In this article I’m going to examine a big pain point for aspiring writers - why you can’t finish your story.
“I’ve written five unfinished novels.”
I’ve certainly heard it a lot from writers.
I also get this question a lot: “Why can’t I finish my story?”
I know writers who have got close to the end but never finished.
Not just once, but twice, three times and more.
They’re very good at coming up with the initial idea that sets off sparks of excitement, but lousy at keeping that excitement going. They lose momentum all the time.
They’re like a steam engine that whirrs, hisses, and groans before giving up a few miles before the station.
It’s frustrating, I know. Especially if it’s your dream to author a published novel. You know you’ve got one in you, but for whatever reason, you just can’t get one over the finish line.
I used to be the same with scripts. I had a tonne of unfinished screenplays. Some half-finished, others a quarter finished, and some that were just two pages long.
It’s weird because I always loved the initial idea.
Clearly I loved it enough to run with it for twenty pages. So why couldn’t I just finish the last few pages? What stopped me?
What’s stopping you? Why are you asking “why can’t I finish my story?”
Let’s take a look at a few reasons why you can’t finish your story.
You Keep Coming Up With Ideas For New Stories
This was a particular biggie for me.
New ideas always excite me. I thrive on new ideas. I LIVE for them.
I love discussing fresh, new ideas with people.
I think it’s the newness that contrasts with the sterility of oldness.
The problem for us writers is that exciting new ideas can take us away from the story we’re currently writing, and which is actually starting to bore us.
All of a sudden, we’ve got this new idea that sounds so much better. It’s got more murders, more car chases, more intrigue.
It’s basically like a new woman or man in your life - a sexier one who promises you so much more than the humdrum routine of your current relationship.
So, you go ahead and have an affair with your new mistress.
But just like you shouldn’t cheat on your partner, you also shouldn’t cheat on your current story. In the long run, you will do yourself a huge injustice.
If it’s started to bore you, despite exciting you so much to begin with, the problem is entirely yours. You just haven’t found a way to keep the excitement going.
Working on a new idea won’t help. You will only run into the exact same problem somewhere down the line.
So what do you do?
Stop coming up with new ideas! With practice, this is actually easier than it sounds right now.
When you do find that your muse is on fire, don’t take any notes. Even if you’ve got what sounds like an awesome new idea, don’t write it down. Leave it in your mind. Let it disappear. You can carry out a brainstorming session when it really is time to come up with new ideas.
Also, try not to read any fiction during this period. I find that reading fiction inspires new ideas in my own mind - which is very bad if I’m already working on a project.
Why You Can’t Finish Your Story: You Get Annoyed With Your Characters
You’ve been living with the same characters for a few years now and, quite frankly, they’re driving you insane. You’d kill them all off if it didn’t mean you wouldn’t get a publishing deal.
Helen the princess, Tim the millionaire, Hank the smelly bum … you’re sick of the lot of them. You’re bored by them and their world.
It does happen. You live cooped up with anybody for a few years, and of course you’re going to get annoyed with them.
Again, though, if this is the case the problem is entirely down to you. You haven’t found a way of making your characters and their stories interesting enough. They’ve ran out of steam and are starting to irritate you. This isn’t their fault - it’s yours.
Abandoning them while you work on a new story won’t solve any of your problems. You will encounter the same situation again until you learn how to make your characters interesting enough so that they sustain a whole story without getting on your nerves.
Return to your characters. Ask yourself if they’re three-dimensional enough. Ask yourself what perhaps is missing from them. Are they too perfect? Do they not have enough flaws? Are they too normal, and thus are they incapable of taking your story to its denouement?
Perhaps your characters are all too similar, and thus the opportunities for conflict ran dry a long time ago? Maybe they’re all too nice, and it’s pissing you off?
Well-rounded, three-dimensional characters with strengths, weaknesses, flaws, perfections, goals, ambitions, quirks, back stories and character arcs are not boring and they won’t annoy you.
Moreover, they will help you to carry your story through to its conclusion. That’s what strong characters do.
Flat, two-dimensional characters? They’ll struggle to get you into Act Three.
You Didn’t Plan This Out Very Well
Do you see yourself as a bit of a spontaneous, swashbuckling writer who comes up with great turn-of-phrases on the fly, and who doesn’t need to plan?
SO many amateur writers don’t plan their short stories and novels.
Me? I don’t plan my short stories. I write them on the fly. But I reason that my idea is so exciting that the sexiness of it alone pulls me through.
Novels? I always plan them. You have to. Otherwise, you will reach a point where you ask, “Okay, now what?”
A lack of planning is the reason so many novels are left unfinished. Your momentum keeps you going until a certain point, but momentum and adrenaline aren’t enough to keep you going the whole way.
Momentum and adrenaline can help an army overcome its first mission, but strategy is necessary if it’s going to win the war.
If you don’t plan your story, you won’t have a proper idea of how it’s going to pan out. You will run into problems.
Worse still, you might be looking for the missing piece in your jigsaw, but because you put the jigsaw together without a plan, no piece is ever going to fit.
When you have a plan, you always know where you’re going. It’s like you’re on a motorway, travelling somewhere and you’ve got a sat-nav giving you the directions. There still might be a few bumps along the way, but you know where you’re going.
Your plan gives you direction, structure, and - more importantly - it makes sure that all the parts fit. It motivates you to keep writing, because each time you sit at your desk, you know what comes next.
It also means you know your ending. Which is another important point …
You Don’t Know Your Ending
Can you start writing a story without knowing how it’s going to end?
You really shouldn’t.
All professional writers will tell you that you should write your ending before your beginning.
Why? Because your main character has to undergo a change in the story. In other words, how they are at the start should be different to how they are at the end.
If they begin the story as vindictive and disloyal, they should probably end it as empathetic and loyal.
Once you know your ending, you know how your character should be portrayed at the start.
Writing your ending first - even if it’s just a rough draft - gives you a huge advantage. It’s already done, which means you don’t have to get so far into writing your story before giving up. All you have to do is get to the climax!
Also, when you know exactly how your story is going to end, you know what your characters and plots need to do in order to get to the end. It’ll be way more easier to resolve all conflicts, which should encourage you to keep going.
It’s A Boring Story
Lastly, if your story is just pants and boring as heck, then of course it’s going to be hard to finish.
Work on ideas that you know are sexy. Make sure they excite you before you start.
Don’t write boring stories.
If you really don’t like romance, don’t write romance just because “it sells”.
Write something you know you’ll have fun writing.
These are a few reasons why you can’t finish your story. I hope they helped. Feel free to check the blogs for more tips and tricks!