Letting Your Story End at the End

by Dianna Gunn
published in Writing

Today I’d like to tell you a story about a little book called Keeper of the Dawn. I’ve learned an incredible amount from this book, about myself, my writing process, and the basic nature of creativity.

You see, Keeper of the Dawn is my debut novella, scheduled for release this April. It was also my first serious attempt (and rather dramatic failure) at writing a short story. The main character, Lai, starred in a novel I was plotting and I wanted to write a coming of age story for her. In its first draft, Keeper of the Dawn was about 6,000 words long.

Other than pointing out some basic mistakes almost all beginning writers make, every critique partner who looked at it loved the story. They only had one major complaint, the same complaint every time: it felt like there was more story.

So I rewrote Keeper of the Dawn. It became a 7,500 word story, and then a 9,000 word story, and then an 11,000 story. I submitted the story to over a dozen magazines and they all sent back the same feedback as those first beta readers. The description was beautiful, the world well developed, but it felt like there was more story to tell.

In 2013 I did another rewrite of Keeper of the Dawn, this time giving up entirely on the idea of writing it as a short story and pushing out 15,000 words of fiction, pushing Keeper of the Dawn above 25,000 words. I polished it up and sent it to Musa Publishing in the summer of 2014.

Predictably, Keeper of the Dawn got another rejection. Only this time it was a four paragraph long rejection with extremely detailed comments, telling me where to expand, what characters to develop, what additional storylines I might want to consider. I was invited to resubmit if I made the suggested changes.

Anyone who knows anything about publishing will tell you that when an opportunity like that comes along, you need to jump on it. So I did, rewriting the book at a furious pace and resubmitting.

Then the worst happened: Musa Publishing closed its doors and Keeper of the Dawn was automatically rejected.

So I decided to do another edit, this time adding another 10,000 words, including a new ending and a powerful f/f romance between my main character and her roommate.  I submitted this draft to only one publisher—The Book Smugglers—and seven months later signed my first book contract, proving that Keeper of the Dawn had finally become the story it was meant to be.

What I learned—and what you can learn

I learned an incredible number of things about myself and writing between the first time I wrote Keeper of the Dawn and the final edit before submission, but there’s one big lesson I learned from the novella itself: you must always let a story end at its natural end, whenever that may be. I resisted turning Keeper of the Dawn into a novella for years, partially because I wanted it to be my first short story sale and partially because I didn’t want to put in the extra work it takes to create a novella on top of all my other projects. But I believed in this story, and eventually I decided it was worth the work—no matter how much extra work it became (although I’m rather glad it didn’t turn into a full length novel).

This ties into something Gabriela has discussed a lot at DIY MFA: following your resistance. If you’re resisting something, it’s probably the thing you need to do. Only when you push through the resistance will you create the best stories you possibly can. Keeper of the Dawn might have been published years earlier if I didn’t resist the idea of turning it into a book for so long.

What are you resisting?


HeadshotLondonDianna Gunn is a freelance writer by day and a fantasy author by night. She blogs about writing, creativity and books at http://www.thedabbler.ca. You can also follow her on Twitter @DiannaLGunn or on Facebook.

  • I know it can be so frustrating when you want to consider a project finished, but know more work (sometimes a lot more work) is necessary to take it from good to great. It’s good to see you put in that work and got it published.

    • It certainly is, and I still often struggle through it – patience isn’t one of my strongest virtues, but I’ve come a long way since I started Keeper of the Dawn.

  • Lisa Ellis Betz

    Great advice. We writers need to be brave enough to trust our stories. We each have certain stories we need to tell, and many of them don’t fit tidily into genre slots, do they? Thanks for reminding us a good (and complete) story has the power to overcome obstacles.

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