Knowing When to Quit, Part One

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Back in my college days, when I was majoring in art, one of my painting professors made a profound statement that I’ll always remember. He said, “Every painter needs to have someone standing behind him to shoot him when he’s done, otherwise he’ll overwork the painting and turn it into mud.”

It’s extremely difficult artists to look at their work objectively enough to know when it’s finished. And once we finally realize we’ve overworked something it may be too late to salvage it.

Fortunately, when it comes to writing, there are warning signs that we can look for. One of the biggest, and most obvious, would be redundancy. I’ll use my Marina Martindale novel, The Deception, to illustrate my point.

As I was nearing the end of the story I’d resolved the main conflict, but as I tied up the loose ends one of the antagonists threatened to go after my protagonist for a second time. This left me with two options. One was to write a sequel. Tempting thought, as I loved my cast of characters. Unfortunately, in this instance, the conflict would have been too similar to the conflict in the first book, which would have made the sequel redundant. All I could have done was rehash the same story. How boring. So, rather than waste my time, and my reader’s time, with a bad sequel, I decided to write a definitive ending and leave my novel as a stand alone book. I did it by killing off the antagonist and ending the feud once and for all.

Does your story feel like it’s getting stale? If so, then go back and look at your conflict. If it keeps repeating itself, or if the results of your character’s choices are always the same, it probably means your story has become too redundant.