Finishing a Novel: Take a Break


I’m 43,000 words into my 50,000 word planned novel and it’s time to take a break while relatives visit.

I’d hoped to have the rough draft done yesterday, two months before the deadline, but life intervened . . .

Still, it’s a good spot to pause with the ending outlined in my brain, and let the story marinate for a week.  Writer James Scott Bell calls this “letting the boys in the basement do their work.” (On googling for the exact quote, I see Jim cribbed this line from Stephen King’s most excellent book, On Writing.)

The idea is, my subconscious will come up with other ideas that will deepen my story line, often in unexpected ways. I love it when that happens.

A writer often knows more than she thinks she does, and even more strangely for me, circumstances and facts often seem to turn up that make all the difference in the story.

For example, my character is struggling with a phobia. I googled phobias and virtual reality. Bingo. A company exists in San Diego, where my story takes place, that treats phobias with cutting edge, virtual reality. 80% of their works is done with military personnel–which would include my hero.

How could I possibly have known that?break

It’s not the first time for me a surprising fact has opened up a novel in a previously-unconsidered way. Characters show up unexpectedly as well and the whole story changes.

Madeleine L’Engle told of writing The Arm of the Starfish and getting three-quarters done when a young man turned up she’d never thought of before. She was as shocked as her hero to find Joshua Archer in his hotel room and as she followed and learned about this new guy, realized she had to completely rewrite the book!

For me it was a chicken, but that’s a different story.

It’ll be fun to see how those boys in the basement work virtual reality therapy into the story . . . though I have a fair idea, already, of course.

Next week when I pick up the manuscript again, I’ll start at the beginning and read it all the way through. Two reasons for that–one, to refresh my mind as to where I’ve been and where I’m going (i.e., to remember the story!), but second to get a feel for what I need to do to end it in a satisfactory way.

Of course I have ideas, a map and a synopsis.

But you never know.

And that’s why taking a break can be the very best strategy while writing a novel. Click to Tweet

By the way, how should the story end?  🙂

Tell me about your favorite ending to a romance, either a movie or a book.

Your story could inspire those boys in the basement!

Leave a comment


  1. Michelle, I hope you enjoy the visit with your relatives and return to your manuscript refreshed and ready to race to The End.

  2. Kim

     /  February 17, 2012

    It’s neither a book nor a movie, but I loved the final episode of Friday Night Lights. That series was always more about the relationship between Coach and Tammy than anything else.

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