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Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Giving Birth

01.12.12
by Ty Franck

Depending on your particular process, books start out in a lot of different ways. For some writers they begin as a moment, one particular scene that leaps into their head fully formed. George RR Martin has often said that the entire Ice and Fire saga began with the scene of Ned Stark and his boys finding the dire wolf pups.

I know writers who always begin from the end. They have their climactic scene in mind, and they work backwards from there to figure out why those people are in that situation. I myself have written three short stories that began with nothing more than a title I found evocative.

Daniel and I begin with five acts, and a vague chapter outline.

But not matter what your process is, there is this moment where the story stops being a thing you are trying to hammer into a recognizable shape, and comes to life. It begins telling you what it’s supposed to be. It fights back when you’re doing it wrong. It flows like water when you’re doing it right. After all the pushing and heavy breathing, something fully formed starts to appear. You know, intellectually, that you made it. But it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like it was always there just waiting for you to find it.

The storytelling water broke today on book #3 of The Expanse series. This was not a painless process. We’d been hammering at this thing for months, now, looking for the book. We knew the major plot points. We knew who the characters were. We knew everything except what the book was about. And believe me, you can NOT write a book until you know what it’s about. And what a book is about is never the plot. The plot is a skeleton on which meaning can hang, but if your plot is the meaning, you’ve failed I think.

So, today, a chapter stood up and said, “I’m wrong. Fix me.” And during a discussion about how to fix that one moment, just four paragraphs long, the rest of the book fell into place. It’s kind of awe inspiring to watch it happen. I’m a rationalist and a materialist. I am the last person to assign supernatural qualities to anything. But there is something in the act of creating stories that feels a tad mystical. I suspect that it’s when your subconscious mind and conscious mind finally agree on something, and everything clicks into place. But the feeling is definitely that the process isn’t entirely under your control anymore.

But, today, for the first time, I started to think this third book can be great.

I’m finally excited to write it.

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12 Responses »

  1. Great thoughts, I can’t wait to read it.

  2. thanks Ty!

    The response to Leviathan has been great (Jo Walton just raved about it on Tor) and I need to read it myself. My fellow SF Signal irregulars really liked it too.

  3. I know exactly what you’re talking about. The outline for the Wild Card movie really started to sing once I forced myself to tell myself “what is this story about?”, and I had to do it in one sentence. And what it’s about is not the plot. That’s the mechanism that reveals the meaning.

  4. Yeah. Innit great when that happens? :)

    I had a big ol’ smile on my face, reading this post. For one, I know EXACTLY what you mean, and two, because it’s awesome to see goodness happening on the homefront of a series I’m absolutely loving.

    This kind of stuff is great to hear, Ty. Thanks for the update.

  5. I got The Dragon’s Path and Leviathan Awakes in one Kindle Bundle. Both amazing books. I really enjoyed reading about the Medean Bank. I read somewhere (maybe on your blog) that one of your favorite books was Medici Money and I bought it, though I haven’t started it.

  6. Just asking: is the title of the third book a reference to Bradbury?

    (Y’know, like the first one was to Hobbes and the second one to Shakespeare.)

    • Well, it was going to be. But if you look at any of the new information about the third book, you’ll notice it lists the title as “Abaddon’s Gate”. This was at our publisher’s request. They liked that it fit with the style of the first two better.

      And yes, it is s reference to the biblical Abaddon.

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