When do I know when I’m finished?

April 12, 2012

You’ve worked on your script/novel for months or even years with dozens of rewrites.  You’ve had all the time in the world to complete it.  You want this baby of yours to be perfect; rejection proof, before sending it out into the judgmental world of agents, managers, production companies, publishers.

So when do I know I’m truly finished ?

Have you completed this screenplay/manuscript checklist?

  • Did you read your script/novel straight through at one sitting?
  • Did you specifically look for emotional turning points, three act structure, and clear plot points.  Are they working?  Are they strong?  Contain big emotional moments?  Does the story slow down at any point?
  • Did your characters have arcs, uniqueness and consistency?
  • Did you read your dialogue out loud?  Is it on-the-nose dialogue or more complex by using subtext?  If it’s a script, have you had a reading of it with actors or friends?
  • Is your prose clear and clean and in tone with the story?  If it’s a script, are the action/description lines short but powerful and add great visuals?
  • Do your scenes or chapters flow?  Does each one move the story forward?  Can some be cut or combined?  Is there complexity to them?
  • If it’s a screenplay, can you make it more cinematic, or add set-up/payoffs or interesting transitions?
  • If you feel you’ve completed all the above steps, you’ve earned the right to put it in a drawer for a day or two.  After a short time away, re-read it again.  Still working for you?  Good.
  • Do your first polish draft.  Look at each word and each sentence. Are there misspellings or wrong punctuation? Did you vary your word choices? Have you replaced the “to be” verbs with more powerful action verbs?  Is the script/manuscript in the correct format?

After all that, if you feel like you want to tweak it more –   STOP!!!  DON’T MOVE!   TAKE YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD!

Writers that still want to fiddle with it, tell me: “I think I’m almost there but I still have to find that perfect ending” OR “I just have to nail a killer opening and then I’m done” OR “If I just punch up my dialogue a little more, then it’s ready.”

You are afraid to finish.  You’ve worked on this dream project and now it will be judged.  It will be out of your hands and you are about to find out if someone else likes it.  You are staring in the face of rejection. That’s scary. But if you’ve followed the above checklist it is almost ready.

What do you mean, “almost”?  There’s more?  But I thought you said I was done.  

You are, almost.

Click on Part Two to see Part Two.

Part Two of WHEN DO I KNOW WHEN I’M FINISHED will delve into getting feedback and from whom before you finally send it out.