An Either–Or World. (Cue the sad face.)
In the twenty-first century, debate is all the rage. I’ve been saying (lamenting, really) for nearly a decade that Confrontation is the new Communication.
Wherever you look, even in Arts and Entertainment, it’s all about “Them and Us.” Otherness, and Alienation.
And right along with this dysfunctional approach to life is the inclination to look at techniques, structural models, and other tools for your creative toolbox as “Versus” rather than “And.”
When I dove into writing this article and I began my research about Intuitive and Analytical writing (keep in mind that these approaches apply as well to the work of actors and directors), I found this “Versus” instead of “And” approach nearly everywhere I looked.
This is not a mindset for Creatives, who should be both Integrative and willing and able to put any tool in the toolbox that will help them tell better stories. That should be the one and only criterion.
Will This Make Me Better? It’s a mantra.
Forget trends. Leave aside the compulsion to jump on the bandwagon that says that the Old Ways are no longer valid and everything has to be New.
If you need to, get a bigger toolbox. It’s worth the extra weight you need to lug around to make you a better writer, actor, or director.
The Creative Journey is a circle, not a line, which is why we tend to talk so much about Arcs. If you are working well, you are in constant progress, constant motion. Forward and back, circling around, going off on tangents, and sometimes stumbling around for days in a Dreamlike state or Desert-like place, looking for that one line, one moment, one revelation or plot twist that will get your work from merely good to Great.
And this means moving back and forth from Analytical to Intuitive and back again, over and over, as the Story demands.
So whether you are primarily Intuitive or Analytical, I hope you’ll find compelling reasons by the end of this post to use both approaches in your work.
What’s the Difference between Analytical and Intuitive Techniques?
As complementary as these two techniques are, there are distinct differences.
Analytical Creatives adhere to the maxim that “story is structure.” Be it the Three-Act Model, Hero’s Journey, layouts taught by McKee and Field, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, or others, those with an Analytical approach use multicolored index cards, outlines, character worksheets, and other tools to lay out their story.
On the other hand, Intuitive Creatives don't "map out" their world, blocking, characters, or structural analysis, or at least nowhere near as much as do Analytical Creatives, because it's all swirling in their heads and they trust that during their process ideas will coalesce and direct where the story will go. They tend to reject the classic models discussed above. Sometimes viciously.
Differences aside, Creativity is dancing back and forth between them. Because we are creating all the time. We know it, as do our friends and family. Walking, swinging in a hammock, doing the dishes, mowing the lawn…
Sometimes in the middle of a conversation! When we first wake up and are falling asleep in those beautiful Liminal Spaces where the Muses talk to us the loudest and most clearly, that is when we are most fully engaging the Intuitive. Then, perhaps subconsciously, the Analytical comes in, taking that raw Alchemical inspiration of the Nigredo (the pure substance of Inspiration) and categorizing and filing it into the proper places in the developing story’s Structure.
In a nice bit of synchronicity, as I was doing the early research (analytical) and stream-of-consciousness (intuitive) writing for this post, I was also editing a special issue of an academic journal wherein a painter was talking about how a painter is ALWAYS painting, because both conscious and unconscious forces are always at work.
In other words, this Intuitive–Analytical dance is not EITHER/OR, but AND.
It is similar to the four stages of creating a written work: Brainstorming, Writing, Editing, and Revision. Writers who don’t keep these stages distinct, who try to revise while they write or edit while they brainstorm, often get frustrated, which contributes to mental states like Writer’s Block and procrastination.
In the Brainstorming stage, it is pure Intuition. We don’t filter or judge. The goal is to let your brainstorming and dream-storying flow, uninterrupted. Generating ideas. Landscapes. Characters who can illuminate the main themes of the story you are telling. Not by being didactic, but by pursuing their Wants and Needs.
A more organized part of brainstorming is pre-writing. George Bernard Shaw said 80 percent of the writer’s time should be spent working things out. I recently read a post on the Stage 32 Blog where a screenwriter got a script optioned that was technically a first draft. But there had been an intense pre-writing process.
Shaw’s way works, and it is another dance of Intuitive and Analytical.
As I mentioned, over the past few years I have been seeing some vicious push back in a lot of forums against classic writing models. But these posts are mostly by those who have learned their craft to the point where they don’t have to consciously think about the structure, although their screenplays still have one. If you were to apply the classic models they are dismissing to their scripts, you’d find a lot of correlation, because Analysis is playing in the background, allowing the Intuitive to come through.
That’s the beauty of it.
The Three-Act Model, McKee and Field, the Hero’s Journey, and Snyder’s Save the Cat are all Analytical organizing principles that help to create a structure into which you pour the Intuitive. A mold, if you will, to give form to the intuitively generated material so it doesn’t spill over into a random, indefinable mess. Or think of it as the framework of a house. Or the canvas in which the painting is contained. Any metaphor that serves to make the point will do.
“Freedom comes from form” was the mantra of my best college writing professor, a Mitchener Prize–winner and highly respected magazine editor. It echoes the well-known advice, “Learn the rules before you break them.” There are reasons why some stories work and many others don’t. Figuring out why through close study is the Analytical.
When its work is done, the Analytical in a seasoned Creative will fade into the background until it’s time for revision. Then, as Constantin Stanislavski says in An Actor Prepares, “it all moves of its own accord, subconsciously and intuitively.”
The “it” Stanislavski is referring to is the result of all the exhaustive, detailed, and very analytical effort that goes into the writer’s pre-writing work, the director’s pre-production and rehearsal work, and the actor’s pre-audition and rehearsal work.
When I’m in Intuitive mode, in the early stages of story formulation, I will daydream as often as I can, letting the characters talk to me, revealing their histories, their voice patterns, their Wants and Needs, and, eventually, if I listen really close, their Secrets. You need to do this Intuitive work with your own characters. Have conversations with them. Ask questions of them. Take two of them to a mental diner and let them talk to each other while you eavesdrop.
Good writers are unapologetic eavesdroppers.
In my mind I walk around the locations where the story takes place, taking in the atmosphere with all my senses. I have the characters talk to each other in these spaces and I listen, saying nothing. A great deal of the story emerges from these Intuitive exercises.
Once I have a good sense of the characters, places, and how they are creating interesting Circumstances (and they will), I move to the technical work of structure. The Analytical reigns. When I write a screenplay, I start with McKee’s three acts, with 14, 28, and 14 scenes, and go from there, knowing it will change—at times significantly. But I know I have a tried and true proportional structure early on to overlay other templates on, like Snyder’s Save the Cat.
For my novels and plays, it’s three-act structure to start, with modifications as needed by the story. Once the characters and scenes start talking to me, they make adjustments as needed, but I know that the structure is there to support the things they want.
There are many online videos with interviews with seasoned screenwriters who talk about how the Intuitive helps them make unexpected discoveries that formulae and extensive planning don’t. Some talk about skipping around, working on scenes that speak to them clearest on any given day. I have done that, as well as working sequentially from scene 1 through the end. It depends on the story. Thrillers have highly technical needs. Romantic comedies have seven “must-moments” (such as the Meet Cute) that happen at certain places as the story unfolds. But some stories allow for a more organic approach.
With time and practice, you will know what’s best for the work.
In Big Magic Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the nature of Inspiration, the Muses, and how the Daimon and Genius were once outside sources of Inspiration but how Genius became something someone is. Too much pressure. Let your Inspiration come in the Intuitive stage. And know when to utilize Analytical tools and when to leave them be. And the Muses, Daimon, and Genius will come. And they will stay.
In The Empty Space, film and stage director Peter Brook said that a director is a guide to a place no one’s ever been. That’s the Intuitive. But it’s also the Analytical because you can map the terrain as you go so you don’t get lost on the journey.
And, at some point in the process the actors take over and the role of the director diminishes. This is because the actors have also taken the journey from the Analytical (character history, identifying the beats and the wants, developing in a technical way how they use their body) to the Intuitive. They know the landscape well enough to get to the destination on their own, same as the screenwriter, and things flow like Stanislavski said they should.
Anyone who has read my Stage 32 blogs, seen my YouTube videos, or worked with me over the past three decades knows I’m not an either–or artist. I pull from every possible place to weave my stories together. I love collaboration (building teams is another Analytical/Intuitive dance). My creative endeavors are carefully crafted quilts of pure imagination bordering at times on whimsy; historical research on political–social–economic issues; careful plotting and character construction; quantum physics and neuroscience; shamanism and astral travel; and always a dose of mystery.
I have been married for twenty-plus years to a Reiki master, yoga instructor, and massage therapist who is also an author and teacher who specializes in cultivating Intuition. She has helped me to not rely only on the Analytical, and my creativity has exponentially increased.
So, if you are mostly Analytical, get the Intuitive juices flowing. Or, if you are mostly Intuitive, give some of the structural tools and other types of analysis a go. I know you’ll be pleased and maybe more than a little surprised by the results.
Other Stage 32 Posts by Joey Madia:
How Blogging [& Networking] on Stage 32 Landed Me Jobs
Preparing For Auditions: 7 [Guided] Script Approaches that Land You the Job
Seven [Less Talked About] Pre-Production Essentials for the Beginning Director
7 Steps for Writing Escape Room Narratives (And How to Find Opportunities to Write Them)
7 Steps for Writing Knights and Dragons Fantasy
Joey Madia spent 25 years in the theatre as a playwright, actor, director, and teacher.
Today he is focused on screenwriting, developing an audio drama series,
writing story lines for immersive theatre-based Escape Rooms, and creating Historical
Education programming with a focus on the Golden Age of Piracy and the life of Che Guevara.
Joey is the Artistic Director of Seven Stories Theatre Company and Creative director of
New Mystics Enterprises, a multimedia production company. He is also the author of two
novels and 17 produced plays.
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