Finishing Stories

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
amyhg
Posts: 48
Joined: Sat Apr 08, 2017 5:28 pm

Finishing Stories

Postby amyhg » Mon Jul 10, 2017 10:07 am

So, I'm running up against the common dread unfinishing disease that plagues so many writers. I have at least a dozen stories with the first 2,000+ words written only to be set aside for a different project. I know I need to be disciplined and just finish, but I've realized there's another cause to my disease. Many of these stories were begun with a specific anthology in mind and then I missed the deadline. Consequently, they get set aside and I move on to more intriguing story lines or potential submissions. Granted, I still complete at least one or two stories every 3 months.

But I'm curious what y'all think. Am I setting myself up for failure for aborting so many potential stories instead of getting in the habit of completing one before moving on to the next? What do you do?
v33: Q3, Q4 - R
v34: Q1 - R, Q2 - SECOND PLACE!

jficke13
Posts: 60
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2017 4:24 am
Location: Wisconsin
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby jficke13 » Mon Jul 10, 2017 12:16 pm

Setting yourself up for failure? I'm not sure I'd go that far, but writing to a completed story is valuable for all sorts of reasons beyond developing a habit of finishing.

Once done then I get to hone my skills of editing all the way from structure down to prose. Ripping it apart and putting it back together in a stronger form is its own skill, and one that takes practice too.

I'm not sure how to answer, but finishing is preferable to not finishing, I guess. That's not a hot take, but just my two cents.
HM - R - R

vjalrik
Posts: 14
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:07 am
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby vjalrik » Tue Jul 11, 2017 11:01 am

Also just my two cents:

I'm a big fan of the whole "if you don't wanna write it no one's gonna wanna read it" theory, so I do the gut check fairly frequently: "is this really what I want to be writing?" Obviously, if you started it there was something in it that sparked your interest, and you're almost certainly going to have to muscle your way through at some point in every story, but I don't think there's any shame at all in putting a piece down for a while. I've only got a handful of unfinished stories right now, but it happens. Eventually you may find yourself with a lull in your workload and decide to pick one of them up again, but even if you don't, you can always chalk it up to experience/practice/etc. Sometimes I have to try a story or plotline out before I find out the way it's supposed to go or realize it's just not the story I thought it would be.
V34: SF, R, R, Q4-pending
V33 (Q2 on): HM, SHM, R
Latest sold stories (9 total):
"The Right Decision," Digital Science Fiction, Dec. 21, 2016
"Fossil Fuel," Helios Quarterly Magazine, Dec. 13, 2016

User avatar
MattDovey
Posts: 325
Joined: Tue Sep 22, 2015 1:33 am
Location: England
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby MattDovey » Wed Jul 12, 2017 4:20 am

amyhg wrote:Am I setting myself up for failure for aborting so many potential stories instead of getting in the habit of completing one before moving on to the next?


Sorry, but... yes.

Endings are a huge, huge part of whether a story works or not. For every story I bump from slush at PodCastle, there's another that I was certain I'd send up at the 75% mark, only for it to miss the landing. You need to learn how to tie the threads together, how to surprise but also satisfy, how to strike that final note that rings in the silence after THE END.

And practically speaking, if you never finish anything you'll never have anything to submit.

In terms of process, as well, I find as much (if not more) of the work comes after the first draft is finished. Altering characters and their motivations, changing scenes, layering in ideas and foreshadowing... there's a whole skill set in revision that you're never getting to if you never finish that first draft. Everyone's process differs, and maybe you're one of the rare few who does just bring up a beautiful first draft--but I wouldn't bet on it. They're the minority, IME, and my stories are vastly better by the third or fourth version than in any first draft.

You don't have to finish *every* story--some drafts just really don't work out, and there's no point in forcing yourself to the finish line for something you hate, because you'll just end up loathing the craft if you do, and you need to keep the love. But if 80% of your stuff is abandoned because you're distracted by a shiny new idea, well, writing is a discipline. You need to bring some discipline to bear.
Golden Pen winner v32 (2016)
Stories | About | Facebook | Twitter

michaeljwyantjr
Posts: 46
Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2017 8:16 am
Location: Lost in the country, NY
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby michaeljwyantjr » Wed Jul 12, 2017 9:10 am

MattDovey wrote:
amyhg wrote:Am I setting myself up for failure for aborting so many potential stories instead of getting in the habit of completing one before moving on to the next?


Sorry, but... yes.

Endings are a huge, huge part of whether a story works or not. For every story I bump from slush at PodCastle, there's another that I was certain I'd send up at the 75% mark, only for it to miss the landing. You need to learn how to tie the threads together, how to surprise but also satisfy, how to strike that final note that rings in the silence after THE END.

And practically speaking, if you never finish anything you'll never have anything to submit.

In terms of process, as well, I find as much (if not more) of the work comes after the first draft is finished. Altering characters and their motivations, changing scenes, layering in ideas and foreshadowing... there's a whole skill set in revision that you're never getting to if you never finish that first draft. Everyone's process differs, and maybe you're one of the rare few who does just bring up a beautiful first draft--but I wouldn't bet on it. They're the minority, IME, and my stories are vastly better by the third or fourth version than in any first draft.

You don't have to finish *every* story--some drafts just really don't work out, and there's no point in forcing yourself to the finish line for something you hate, because you'll just end up loathing the craft if you do, and you need to keep the love. But if 80% of your stuff is abandoned because you're distracted by a shiny new idea, well, writing is a discipline. You need to bring some discipline to bear.


I wish phpBB had a like function. wotf052

Personally, I realize that I let my growth as a writer stagnate for nearly a decade before I finally forced myself to finish a novel. Since then, I feel like I've grown exponentially, even if there are still stories that I don't finish because, well, they kind of suck. Forcing through and finishing a story you love brings a sort of high--I'm sure David Wolverton would say it releases dopamine or the like--and once you start getting it, you find that finishing that story becomes easier, even if it needs one, two, or ten more drafts to be complete.

So keep on and fight through. Soon it won't be as hard to complete those stories.
WotF Results:
  • R:1
  • HM:3
  • sHM:0
  • SF:0
  • F:0
  • (Last: HM, Q2.v34)

jficke13
Posts: 60
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2017 4:24 am
Location: Wisconsin
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby jficke13 » Wed Jul 12, 2017 10:42 am

Yeah... Matt said what I was trying to say a lot better than I did.

There's so much post 1st-draft work to do and so many skills that I never started honing until I started finishing stories that it blew my mind.
HM - R - R

Jeremyteg
Posts: 93
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2017 9:38 am
Location: Spokane, WA
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby Jeremyteg » Wed Jul 12, 2017 4:42 pm

MattDovey wrote:
amyhg wrote:Am I setting myself up for failure for aborting so many potential stories instead of getting in the habit of completing one before moving on to the next?


Sorry, but... yes.



I couldn't agree more. I try to finish everything I start, even if I don't think it's going anywhere. Part of that has to do with being a discovery writer--if I get in the habit of abandoning stories when they get difficult, I will literally never finish anything, as every story is difficult for me at some point in the process. Part of it has to do with the fact that endings are vitally important, and I can imaging being the best at writing openings in the world but never managing to have a career because my endings always leave the reader wondering why they bothered. wotf001

jficke13
Posts: 60
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2017 4:24 am
Location: Wisconsin
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby jficke13 » Wed Jul 12, 2017 5:33 pm

Matt and Jeremy have focused on landing the ending, which is a HUGE thing, no doubt. But to me, everything I've ever finished has had a broken ending. I get to it and think "for this to work X Y and Z need to change(blah blah blah)." For me the skills that finishing a story exercises are the ones that go from "I finished" to "I finished what I finished."
HM - R - R

Jeremyteg
Posts: 93
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2017 9:38 am
Location: Spokane, WA
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby Jeremyteg » Wed Jul 12, 2017 6:20 pm

jficke13 wrote:Matt and Jeremy have focused on landing the ending, which is a HUGE thing, no doubt. But to me, everything I've ever finished has had a broken ending. I get to it and think "for this to work X Y and Z need to change(blah blah blah)." For me the skills that finishing a story exercises are the ones that go from "I finished" to "I finished what I finished."


I also agree with this, absolutely. I did eight passes of edits on my winning story, and you can't start serious editing until you've finished the first draft (though in that case, the ending was one of the things I changed the least, since I had it in mind from the get-go). To become a better writer, the best thing to do is to finish first drafts and revise them. If you don't like it after revision, move on to something else, and come back to the story if you ever think of a way to fix it.

User avatar
MattDovey
Posts: 325
Joined: Tue Sep 22, 2015 1:33 am
Location: England
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby MattDovey » Thu Jul 13, 2017 6:40 am

The only things of mine that have sold with no revision work have been <500 words (e.g. DSF, June 1), because they're small enough to hold the whole thing in my head and just blurt it out on paper. Revision is everything: and again, that may not be true for you, and I certainly know people whose first drafts are painfully good, but odds are you won't be one of them. Most people aren't. No shame in it.

Just checked and Squalor & Sympathy also had eight versions before submitting. Clearly this is the magic number wotf001 but seriously--whilst some of those were prose edits, some were massive. The first version of that story started at what's now the third scene. Most of the work in revision was making sure the magic system was explained enough; the whole conversation with Nelly at about 2/3 on how Squalor works was only added on the final pass, but is absolutely essential to the ending working because you need to understand Squalor to understand Sympathy. There's loads of detail in the opening scene added in to try and build up the impression of the magic too. I kept going out to new betas and asking them to explain the magic system back to me so I could refine and reinforce it, and I could never have done that if I didn't finish it in the first place.

Something else you can only learn by finishing: pacing. Pacing is a balancing act across a whole story, and if you never get to the end of a story, you can never learn to balance the whole thing.

What we're saying is yes, you should finish your stories wotf008
Golden Pen winner v32 (2016)
Stories | About | Facebook | Twitter

kentagions
Posts: 233
Joined: Wed Mar 25, 2015 2:45 pm
Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby kentagions » Thu Jul 13, 2017 7:33 am

The success you've just had proves that stories receiving your full attention finish well. Your work shows a mature style, superb imagery and economy, a joy to read as I've mentioned. These are successes.

One thing more to understand in our fast-paced society is that every story has its own timing. Authors who instruct, whether in class or books, always describe the maturation process of an idea. Some cook the idea, some build around it and some let it ripen, but however described, the idea maturation process takes a different amount of time for each idea.

With practice and a defined creative process, I believe we can decrease the amount of time required to bring a story to fruition, but there are stories whose time just hasn't come. Paragraphs, character sketches, outlines, dozens of pages of a draft and completed stories are examples of projects I've set aside because the timing wasn't right. I look back at them occasionally and finish them when I feel right about continuing.

Trust that the creative portion of your mind knows when an idea has matured enough to finish.

User avatar
disgruntledpeony
Posts: 485
Joined: Fri Jul 31, 2015 7:21 pm

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby disgruntledpeony » Thu Jul 13, 2017 10:24 am

I don't finish all of the stories I start, but I'm working on upping my percentage. Revision is definitely an important skill to practice. I'll go through an average of three to four drafts with a story, but I'll often have partial revisions for a draft that I don't consider 'complete' yet. As such, my drafts get labeled 1.0, 1.1, and so on. (0.1 drafts occasionally happen, and tend to be hilariously bad. But, hey, that's what rough drafts are for.)

My Q3 story went from draft 2.0 to 2.6 before I managed to jump up to 3.0. wotf23 I don't usually make that many revisions to a single draft, but that story just wouldn't do what I wanted it to.
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain
2015, Q4: R
2016: SF, n/a, SHM, SHM
2017: SHM, n/a, ?

amyhg
Posts: 48
Joined: Sat Apr 08, 2017 5:28 pm

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby amyhg » Thu Jul 13, 2017 11:19 am

kentagions wrote:Authors who instruct, whether in class or books, always describe the maturation process of an idea. Some cook the idea, some build around it and some let it ripen, but however described, the idea maturation process takes a different amount of time for each idea.


I like how you described that because that's definitely what I go through.

I think I have a hard time distinguishing between "getting an idea down on paper" and actually sitting and writing a story. Sometimes I have a scene or dialogue exchange pop into my head so I sit down and punch it out so I don't forget. Often, it's the opening of a story (establishing some world building or character) or a part of the inciting event. Then I stare at the screen and think, "Now what?" Is that an incomplete story or is that just doing what writers do?

I don't normally feel I have a story to write until these sketches somehow overlap and then I can say, "Hey, well look at that. I think I'll stick this character in this scene and drop it all in this world." That's normally what happens when I spit out those one or two stories every three months.
v33: Q3, Q4 - R
v34: Q1 - R, Q2 - SECOND PLACE!

amyhg
Posts: 48
Joined: Sat Apr 08, 2017 5:28 pm

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby amyhg » Thu Jul 13, 2017 11:28 am

As for revisions, I hope I get quicker at that. I revise as I go because I fall on the "discovery writer" side of the spectrum. When new ideas occur that add new elements or take a story in a new direction, I feel like I have to go back and rewrite or insert important details right then or else I'll forget. Sometimes I spend an entire block of writing time editing what I wrote before. Have any of you found good strategies for avoiding this or should I just embrace it as part of my writing process? I lean toward the latter because I will forget to add or change details if I don't do it right then and I figure if I'm going to be jotting them into a notebook or typing them in a comment in the margin to do later, then I might as well write them in.

Aside: I hope others feel free to chime in with questions of their own. I don't want this thread to be all about my issues. wotf005 I'm just absolutely loving this forum and having other writers to converse with! wotf019
v33: Q3, Q4 - R
v34: Q1 - R, Q2 - SECOND PLACE!

User avatar
Dustin Adams
Posts: 1481
Joined: Thu Oct 27, 2011 8:47 am
Location: NY, state of
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby Dustin Adams » Thu Jul 13, 2017 1:00 pm

Need to change your signature. wotf011
2x Finalist
1x Semi
2x Silver
7x HM
Eight EDF stories. DSF: Flash1. Flash2. Short Story. My Semi-F

User avatar
disgruntledpeony
Posts: 485
Joined: Fri Jul 31, 2015 7:21 pm

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby disgruntledpeony » Thu Jul 13, 2017 1:07 pm

Dustin Adams wrote:Need to change your signature. wotf011

Well, she doesn't know if she placed yet or not, so that may be why she hasn't. wotf011
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain
2015, Q4: R
2016: SF, n/a, SHM, SHM
2017: SHM, n/a, ?

Jeremyteg
Posts: 93
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2017 9:38 am
Location: Spokane, WA
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby Jeremyteg » Thu Jul 13, 2017 5:05 pm

amyhg wrote:Sometimes I spend an entire block of writing time editing what I wrote before. Have any of you found good strategies for avoiding this or should I just embrace it as part of my writing process? I lean toward the latter because I will forget to add or change details if I don't do it right then and I figure if I'm going to be jotting them into a notebook or typing them in a comment in the margin to do later, then I might as well write them in.



As a fellow discovery writer, I also do this, but usually only when the change is something that will re-contextualize a lot of what I've already written and drive the story in a totally new direction. If the change is necessary but minor, I make a note at the top of my draft to remind myself of the change. Something like "go through and layer in more moments of friendship between characters x and y," as a rough-shod example. Those smaller additions and alternations can be made as part of the next draft. I did many, many of these from draft to draft of both my winning story and the story that will be coming out next month in BCS.

And it's worth noting that sudden, story-transforming realizations can happen between drafts, too. But you can't have the experience of re-writing to fix a broken story until you've finished that broken story.

User avatar
Dustin Adams
Posts: 1481
Joined: Thu Oct 27, 2011 8:47 am
Location: NY, state of
Contact:

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby Dustin Adams » Fri Jul 14, 2017 9:40 am

disgruntledpeony wrote:
Dustin Adams wrote:Need to change your signature. wotf011

Well, she doesn't know if she placed yet or not, so that may be why she hasn't. wotf011

True dat.
I was just thinking the F, and pending for the W (fingers still crossed!)
2x Finalist
1x Semi
2x Silver
7x HM
Eight EDF stories. DSF: Flash1. Flash2. Short Story. My Semi-F

amyhg
Posts: 48
Joined: Sat Apr 08, 2017 5:28 pm

Re: Finishing Stories

Postby amyhg » Fri Jul 14, 2017 12:51 pm

Dustin Adams wrote:
disgruntledpeony wrote:
Dustin Adams wrote:Need to change your signature. wotf011

Well, she doesn't know if she placed yet or not, so that may be why she hasn't. wotf011

True dat.
I was just thinking the F, and pending for the W (fingers still crossed!)


Yup, waiting for the call. That way I change it in one stroke rather than having the agonizing job of deleting the "pending for the W".
v33: Q3, Q4 - R
v34: Q1 - R, Q2 - SECOND PLACE!


Return to “Writing: Craft, Talent, Technique”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest