“What’s Your Favorite Type of Pain?” by. Jason A. Myers

hannibal

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.

<waiting>

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:

 

Initiating Event

Rising Action

Crisis

Climax

Resolution

 

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:

Web: http://jasonamyers.wordpress.com/
Twitter: twitter.com/JasonAMyersTX

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

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  1. #1 by Ann on September 10, 2009 - 4:03 pm

    Kristen, what a find. I love Jason’s article. I have been trying to decide what I am for a while now. I am a bit of both except I don’t write it down. I mulled it over and over and over and then spit it onto a page weeks, months or even years after I came up with the story. As you can probably guess, this isn’t working for me. Jason’s post helps though. Thanks so much.

  2. #2 by Jamie Harrington on September 10, 2009 - 5:18 pm

    I admit that I am a total pantsyplotter.

    I just write the first five or six pages…and if the character is getting interesting to me, then I work out what’sabout to happen in the rest of the story, but if the character is boring–then no big cheese.

    I think some of my best ideas come from the pants though. (You can quote that, I respect your need to do so.) I think it’s important to see where the story is going to take us, and not be married to the plot we came up with in the baby stages of the novel.

  3. #3 by Kay Dew Shostak on September 11, 2009 - 11:32 am

    Thanks – so needed this this morning. I’m very much a pantser when writing, but in all other areas of my life I’m a plotter. Your post made me think about how much I enjoy plotting things in my life. Matter of fact, I’ve often said the planning of an event is almost as much fun as the event itself. So I think a little more plotting is called for in my current work.
    Besides – I’m stuck.

  4. #4 by Jamie D. (@Variety Pages) on September 11, 2009 - 2:44 pm

    Great post, Jason…thanks for featuring him, Kristin!🙂

    I guess you could call me the ultimate masochist then – I do both. I don’t really “outline”, but I use Holly Lisle’s method for coming up with a plot and developing many of the story’s scenes before I start writing. I know a lot about my characters, what they want/need, what they’ll do to get it, and many of the situations they’ll find themselves facing throughout the story. If I start running out of scenes while I’m writing, I’ll plan more out, three or four at a time.

    But I don’t plan all of the scenes. And I don’t completely plan how my characters will move through a specific scene either – which still results in occasional corners to get out of and plot revisions as I’m writing because my characters made a decision that was unexpected. I never know the end before I start writing – I know vaguely how I think I might want it to end, but never exactly how things will wrap up. I like it that way – I like leaving myself things to figure out during the process of writing, and leaving the end open to whatever curves the story takes to that point.

    I guess I choose the infliction of a sharp, painful injury that creates a wound to fester for the duration of the draft, sometimes feeling better, sometimes throbbing and making me miserable, but ultimately healing in the end.🙂

  5. #5 by Bob Mayer on September 11, 2009 - 3:09 pm

    I’ve just figured something else about front-loading the work. Front-load the part of writing you’re weakest at. For example, my weakest area has always been characters. I can do plot blind-folded. But I used to outline my books using plot, which is relatively normal. But for my new WIP, I’m outlining CHARACTERS first, not worried about plot. Part of that also has to do with a change in genre, but I changed genre in order to be able to focus on the weakest part of my writing– because that weak part is the most important part of a book. Characters are key.

  6. #6 by mizwrite on September 11, 2009 - 8:21 pm

    Hi, Jason (and Kristen!) — Nice to see you here! Good post. I seem to enjoy “pantsing” for the unpredictability and fun it brings (and yeah, the “surprise of the characters” and blah, blah, blah). But I do stop and suddenly start plotting when I get stuck, just as you mentioned. Strangely, in all three of the manuscripts I’ve written out, this happens in the EXACT same places! Weird. Chapters 13 and 18, without fail. Must be the “lull” in each story for me. What I do then is make lists (What are each character’s goals now? What are their obstacles? What do they need to learn? etc.) and that usually sparks something important that carries me forward for several more chapters.

    But I took a class recently with Judy Duarte, and she showed us how to write a character-driven synopsis first, and then create the story from that — which is basically plotting but with a heavy emphasis on character development. I thought the whole concept was brilliant and am excited to try it. So I may end up becoming a plotter after all. : )

  7. #7 by Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey on September 11, 2009 - 9:42 pm

    I guess I like having a sharp pain every day. I get up every morning at 5:00 and sit there imagining the next scene as carefully as I can, then I write until the wife says, “It’s time to go to work!” (She never says it with as much chipper excitement as the exclamation point implies.) That’s worked well in my forty years of short-story writing, but now that I’m working through a novel (and in the wake of the same Warrior Writer class that Jason took), I’m feeling the pain of the pants. As Bob says, a novel is too complex for anyone to hold entirely in their head, except for a few people who should be penalized for their unfair genius.

    In my A.B. world (After Bob), I’ve taken some muddled, but fun, steps toward plotting and character development. I write short scenes of interviews with my characters or scenes from parts of their lives outside of my novel’s storyline, yet that are relevant to it. (These often become postings for my blog.) And I have 4×6 cards with character descriptions that I admit are very handy. And I’ve taken a few pathetic stabs at storyboarding.

    But in my heart, I guess I’m a pantser. Little is more fun than coming up with a character, putting them in a difficult spot, and just hanging on for the ride — yeehaw! So what if that doesn’t make me a bestseller? At least from 5:00 to 8:00 every morning I’m in my happy place, even if there are stabbing pains shooting up from my pants. The true test will come with manuscript number two. Will I pants? Or will I plot? Sigh … I may need another Bob session.

  8. #8 by Ann Marie on September 12, 2009 - 1:37 pm

    Some wag said the real difference between plotters and pantsers is what document you call the first draft.

    I realize I’m frontloading my weak area as well, although flipped issues: I don’t have much trouble seeing my characters and getting them on the page, but for the plot I get out the tables and charts and make sure I have something concrete rather than vague notions.

  9. #9 by Jenni Holbrook on September 12, 2009 - 3:52 pm

    I like the idea of writing a character driven synopsis first. Great tip, Bob! Thanks.

    I’ve always been a front loader when it comes to work and well, anything I do. I like to be neat an organized to the point it is probably slightly obbessive. I’m real good at coming up with great story ideas. But idea isn’t story. I’ve also been known to write great antagonists, but somewhere in the process I tend to neglect my protagonist and this is bad. So bad that it is “painful”. This is what I am working on right now. Focusing on my protagonist. Starting with her, who she is, what she wants. This is real hard for me. I rely too heavily on my antagonist to the point he takes over the story and usually these guys (or gals) are not very likable which leaves me with a book that is well, a little on the dark and twisted side. Not that is necessarily bad, except I’ve forgotten a very important element — the payoff to the reader.

    I am currently bleeding out on the page. It hurts, but it’s good.

  10. #10 by Jason Myers on September 12, 2009 - 4:10 pm

    Wow! Thanks for all the great feedback, everyone. I have also taken the Bob route and really dug deeply into the characters. I literally have pages of information on each one, and a photo of what I think they look like, and the key point in their lives that made them what they are today, and their blind spots, and many, many other things. I did it so long and so much that I know feel like I know these fools! As if they were real people. And then…I take these fun little people and I place them into the world and plot I created and say, “Get out of this fix!” Ha! Those poor bastards don’t even stand a chance.

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