Let Your Characters Live On Without You


by Meg Dowell


I don’t understand everyone’s obsession with sequels.

Or entire series, for that matter.

Don’t get me wrong — I love all things Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.

But what I don’t love is when people — writers in particular — can’t seem to let go of the stories and characters they’ve so closely associated themselves with.

After awhile, continuing the same story about the same character gets tiring.

At some point, all TV shows will come to an end.

All book series will bid farewell.

All characters’ stories will stop.

Well. Officially, legally, anyway.

Believe it or not, there are people out there who love your characters so much that even if you don’t continue writing about the imaginary people you created, they will.

Some creators sake their heads at things like fanfiction and roleplay writing. But in doing that, you’re shutting out an entire population of writers who are spending their time creating stories and exercising their skills for free, on their own time, for nothing more than the love of doing so.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

There are also people out there who just won’t be satisfied with endings or the way you tell certain stories. If they want to go off on their own and let your characters live on in fanfiction, let them. People can’t legally make money off your creations without your permission — you have absolutely nothing to lose there. And maybe even some things to gain.

But I still can’t help but ask myself why.

Why can’t we just let things go? Say goodbye? Let the past die?

When you break up with a significant other in real life, you (hopefully) move on to someone else.

When you lose a loved one, you grieve, and then you stand up and keep moving forward.

So why, when a book ends or a character dies on someone’s favorite TV show, can they not just … deal?

More importantly, why do some trolls feel the need to attack creators for the way they chose to write a story? Why do people take these things so personally? It’s not personal. A writer actively made a choice, it was their choice to make, and there’s nothing their audience can do to change it once it’s published and out there in the world.

I don’t care if, one day, when I write a book and you hate the ending, you go off and write your own version and post it on your blog and feel good about yourself because of that. It’s still my story, and all you’re really doing is giving my original work more publicity. Go ahead.

But do not ask me to change something I have already published.

Don’t beg me to write a sequel.

Don’t scream at me for doing my job just because you think you could have done it better.

Either go off on your own and grieve by wriitng, or let it go.

Writers should never have to feel like they need to keep extending a story because people ask them to. I get the business side of it, trilogies make more money, you have to serve the needs and desires of your audience and all that.

But at some point, you have to say goodbye.

A writer should never have to feel guilty, or endure insults and hate, as a result. You can feel negative emotions toward a story without lashing out at its creator. I promise, it’s possible.




Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


19 thoughts on “Let Your Characters Live On Without You

  1. This resonated with me, particularly the part about lashing out at creators. I have been disappointed by the endings of series, especially a trilogy that started grandly and just sort of died. I made a list of things I won’t do in my stories, based on disappointments, but I can hardly blame the authors who risked telling their stories their way!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am writing a series because it became clear that my main characters needed to grow and mature before they could handle the full weight of what was done to them as children. I really hate time-leaps and lone flashbacks in stories, so this is the route I’m taking.

      I’m a little scared that no publisher will want a series because there are so many out there, but what can I do?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I’m the same way. The original ending was fine, but I realized that one of the characters needed MUCH more growth and development before I could write “The End”. The ending I have in mind now is far superior and more satisfying I think.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Meg, by the time I finished my first (still unsold) manuscript, I had such exciting ideas for what would happen next for these characters. I didn’t set out planning to write a series, but once I was done it just seemed there was more to tell. I went on to writing the next one and let the first cool off. Now, with its flaws more obvious, about a third of the content isn’t really part of the story arc. All that sequel content is probably going to be the final act of the one manuscript, no sequel. The bottom line for me is, if you discover ideas for a sequel, reconsider if the first story was told properly.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I think it’s good to continue to write about loved characters, but only if you’ve got something to continue on with (a bigger picture story). If it’s just a rehash of what went before then it feels a bit unfair on the audience and is simply a money-making exercise.

    I’ve just released my second novel (Stoned) which is the sequel to my first (Baabaric) and I had the next stage of the story in mind as I went along to the extent that there will definitely be a third instalment…but after that…who knows? It depends if there is room to develop the characters and the setting further I guess.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. You’re right! I personally don’t like sequels, even do sometimes they can be pretty good. As far as my own stories, I like them to have an ending. Then I write something new. I don’t like to chew the same story over and over again. At most times, that is not so creative…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Points well taken, Meg. I have found that the industry itself is responsible for a lot of this selling package deals with huge series. It seems even debut authors with the Big 5 (imprints) are contracted for trilogies. Sadly, it is a financial reason that spur these multiple book deals. Even the brand authors are encouraged to sell sequels because of past (history) success. OTH, as you so eloquently state, some series just NEED to die and stop burdening the reading public with repeats. I look at the downhill slide of the Clan of the Cave Bear series and shake my head, wondering if this franchise was just deliberately milked until it was a limping mass of skin and bones. In the same vein, George Lucas will just NOT leave Star Wars alone–this cash cow is so shriveled it deserves to be buried, albeit with honors, but buried nevertheless.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As a reader a part of me never wants it to end but the other part of me does because it ruins some part of it when you read the next book and wonder why the author won’t let it die.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. However, sometimes it is a whole family saga. Vanity Fair wasn’t meant to be only one volume, neither was Jalna nor Poldark, just to give a few examples. And the family expands on several generations, each one with its challenges. This is how I wrote a trilogy, happening on the main characters’ lifetime – 1794-1849 (but in the second edition, the split will be not in 3, but in 4 volumes, without extending the time). For another novel, after some years I felt it was not the whole story, and the rejected lover needed his share of happiness too (after being left among empty bottles, crying in despair after his lost love, at the end of the first volume). And I have another series in mind too, happening in the 1720s. The setting – West Indies – and the pirate ship crew are rich enough to be able to write 4-5 volumes.


  8. I love that idea of your fans picking up the baton and running with it. It also used to boggle my mind when readers used to get into arguments, about where I took, and what the imaginary people in my head said in my books. It’s something that most new readers don’t see coming and are totally unprepared for when it happens. – End of the day, us human folk are a crazy bunch.

    Liked by 1 person

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