Today I’m honored to post another of Diane Sherlock’s blog postings. This one comes from her December 17th, 2011 post. It’s a great look at endings, something I talked about a few weeks back. I like her take on it. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Also, you really need to buy her book, Growing Chocolate. It’s five bucks for a full-length novel (201 pages). Great value, but more importantly, great quality. I’ve had the privilege of publishing several of her stories at The Citron Review. You’d do well to pick it up. And now, without further delay, Diane Sherlocks’s
and then we came to the end…
…but not of the blog! No, the end of your novel. How do you know when you’re finished? Last night, I had dinner with a group of writers and one reminded me I’d said I knew I’d finished my novel when I was so sick of the thing, I couldn’t go over it one more time. Well, there is that. But there’s also experience and feedback from your readers.
If you’ve gone over your manuscript 10-20 times, corrected the grammar, polished on multiple levels (sentences, paragraphs, chapters, sections, plus imagery and sensory details) checked for your personal writing tics (phrases, adverbs or adjectives that you lean on too heavily – do a word check for “just,” “really,” “suddenly” and so on; as my friend said, those are the “ums” of the literary world) and read the entire manuscript out loud, you might be finished or close to it. If your readers light up, saying you have something, that you’re close, and you trust them to tell you the truth and not what you want to hear, you can send excerpts to literary journals and see what kind of response you get. If you can afford it, hire a professional editor, preferably someone who’s taught literature and composition. Do your best to assemble a team who will inspire you to bring your A game, who will push you to do better and do it with kindness and generosity. Do the same for them if you’re exchanging writing/reading favors.
The final test comes from Rob Roberge – does your story reach a point where it could open up in a new way? That is where you want to stop. That will protect you from the “tie it all up with a bow” pat ending. You certainly don’t want a sentence – much less a paragraph – that sums up the book or the plot or the theme. Trust your reader.
By the way, the novel, And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris is a fun read.
Diane Sherlock is the author of four novels, Dead Weight, Willful Ignorance, Growing Chocolate, and the upcoming Wrestling Alligators. Her writing has appeared in The Rumpus, scissors and spackle, The Citron Review, Mo+th (Bombshelter), and Bird in the Hand: Risk & Flight (Outrider).
She is one of the co-founders and fiction editors for AnnotationNation.com, a site for writers to annotate books in terms of craft and maintains a blog on the craft of fiction writing. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles in 2009. Born in La Jolla, CA, she currently lives in Los Angeles. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter @Diane_Sherlock