Friday, 14 January 2011


By Richard Jay Parker

Does a writer ever really finish with a project? After a year of substantial rewrites and myriad polishes I’ve now released book 2 to my agent. I’m sure I’ve not finished with it yet, however. There’s always scope for improvement so I expect I’ll be working on the text for a while to come.

But having your manuscript read by someone else is quite a significant moment. For months the faces of your characters have existed only in your head and when they reach the next person they’ll morph into completely different ones

Although you’ve provided the guidelines, the characters will never be the same for any reader. I suppose the exception to this is when a book is read after it’s been adapted for the big screen or TV. In that instance, it’s often impossible to shake the faces of the actors you’ve already seen.

You’ve honed and polished until, in your own mind, all those characters move naturally through the reality of your plot. You’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for the next brain to grab the baton and run with it but having agents and editors work the material is a valuable way of making sure nobody drops it before the end of the track.

With so much to consider when you’re writing a book – character, plot, subplots, pace, and good writing - it’s always good to have someone skilled enough to recognise what works and what doesn’t. When the next reader brings your characters to life it gives them the best chance of vividly materialising in their imagination.

But even beyond the collaborative process and publication I don’t think a writer can ever really finish with a project. Once it’s out there it becomes the personal property of every reader. They all have their own perception of the characters and very often find elements within the material you’ve never considered. Readers continue to ask questions that make you see your characters in a different light.

We may be done with them but good characters never let us go but keep tapping us on the shoulder

I think being a potent catalyst for this is certainly an ambition worth all those hours at the keyboard.
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  1. Books, short stories and even poems - none of them are ever truly finished, I'm convinced of it.

    I remember watching a Star Wars documentary once (yes, yes, I know - geek) and George Lucas was talking about something similar. He said that a movie is never finished, merely abandoned.

    My fear with this 'unfinished work' is that you'll return to it later and make so many edits that you'll diminish what you originally had.

    In fact, proof of this is available from my prior example: many people think that's exactly what Lucas did when he decided to produce Special Editions of his own films. I'm quite sure he doesn't worry too much about it though ;)

  2. Agreed! Manuscripts are a living breathing thing while in the various stages of flux (IE polishing/editing/rewrite). During the editing process, which takes place over time, new ideas, thoughts and details pop into the writers mind, which usually help rather than hinder.

    Manuscripts are not really done until they're in print being sold in your local book store.

  3. By Peter Stuart Smith

    Shane's absolutely right. Only when the book is actually on sale is it finally finished. And even then there can be changes.

    Despite the huge number of people who read the MS, only after my first novel, Overkill, was published did I finally notice that one of the characters was staring through a 'triple-gazed' window rather than a 'triple-glazed' window, which is what I thought I'd written. And an acquaintance who had been a geographer in a previous life drove all the way out to my house to point out to me in person that the 'port' I'd mentioned in Albania was actually some 200 kilometres inland.

    So sometimes, even when it's finished, it isn't.


  4. I imagine it's possible to 'finish' a poem - to perfect it. In terms of a novel, there are so many choices - what to spell out, what to reveal slowly, what to leave to the reader's imagination. Then there's the choice of individual words. I can puzzle over one word for days before I get it right, and then change my mind. And all that is before my agent and editor's comments. I often go round in circles and am not sure in the end if I've always made the best choice. So when are my drafts finished? That's an easy one to answer. When the production manager emails me to say 'We're printing tomorrow.' Game over!

  5. Thanks, Paul. I think it's a mistake to go back and change something that has been published or produced. Although there's always that temptation to improve I think it's best to leave work as it was as a snapshot of the writer you were then.

    Thanks for your contribution, Shane. You're right - nothing's carved in stone even when you think you've finished. I actually enjoy editing as much as writing.

    Thanks, Peter. A reader pointed out that the two sisters in STOP ME are Laura and Ashley -which I hadn't noticed... Do Everest do triple-gazed windows?'

    Thanks, Leigh. Somebody asked me if a work of mine was reprinted would I be tempted to rewrite - as Jeffrey Archer did. I think if there were any errors like Peter pointed out I would but I wouldn't feel tempted to alter the text for any other reason.