How do I know when to stop?

Posted on October 7, 2011

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“The point of good writing is knowing when to stop.” ~ Lucy Montgomery

As I mentioned in a recent post, I am working on the final edits for my next novel, PFC Liberty Stryker. Like every writer at this stage, I ask myself, “How do I know when to stop?”

Many writers believe it’s hard to know when to stop editing. Let’s face it we spend a hell of a lot of time revising our work.  John Irving said, “Half my life is an act of revision.”  If you’re like me, even after a book is published you see where you could have added a word or two, here and there. Oscar Wilde said, “Books are never finished, they are merely abandoned.” How depressing. I prefer to finish mine, thank you very much. Whether we abandon our books or finish them, at some point we do have to let go.

I have compiled a check list gleaned from years of editing my own and other writers’ works, and listening to what writers and editors say about revision. At each stage in the re-writing process I use the guidelines below to improve my story. This is my map to the finish line.

  1. Can you summarize the story in a sentence or two?
  2. Details: spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, italics, formatting
  3. Is your main character an interesting person?
  4. Does she/he have flaws?
  5. Does your main character change throughout the story?
  6. Is every character necessary to this story?
  7. Have you chosen the best point of view?
  8. Does the beginning draw the reader in?
  9. Is there tension in this story?
  10. Does each chapter provide information that moves the story forward?
  11. Does every scene?
  12. Does your dialogue move the story forward, as in no idle conversations?
  13. Does everyone sound alike? Can readers tell who’s talking without dialogue tags?
  14. Is there unresolved conflict until the end?
  15. Does the story end where it’s supposed to?
  16. Do you like this story?

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