Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How Do We Know When Our Stories Are Finished?

Every day I receive a “Kick in the Pants” email from David Farland’s blog. They’re filled with valuable tips about writing and I always look forward to them. Last week, he posted a link to a Q & A video about writing, and one of the participants asked the following question: “I still wake up at night with new ideas and revised dialogue for my story. How will I know when my story is finished?”

David’s response was that as long as his brain was still sending him new ideas then his story wasn’t finished. In other words, this was his brain’s way of telling him the story wasn’t ready for prime time. While I see his point, I’m not entirely sure I agree with it. At some point, I think you have to put an end to the tinkering and say “enough is enough,” even when your brain is still churning out ideas.

Although I’m writing my own stories these days, I still occasionally work on the fanfic story I began writing over five years ago. I learned a lot about writing during that time, and my fanfic has gone through countless revisions as I applied everything I’ve learned. Yet despite the fact that some of the earlier chapters have probably been edited and revised umpteen million times, I still occasionally dream up new ways of tweaking them. (Usually during a shower or while I’m driving to work.)

The question is: Do these changes really make the story better after all this time? Sometimes yes, but usually not by much. I suspect these new ideas are more like shiny new toys, perhaps some new technique I just discovered in a writing book. Fun to think about and experiment with, but not really improving the story. Different perhaps, but not better.

So I’ve come to understand that I’ll never stopping thinking of new ways to write a chapter, even long after the chapter has been finished. At some point, I’ll just have to force myself to write “The End” and move on. Because if I wait for the ideas to stop rolling in, I’ll never publish a story.


When do you stop making changes to your stories?


13 comments:

  1. Not sure I agree with it either.
    I stop making changes when my rewording and changes take it back to the first draft. Then I know I'm going too far!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember when my thesis advisor once changed a phrase of mine on a research paper to something else, and then a month later ended up changing it back to the original phrase without realizing what he'd done. That's when I knew the paper was almost finished.

      Delete
  2. Awesome thoughts. I know I'm done when my enthusiasm has waned and all the loose ends are tied up. I think there is a magical moment where things just click and you feel a sense of closure on a project, but that could just be me. Or it could be my deadlines. *shrugs* Maybe that's why we have deadlines. =)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've used deadlines before in other things to keep me focused, but it would never work for me and writing. I have no control over how long it takes me to finish a scene, much less a book.

      Delete
  3. I can see what David means but it depends on the kinds of ideas your brain is sending you. Brilliant ones that bring the story together probably shouldn't be ignored. Tweaks that don't make much of a difference are probably more about insecurities about sending the story off into the world.

    mood
    Moody Writing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Insecurities is probably the right word in my case. I'm always trying so hard to make the book better, that every time I think of something to add, I feel obliged to add it. Thanks for stopping by.

      Delete
  4. I think stories can always be tweaked and adjusted. I think you can call it done when you shelve it for a while, and then come back to it, and you still like it as you wrote it. How long do you usually wait between making adjustments?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's usually a couple of months between revisions. In the meantime I work on the other chapters (or books).

      Delete
  5. I suppose it depends on the changes. If it's bigger things, like fixes for areas that are bothering me, then yes. If it's just minute polishing stuff that doesn't have any real impact on the story, then it's time to get off the proverbial pot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One day, I do plan to get off the pot. Just don't know when yet.

      Delete
  6. I think I will go ahead and agree with David's idea, but mix it with your idea that if the new ideas I'm coming up with don't really improve the story I'm writing all that much, then I can consider them moot.

    It's like saying you both are right in a sense. David may actually stop having ideas at some point, and you may not ever experience this, but your ideas aren't particularly impactful after a while. That's probably your unique indication that your own story is finished. Every writer is different, hence why it's so hard to teach writing and storytelling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some of the ideas can go into future books. But my biggest problem is that a lot of times, I simply can't tell if the change makes a scene better or not. After a while I can't tell the difference.

      Delete
  7. I suspect you're right that the ideas won't make much difference after a certain point. But isn't that what critique partners can help you decide? You've never sent two versions together and asked which is better. Probably because it takes me forever to return one version. Sigh. But still... you could paste in two versions of some sections and ask which I like better.

    ReplyDelete

There was an error in this gadget