You’ve written for the past five nights, nose to the screen and fingers to the keyboard. After days, weeks, or months of refining your story, it’s time to face your fears and answer the ultimate question: Is your story finished?
At first glance, this is an easy question for writers to answer. Surely you’ll know when the final period hits the page whether the story is complete, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and more often than not, writers never quite know when to move from the editing stage to the publishing stage.
Why Does It Matter?
The end result of most creative writing endeavors is to share a polished product with the world (unless you’re Harper Lee, in which case, the end result might be to bury the work for fifty years and hope no one finds it). With this ultimate goal in mind, it’s important to understand when the writing process is complete, or rather, when it’s time to move to the next step. There are several methods a writer can use to determine whether it’s time to send a work out the door.
Word Count Increases After Editing.
As most writers are aware, editing a piece of writing means trimming away the fat. Stephen King famously noted the following:
2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%
This timeless rule provides insight toward determining when a final draft is ready for submission. Edits usually involve removing portions of the story, so when you find yourself adding words during an edit (usually words that were removed in a previous draft), it’s time to write a cover letter and send your literary baby off to college.
Audible Reading is Smooth.
If you’ve written for awhile, you probably discovered story drafts should be read aloud at least once. This method allows the writer to fix rhythmic issues and to quickly identify wordiness. When a writer can audibly read a draft from beginning to end without stumbling, choking, or otherwise crying, it’s okay to stick a fork in it–the writing’s done, and it’s time to enjoy the sweet desserts of publication.
Conflicts are Addressed (Resolved or Unresolved).
The backbone of any compelling work is the conflict within and between characters. A smart writer identifies all story conflicts and intentionally addresses each. Not all conflicts must be resolved, but the writer should consider all conflicts and intentionally omit or write a satisfying resolution for each. When all conflicts are addressed, it’s time to say a prayer, stamp the story, and mail it to your favorite literary journal.
Themes are Intentional and Polished.
There are two ways to embed theme in a story: intentionally and unintentionally. When themes are predetermined (Yes, some writers plan their stories before writing them), several edits are needed to ensure the themes are strengthened through character interactions, plot devices, and conflict. When themes appear from nowhere (Yes, spontaneous themes occur from time to time), it’s important to strengthen those themes as well, revising the story for consistency within thematic ideas. When all themes are intentional and polished, it’s time to fold the story into a paper airplane and send it rocketing toward the top of the slush pile.
How Do I Really Know When My Story’s Finished?
You’ll feel it. When the last sentence breaks your heart for reasons good and bad, you’ll know the story’s finished. You’ll know it’s time to begin the next great work.