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How Much Should a Book in a Series Resolve?


Felis amatus
If it's the last book, of course it has to resolve the important plot points. What about if it comes before that? I just finished the second book in a YA series I like, and it ends basically mid-scene right in the middle of the climax. I think that's a bad ending. I get the marketing aspect of it--if the third book was already out I would want to buy it to continue to story. But, as a reader, it is unsatisfying and also disrespectful.

That's my feeling, anyway. How do the rest of you feel about authors ending a book the middle of a series in this way?
There's a money strategy I've encountered, where the author basically breaks one book into two parts—let's say one book becomes two novellas—and I hate it. This has happened to me at least twice. I finish a book that just...stops, then have to buy the second half that picks up pretty much where the first stopped. The stopping point wasn't a "natural" conclusion for the first book, just about as consequential as any chapter break.

In my opinion, the ending must be consequential. Something's been resolved, or something's been turned in a major way—which is basically a sort of plot twist, I suppose, but is also a resolution insofar as the original plot/path has resolved into its own ending and we're now going to be heading in a different path.

The resolution or turn doesn't need to involve the main, series-length plot, however. It can be a significant subplot. Or it might be a leg on the main journey, which for the duration of that book may seem like a huge part of the overall plot. If its a resolution to a significant subplot, I will want that subplot to be taking up lots of my attention during the book; it will almost need to be brought to the forefront, a full-fledged plot for that particular installment of the series, even if I know there's a larger overall plot to the series.
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toujours gai, archie
You both mention reasons why I dislike series (there are exceptions). I hasten to say I mean no disrespect to Present Company. I simply have encountered a great many stories that were poorly edited or were obviously simply chopped into pieces. This includes trad pub as well as self-pub, though it's much less common with the former.

How much should it resolve? Exactly as much as is needed. The author should raise two types of questions. One set are the ones intended to be resolved in that volume. The other is what gets resolved either in the next or in the last volume. The questions ought to be about more than just the external conflict, though there are plenty of stories that are little more than defeating Evil Lieutenant A in Vol. 1, B in Vol.2, and Main Boss in Vol.3.

Though it's simple to state, it's actually very hard to create stories that operate on both levels effectively. I believe the reason why so many series fail (for me) is because so many are undertaken by newbie writers. But series are so popular (even the ones I judge harshly), I guess this is more of a personal issue with me.


Felis amatus
I will often wait for a series to complete before I start on it (I know the arguments against this) for these reasons. I like a series where each book stands at least to some degree, even though as you both say the entire over-aching plot won't be resolved. There needs to be a sense of satisfaction within the specific book, as well is for the series as a whole.

I felt the Malazan books were pretty good about this. Outside of genre, there are series like the Bosch books by Michael Connelly, but those are only a series in the sense that the books share the same characters over time. There is only the most general sense of continuity, generally, and each book fully develops and resolves its own plot. Over time I've become more favorably inclined to a Bosch-like series than something like Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones.


Article Team
I hate anything that cuts off like that, whether it's books, TV shows, or movies. IMHO, there should be a satisfying ending/pause point. It should be a complete story in some form, and if there's more to come, take steps towards showcasing a little of that. To cut off mid-scene, that's BS in my opinion.

Using a few movies as examples. Empire Strikes Back, had a satisfying ending. It was a complete story, but left some things in question still, but even if the next movie somehow didn't get made, one could still imagine the outcome of what came next.

In contrast in the Desolation of Smaug, they cut out right before the big climax everyone was waiting for. It was not a complete story. I was not satisfied. I was actually kind of pissed off. I got even more pissed after I saw the beginning of the next movie and how things got resolved. It felt like a cheap trick in an attempt to bring people back. It created ill will that made me dislike the move and whole series even more.

Another example that did things right I think was Avengers Infinity War and Endgame. It was one big story, but they ended the first movie at a natural pause point. There was a complete story there. It ended with the bad guy winning, but it was still an ending.

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Another example that did things right I think was Avengers Infinity War and Endgame. It was one big story, but they ended the first movie at a natural pause point. There was a complete story there. It ended with the bad guy winning, but it was still an ending.
I'm going to disagree a bit on this point. There was nothing wrong with the bad guy winning, but the story just stops. Not even a "to be continued," just a coy "Thanos Will Return." The reaction of the audience I was with was shock. They were shocked silent. And discomfort, because they all sensed that something big was missing.

That something was the denouement.

I think that when the reader/audience is denied any sort of resolution, we sense that there is something missing, like a stairstep at the end of a case. We just fall forward with nothing to catch us. And that was what happened with Infinity War. Now, I still love the franchise and the movie itself, but it steals closure and satisfaction from the reader in exchange for an ending that's a classic, gimmicky, cliff hanger. Yes, I agree that in itself, having Thanos win (I'm not spoilering this because it's been years, guys) was needed and desirable, but just pulling the break and not even including a cut scene did not land the way the directors hoped it would. And that is a problem.
I thought the conclusion to LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring was bold and brilliant—mostly because it breaks the rules, heh. A lot of people felt the oddness. "That's it? It's over?" was a question more than one person asked. But for me it works perfectly well as an ending, due in part to the fact that so much had happened prior to that conclusion. It really did feel like both, the end of one leg of a journey and a twist toward a new path in the story that has yet to be revealed.

On that latter point, imagine not knowing anything about the LOTR story. The typical type of "fellowship" tale will take all the characters, as the group, to the very end. Something like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 comes to mind. There's a group that was apart, merely individuals (or the duo of Groot and Rocket) until they were forced into meeting/teaming up, and then they stayed together to the very end. That's the sort of typical development. Not so with LOTR:Fellowship. The fellowship is broken just before the end of the movie, physically if not quite spiritually. So the ending really is an unexpected but significant turn in the tale.

On the former point: The fellowship had been through so much, so many turns, obstacles, opponents, even the loss of two members of the fellowship. So I didn't feel like I was cheated by the ending. It felt like a natural pause.

For me, the ending of Infinity War was the same. So much had happened prior, and having the villain win is, metaphorically at least, quite similar to what happened at the end of Fellowship. Did Sauron "win" by thwarting a fellowship, via the Ring's corrupting influence, and forcing Frodo to head alone toward Mordor?

But the meta-ness is also relevant. In either case, we as an audience already know there will be more to the tales. Fellowship quite obviously leaves us hanging, which is a strong flagging of the To Be Continued... aspect. As for Infinity War, well it's the whole MCU, and we know Disney isn't going to throw away a chance to make more money off those supposedly "dead" heroes, so that's flagging a TBC also. Plus, it's comic book reality; those of us in the know understand that the death of a hero is rarely the end of that hero.

Edit: I suppose the "To be continued" flagging is a sort of consolation. Imagine with LOTR:Fellowship that the movie ended right after Frodo, invisible, kicks Boromir off him and Boromir is looking around saying, "Frodo?" That would have been quite unsatisfying. That's the sort of bad endings I mention in my first post in this thread. But by wrapping up that one thread—the Fellowship ending—and strongly flagging the TBC aspect of the overall tale, the movie's conclusion works for me. Yes, I want to see the whole thing, but I can pause there, in anticipation, without feeling cheated.
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Myth Weaver
Been working on two series - 'Labyrinth' and 'Empire.'

Labyrinth deals with personal transformation/coming of age - the first book dealt with the first, the second book was coming of age.

Empire...the first four books are 'geography dependent' - each takes place at a specific location, be it a city or a stretch of rural countryside. The first two - 'Country' and 'Capital' have mild cliffhangers of the 'bad guys got away but took serious losses' variety. Each also feeds into the next. The next books in the series...well, 'Empire: Estate' ends right after a cliffhanger where a major character is kidnapped by the bad guys. Book 4 ends with another dramatic cliffhanger, where three of the principle characters are transported to another world where they have a close encounter with a Lovecraftian heavyweight. Book five - 'Spiral' ends with less of a cliffhanger and more of a oath sworn in duress. Book six, 'Judgment,' (almost done with the rewrite - Yay!) well, the initial draft ended with an abrupt transition but is going to take several concluding chapters to properly wrap up.
That might the only kind of ending I'm not happy with as a reader!

I don't mind there being an overarching plot thread or story arc that encompasses an entire series and resolves over the course of several books, like a trilogy, and that thread can carry the cliffhanger at the end of a book. I do expect each book to have its own minor plot arcs, conflicts and questions and to resolve those within that particular book. I also like to see change in the characters or their relationship to each other from book to book. Doesn't have to be major pivots book to book, but something.

Returning characters with different plot arcs and/or settings per book is also fine. Especially if some of the little plot points seeded in early volumes come back in later volumes to play a larger part. I think the only thing I don't enjoy is mid-action, "to be continued" endings. An epilogue can be used to set up the next book's plot line, or a sample chapter from that next book in the series can also be a good tease.
There is two types of series, which handle this a bit differently. There's the Lord of the Rings type and there's the Harry Potter type.

Lord of the Rings is basically 1 story divided in 6 books which were published as a trilogy. In this case, there is an overarching plot which runs from book 1 to 6. This plot is only resolved at the very end. If you look at each of the 6 books separately, then you will see that there is a main plot for that book which gets resolved at the end of the book. Book 1 is get the ring to rivendell. book 2 ends with the breaking of the fellowship and so on. With such a book, the small plots needs to be resolved and the main plot needs to be advanced.

Harry Potter on the other hand, is 7 separate novels set in the same world with the same characters which are loosely tied together by an overarching plot (especially the first couple of novels). Each novel is its own separate thing and they can be read independently of each other (even if they make a bit more sense when read in order). In this case, the whole thing gets resolved. Rowling could have stopped writing after book 1 and left the readers satisfied. Yes, there are some small clues that Voldemort might return again, but especially in the first 3 these are very minor.

In both cases, you need to leave the reader satisfied. Whatever plot is the focus for a book needs to be resolved in some way, even if the main story continues.


Yeah, that is really difficult. I found out as I was writing that my story was too long for one book, so I had to break it down into smaller pieces that can basically stand alone. But I am struggling with how to make sure that the reader is both satisfied, but also interested in reading the next. So what I decided to do was create some additional storylines that could be finished, while the main story arc was still unresolved. So while the main plot of this book is resolved - I add an epilogue that is a sort of cliffhanger, reminding the reader that the larger plot is still unresolved. I hope it works.
I asked myself the same question and i am not sure if there is a one-size-fits-all answer.
I agree with the above: there should be a smaller arch that gets resolved by the end of the book, even though the main arch is not (it's probably still developing).
the question i was struggling with was what constituted my smaller arch. in my story, the characters had to achieve multiple goals and ended up being derailed, interrupted, and so on.
towards the end i realized i had not resolved ANY goal. What helped me was identifying what could realistically be concluded within a book in THAT specific story, and rewrite with that in mind.

When writing a story that unfolds in multiple books, it's easy to get lost. I would make a list of all the issues/questions/tasks you raise and put your characters through. make that longlist shorter and eventually focus on going full circle on one (or multiple) of those points. set up the others, make it so that they are not too present in the current book (although they may become centerpieces later), and find a satisfying ending with those parameters.

As for cliffhangers, i don't hate them, as long as they develop as a full story in the following book(s). if the cliffhanger resolves in a subsequent chapter or 2, then i feel cheated. if it's the beginning of a compelling, far-reaching story, i do like it.
i also prefer that a book, even a novella, be self contained and have an arc and proper ending point- even if its part of a larger series. it seems lazy to me that one cannot manage to do this. my own experience in this area - i just finished the second novella in a series - is that I had to stop the first one because I hit the point where it needed to stop due to a change in the MC, a completion of a cycle. if I had not got there, I would have kept going until it was done.

I try to think to things like this: Start...Go.. Finish <-> Start.. Go..Finish.

no one wants the book to Stop while it still in Go. There is not a Stop in my chart!.. Start... Go.. Stop.. Go.. Finish? thats just messy.