Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is Finishing Your Story Always a Good Thing?

So before you assume that the question in the title of this blog post is the result of my love-hate affair with my current wip, let me first state unequivocally that I absolutely believe that writers need to complete a novel before they can see whether the story works or not. You learn soooo much by writing the entire character and story arc of a novel that the question I just posed should probably never be posed. And yet...

As much as I believe in this in theory, and as much as I believe in this in practice (dear God, the PRACTICE you get from writing a complete novel - or several complete novels - is priceless)there sometimes comes a point when a writer thinks "I'm beating a dead horse here. The story is not coming together. The spark is gone." But when does a writer know when a story is truly dead? Maybe it's just in a coma. Let me offer a case in point.

My next novel, THE BREAK (coming out in Spring 2012), I'd abandoned in the murky middle before sending it to my agent along with another (complete but needing revision) novel. I wanted her advice as to which story should be the one I concentrate on. She felt THE BREAK had more potential. I turned back to it (after a good several months away)and something clicked. Not sure if it was the agent's validation, not sure if the break on THE BREAK (sorry, couldn't resist)was all I needed. Whatever it was, I forged on and finished it in a couple of months after that. Now it's being published next year after I'd initially abandoned it (can't really remember the reasons now. Probably the same frustrations I have whenever I get to the middle. But my point is, it was a good thing I finished it because it will see the light of day now. And yet...

I'm 3/4 's of the way through the first draft of two books. I'm having issues with both of them. I stopped one last fall to start work on a 'shiny new idea' and wrote to the murky middle on that one, edged past the middle, decided it wasn't working for me, went back to the one I'd abandoned, fell in love again, wrote to the almost end point, noticed a whole slew of flaws (the biggest one being that it's supposed to be a paranormal when there isn't enough paranormal in it) and I'm now thinking "What's the point? I'm beating a dead horse here. The story is not coming together. The spark is gone."

And yet...

I hate not finishing a story. I keep thinking if I just keep working at it, maybe the spark will ignite again. But then sometimes, maybe trying to work up a fire in a dead hearth just exhausts you. And maybe, sometimes, it would make more sense to gather up some new wood and get that crackling fire going without so much huffing and puffing to fire up that one, small coal buried under a lot of burnt out wood.

I guess my question to you all is: how do you know when the fire in your story is really out?


  1. I gave you an award on my blog. Stop by to claim it.

  2. I can't answer your question, because I seem to keep coming back to my stories, feeling some persistent need to rewrite and improve them. But I suppose if I tried many different ways to rekindle that spark and couldn't, I'd eventually move on to something else. There are always more stories to write.

  3. Hi Kelly! Thank you so much! I'll pop over right now... :)

    Hi Andrea! I hear you. I guess I have to make a decision soon - I do have another story that's niggling at the back of my head (isn't there always :)

  4. Gosh, that's a tough one. Like you found out, you can sometimes think the story is stone cold dead, but later find a spark has survived. You never know when the fire will burst forth again.

    I suppose I'd say it's time to stop when the idea of working on it fills you with dread. If you find yourself avoiding writing altogether just because you can't bear the thought of opening the document.

  5. Hi Linda! It is a hard question. I wonder if my way of answering it is just to say I'm not 'stopping' I'm just 'taking a break'. Then, if I visit it again, I might ignite that spark. One should never say never, as they say.

  6. Oooh, that's tricky stuff! I tend to think there's value in finishing. But maybe it isn't time to finish yet? Also, when I work on more than one unfinished (talking first draft here) WIP it all gets muddled.

  7. Hi Lisa: You may be right. Going back and forth between two stories is not something I usually do. It's so easy to give up on one and tackle the other when things are difficult. Maybe I just need to commit! :)