Where to begin? With so many who never get around to that, the question stops many from putting pen to paper. But come now, you know everything, you’re off the ground when it comes to writing.
But where to end? Did you see that one coming?
That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.
Dear Writing All Wrong,
First, I have to say, I really enjoy reading your posts, both for fun and taking notes for my own writing. It makes me laugh and cringe at the same time, because, honestly, yes, I make some of those mistakes.
But, on to my question — How do you know when you’ve written enough? Sure, readers like to know details, but when is “the end”, the end?
—Nichole B., Pensacola, Fla.
Written enough to reach the end? I guess you’ll know when you get there – hah!
Fair question. You’ve many a factor to keep in mind when it comes to that notion of “enough.” It’s not all about where and when you stop, but what you stop. So we being:
1) Know your story
“Well, duh, W.A.W, I know my story.” Do you? Then do tell. Sum up. Whatcha got? When you’ve got that summary written down, circle the last sentence(s). End it there. You now have a “stopping point.” Get there. It’s not that simple, but it’s that simple.
2) Write only what serves the story
Not “write only the story.” Readers like details, pigments, shades, and hues of colors that paint a vivid picture. And a bit of backstory won’t hurt. But when those details lead you on the rabbit trails laid in brick and carved for miles? That’s beyond enough. I don’t care how interesting the trail is, or what scenic view it offers. Story. Not served. Back to it. Lose yourself in things that don’t serve the story, and you’ll miss that end in sight.
3) Creating appetite vs. creating “food”
Unless you’re in the special place where you can afford all sorts of extra details, backstory, and handouts via blatant authorial intrusion (see: Rowling, J.K., “Pottermore,” YHGTBFKM), don’t waste time cramming your narrative with excessive details. Create an appetite; let what is unsaid tantalize the reader. Get on with “just enough” detail to tease the senses. You’ll find that keeping to boundaries will keep the story marching to its desired end.
4) Write what’s interesting; don’t write what interests you
There’s a difference. If you have to convince a reader that your subject is interesting, you may be fighting a losing battle right away. Peanut butter in mousetraps, stegosaurus-grade shotguns, underground Monopoly tournaments, Murphy’s Law enforcers: I could write of such things until the sun spits out a flaming hairball. I find them interesting. But not everyone’s interested. There’s a story that needs telling. Leave out detours of obsessions and digressions.
5) Asking “Is this enough?” and “Is this too much?”
Nothing wrong with asking the “too much” question. The answer’s usually “Yes.” Edit down until you’re asking if it’s enough. If the answer to “enough?” is “Yes,” then you’re done writing. If “No,” keep writing. Add, subtract, edit, redact. Get to where you always answer “Is this enough?” with “Yes” and “Is this too much?” with “No.”
6) Don’t end when you’re tired
Your story, or whatever you write, doesn’t end when you can no longer expend the effort. A rushed ending screams in agony if cheated by the whim of fatigue. Ask why you’re ending the story. If your answer isn’t good enough, then your ending isn’t good enough. Don’t stop until the tale is concluded well.
7) Do end when the story has been told
Obvious much? If you’ve told all there is you set about telling, then go for the landing and get that plane taxied in. Don’t crash it (unless that was the intention). Don’t crash land (unless that was the intention). And don’t leave the plane on the tarmac for too long. If that was your intention, then you’re doing this wrong. End the story when the story ends. Happily ever after. END SCENE. Save writing the “ever after” for the sequel. Your duty is done.
8) Do you really have an ending?
That might be the problem right there. If there’s no end in sight, you may not have an end, period. Even after all that writing. Drink deep into the story and muster up the courage to write the ending. Just get it out there. Does it work? Good. Go write your way there. It’s not always about writing, then ending. Sometimes you’re writing the ending, then writing to the ending. Then you’re done.
How do you end up at the end?
Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).