With NaNoRenO’s deadline met, our writers have now signed off on the finishing touches of their portions of A Pinch of Magic’s common and LI routes and Varsha, Mikhail and Kiana are out in the world for players to fall in love with!
While the writers are catching up on some much-needed z’s, it wouldn’t feel right to end the jam without a sneak peek into their experience, so we dragged them out of their duvet caves just long enough to answer a few questions. Enjoy!
Tell us a little about how you tackle the writing process. What comes first and last?
Leporine: What comes first? Two words: bullet points. Before I start writing, I like to draft a skeleton outline of the story, scene by scene, to ensure I at least stay semi-focused once the words are flowing. In the case of A Pinch of Magic, I definitely went further with the planning aspect than usual because one thing was fundamentally different this time—this was a team effort!
Writing the common route meant that I had to make sure my plan was transparent for the other writers, whose LI routes were going to be informed by what information I’d divulge earlier on, and what I’d choose to leave out. We communicated over Discord about what we’d each be tackling, with the bullet points then acting as a secondary bit of help for the LI route writers. It was a pleasure to work with them and we each pulled in some great ideas to flesh out the wonderful outline Foleso (the writing director) made for us at the start of the month!
Once I actually begin writing, though, my approach to planning is a whole different story. I’m very much a pantser in the moment, and I let the characters’ personalities and their relationships organically determine dialogue and how the plot will reach its next point. So many cute detours in the common route were also added simply because I wanted to explore these wonderful characters more—such as the Kiana ‘chalk drawing’ scene! It’s not an approach that might work for everyone, but this way, I keep out any nasty inconsistencies that might arise and cause players to think, “Hey, Varsha/n/Mikhail/Kiana wouldn’t say that!”
Destini Islands: My writing process is largely pantser with copious editing, which has a lot of pros and cons.
Pros: It’s incredibly fun! I feel like I’m not writing at all, but just documenting the characters’ journeys through time. It makes the first draft process easy once I understand their motivations.
Cons: Everything else! It’s hard for me to write if I don’t know the characters, which takes a lot of initial time we don’t have. In the end, I have to go back and edit their journeys to stay consistent with the storyline and my fellow writers’ interpretations. I had a lot of late nights, but it’s always worth it. “Killing my darlings” lets me look at the characters even deeper than before.
So first, the beginning of my writing process involves not writing at all! I doodle the characters, imagine them in various scenarios, and answer all sorts of questions that never come up but inform the character’s traits, such as, “What is Mikhail’s favorite food?” and the entire familial history behind it.
Lastly, I comb through inconsistencies and notes I’ve left for myself, expand scenes to improve pacing, and edit mistakes before passing it off to our editors.
How did you approach characterization for Varsha/n, Mikhail and Kiana?
Leporine: I’m pretty self-indulgent, so I always start with the part of a character that intrigues me the most: their history! Luckily, Foleso had already given the writers some amazing, detailed ideas for the backstories and personalities of Varsha/n, Mikhail and Kiana, so I spent a good deal of time looking at those individual threads and linking them together. Questioning becomes very important at this stage—you have to ask yourself things like “How would Varsha/n react to this information, given their personality?” and “What kind of relationship would Varsha/n need to share with their grandmother to be fine with this ridiculous scenario taking place?”
I honestly find myself doing a lot more reverse engineering than anything else when I flesh out characters. The story always comes first, and once I know the destination—where the plot needs to go—working backwards from that point and tracing a character’s likely actions helps wheedle out inconsistencies in what they say or do. Staring endlessly at lines of dialogue I’m not happy with is still a daily struggle, but I definitely erase some small portion of stress this way. And just like I mentioned above, less stress and more focus means there’s always time later to indulge a little in some cute character moments.
Destini Islands: When I make original characters, they typically appear from a random doodle that I decide to breathe life in and obsess over. When I’m fleshing out someone who does not “belong” to me, such as Mikhail, I take their skeleton and basic traits and treat it like a romance game (fitting!). I think about their flaws, but also what would make me “fall” for them. If I got to know them, what’s so great about them? Do they secretly have a nice smile? Do they have a relatable past or way of thinking? Are they brave or powerful in their own, unique way?
In Mikhail’s case, he’s not necessarily like me at all on the outside—he’s a rich, blonde man with a serious case of ego! But he’s just as human as me, with complicated thoughts on wealth and love and food. He’s not someone I “see” myself in, but he’s someone I can love and I hope others can learn to love him, too.
When it comes time to write down his mannerisms and words, I keep that love with me, as if I’m imaging memories of a friend I know intimately.
Any famous writing tips you swear by?
Leporine: Not sure if something one of my creative writing tutors once told me qualifies as a ‘famous’ writing tip, but this is the advice he imparted:
“When none of the words you write are concrete, they’re like quicksand—idle too long, and you will start to sink.”
I’m paraphrasing, of course, because that was six years ago, and I can’t even remember what I put in my sandwich last Tuesday. But regardless of how he said it, what he meant was that writing requires constant balance between the real and the poetic. Each foray into metaphors should be followed up with something literal. Alternate, and keep your words grounded, or your reader won’t have stable footing for their journey.
His advice had a massive impact on me and the way I chose to write, because I always struggled to reign myself back from trying to write ‘pretty’, with big words and a flamboyant style. I think a lot of writers do—we want to mimic our heroes, but we often try too hard and end up overreaching when inexperienced. Who knows, maybe that advice will resonate with someone else reading this.
Here’s to you and your wisdom, Gonzalo!
Destini Islands: The writing tip I swear by is actually life advice from Stephen King, where he said writing is about living. Over the years, I’ve gone out of my comfort zone to enrich my life with new experiences, just for the sake of it being a new experience. It’s helped me be a better person, but also a better writer by having interesting experiences, concepts, and personalities to draw upon. It’s helped me become braver both in and outside of the page.
As a writer, there will always be thousands of self-help books, articles, and classes to seek information from. But, there is nothing that can replace the limited time we have on this planet.
While I love reading those books and learning from experts (and I recommend it!), living life as much as possible is the only consistency in my journey through the years—whether it’s parking your car and taking a walk in a random, gorgeous field, reading that 1-star cooking book you think looks interesting anyway, or bungee jumping in the middle of your work week. You never know what will resonate and inspire you.
Also, show don’t tell.
Lastly, most writers have a strange/interesting habit or two! What’s yours, and how did it worm its way into writing A Pinch of Magic?
Leporine: Oh, wow—do I have to answer this one? Truthfully, my brain is a hyperactive mess—even on an inspired day!—so the one thing I can’t do without when writing is soundtrack music. Total silence has the tendency to allow my brain too much freedom to wander off into a field of daisies, so I definitely need a musical tether of some kind. I’ll usually gravitate towards genres that match the mood of the scene I’m trying to write, which helps me visualise the plot and the right vocabulary for the job. Occasionally, though, I’ll go for some pretty off-the-wall playlists!
When I started writing for A Pinch of Magic, I was waist-deep in my annual Sims obsession (yes, I’m talking about the rosebud-ready, square-bodied classic Sims), and grooving to the Build & Buy mode muzak like nobody’s business. I don’t care what anyone says—the soundtrack to that game is cheesy, 00s fire, and I didn’t go a writing session without it looping in the background.
So yes, random I know, but there we are. The bongo beats of The Sims: On Holiday had a profound influence on A Pinch of Magic—who’d have thought it?
Destini Islands: This is a hard question to answer, because I don’t think I’m strange?!
But after asking other people, apparently I highlight random things and wiggle my fingers on my keyboard when I’m thinking. This is news to me. I sure hope I haven’t left any stray highlights or breaks while writing. Sorry to the editor!
I will say, however, that I was reading a lot of BL while writing for A Pinch of Magic and I’m certain the trope of adding tension with white space and pauses influenced some of the scenes.