The BeginningAt the beginning of the story I introduce the MC, the setting, their hopes and desires, how that is the opposite of their current situation. I also show their most obvious relationships. It's fun introducing one of the things they desire early on and then mixing in their conflicting desire later in the beginning.
I look at writing the beginning of a story as an unfolding process. It's impossible to hit the reader with everything at once from the start. It's more like, I introduce the main character. They go through a somewhat typical day, and I show the setting and how they are unsatisfied. Then they interact with another character who is involved in one of the main relationships of the story. It's a steady, gently paced, revealing aspects of the MC's life one step at a time.
After readers meet the characters, the setting, and learn what the main character wants and why, I start introducing the conflicts from my "Story Moments List." This is where intuition comes into play. I read through my entire list, highlight events that sound like they should be at the beginning of the story, and then start with those. Later I read it again, highlight events that sound like the late beginning/early middle of the story, and then work with those, crossing out ideas as I go.
This adds a little structure to this free-for-all list. I read through my list and pick what feels right at the moment. Due to having read tons of fiction, picking what fits is easy. At the start, I try to pick a conflict that is not huge, but has meaningful impact on the MC's desires.
Escalation and Story MomentsAfter picking an event from my list and writing it out, I try to pick another that is worse or more intense than the one before, but that I can tie to the last event in a way that flows naturally. I want the solutions to the previous problem to cause more problems. I want the story to get steadily worse and worse until the character faces the worst situation ever and has to decide between one of their two desires and go with the decision (a.k.a the climax).
While doing Mascara, I usually picked three or four story moments and then chained them together, figuring out how one moment leads to the next. This approach allowed me see far enough ahead in the story that if I needed to introduce a new item or character that would help the MC later, I could bring that naturally into the story way ahead of time, so it wouldn't look like a convenient coincidence.
TwistingRelated to chaining together story moments, is what I like to call "twisting." It's like a mini-version of the plot twist that I like to do to connect events that happen in the story.
The way I do this is as I'm creating the resolution of a story moment, I mix in problems that leads to the next story moment.
Often the effect is that readers know how a certain situation will end, but they are surprised by all of the problems that ending is causing, therefore keeping them reading for what happens next. One of the most common comments I received on my comic from readers was, "I knew that was going to happen, but I had no clue that it would end like that."
That's really a goal to shoot for when writing fiction.
PacingAfter a moment that's hard hitting, as I writer I feel like, "Whoa, that was intense. I need a break." When I feel that way, I know readers are probably feeling the same. Having the characters involved reflect on the gravity of what just happened is a good way to break things up and create reader empathy at the same time. I also create breaks by picking a story moment with humor, a moment that shows what another character is up to, or put in some backstory if it's needed.
BackstoryWhen I was writing the script for Mascara, I reached a point where I felt like I needed to add some backstory. I just felt that it was time and that it would help readers to get a better understanding of what's going on. Once that feeling hit me, I created the backstory and shared it within the story.
After doing some more writing, I got that feeling again. It's time for some more detailed backstory. So I added it in.
As I write, I can feel in my gut when it's time to add backstory. When it's time, I just make it up, add it in, and keep going with the main timeline of the story.
Another thing that helps with gauging when to add backstory is rereading what you've created. I'll explain that process in more detail later in this post.
Fear of Losing It AllFor a shoujo manga, Mascara had a lot of suspense and tension. The cause of this tension was the constant threat that the MC was going to permanently lose one of his main desires--having a romantic relationship with Addison.
The threat of the MC losing one of his desires permanently in the pursuit of his conflicting desire, creates a lot of drama.
When going this route, it's important for readers to understand how badly the MC wants the desire that is in peril of being lost, and how nearly losing this desire over and over again effects the MC emotionally.
Story Climax--The Main Character Decides
The climax of the story is when the worst of the worst happens, forcing the MC to decide which one of their desires are they going to go after and which one will they let go. At this point, the character usually comes to some kind of realization about how they have not been living in the best way for them.
When the MC decides on their path, there maybe some backlash, but they stick to it, allowing them to solve the problem of the story.
Problems are solved and lingering questions are answered. This is where to wrap it up unless it's the first book in a series. If it's a series, a possibility is wrapping up the main problem of the story, but leaving other issues unresolved so they can be continued in the next book. It could be a problem caused by the main character's choice in the climax.
Rereading the DraftSome writing tips I've read strongly advise against rereading your draft while writing. I've tried this approach, and for me writing this way causes some serious problems. Mainly:
- I lose touch with the story.
- It hurts the continuity (randomly changing hair colors and names...)
- Unnatural pacing. It's hard for me to figure out what events would naturally follow the previous one if I don't read my story...
Most of this advice comes from the angle of helping the writer to avoid the trap of getting caught up in editing while writing, which I understand. But for me, I had to find a middle ground. It's super hard to fix serious pacing problems after finishing the first draft. It can be done, but for me, it sucks the fun out of writing. I don't mind editing, but I'd rather get that aspect mostly right at the start.
Also being an artist/writer, I have multiple projects going on at once. It's hard for me to stay in the world of the story, even if I work on it one day after the other. So if you're sitting down to write and you feel out of touch with your story, you may need to re-read it.
Before I start writing, I re-read as much of my story as I need to get re-immersed in it. It could be a few paragraphs or a few chapters--it depends on what I feel I need. As I read, I limit my editing to changing a few sentences or adding some new details that I may have invented along the way. If I see something major, (like redoing an entire paragraph or more) I make a note of it so I can come back to it when I'm in editing mode.
Sometimes I read on the computer, but it's better if I print it out and reread before writing.
The advantages of reading a print out:
- Reading on paper allows reading from a different point of view. You see things that you didn't see while working on the computer.
- Limited editing. While rereading on the computer, it's very easy to get caught in the editing trap. You can erase and rewrite sentences as many times as you want. But on paper, there are definite limits on how much you can change. Promising yourself to only write edits on paper and not the computer while working on a first draft can allow you to scratch the urge to edit without getting caught up in it. Edits can be copied to the computer after the first draft is done.
- Seeing physical progress. Printing out chapter after chapter or comic page after comic page, and seeing that story grow from 10 pages to hundreds is really gratifying. On the computer, you can see the page numbers grow, but it doesn't have the same impact as filling up a physical binder with pages of writing.
So if you find yourself needing to reread before working more on your first draft, do it. There really are no writing rules. Only what works.
Other Thoughts About Writing Intuitively
- Some characters will randomly appear when the time is right. When I was working on Mascara, this happened to me over and over again. And I just accepted it.
- Let the characters be themselves. If you need to force a character to act a certain way to cause an event in the story to happen the way you want it to, you may need to rethink the way you're approaching your story.
- If you get stuck, either write about it, take a break, or reread. By writing about it, I mean writing in a journal or somewhere else, "Right now I'm stuck on this part of my story. I'm stuck on it because... It doesn't make sense because... What I would rather see..."
Go on a little rant about what's not working. Sometimes when I'm writing about it, an idea will pop into my head that fixes the problem.
Rereading helps to me reground myself in the story and see where it's heading. When I do that, I'm sometimes able to overcome being stuck. And if neither one of those options work, I may simply need a break.
This is the writing process that has always worked best for me, but I didn't know that this was my way of approaching stories until I read Story Trumps Structure by Steven James. As he described his method of writing I found myself being like, "No way! That's the way I write too!" That has NEVER happened to me before. There are some differences here and there, but it's very similar. When I'm writing at my best, I write intuitively. At my worst, I'm following blueprints and plans and so on...
I do agree with the Amazon reviews that for being a book about breaking the rules, his book has a lot of things that he presents as rules. And I feel that some of his views on publishing are dated and shortsighted. But his chapters on "organic" writing are really good if that's something you identify with.
Another book with some good tips about "organic" or intuitive writing is Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer.
If nothing else, I've learned that the best writing guides are the ones that illuminate my natural writing process, not ones that try to squeeze me into a pre-made how-to-write mold. So if you're a writer learning the craft, look for books that shine light on the way that you approach stories, and maybe you'll find a process that's a perfect fit for you.