As I head towards completion on the penultimate book in my Torth series, I'm wondering what note to end it on. Crowd-sourcing the ending of a novel is a bad idea--especially since most of the crowd hasn't read my novels--but I figured I'd ask your opinion, just to entertain myself.
How should this book end? Please note, the real question is where should I split the story between Books 5 and 6, since this series is actually one gigantic, epic story.
SPOILER ALERT. Don't continue if you don't want spoilers.
1) The protagonist goes against his own ethical code to create a brainwashed army of living zombies. This is a big step towards the 'dark side' for him, but a big step towards victory for the heroes. I guess this ending could be called bittersweet. I'm worried it might lose some fans, if they're rooting for that protagonist, since the resolution to this story-line would be in the next book.
2) The protagonist sees friend #3 (whom he owes his life and much else to) purposefully do something evil/manipulative to friends #1 and #2. The protagonist intervenes, and friend #3 gets furious and threatens to quit the war, which will leave all the heroes in a very bad position. This would be an ending where the readers are rooting for the protagonist, and worried for the heroes ... ideal, perhaps. But after all the battles and conquests in the rest of this book, it might seem a little anticlimactic.
3) The protagonist invents something that renders the heroes all but invincible, putting them in a very strong position at the end of the book. It might be too strong; readers might (wrongly) assume that the heroes have nothing left to worry about, and feel nonchalant about picking up the final book in the series.
4) The protagonist gets kidnapped by one of the major antagonists and put in a torture chamber. Then he's rescued with help from an unexpected friend; someone he wouldn't have relied on. He has a death match duel with the major antagonist, and wins/escapes. This is a classic heroic ending, but in my series it has some problems. There are three major antagonists in the series, and if I choose this ending, only one major antagonist will be left for Book 6. I'd rather not end with making the enemies seem too weak.
5) This is my favorite ending, but it will take a lot more wordage than the other endings--which might leave Book 6 short. This ending involves a super trap the enemies set up for the heroes, which they'll fall for. In this case, Book 5 would end on a very dark note, with the heroes in a horrible position. Readers will wonder how they're going to survive/escape. The problem with doing this one, besides word count, is that it is the 'darkest hour' moment of the epic, which should structurally come before the big climax. In other words, it should probably be reserved for Book 6. Otherwise Book 6 won't have a super low point in it.
Whew! Just writing those out helped me. Now I'm leaning towards option 2). If you actually read this, and if you have an opinion, let me know.
Thanks! And if you want to see how complicated the ending of this story is, I've diagrammed it on Padlet.