Ask Daphne! Is it done yet?

January 21st, 2008 • Kate

I have a finished paranormal romance and want to begin shopping it around. However, I’m frustrated with the “when is it cooked” syndrome. Meaning, when do I stop mucking around with the story? I’ve heard other authors say – when it’s done. That’s my problem. When is it done? Just as I think it is, I’ll let it sit then go back and think I need to rework the whole beginning. Not that the other beginning was bad, but, hmm, by moving this scene, adding that paragraph and so on, I can make it better.

Aarrghh! When does it stop? So, my question, is as an agent, with your clients, how do you tell them their story is finished? Do you have to pull a manuscript from protesting hands? How do you advise your clients as to when a manuscript is “cooked?”

Dear Word Chef – It’s never done, silly. Most authors could pick up one of their books on the 50th printing and STILL feel like tweaking it.

But that’s not particularly helpful, is it? Let’s concentrate on the import word in your question, then: “story.” When is the STORY done? Now that’s a different question than when is the manuscript ready to be sent.

Does your protagonist have a full story arc? Does he triumph against all odds and does his plot come to a conclusion? Is there trouble on her journey that she can overcome? Are your loose ends tied in neat little bows?

That’s not tweaking, that’s writing. If that’s what you’re still doing, then no, your manuscript’s not done, and not ready to send out. But if you’re futzing with word placement, with having a scene that moves the plot along happen at chapter 5 instead of chapter 6 – that’s tweaking.

And you know who’s super good at tweaking? Editors. Yup. They are STARS at it.

So polish your stories, and get your manuscript in shape for company, then send it out. It’s like housecleaning, I suppose. (If I did that, and didn’t just hope that dust would magically disappear.) If you’re hosting a dinner party, you want to make sure your dining room and living room are fit for guests, that your powder room is spic and span, and that you have enough space in the kitchen to whip up a fantastic dinner. But you might let your bedroom be a little untidy, or the kids’ playroom stay in a state of disarray. What I’m saying is make an effort, of course, but recognize that you’re not going to refinish the dining room floor or repaint all the kitchen cabinets just because you’re having people over for dinner. Do what you can with what you have.

Happy cooking!
Cheers,
Daphne

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3 Responses to “Ask Daphne! Is it done yet?”

  1. Caryn Says:

    I hope you don't mind if I chime in, too, because I've had this issue and I've seen it with some of my writer friends…
    First of all, Word Chef, do you have a critique partner or two? If not, find a couple of good ones, people who are good readers, know the basic rules of writing, and are honest enough to tell you if the story's truly ready to be sent–and, if not, what to do to make it ready.
    Sometimes it's easy to keep a story around too long out of fear. After all, if you're still tweaking it then it's not ready to be held up for possible rejection, is it?
    And, finally, after too much tweaking you run the risk of killing the story, sucking the life out of all those precious words.

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