I was catching up on some episodes of the Three Guys with Beards podcast (hosted by Jonathan Maberry, Christopher Golden, and James A. Moore – all great storytellers that you should be checking out) when they got onto the topic of writing styles. Or maybe how they approach their writing is a more apt description. Which then got me to think about the manners and methods of how I write.
Look, every writer has their own style. There’s no right way, and there’s no wrong way. Anyone who tells you different is talking out of their ass. If you’re a writer, find a method that works for you, but don’t be afraid to try new things. If that new thing doesn’t work for you, pitch it out the window and do something else. Simple, right?
In the episode, the bearded ones mentioned a couple different styles they’ve employed, from running straight through beginning to end, writing the climax first, or playing hopscotch through the manuscripts and going back and forth.
For me, I’m a straight-up beginning to end kind of writer. I wouldn’t say I outline, but I have the barest of bones of a structure in my mind, usually supported by at least three story beats that get fleshed out as the story progresses. Once an idea locks in, I typically know the three big beats – beginning, middle, and end – at least in general terms of action. Not always, but usually. This breaks down to having an inciting event, a significant action set piece at the half-way mark, and a (hopefully!) strong resolution. These constitute certain narrative tent-poles that I work toward in a linear fashion, letting the beats in between build naturally from the story as I go. When I’m first starting out, I rarely have any kind of in-depth plan starting in Chapter One as to what will happen in Chapter Thirty, but I do have a general idea of where the plot is leading. I mostly just let the characters and story figure out how to get from Point A to Point B to Point C.
The book I’m working on now, a sci-fi thriller set in a post-climate change Earth, has been working slightly different, but still following a similar road map. I knew the inciting event, which occurs (in this first draft) around chapter three. Last night, I figured out what chapter four needs to be and will be writing that today. This is all building toward a mid-story event that puts everything into upheaval and will change the dynamics of the story a bit as the plot expands around a new threat that I have been slowly teasing in an off-handed way. Now what happens from chapter four to Point B, I don’t really know yet, but am confident I’ll discover it along the way. I have a few rough ideas, but the story will let me know what it wants to do, and I trust in that.
I recently completed a short story called Let Go, which is slowly getting prepped for release (it’s off to my editor now, and a cover designer is on tap, so stay tuned!), and which is a zombie horror title. My horror works differ only a little bit from my sci-fi stuff in terms of work flow, and tend to be much shorter. Even though they tend toward short story-to-novella end of the spectrum, I’m still teasing through that three-act structure of beginning, middle, and end, only at an accelerated (for lack of a better term) rate. However, I tend to go back and feed in a bit more information throughout the story in future drafts after it’s all been written.
This is true of Let Go, and was perhaps at its most serious extent with another recently finished short horror story that I wrote for an upcoming anthology (more on that soon!). This short story is tentatively titled Black Site and is a sci-fi horror, and required extensive amounts of revision both as I went along and through subsequent drafts. After I had the first draft written, I had a much better understanding of what needed to change, altered, deleted, and added. Especially what needed to be added. For only being around 10,000 words, I think it may be the most heavily re-worked 10,000 words I’ve written yet and it hasn’t even been put in front of the editor yet.
This brings me to another point in terms of figuring out a writing style or methodology, and why nobody can tell you what works for certain – nobody else knows your freaking story like you do. And so nobody can tell you how to write it. Sometimes you just have to learn how to write it as you go along, or after you’ve beaten yourself through that first draft. With Black Site, I had an idea of how that story would go and what I needed to do with it. When I hit THE END, I found myself deeply unsatisfied and knew that certain elements were missing. That’s what a second draft is for! But, I had to get through the finale in order to figure out how to work through the earlier segments to take corrective measures and get it back on track. Could I have avoided this by writing the ending first? Well, maybe – but only if I had known for sure what that ending was going to be. While I knew what the ultimate fate of the characters would be in terms of the story’s resolution, I didn’t quite know the circumstances surrounding the climax until the characters figured it out and told me how it was gonna be.
I like to let the story speak to me. I’m comfortable with that, and often find myself enjoying the surprises the story hurtles at me. Others need to have a rigid outline with every detail mapped out. That’s just not my bag. What about you, fellow writers?