useful trajectory.

Sometimes you just run out of time or space (or word count!) to wrap up all the loose ends you want to. Sometimes answering every detail ruins the pacing. In cases where something is significant enough to warrant a mention, but not enough to spend precious word resources on, suggesting the likely trajectory of a situation or relationship can be enough. Again, readers are smart. If you nudge them the right direction, they can take it from there and figure out what the likely outcome would be, whether you explicitly state it or not.

It’s OK to leave readers wanting more. It’s not OK to leave them feeling cheated.

MorningsideFall-144dpiDawnbreaker leaves some questions unanswered. But they are the questions that don’t need to be answered for the story to be complete. Certainly there are some elements that readers will want to know about, some explanations that readers would like to have, but the trilogy is still coherent and complete without those things being spelled out. It’s OK for the world to still have some sense of mystery, as long as the Big Questions are answered and the Emotional Arc is consistent. The important thing is that readers don’t feel like they’ve been betrayed because you left something open that you’d been suggesting you’d reveal or answer throughout the rest of the series.

It’s OK to trust your gut.

Not every reader is going to want the same things. Different readers have different priorities, different details that matter to them, different questions they want answered. As everywhere else in life, it’s impossible to please everyone. When it really comes down to it, about the best thing you can do is write the story that you, as the creator, are content with.

Dawnbreaker brings a particular story to its close. I believe it does so in a way that’s emotionally satisfying and that respects the books that came before it without trying to be those books. Bringing a trilogy to an end is a bitter sweet achievement. There are still characters I wish I could spend more time with, and circumstances I’d like to cover more fully. But that’s sort of the nature of writing. The Duskwalker world is alive with people and stories; there will always be more to tell.

Dawnbreaker is released on 4th August in the US and 6th August in the UK. Click here to order it from Amazon.co.uk

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