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How to Know If Your Novel is Finished: A Writer’s Checklist

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There’s a universal question that haunts every writer at some point: When is my novel truly finished? It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? Because the truth is, writing a novel is a journey filled with endless revisions, late-night brainstorming sessions, and countless moments of second-guessing.

Sometimes, it feels like the tweaking could go on forever. Maybe you’re not entirely satisfied with that one dialogue exchange. Or perhaps that climactic scene doesn’t pack as much punch as you’d like. Or, it could be a matter of a single sentence that feels awkward, no matter how many times you read it.

But there comes a time when we need to step back, take a deep breath, and say, “It’s done.”

The question is, how do we reach that point of confidence? How do we resist the urge to poke and prod our manuscript into a state of never-ending “work-in-progress”? When can we let our story stand on its own and declare it ready for the world?

These were questions that plagued me as a writer, and that’s why I created this handy “Novel Completion Checklist.” It’s a roadmap I wish I had when I was trying to determine if my first novel was ready to leave the nest. This list isn’t about imposing hard-and-fast rules, but about guiding you through some crucial considerations that can help you gain the confidence to say, “My novel is finished.”

So, whether you’re on your first draft or your tenth, I hope this checklist brings you a little closer to that exciting and gratifying moment when you can put down your pen (or close your laptop) and proudly say, “I’m done.”

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Novel Completion Checklist

  1. Plot Completion: Have you resolved all major plot points? Every storyline should reach a satisfying conclusion, with all significant questions answered. This doesn’t mean everything has to be tied up perfectly – some ambiguity can be intriguing – but readers should feel that the narrative has reached a logical end.
  2. Character Arcs: Have all your main characters undergone their complete arcs? Characters should grow, change, or learn something about themselves throughout the course of the novel. Whether they succeed or fail in their goals, their arcs should reach a conclusion that reflects their journey.
  3. Consistency: Have you checked for inconsistencies in your plot, character traits, timeline, or settings? Inconsistencies can pull readers out of your story and make your novel feel unfinished. Checking for consistency should be part of your final edit.
  4. Pacing: Is the pacing appropriate and consistent throughout the story? The pace of a novel should build tension and keep readers engaged, without rushing or dragging out the plot. Pay particular attention to the pacing of your final chapters. It’s important to nail the landing.
  5. Dialogue: Is the dialogue crisp, character-appropriate, and free of unnecessary exposition? Dialogue should feel natural and distinct for each character, and it should serve a purpose in the story, whether to advance the plot, reveal character, or provide tension and conflict.
  6. Theme: Does your novel convey the intended themes effectively? By the end of your novel, your readers should have a sense of what larger ideas or messages you wanted to explore.
  7. Language and Style: Have you polished your prose? This includes checking for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, but also refining your style. Your sentences should be clear, concise, and engaging. Every word, sentence, and paragraph should serve a purpose.
  8. Feedback: Have you sought and incorporated feedback? Beta readers, critique partners, or a professional editor can provide invaluable perspectives. They can spot issues you might have overlooked, from plot holes to awkward phrasing. If you’ve addressed the feedback that resonates with you and your vision for the book, that’s another sign your novel could be finished.
  9. Multiple Drafts: Have you completed multiple drafts? First drafts are rarely perfect. It usually takes multiple rounds of revision to fully develop your plot, deepen your characters, and polish your prose.
  10. Satisfaction: Are you happy with your novel? While it’s true that no novel is perfect and writers often have to resist endless tinkering, you should feel proud of what you’ve accomplished. If you find yourself continually dissatisfied and making significant changes, your novel might not be finished yet.

This checklist can help guide you through the process of determining whether your novel is finished. However, it’s important to remember that writing is a highly subjective process. You may have unique goals or considerations for your novel that aren’t captured in this checklist. Ultimately, you’ll need to trust your instincts as a writer – and I know that can be hard, but have some faith in yourself!

I hope that you found this article helpful! If you enjoyed it, then you should also check out my other blog posts on writing and publishing. You’re definitely going to find more useful information there! Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you again soon.

About Rebecca Wilson

About Rebecca Wilson

Writer, designer, and book coach Rebecca Wilson has been publishing a broad variety of creative books for more than half a decade. She combines her teaching background and publishing expertise at SelfPubMagic to share her love of bookmaking with other creatives.