For those of us who remember the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, which dominated the comic section of just about every American newspaper for a decade, I dare say that most of us reflect upon the panels of witticism with a nostalgic smile. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone that said, “Meh. I don’t know what anyone sees in that.” While I admired cartoonist Bill Watterson’s continual ability to produce funny strips, the thing I think I admire most about him was his willingness to bring the era to a close.
I know that sounds odd. “You loved the comic, but you’re glad the guy stopped drawing it?” Let me clarify. What I admire is the way Mr. Watterson came to a place where he felt he had done what he could with the concept, and decided to move on to other projects, even though he could have continued to reap huge financial benefits from everything to more strips and books to plush toys and car window decals. He knew when a good thing had come to an end, and he had the guts to leave things on a high note with his fans.
As a writer, I’m hoping that I will be able to follow this model so clearly exemplified by Bill Watterson. First of all, I’m hoping my work gets to the point where I can say it has a steady fan base who is looking for the next book or set of stories that I write. If I can get to that point, I then hope I will have the courage and the character to tell those same people, “This is where the saga ends.” Even if they are clamoring for more books. If I’ve done what I believe is best with the world, I pray I will have the integrity to go the way of Calvin.
What I don’t want to do is have sitcom syndrome. You know how it is: something is popular for a whole bunch of seasons, but after a while, viewership dwindles, so the writers interject either a baby or a pet into the scenario. Or twin babies. In an effort to resurrect something that has explored all the avenues that work, the writers try to create fresh avenues with new characters that seem to have nothing to do with the original premise or intent of the show. I don’t think the ploy has ever worked, since it always comes off as a desperate grab for the doorframe, when the creative property in question really should have allowed itself to be gracefully ushered into quiet, dignified retirement.
I know it’s weird to be thinking about how I want to end my book series that are just getting started, but it’s also no new thing for me to think way too far ahead. But at the same time, I also don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a view on the tape across the end of the race, since none of us mortals can run forever. It’s my goal not only to run my hardest, but to pace myself, gauge the race, and thus, to finish well.
What about you? Have you seen places where a story, show, or other narrative ended at just the right place? Or what about the opposite—what have you seen that drones on and on until it collapses into a dehydrated pile that should have long ago been entombed?