How Do You Know When Your Story is Finished?
Writers know that, in truth, a story is never finished, and if given a choice, they would tweak and rewrite ad infinitum. That’s because we’re never satisfied – we can’t help ourselves; we have to keep rewriting until we think it’s perfect. Of course, there must come a point when the story has to finish and reach a point where there is nothing else to write and you have to let it out into the big bad world for others to read.
But how do you know the story really is finished?
The answer is all down to the process of writing. There’s a logical flow to how stories are constructed. It happens in gradual steps, so the finished product comes as part of the last few steps in that process, rather than when you write ‘the end’, because ‘the end’ isn’t the end at all.
This process begins by writing the first draft – the bare bones of the story. New writers believe that’s all it needs. They’ve written the story, so it’s finished. But it’s far from finished – it’s barely written. The first draft is followed by a read through, which highlights plot flaws or major problems with the story. Writers have to be objective when they do this. They need to see whether it reads well, has pace, or makes sense. They need to check whether it has enough tension, drama and conflict. It can provide an insight into characterisation (or lack of). It will also show whether there are recognisable story themes. Above all, it will show up weak areas of writing.
The next step is to rewrite the story, the second draft. Parts are cut or expanded, and plot holes are plugged and so on. Ideas can be developed and incorporated into the story and the writing tightened so those weak areas are eliminated.
By the third draft there should be a tight, cohesive and exciting story that has pace, conflict, atmosphere and tension and has fully rounded, believable characters. The story should be a smooth, uninterrupted read. It should also be believable and enjoyable.
By the fourth draft there should be no spelling or grammar mistakes and no plot problems. The story should be as near perfect as possible and ready for professional editing and/or beta readers who will provide valuable feedback. Also, at this stage, the writer will know if the story really works; it’s down to instinct.
Depending on the feedback, there could be some rework or tweaks, so the writer could end up doing a fifth draft to tie up those loose ends, but after all that – each writer is different, remember – it should be apparent that there is no longer a need to write any more. The story is the best it can be. Nothing else can be added. If the writer keeps adding and tweaking, there’s a danger the story could be ruined.
Not every writer will feel this, but many know when they’re finished because they can’t bear to read another word. They’ve read, re-read, edited and edited again and they’re sick of it. That’s because it’s finished. It’s ready. There are no more steps in the process, except to send it out into the world.
That moment of knowing it’s as ready as it will ever be is down to the writing process, gut instinct and the ability to let it go.
Next week: How to stay inspired