In the medical world, when a patient becomes sick, it’s important to establish a chain of causation as soon as possible. Understanding the “why” of an illness means you’re in a better position to understand its trajectory and how to interrupt it—how to get the person back to a place of wellness as soon as possible with the minimum of effort, cost, and side effects.
This is so critical, doctors invest years to acquire history-taking and physical-exam skills, and to internalize the protocols to the point they become automatic, almost Terminator-like. For example, a two-year-old child comes into the office with a cough, and your mind fills with a menu of disparate diagnostic possibilities (asthma, pneumonia, Barbie-shoe aspiration, etc.) and the questions you’ll use to discard the least probable.
Coming from that world, with the heft of process and tradition, it’s been interesting to discover I’m a pantster.
If you felt the heavy irony behind that “interesting”, you’d be right. My brain delivers story to me in inefficient and disconnected ways. A flash of a scene, a snippet of dialogue, or WordMares—my favorite, when your mind won’t turn off and your characters natter all night. While I’m grateful whenever the Muse talks to me, of course, and paradoxically adore the sensation of being out of control, I spend a good amount of time chasing a chain of story causality instead of writing. I spend a good amount of time being stuck.
How did a character, whom we last left carousing in a strip bar in Kentucky, end up a tonsured monk in Tibet? And why?
You may call them picky, but of one thing you can be assured: readers expect you to provide plausible answers to these kind of questions.
So I’ve recently realized a good part of the last four years has been about identifying the Jan Protocol for Pantsing. Can I find a way to reliably coax my brain to be more forthcoming with missing scenes?
This fall, the question became urgent. I had a manuscript stubbornly resisting completion. I’d spent months at a standstill with only a few patches that remained murky and impenetrable. It was messing with my confidence. Then I accidentally stumbled upon a useful brainstorming technique which is cheap, simple, and low-tech. If you’re stuck, perhaps it can help you, too.