I’m spontaneous when it comes to writing exercises, be they challenges, word prompts, poems or general practice. In those cases, I usually don’t know what I’ll be writing before I begin, and I let the words take me somewhere new.
I’ll write the start with whatever comes to mind, letting the words paint a picture with the hope that something reasonable will come out of it.
If it’s prompt based, I’ll begin with imagery that is usually something sense based, or some opinion-laden statement about the character’s thoughts. If I’m lucky I’ll receive a flash of inspiration that gives me an idea where the piece is going, but some story always presents itself as I go.
The piece I’ve done for the first of the monthly writing challenges was written by hand, and started while I was lying in the park on a sunny day. The sun hurt my eyes, and there were birds flying around some palm trees – it made me think of an island, and I went from there. It’s obviously no coincidence that the main character of that piece (and it’ll be posted before the month is out) starts out lying down, with her eyes avoiding the sun. For the overall topic of “Write Anything”, it was no more premeditated as I’d be for any word prompt.
Like me, if you’re writing, you’re bound to be doing more than exercises. Often you have a very specific story in mind, and to some degree, know the premise and outcome of the scenes that you are writing. Conflict is the lifeblood of a story, and without it there is no drama, though conflict does not happen on its own.
Everything is causal, and nothing happens in isolation.
I think of the story as a stormy weather system. It doesn’t rain constantly, and the rain doesn’t begin in isolation. It’s the build-up of clouds, the darkening skies, and the occasional rumbling before the downpour begins that change the type of rain we get. A hot day has one effect on the storm, changes the severity of it, the type of rain, the propensity for lightning. A cold day changes, too. Conflict is the rain in your story, yet it doesn’t just happen. Even when what you’ve written is just the rain portion, there are inciting factors beforehand that have pushed your story into that conflict.
Sometimes you can begin a scene or story in the middle of the downpour, not requiring the build-up because it happens off-screen. Sometimes you can begin with the first drop, where the characters know that trouble is on the way but not yet there. You could also start afterward, having the aftermath presented without needing to show what had happened because it is implied by what happens next. All approaches – the build-up of the conflict, in the midst of the conflict, or after the conflict has passed – are equally valid ways to write, and it is worth trying an alternate approach if the one you are using feels stagnant.
The main thing to consider is what effect the current conflict has on future events – whether it creates new conflicts, or resolves others. What happened yesterday changes today, as much as today will change tomorrow.