Monday, March 22, 2010

Question from a Writer - When is it done?

This is an extension to one of the issues we talked about last week dealing with when you should submit. In this case, it comes from a question from one of the readers.

I'm having difficulty with the transition from WIP to "manuscript." Specifically, WHEN DO YOU KNOW WHEN THE BLASTED THING IS DONE/FINISHED/COOKED/COMPLETED?

Every read produces more things to tweak. Every scene rework requires more tweaking in subsequent chapters. And yet, I do not want to put it out there unless its the BEST I can do.


That scream of agony. I have heard it so often. Unfortunately, Karen, there is no exact science to answering this question, but surprisingly, the answer is right in front of your face.

As you point out in the second part of your question, right before the scream of terror, "every read produces more things to tweak." In reality, this is not necessarily something more to tweak, but a change in your mood from one day to the next. Depending on your state of mind, the type of day you are having, the material you have just read from someone else and so forth, your perception of your story will indeed change. When I teach poetry writing, I always have the writers try an experiment. This always works well on a great spring day. Since it is dark right now outside and we are expecting rain her in the Puget Sound, I am going to have to make this up.

Imagine you are sitting in a park on a great Spring day. It's a Saturday, you have no work, no kids, no stress. You're just enjoying. Now, I want you to write the most depressing story you can. Hard to do? Not really. Your mind is just not in it. The same goes for those days when you are in a really bad mood, and write some fantastic depressing and moody poetry. When you're in a good mood and go back to re-read it, you will think it is the most sappy piece of writing ever.

Now back to your story. going back time and time again to make tweaks might not make any improvements. In fact, it might clog the story up with useless or repetitive scenes that side track you from your central mission.

Knowing if your story is finished comes down to answering a couple of key questions:
  • Does the reader know all they need to know about the hero and heroine?
  • Has the conflict been solved and the characters are ready to move on?
  • Has the theme of the book been met?
  • Is the reader left with any unanswered questions?
  • Have you described the world the characters live in enough to allow the reader a chance to know what this place looks like?

Essentially I go back to the basics of plot, character, setting and theme. Let me explain a couple of the points though.

When I ask if you the reader knows all he or she needs to about the hero and heroine, I am not asking if they know everything. I mean just what they need. We don't need to know their entire history. In this case, do we know their Goals, Motivation and Conflicts? Do we know what they look like?

When we talk about the conflict being met, I am referring to the plot elements that took place to get us to the central conflict and those that wrapped everything up in a nice tiny package. Adding more scenes before the conflict (the rising action) that do what we have already scene before gets the reader nothing more than more pages to read. In this case, I am always reminded of soap operas. I sometimes think that these characters are the stupidest people out there. They are always going through the same thing, time and time again and never know what it will lead to? Really? Well the same goes for your story.

In the end, it simply comes down to a gut instinct. Trust yourself.

I will add though that many writers use this answer as a crutch though. "It's not quite ready to be seen yet" can often be translated to "I am not personally ready." In this case, it is time to return to FINDING NEMO and my favorite character Dory. As they are hanging in the whale's mouth, she tells Marlin "He says it's time to let go." Guess what, it is time for you to let go of your story, get that feedback from someone and move on. You have more stories to tell.



  1. That is so very true. When I write the only thing I ever ask myself is whether I am satisfied with it. If I am not, then I put that one aside and move on, maybe coming back another time and picking up that one again when I have a better feel for what I want it to be. Happy writing Karen.

  2. Scott,

    Thank you for talking me off my ledge! As always, you make perfect sense. It's another print-and-reread topic for me.

    Bethanie, I appreciate your support as well (more than you know).

  3. Again, thanks for valuable information Scott.