I just finished a round of major edits on my manuscript. I was pleased with it, until I received a very thoughtful email from a member of my critique group who had read the latest iteration. Something about the actions of the protagonist’s love interest early in the story bothered her and she presented a way I could fix it. The fix would require major changes later in the manuscript and months of work.
As much as I didn’t want to make any late changes to the story arc or the characters, the more I thought about her suggestion, the more I convinced myself she was correct.
Keep in mind I’ve been working on this story for five years. I’ve reached that point where I am growing tired of the story, but the scene in question is a pivotal one and it had always bothered me.
In the problematical scene, the main character’s lover leaves her without notice when she is seven months pregnant and doesn’t return for a year and a half. He eventually tries to win her back. My colleague’s issue was that his initial action makes him so unlikeable that it is impossible for the reader to believe that he could redeem himself. And she was right. I was conscious of that on some level, but I was too wedded to my original concept to consider changing it.
Now I’m going to have to rewrite that scene and many others. In the new version, he will have a reason to leave. His mom is going through a crisis. He will leave a note for his lover and stay in contact. She will, of course, still harbor resentment, and whether he left to run away from his relationship will remain a source of conflict between them.
All of this raises important questions for writers who are in the late stages of revising a manuscript. At what point does a writer call it a day? How does a writer know the story is done? Is the writer too close to the work to even know?
Here is a series of questions to help make that decision:
–Does the story arc hang together in a cohesive way?
–Do the actions of the main characters make sense to an objective person? A lover leaving his pregnant girlfriend might make sense if he is an antagonist who is going to be an obstacle to the main character achieving her goals, but not if he is going to attempt to reconcile with her.
–Are the actions of the characters consistent with their roles in the story? In the case of the protagonist, is the character’s growth and transformation to achieve her goals realistic? Is the way the protagonist overcomes her weaknesses believable to the reader?
–Are there any unnecessary scenes or characters? Does every scene pay off the story and relate to the protagonist’s transformation?
–When you identify changes to the story, will those changes improve the story in a significant way?
If the answer to those questions is yes, the decision is a no brainer, even if it means major, time consuming revisions to your story. Don’t be satisfied with a good story, but strive to write the best story you can.
I am grateful to my critic group for pointing out this and other flaws that I could not see over the course of the past two years.
What about you? How do you know your story is ready for publication?