(When) Is a story set in stone?

Yesterday I started reading a novel, the third in a trilogy. In a ‘preface to the second edition’, the author states that in re-reading the novel he found some ‘structural weaknesses’ which he had chosen to ‘remove’. He basically stated that he doesn’t care what the novel’s ‘detractors’ would feel about this, but he hoped that the ‘admirers’ will approve of the changes. This is not the first time I’ve come across this phenomenon. Last year when reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, I discovered that there were several different editions, including one called the ‘author’s preferred edition’, which combined elements of the British and American editions.

This has got me thinking… when is a story set in stone? Is there a point, at the end of all the drafts and editing, when an author can really say, “this is exactly what I wanted to say, and I am completely happy with it”? Is there a point when an author just has to let it go?

Here’s another question. Can an author make major changes after a work has been published, or should any changes after that point just be cosmetic? I don’t have the answer.

Last year I wrote a short story that I submitted to a competition, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t completely happy with it. Obviously the judges agreed with me, I didn’t appear in the prizes. I knew the ending wasn’t quite right, but I still feel that there was something in it. What do I do with that story now? If I do figure out how to fix it, I will. I might even submit it to another competition (not the same one, obviously). But how do I know when to stop making changes? When is it time to just let it go?

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Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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