Complete or not complete: that’s the question

IWSGA post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Recently, I submitted a short story to a magazine, and it got rejected. No surprise there, it happens to every writer. What was a surprise was the reason for the rejection. The usual rejection is worded something like: “Thank you for submitting your story to us. Unfortunately, that’s not what we are looking for at the moment.” Instead, my rejection email stated that the editor liked the story but thought it was incomplete. “Next time send a complete story,” she said.

I was puzzled. I was sure it was complete. I didn’t try a cliffhanger. In the beginning of the story, I promised to deliver my heroine from point A to point B, and I did. Of course, she has to figure out where to go from point B, but that’s another story entirely. Or so I thought.

I asked some friends to read the story and comment whether or not it was complete. I was sure they would side with me and say that the story was complete. It didn’t happen. Everyone who read the story said: “Yeah, interesting story, but I’d like to know more about the characters. Did they find xxxx? Did they reach yyyy? What happened next?”

Obviously, if several people say the story is not finished, it is not. I have to think up another ending. I must continue the story, and I have nothing against that. I know when happened to the characters next. But why didn’t I see it myself?

There is another quandary too. The story is long as it is, over 8000 words already. If I continue the way it deserves, it would stop being a short story. Should I try to make it a novella? Or should I just attach a slap-dash ending – another page or so – and call it ‘done’?

Do other writers wrestle with such questions? Has it ever happened to you? How do you solve such problems? What constitutes an ending everyone agrees upon?


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7 Responses to Complete or not complete: that’s the question

  1. jamieayres says:

    I’d say see if there was somewhere you could edit it down a little to keep it a short story, but if it doesn’t work, I think a novella is a great idea!!

  2. If readers tend to have the same opinion, it’s definitely worth listening to and considering whether changes are necessary or not. 8000 words isn’t much; that’s what makes short stories so hard. I’d write it all out, let it sit, and then reread, paying close attention to what is really necessary and what not…and to make sure the plot itself is really one for 8000 words. Good luck!

  3. I think you should write the story until it’s done, no matter if it turns into a novella–or a novel. I think that a story with a satisfying ending answers all the questions raised throughout the story. The characters either change for better or worse, have learned something, etc. And you didn’t see it yourself because most writers are blind to the faults in their work. That’s one of the main reasons we all need beta readers and editors, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Just get some good betas or critique partners, and they can help you with the story issues that aren’t clear to you. Good luck:)

  4. Criticism is difficult to take, since the common wisdom is that it’s always right. It’s not. Often, it’s colored by bias, self-interest, lack of interest, or confusion. If you revised a work to follow everyone’s criticisms you would have an unreadable work. My first book was rejected by every publisher I sent it to, often with no response at all; however, one agent told me that my characters were “too old” for YA (they were 19 and 21), and that the story needed to all be in first person. My first reaction was to go, “wow, I really messed up, didn’t I?” But then I realized that she said this simply because almost all YA books are written in first-person, and the common wisdom is that young people only want to read about other young people. So her reaction had nothing to do with the story, what ideas I was trying to convey, the journey of the characters, or anything remotely artistic. It was just about being commercial. Now granted, I’m ruining my chances of being commercial by not doing this, but aren’t there other reasons to write a story? So you just need to come back to the story weeks or months later and see if it reads like it ends too soon or if it’s exactly what you intended. Some of the best short stories end abruptly and without resolution, as with many of Chekhov’s short stories (they would probably hate those!), or even they cryptic fantasy tales of Lord Dunsany. A short story can be many things, and it doesn’t have to be a novel in miniature. I think part of the problem is that we’ve forgotten as a culture how to read anything other than a novel; poems, plays, short stories, and essays are all lost to most Americans. That’s why my students call almost everything written a “novel,” since they’re programmed to think of writing in only these terms.

  5. jenlanebooks says:

    That’s rough when we get unexpected feedback. Do you have an editor? I definitely believe all of us need good editors–I’ve learned so much from mine. I tend to write long novels and I’ve never tried to write a short story…it sounds challenging to carry out a story arc in such few words. Good luck!

  6. Olga Godim says:

    Thanks, everyone, for your feedback.

  7. Widdershins says:

    I’m with Quanie … write the story until it’s done. Forget about the word count. All it will do is limit the story. If it needs to be edited down, or up, take care of that after you’ve typed ‘The End’.

    It may be the story ends where you decided it did, and that’s OK too, but it never hurts to take another look. 🙂

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