I realize this may be a duplicate question. I've seen, for reference [ How long can a first novel be? ] yet I think my situation is a little more specific.
I find myself in a similar situation. My novel is a science fiction about the coming-of-age journey of a young woman searching for her lost mother (as cliché as it sounds) in a very large, unwelcoming setting. It has recently hitten 120k words.
While this is a nice thing per-se (I never got this far, this good), I'm stuck between the desire to finish the novel and wrap it up in a good package and the feeling that something is inevitably missing.
Reading questions here I'm under the impression that 100k / 120k words are enough for a first novel. Worse, that a lot gets trimmed in the editing process. I'm not against editing, of course, but bear with me for a minute.
I've probably been influenced by those factors and by my own desire to finish the first draft as soon as possible, to get a little breathing space and, of course, start the first revision.
While this makes complete sense (maybe marketing-wise), my understanding of the plot can't seem to agree.
If I had to describe the point I'm in actually, I'd say "somewhere in the second act". I had a major climax recently which ended with the death of a character very close to my MC, killed by an hostile, powerful entity. This thing had to happen for several reasons, but it didn't take my MC closer to her goal.
She should find her mother eventually in the third act, where I plan to close the novel.
I could make her reach the goal after the climax and close the second act here. I could wrap things up and (hopefully) use the wide array of open questions and possibilities in my very large setting to think of a sequel. But I can't shake off the feeling that it would feel rushed (a sensation confirmed by my alpha-reader).
The other option would be stop minding the word count and just keep on writing until I'm satisfied. This poses other problems, though. As far as my understanding of story structure goes, a climax should be followed by a brief moment of respite, then another, possibly bigger, climax, and I have no idea how to make that.
I could explore the setting more (there is a lot to be done), I could introduce new characters (there are a lot to to meet) and keep developing the existing ones. But I can't think of a way to raise the tension up again; and if the tension isn't raising, I feel almost like I'm wasting someone's time.
After all, I'm (at least) in the middle of the second act; there's little point in adding more meat to the fire if I won't have time to cook it. What's worse, it feels useless writing more scenes if they will eventually be erased in the editing process. Of course, there is value in exercise, but the thought somewhat blocks me.
TL,DR: I'm stuck between wanting to finish the story and the idea that it is incomplete, and forever will be without another 40k words that I can't even conjure up in my mind. Splitting the work in two books by 90k words each is not an option, since it would make even less sense structure-wise, and I have bigger things to explore in an eventual sequel.
So, summing up:
Is there some sort of rational way to help me understand, and eventually decide, what are the next steps to take? When do you decide that it's time to close your story (as a discovery writer)?