What’s your favorite type of pain?
Sure, sure, you’re going to say, “I don’t like pain at all.”
No one does, but pain is something we must experience to have growth.
What if a masochist (we’ll call him “Bobby”) captured you and made you choose?: Do you want a sharp stabbing pain that occurs in a few seconds/minutes, or would you prefer a low level, always-on pain for a month? Think about that for a minute while I wait.
Okay, you’ve made up your mind. No, no, you don’t need to tell me right now. You can keep it to yourself. But you need to know the answer.
Why am I asking you this question and what the hell does it have to do with writing a manuscript? Well, everything.
I attended Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer Workshop a while back and he introduced me to something called “front-loading.” I had no idea what he meant, but when Bob speaks, you listen. Front-loading is just another word for a “plotter” as opposed to a “pantser.” Plotters work out all the nuances and story before they write one word of prose. Pantsers do it during the work. Which way is better? I’m sure Bob would tell you plotting is, but he would also deliver the caveat that either way will work. I agree with him. I used to be a firm pantser, but now do a lot more plotting and find it significantly speeds up writing. Now, don’t get me wrong, plotting is a TON of writing, just not your actual story. You have to write down everything you research, your characters back stories, key points , your overall outline, timelines, and your inciting event. Write it down.
But that doesn’t matter. Pantsers and plotters are doing the very same thing, just going about it differently. Plotters are pantsers and pansters are plotters—they just don’t know it
How is that, you might ask? Well you might not ask, but I’m going to tell you anyway, so buckle up.
When a pantser starts in on her story, she just jumps in and starts writing like a madwoman. Typically, she’ll get a significant way into the story, and get lost or even blocked. What does she do then? She must plot. She has to decide on which way the story will go from the stuck point. (Ha! To all you pantsers out there! You’re secretly plotters and didn’t know it!) So she feels the pain while writing the story. It’s a slow, dull ache that lasts mostly during the middle parts and even toward the end, where she might not be entirely sure where the story will end up. (This can also be addressed by getting back to your Original Idea.) I have seen numerous pantsers on Twitter complaining about being stuck somewhere in the middle of the story, and when I throw out perhaps they should try to plot a little, they strike back with, “That’s not the way I work.” I disagree. You must plot out your story or you will write it forever.
Case in point: I just now (yes, while writing this) see an assumed pantser on Twitter. This person tweeted: Brain this would be a great time for you to kick in and give me something useful for this scene. Plotters don’t have that problem. They know the purpose of every scene before it’s written. I hear those pantsers out there bemoaning the “creative process” and “getting into their character’s heads” and “What fun is it if you already know the entire story?” They like to let the story go where it may and be surprised by their characters. (Stephen King is a pantser by the way…he said he didn’t even outline Needful Things. Read that sucker and tell me he’s not a genius. No outline!)
Keep reading, you pantser.
Now, when a plotter begins a story, she starts with her Original Idea and builds upon that by deciding what characters and items are going to be in the story, their back story, what they want (no, what they really want) and plots out the general idea of where the story is going using the Narrative Structure of:
This is all before she writes a word of story. This is also where she is pantsing. She is trying different flavors of the story, deciding on what POV to use, deciding on setting, and voice, the ending, how her protagonist will overcome the obstacles in her path, writing a good outline…all that good stuff. She is going through the very same thing a pantser goes through, but she’s doing it before she writes one word down. What’s the ending going to be? She doesn’t know, but she works through the story—just like a pantser, and finds it.
Her pain is sharp, like a knife stab, but over quickly. Well, quickly being a subjective term. It may take her just as long as the pantser to figure out where her story is going, but she’s doing it before she writes. Once the pain is inflicted, it’s over. Unlike the pantser who will feel pain like a broken toe for chapter after laborious chapter of flailing about on the page, wondering where the damn story is going, and why is the main character going into that cave, when he should be getting on the ship? Plotters feel the pain and feel it sharply because, at the beginning stage, they test the viability of the idea without writing for two months only to discover the thing is only forty pages long and they’re out of story!
So take your pain answer from above and apply it to which type of writer you are. If you like a shorter duration of pain, you might want to try plotting and see how it works. I know, I know, you’re a diehard pantser, but hey, you’re still going to get all that fun pantsing time, it’ll just be before you write yourself into a corner in chapter 22 and freak.
If you prefer the slower, dull ache of getting stuck halfway through your story, by all means, pants to your heart’s content. However, understand one thing: you will be plotting later. And when you do, you may very well have to go back to chapter one and start rewriting the entire freaking thing! If that sounds fun to you, by all means, carry on. But often I’ve seen people have to turn their character from a tall blonde woman, to a short black man because of the revision they could have done before and saved them all that time.
Which do I do? I have embraced plotting—with one exception! I only stretch my outline (which is just a scene breakdown in paragraph form) up until the final few scenes. I know by then where the story is heading, and I know my Climax, and my Resolution. I then pants the final few scenes seeing where the story goes and how the characters are going to deal with the mountain of stones I am throwing at them. I pants this part, because I don’t really want to know the ending of my story and more than the reader does, until I get there. So does this make me a pantser? Ha! Not so much, but I do get the best of both worlds.
What about you? Do you plot? Is there a solid reason to pants? I would be interested to hear it.
Jason is a rising talent and underappreciated megalomaniac with a thirst for world domination. When he isn’t working his day job (IT Geek) or spending time with his family, he is busy crafting worlds he can destroy on a whim. As an enthusiastic member of the DFW Writers Workshop, he can often be witnessed dedicating his time to supporting his fellow minions–I meant other writers.
He is a highly talented writer and blogger. For more of Jason A. Myers, go to:
He is truly a Warrior Writer and we are all grateful for this thoughtful post.
To sign up for a Warrior Writer near you, go to www.bobmayer.org