Saturday, November 12, 2011

When is it done?

When is the piece of fiction I'm writing finished?

The quick and easy answer is: never. Not really, anyway.

As a writer, or film-maker for that matter (look at all the edited re-releases of Star Wars and the like, lately), your story is only done being told when you are done telling it. I have some stories that I’ve been telling and retelling (in editing) for over ten years now.

While it is never a good idea to let a story go before it’s finished, it’s also not advantageous to hold onto a story long past its finish.

A third party can often be, and often is for me, a big help in knowing when to let go of a piece of fiction and let others have it to make their own. I have several trusted proofers, editors, and fellow writers who are nice enough to read for me and tell me (“Stop editing before you kill it!”) when it’s time - when it’s done.

I read, once upon a time, that nothing good is ever written, it is only re-written. I didn’t understand that at the time, but I am – more and more these days – learning to appreciate that statement.

Here’s how I write. If it helps you… YAY!! If not… I’m sorry.

1) I write a story draft. This is usually about 8-30 pages long. It tells who the characters are, and what’s going on. It does this only in the vaguest sense.

2) I take the draft and breakdown a “chapter list”. This lets me know what the pace of my story is going to be. (If I’m going to make a mistake in telling a story, it usually happens in this step)

3) I sit down with my chapters and prewrite over them. This gives me a series of scenes (long or short) per chapter.

--It’s important to note, I think, that I often don’t have the “end” of the story at this point… only the direction that I’m moving in toward an “ending”--

4) I take my chapter prewrites and turn them into full chapters. This is usually done by starting in the middle of the story and working backward toward the beginning.

5) Once I have the first half of the story fairly finished I jump back to the middle and write in a mad rush to the end… this usually means writing into “unknown territory”, where I have nothing worked out at all.

--Now I have my first draft.--

6) I can (and sometimes do) edit over my first draft. I’ve found however that it is often wisest to send this off to my editor. The editor catches the mistakes that I would without ripping things up (that I would do out of desire to ‘make the story better’).

7) I get a set of notes back from my editor, and I sit down with a full pot of coffee and my laptop and combine the notes and my original draft (often leading to changes that weren’t in the notes, as well as ignoring some changes called for in the notes) and create my second draft.

--Now I have my second draft.--

8) Now this second draft is sent to proofers, or a second editor. There may be slight changes or adjustments at this point, but they aren’t likely (or even very large, if they do happen).

9) After I get back my notes on the second draft I fight my urges to tear it apart and re-write the whole damned thing (because I’m a writer, and that’s what we do), and have it formatted to go to print.

That’s my process. It may not be yours, but it works for me.

When is my work done?

It’s done when I leave it alone… if I didn’t walk away and abandon it at some point… I’d be writing on it forever. True Story!

-Dennis Sharpe

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