To end BIG or not

I recently wrapped up the first draft of fEaR3 (get fEaR and fEaR2 on Amazon now), which will be published through Devil Dog Press. I’m quite excited about this entry in the series, as it not only adds a few new characters, but it expands the universe and offers up a ton of new possibility for the future of the series.

But as I ended this particular entry, I found myself asking a question:

Was the ending “big” enough?

You might think this is a crazy question, but it’s one we authors frequently ask ourselves. This time around, however, the arrived answer not only made sense, it bought with it a sense of ease and peace.

Let me explain.

Watch the video for this entry to gain even more insight.

Patterns and formula

You might not know this about me, but I really hate writing that defaults to patterns and formula. You see it everywhere – in books, television, movies, music. And on some levels, I suppose, it makes sense. We are, after all, creatures of intense habits. We like habits; they bring us comfort.

But as a creator of art, I find such patterns and formula get in the way of discovery and creativity. You create a plot line or narrative device that, for whatever reason, worked for a book/TV episode/film/song and you decide to attempt to repeat that success.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

It works again.

Until it doesn’t.

The formula becomes a pattern, like the first hill of a roller coaster: It begins easy, but starts slowly climbing up to the initial drop-off, where the denouement brings you to a close. It’s familiar, it’s easy. And besides, isn’t the climax of a book always supposed be some huge event the characters were all working toward and (hopefully) succeed at conquering?

Thing is, when you keep repeating that formula, your books (within a series) become nothing more than the “monster of the week” (a formula often deployed by shows like “X-Files”).

Depend and deploy that repetition enough and it becomes predictable, and no one likes a predicable story.

It is because of that, I am okay with taking the road less traveled with endings. Those roads can lead to just about anything – an ending that’s restrained, subtle, thrilling, even employing an anti-climax in a way that actually becomes climactic.

In the end what’s important is the climax must serve not just the story at hand, but the series arch as a whole. The way I look at that is in terms of television (which makes it much easier to create a novel and even a series):

  • Each chapter is an episode.
  • Each book is a season.
  • The sum total of the books in an arc is a series.

Let’s take a look at this, through the lens of my book “I Zombie I.”

The entire series is called the I Zombie series (not to be mistaken for the iZombie series). “I Zombie I” is the first season of that series. Chapter 1 of “I Zombie I” is the first episode. The second chapter of “I Zombie I” is the second episode. And so it goes, on and on, until you come to the final episode of the season. Season two, of the I Zombie series is the book “My Zombie My.”

You get the idea.

The tricky part is to not make each season a repeat of a formula derived from the previous. So you’ll find some “seasons” end with a massive (and metaphorical) “bang,” while others end with on a more quiet or refined note. And that’s perfectly acceptable. In fact, from my perspective, it’s preferable.

The lesson? Don’t become predictable with your endings. Vary them, employ different tactics, be bold and unafraid to venture out against the grain.