In writing a stand-alone novel, loose ends typically must be tied up, plot lines resolved. Otherwise, readers leave the book hungry, unsatisfied when they ought to feel full.
What about in a series novel? Should everything be tied up? Should all questions be resolved, all conflicts settled? To a point, not so much, I think.
In my first novel, Storm Surge, I introduce readers to a box owned by Daniel Wyeth, a detective. My main character peeks inside the box and finds a piece of black metal, which Daniel says is shattered. My main character wonders what would make metal shatter, but she backs off her pursuit of this knowledge when Daniel shows he’s uncomfortable speaking about it. By the end of the novel, the mystery of the contents of the box is not resolved.
Is that a problem? For one of my pre-publication readers, yes, she was/is frustrated the shattered metal is not explained. And I understand her pain. But part of the sweetness of a series can be the ongoing mysteries or conflicts that keep you coming back to find out what happens as the larger story evolves. My main character reaches an understanding that she will wait until Daniel is ready to discuss the contents of the book – this is all the resolution the reader gets in novel one.
And, with Storm Surge, it’s not just the minor detail of the shattered metal that is left unresolved. Yes, the main mystery of the novel is completely solved, and the ongoing relationship dynamics enjoy a small resolution. For instance, my main character and her stepsister enjoy a respite from their all-out battle. But will it last? After all, the two characters have spent their entire lives fighting. The resolution provided at the end of Storm Surge hopefully is enough to fill readers up but open enough to become unraveled once more at the beginning of the second novel. After all, that’s part of the fun of a series.