Q: When do you decide a story is finished?
A: The splendid curse—the maddening blessing—of fiction is that a story is never finished. As David Deutsch taught us, any artwork is infinitely perfectible; you could spend millions of years improving a story one word, sentence, or scene at a time, but the combinatorially unbounded nature of thought means you’d still be infinitely far from perfection!
So if you can’t finish a story, really finish it, the question is when to abandon it. I have a poetic answer and a practical one. The poetic answer: I decide a story is finished when it makes me feel unadulterated pride to read it from beginning to end. The prose is clear and smooth, the action is balanced and organic, the characters have full voices and satisfying arcs, and the ending leaves one with a frisson of wonder and the feeling of time well spent. The practical answer: I decide a story is finished when I can no longer see how to improve it. Oh, I know there are improvements to be made, glorious ones just around the edge of thought, but I don’t yet have the knowledge to find them. So I finish the story and start working on another, in the hopes of getting better.