As writers, we have a lot of tools at our disposal. We’ve studied the basics, like how to ramp up our plots or how to make our characters multi-dimensional. And sometimes it’s easy to sit back and look at a story that, on paper, ticks all the right boxes. Layered plot with several inter-related subplots? Check. Rising tension in every scene? Check. Believably flawed characters? Check.
But sometimes we still have that nagging feeling that something isn’t right. Sometimes it’s easy to point your finger at the element that’s not working and figure out a way to fix it, but sometimes it goes deeper than that. Sometimes you just know, deep down, that the story itself is all wrong. Or, the opposite can be true. You get a gut feeling that the story you’re writing just works.
I’m certainly no stranger to gut reactions. I had one with FOUR STONES, the first book I ever wrote. I knew the first draft was pretty terrible, and while I was able to revise it to a point that was good enough to land me an agent, deep down I had a feeling it wasn’t ready to sell. And it wasn’t. And just like I had a gut feeling that I’d hit on a winner with THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN, I’ve been trying to ignore the gut feeling I’ve had all month that the sequel I’m writing is all wrong.
Well, gut, you win. I can’t ignore you any longer. The sequel I’m writing is all wrong. I originally envisioned THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN as a standalone, but as so often happens, I found myself wondering what befell my characters after the story ended. I threw together a loose sequel in my mind in case the book were to sell as a series one day, and when that happened, I figured I was all set. I sat down, typed up a detailed scene-by-scene outline and then went HUH. I’m not so sure about this. This idea that sounded pretty great in my head suddenly sounded … off. Really, really off. I chalked it up to self-doubt, ignored my gut and started writing the sequel for NaNo. Then this internal battle started.
Gut: This isn’t working.
Me: Shut up. I’m trying to get to 1,666 words today.
Gut: Who cares about word count if you’re taking everything that made the first story what it is and turning the volume down down rather than up?
Me: I said, shut up.
Gut: I don’t even know who these characters are anymore.
Me: SHUT UP. LA LA LA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU.
Gut: Oh, you hear me loud and clear. And you’ll admit it one day soon.
Over the weekend, I admitted it. I trashed the outline I was going from (as well as the 14,000 odd words I’ve already written), sat down with my husband (who henceforth shall be known as The Plot Whisperer), and figured out why the sequel wasn’t working and what I needed to do to fix it. I still only have about 75% of a new plot down in my head, but, you guys, I am SO MUCH HAPPIER now. It’s feeling right. So thank you, gut. I promise not to doubt you again.*
Moral of the story: Always trust your gut. It’s one of your biggest strengths as a writer.