Never-Ending Stories

I don’t like stories and sagas that go on and on without a definite end. And yes, I know I say this as a Wheel of Time fan. While it’s true that that series went on for 14 books, it had a clear endpoint that was evident from the first few volumes. The fun was getting there.

It’s also important to note that The Wheel of Time has no side-stories or spinoffs. Maybe this is because Robert Jordan is dead. But it could also be due to his estate respecting his legacy. Because we all know that corporate IPs get milked dry, and then milked some more.

Because fans keep paying for the stuff.

There are other series that go on for 12 or 14 or 20 books or more, and that’s fine if people are into that, but those are not for me. It’s all personal preference, but I’ll explain why I don’t like this manner of writing:

  • The stakes get smaller. Nothing seems to have as much of an impact because you know there are two dozen more parts to the story. What happens doesn’t hit as hard when you know things won’t be over for a long time. Or ever.
  • Padding. I call this TV disease. To keep a story going for a long stretch of time, stuff has to keep happening. Your character can never acquire a goal. Relationships and happiness are fleeting, because without conflict, nothing interesting happens. There are no resolutions. Plot threads get attenuated to the point of ridiculousness. More and more new characters get introduced, which makes one wonder: why not just write a new series?
  • Writing mill. Some of these authors are either one guy who has the name/ideas and outsources the actual writing to ghostwriters, or are composites of such teams. Or maybe factories is a better word. And I get that pretty much all fiction writing is formulaic. But there’s a difference between Lester Dent-style formulae and formulae absent style. The latter is what I tend to see a lot of. Your mileage may vary.

This also explains why I lost interest in comic books. Do I really want to read more about a 60-80 year-old character where I know nothing that happens will last I’d matter because it’ll be rebooted anyway? No.

I, personally, like beginnings, middles, and ends. You know, stories.

Anyway, I’m aware that some characters I do like are incredibly long-running. Conan stories come to mind. But here’s a distinction: those are each intended to be stand-alone tales. One does not have to start at Conan, story one in order to understand and enjoy Conan, story 17. Therein lay the genius.

Note that this post is not referring to The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. That is one of my favorite books and it does, in fact, have an ending.


My series have beginnings, middles, and ends. Check out part one of The Swordbringer before part two drops in a few weeks.

18 comments

  1. “I, personally, like beginnings, middles, and ends. You know, stories.”

    This made me think of two movie franchises: The Jason Bourne Trilogy +1, and the John Wick movies.

    It surprised me when I enjoyed the Bourne trilogy. They’re not really my kind of movies and I loathed Matt Damon to boot, even back then before I really knew his politics (or even my own, really). But they told an interesting story and (until the 4th movie which I have refused to watch), had a beginning, middle and end. When the third movie ended, I felt satisfied by a complete story about a compelling character.

    It was a similar situation with John Wick. I’m really not a fan of action movies anymore but I enjoyed the world-building of John Wick and found him to be a reasonably compelling character as well. But when the third movie ended in a fashion that made me realize they would continue onward, I realized that I had mistakenly thought I was watching a trilogy with beginning, middle and end.

    Anyway, I took a long time to say that I like trilogies. I like that they end and I enjoy my time with them.

    Liked by 1 person

      • “Would you believe I’ve seen all the Bourne movies, but can’t remember a single thing about any of them?”

        I would absolutely believe that. If they were food they would be Cheetos. Not cuisine, and arguably, maybe not even food. But they can be fun for a bag or two.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The thing is, they were well done movies. I certainly enjoyed the ride while I was on it. But afterwards, leaving the theater, they might as well have never happened. Whereas I saw John Wick once and I can still remember most of the movie.

        Maybe John Wick just had better aesthetics. It was bright and colorful compared to the grim, gray, shaky-cammed experience that was the Bourne movies.

        Like

  2. The #1 problem today is that moderns can’t write endings. They can’t let anything go or be hopeful for the future. They have to constantly restart and reboot and retell the origin, over and over again. This is a related problem to the never-ending narrative.

    I wonder if the issue is that an ending reminds them that all things end, and that scares them. I might be overthinking it, but we’ve had problems telling one and done stories, in all mediums, since at least the ’90s. Even comics had many one-and-dones at the time. This is a problem that doesn’t appear to affect those who tell stories with an internal knowledge that all tales are meant to end, but it does hurt those with a more nihilistic or hedonistic view of life of living in the moment. They can’t write endings, because if they were honest about it, the ending would be unsatisfying, and probably unsettling. And they know it.

    Just my two cents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! The art of storytelling absolutely entails knowing how to end the journey.

      I love me some good twists, and unexpected endings….if done well. I feel like now everyone in all storytelling media is trying to one-up everyone else with their crazy endings or twists or, as you say, the non-endings.

      Nowadays finding modern authors in the sci-if/fantasy realm that craft an unambiguously GOOD story is like finding gold….I thought Patrick Rothfuss was gonna be one of those, but he hasn’t finished his series and he seems like he doesn’t give af anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s not a bad hypothesis at all. I never thought that hedonism/nihilism prevents the writing of endings. Although upon further scrutiny, it seems obvious that the hopeless could never resolve stories in satisfactory ways because the ending would be miserable BY NECESSITY of their chosen philosophy and worldview.

      Interesting point to think about.

      Like

    • Alexander

      Well he wrote 9 books on the 3 Musketeers separated into 3 book each.

      Trollope did have several recurring characters in his sprawling series.
      Blazac had different characters in his various novels if I remember.

      So I guess the key is to write sprawling series with distinct characters those a few can be recurring but not necessary primary one in the various novels

      xavier

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Alex wrote: “…I don’t like stories and sagas that go on and on without a definite end…..Because fans keep paying for the stuff.”

    —There ya go. Why there’s a seemingly endless line of reboots and sequels and prequels. As long as horror fans line up they’ll be another Michael/Freddy/Chucky, etc.

    —When it comes to corporate owned comics, I “tune in” when a writer I like takes over, most do their best to tailor their run with as much of a beginning and an ending as possible with the limits of editorial and corporate control. It’s why I don’t purchase superhero comics.

    —The X-files is a show that was padded out with apparently no thought to any end. I think if Gillian Anderson hadn’t refused they’d be cranking out another series.

    —The length of some series is why I’m hesitant to even read them, especially when it comes to Manga where there’s a huge variety of storytelling and definite endings. Too bad American comics aren’t more like this though I’ve heard it’s just not financially doable for the most part in America with things like The Walking Dead being the exception.

    —I’m not a Wheel of Time fan, never read ’em, but did feel sad he wasn’t able to write the concluding volumes himself, though I think it was good he wrote the actual ending used.

    —These days I try not to start a series until it’s finished.

    cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your last point is key. That’s where I tend to be now, especially after reading The Wheel of Time as it was being written. The wait is usually torture, and I found myself re-reading the ENTIRE SAGA as new volumes were released when the time between books grew greater and greater. Better to wait until the end and read them all in one uninterrupted chunk.

      I see your point about corporate-owned comics. If you’re a fan of a writer, you will read their stuff. Otherwise, you’re stuck with a character that will never change and a story that will never end. Some people like that. You, like I, don’t.

      Like

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