How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

A story is finished when it is published. Otherwise, it is never finished. The more one writes, the more one learns, and the more one learns, the more one sees how earlier works can be improved. The only thing that stops this cycle of learning and rewriting is getting the book published.

Here are some ways other authors decide when they are finished writing a story. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with Louis Bertrand Shalako, Author of ‘Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery’

When I can find vast stretches with no errors, no grammar problems, no spelling mistakes, it’s finished. When I can think of nothing to add, or nothing to object to, no problems with the logical flow, and when I am convinced there is nothing more I can do to make it a better story, then it’s done. The funny thing is, there will always be doubts, and there will always be some insecurity. That’s just what it means to be a writer.

From an interview with Benjamin Cheah, author of Eventual Revolutions

When there are no more changes to make, no corrections to be done, and when the entire story flows seamlessly.

From an interview with Cynthia Vespia, author of “Demon Hunter: Saga”

The story decides for you. You let it run its course. The best endings are those that surprise you as the writer.

From an interview with Meg Mims, Author of “Double Crossing”

That’s a tough question, because I can’t just hammer it out. I prefer letting it “heat up” like in glassblowing, fine-tuning, rolling, even breaking it up and starting over. And the “KEY” element must be there or else it will remain unfinished for me. So while Double Crossing finaled in many RWA contests, it took over a year for me to find that “key” that let all the elements fall into place and then I knew it was submission-ready.

From an interview with Michael Haskins, Author of “Stairway to the Bottom”

I know the beginning, middle and end of a story before I begin. How I get to the middle and end is the fun part. As I write the things I knew or wanted in the story sometimes change, including the end. In Stairway to the Bottom, I didn’t like the ending and added one more chapter. I hadn’t totally thought of that way on ending the story, but as I re-read it, I knew it need a little more than I planned on. I think the ending found me.

From an interview with Tom Winton, Author of “Beyond Nostalgia”

You never finish a story, you abandon it. No matter how many drafts you do, eventually you have to let it go. I did nine drafts of Beyond Nostalgia and sometimes, during that ninth draft, I’d spend a full hour reworking a single paragraph that I’d overhauled eight times before. A writer can go over and over a manuscript forever and keep making changes. When you’re confident that you’ve given it ninety-nine percent, ya gotta let it go.

So, how (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

(If you’d like me to interview you, please check out my author questionnaire and follow the instruction.)

7 Responses to “How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?”

  1. The Dandy Lion Says:

    A really interesting discussion – I’m used to reading about ‘how to know when to give up on reading a book you aren’t enjoying’ but I’ve never really thought about knowing when you’re done actually writing.

  2. lvgaudet Says:

    I have to just tell myself, “Enough already!”

    Otherwise I’ll never say it’s done and will just keep on playing around with it, editing, tweeking, etc endlessly forever.

    No story is every perfect or without room for editing and improvement. It’s just the nature of the beast, and it’s nature is a very liquid one and wide open to personal perceptions of the moment.

    Unfortunately, there is also such thing as editing a story to death.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I wrote my books for my old age, for when I needed to read the sort of books that I liked, but now I wonder if I will ever read them again. I might see too many problems. On the other hand, if I were simply reading them, rather than looking for things to change, I’d probably give the books the same acceptance I give to everyone else’s books. They are what they are.

  3. Rod Marsden Says:

    I go along with the idea that a story is never finished until it is published. It is up to the writer to bring it to a point where it is fine for an editor or two to look it over. In the editing stage it will bounce between editor and writer.

    I tend not to believe writers who say they get everything right first time and don’t need an editor. Mitchener went through numerous drafts when he wrote his chokers and so did many more contemporary authors.

    Even after a story sees publication the author might want to make changes for future reprints.

    A good novel has an organic feel to it. My last novel, Ghost Dance, takes some of the characters from Australia to Europe and back again because going full circle felt like the right approach. Also I begin the novel with two ghost children on a beach and end with those ghost children put into the care of a motherly ghost with ghost children of her own. Again the idea of coming full circle. It’s kind of a Celtic thing to do when there’s room to add more circles to the existing ones without messing up what’s already there and in this novel there is such room.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      That’s a good answer: when you come full circle. I wonder if that holds true as a writer, too. Do you come full circle when you finish a novel. starting back at the beginning, only changed somehow?

  4. Rod Marsden Says:

    Circles within circles and circles joining, Pat. As a writer you want a sense of accomplishment. A lot of classical stories end where a journey begins. Jason and the Argonauts is a good example. The Celts also had this idea but also expressed it in art.

    Of course the person who finishes the journey is not exactly the same person who started the journey. There is growth. The character or characters have grown or changed in various ways from the experiences they have had. The same can be said for the writer and hopefully the reader. Most readers, myself included, want a sense of accomplishment when we reach the end of a novel. The Chinese say that you can never cross the same stream twice. By this they mean that the stream changes in time and so does the person crossing it.

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