Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gut Checking

My wife often semi-enviously rags on me for having an iron stomach ... and I guess it's true. I can pretty much eat anything. Incredibly spicy Thai food? No problem. Picnic food that's been sitting out all day? Whatever. Organ meat? As long as it's fried in butter or bacon fat. Raw foods? Love it!

But I find myself relying on my gut this week for a whole new reason. I've been working on world-building and outlining a new story. There's a lot of material here to work with, and I know just exactly how it ends, but there are big blanks in the story itself. So I keep asking my main character what's going on, and I keep building out new chunks of the world. At each stage, I find myself gut-checking constantly. Does this fit? Will this be interesting and exciting? Does it support my overall theme and story arc? Is it logical?

In a lot of cases, I'm finding that I need to sit on new ideas for a day or so, sort of roll them around the old belly to see if they find a decent home. This creative process has been a little surprising for me: my last two books came to me very quickly. In both cases, I think I got the main story down in a few days or even hours. One thing led to another to another to another. 

This new thing -- slow revelation, many threads -- is just a bit unsettling. I can't tell yet if this means I'm forcing a story that isn't working, or if I'm simply dealing with a much larger and more complicated story arc than I've attempted before. I guess only time will tell ... But I'm curious. How does it work for other people? Near-instant revelation? A slow build? Is it different every time?

One last note: my cast-iron stomach, btw, does not extend to oysters. I had a bad experience with a raw oyster infected with noro virus. To this day, it remains the sickest I've ever been, and I still can't get near raw oysters. Which is a shame--they were among my favorite foods.


Mark Terry said...

I keep asking my main character what's going on

That's going to be my wrap-up for my 5-part series on characterization tomorrow, by the way.

Anyway, I'm been working--slowly--on an SF novel that takes place hundreds of years in the future on another planet. And there are definitely times when I think the whole thing is a pain in the butt. I've already created a governmental structure of sorts for the galaxy, I've created two conflicting cultures among two planets, but on the planet the main character gets stranded on, the people he's captured by also have different cultures from others on the planet (something that often drives me a bit batty in SF novels is how one group of aliens seems to speak for the entire planet. Does anybody think human beings on Earth will ever speak with one voice?), but they have something of a unified religion which influences their culture, and I'm finding increasingly that I have to refer back to the religion when I'm trying to figure out the plotting.

And it's a pain!

But it works, I guess. But it's all gut-check time.

LurkerMonkey said...


That sounds like exactly what I'm going through. Mine is a dragon book, but the dragons are very different than typical dragons ... so there is their society, their magic, their rituals, plus the backstory for each set of characters, and several distinct groups all vying for their own ends.

I'm re-reading all the HP books now, and not to harp on this, but I can't believe how easy she makes this look. She controls about 100 interesting characters across a plot spanning four thousand pages, full of mysteries and tricks, and somehow it looks effortless. AND you wouldn't even notice all this because the books are loaded with delightful asides and tidbits.

In my book, JK Rowling is the world's best argument for outlining ...

Erica Orloff said...

I so relate to this today. I have to say, the books that "worked" (i.e., "sold") always worked on the gut level all the way through. It was almost insitnctive writing. When I have to start stumbling through agonizing, I am far less successful. Which is where I am with ALL my wips lately. Enough to drive me to drink.


LurkerMonkey said...


I feel the same way [minus the sold part -- :)] ... So does it mean it's not working, or does it mean the story is too complicated to grasp all at once? Personally, I'm hoping it's a growth thing.

Jude Hardin said...

Rowling said she only worked from a basic plot outline, and a lot of HP's world evolved during the actual writing process. So, you know, you don't have to have everything in stone before you start writing.

Also, Rome wasn't built in a day. It took Rowling five years to write the first HP book.

Just start writing and see where it goes. That would be my advice.

spyscribbler said...

Every book is different. Darnit.

I adore dragons. :-) I wish I could transplant my erotica dragons to the real romance world. Hey, actually, maybe I just should.

LurkerMonkey said...


Of course her actual process is somewhat of a mystery, but she's been pretty open about certain parts of the prewriting:

"I wanted to fully sketch the plots of all the stories and get the essential characteristics of my principal characters before I actually started writing the books in detail."

And the five years were spent in world-building ...

"The five years I spent on HP and the Philosopher's Stone were spent constructing The Rules. I had to lay down all my parameters. The most important thing to decide when you're creating a fantasy world is what the characters CAN'T do."

I'm betting her world and the plot outlines were fairly highly developed by the time she started first-drafting. And then, of course, she went through multiple drafts of everything.

LurkerMonkey said...


Erotica dragons? Hmm ... I wonder if your dragons aren't a tiny bit similar to mine? These are pretty unusual as far as dragons go, because they spend a good chunk of their lives in human form and have vampiric qualities. I already wrote this book once, but it wasn't very good, so I chucked everything but the dragons themselves and I'm starting over.

Max V. said...

I think erotica dragons is a good idea. You know firsthand how difficult it is to take something so well-known like dragons and make it your own (for instance, making them vampiric like you have) Maybe making them erotic is the answer.

Although that raises some crucial questions about dragons that I've never seen answered...

LurkerMonkey said...


Yes, that is the probably with erotica dragons, isn't it? The imagination crawls ...