Writing Styles: Bashers vs. Swoopers

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I’m happily plugging away at my YA fantasy novel, An Eye of Heartstone (the primary reason I took a break from MW) and was talking with a writer friend about my writing approach when she introduced a concept I’d not heard before: Bashers vs. Swoopers. The idea originates with one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, but I’d somehow managed to go forty some-odd years without so much as hearing about Bashers or Swoopers once. Here’s a more complete quote from the author himself (I researched it and it’s in Ch. 35 of his book, Timequake):

“Tellers of stories with ink on paper have been either Swoopers or Bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.”

Now then… A lot of ink has been spilled on the subject of plotters vs. pantsers, but that’s obviously not what Vonnegut is talking about. But given how much time has been spent here on MW on the idea of writing fast, it seemed appropriate to throw Vonnegut’s quote into the mix and add another set of options to ponder.

Personally, I think I’m more of a Basher, though not on a line-by-line basis. I’ll write anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages—a couple of chapters if I’m lucky—and then NEED to go back and tweak and tighten and generally upgrade the quality of what I’ve written. The text just pulls at me, calls to me; I have no choice in the matter.

I think part of the reason I do this is that I have a particularly hard time shutting up my internal editor. Editing is, after all, what I do on a regular basis. I also think some of my bashing tendencies stem from the fact that my brain often needs a little time to process what it’s written so that it can figure out what’s supposed to happen next. And lastly, it’s also a good way for me to get my head back into the story when I’ve been away for a while, sometimes even when it’s only been a few hours. Going back a chapter or three and editing forward again reminds me of where I’ve been and what’s going on.

The drawback with being a Basher is that if the story goes seriously astray and I need to jettison some of the text, I’m not just losing one draft, I’m sometimes losing three or four drafts—which represents a significant investment of my time. I still do it, but it’s often painful. I’m not just killing my darlings; I’m killing an entire tribe of shiny, polished darlings.

So I have three questions for the rest of you at this point:

1) The obvious one: do you think you’re a Swooper or a Basher;

2) Also let me know if you’re a Plotter or Pantser: I’m curious how Swooping and Bashing relates to Plotting vs. Pantsing. Are Plotters more likely to be Bashers? Are Pantsers Swoopers? Etc., etc.

And lastly;
3) For those of you swoopers out there, what are the pros and cons you perceive from writing the way that you do. I can speculate on the subject all day, but I’d like to hear from the folks who actually write that way.

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40 comments to Writing Styles: Bashers vs. Swoopers

  • I am most assuredly a Basher. And yes, I tend to go one sentence at a time, crafting and shaping before I can move on to the next one. I’ve gotten fairly quick at it, and can now write 2,000 to 2,500 words a day (once I’m in the middle of a book and have some momentum). But this is the main reason why I can’t imagine myself ever writing 4,000 words a day. That kind of output doesn’t usual come from people with my creative process. I’m also a plotter, though a rough plotter — short, sketchy outlines, as opposed to detailed ones.

    All that said, I wish I could Swoop. I have friends who do, and who manage to write an entire book in 6 weeks before going back through it and revising. Yes, my approach allows me to spend less time rewriting later, but I think I would prefer to finish the first draft faster and then polish. But that’s just not how I work.

  • I write like a Swooper but I type like a Basher. I say that because I write with a pen in a notebook whenever inspiration strikes. The notebook is always with me, so I can even park the car and pull it out to jolt down what I’m thinking. I’m not a plotter either and scenes come to me at random. The notebook gives me the freedom I need to get the story out of my system. Then I transcribe my notes and add details to the scenes as I look at them with fresh eyes. When I’m typing I cannot ignore the colorful squiggly lines that imply spelling and grammar mistakes. I need to make sure everything sounds right and looks clean. But I know what I want to say, and that makes my life a lot easier. Once everything is typed I fill in the gaps and focus on the structure. Maybe it’s a roundabout way of doing things, but that’s just how my brain works.

  • KR1L3Y

    I was just thinking about this same topic though I have never heard of bashers or swoopers. I am a basher. Sometimes I will get whole paragraphs out before editing, but most of the time I carefully select each word, knowing I will most likely edit the heck out of it later. I wish I could be a swooper but my mind just doesn’t work that way. I’ve already edited the first 6 chapters at least 3 times.

    I’m also a plotter. I want to be a pantser, and I’ve tried many times, but after a couple pages I find myself at a standstill.

  • Well on the more traditional Plotter/Pantser axis, I lean mostly towards the Plotter end of the spectrum. On this new Basher/Swooper axis I think I tend somewhere toward the middle. I do try to take care at a sentence-level, looking out for word echoes, unintended assonance, clumsy wordings, etc. And I’ll sit and stare at my screen for 30-second bursts as I reconsider what I wrote, and then sometimes do instant rewrites. Sometimes I’ll go back over what I wrote on a previous day and do some cursory edits. But then when I’m really “in the zone” I often just plow right through without a backward glance, and I’ll do this for three or four pages if I have the time.

    Regardless, I always know I’m going to have to edit it again, and again, after finishing a draft: resolving structural issues, story problems, sentence-craft problems, and word choice. I’ll have to do at least two or three post-draft edit rounds.

  • As usual, I’m a bit of a hybrid, I think. More plotter than pantser, more swooper than basher, but with elements of all. For me, part of being a swooper is about deadlines and the need to get something finished. I used to bash more, but now I start to panic if I can’t see my word count building as deadlines loom. I’ll still go through it all painstakingly later, but the relief of having 100,000 words to edit rather than crafting the whole out of nothing is immeasurable.

  • Cindy

    I am a basher and a plotter. I will always be a heavy plotter, but I keep working on more speed. Maybe I’ll be a swooper when I grow up. :)

  • David – At least you have the benefit of ears of experience perfecting your Basher craft. I think we have a new term to add–Swooper envy. 😉

    Patchi – I wrote the first draft of my novel longhand and find the colorful squiggly lines very hard to ignore as well. I’ve also tried writing scenes out of order, as they come to me, but often I find it very challenging to stitch them together coherently. But if it works for you, run with it as far as it will carry you.

    KR1L3Y – Interesting. I’ve fallen int that trap a few times myself: over-editing. Sometimes it’s my favorite excuse not to write. Out of curiosity, why do you want to be a pantser?

    Stephen – Sounds exactly like my process. In which case all I can say is “God have mercy…” 😉

  • AJ – “…the relief of having 100,000 words to edit rather than crafting the whole out of nothing is immeasurable.” I think that sums it up quite nicely. I would rather have that ace up my sleeve than anything else I can think of.

    Cindy – I think the plotting goes a long way to working up the speed, so you’re on the right path. When I grow up I want to be a fireman.

  • Definitely a basher and a panster, albeit well-thought-out beforehand (if that makes any sense).

    What bothers me is those who insist ex cathedra that bashing is the wrong way to write and that the only correct way is to write quickly and then fix it afterwards. That’s like saying the only way to drive to work is in a straight line and that you can go back and fix the fences and hedges you plowed through and pay the fines and court settlements later.

    It has been said here – and perhaps it cannot be said often enough – that the right way to write is whatever works for you.

    And what works might change over time. Try taking a different route to work some day; you might enjoy the scenery.

  • “…the right way to write is whatever works for you. And what works might change over time.”

    Amen, brother.

  • sagablessed

    I am plotting basher…which in a court of law would really sound bad. I write a huge amount, then bash it to death. My first WIP, which gods forbid ever be published (that bad, but I learned from it), is still being bashed.
    The bad part of bashing is one never seems to finish bashing. At least I don’t.
    Wolf, I I echo Edmund: Amen.

  • Bo the writer

    I’m a Swooper and a plotter. A thin outline allows me to Swoop away without losing the plot – something that happened when I Swooped and Pantsed.
    Then, after a delicious period of Swooping, I have to crack down on 100,000 horribly bad ugly words. Maybe I should learn to Bash….

  • I’m more of a plotter, but still drop into the pantser approach from time to time, and I’m sort of in between on the swooper/basher thing. I do like to work as fast as I can to get the work down, but as with David, I tend to spend a bit more time thinking about what I’m writing down. I actually do it so much that it can detract from my progress and I have to find ways to force myself to stop over-thinking the work. My latest WIP is sort of torturing me, as I didn’t have a clear path when I began, so it’s going much slower than I’d like and it’s killing me. Makes me feel like I’m not doing my job. Spending today on an outline and hoping it’ll solve my problem.

  • Reformed Pantser-Basher. Now Plotter-Swooper (ish)

  • Plotter and Swooper. No question. I lay it out and then write like the dickens until it is done, never going back. If the story changes, I change the outline, but do NOT go back until the draft is done. (I make notes on what needs to change and how, of course). There’s one exception. At the end of the day (or the chapter or whatever) I’ll reread it and edit it for obvious stuff: typoes, poor word choice, etc. stuff that I can quickly do. Then I sometimes reread the previous chapter or so when I sit down to write again after a break (the next day, next week, whatever). Not a basher. That kind of writing frustrates me to no end. I often feel like if I don’t type as fast as I can and get what’s in my head down, down, down, now, now, NOW it will go away and I’ll never find it again.

    Even in editing, if I decide that I don’t like something and it needs significan changes, I’m as apt to open a new window and start with a clean screen as I am to substantially edit something. Sometimes it’s just easier to start over, even if I cut’n’paste stuff from one doc to another, or rewrite bits from memory. If I’m rewritting with the current concern in mind, it will usually come out better and often take me less time than if I’d tried to acomplish the same thing by editing. Weird?

  • I’m a pantser, but I’m starting to (slowly) get better at being a plotter. I’m also a more of a swooper than a basher, although I don’t get through the whole draft before I go back and start to revise. The bashing is often a result of my pantsing–I’ll think of something that fits into an earlier part of the draft and then go back to rewrite the section I’m changing before continuing on with the story.

  • I am a swooped with a general idea where I want to end up at the end of the book. Occasionally I will outline a few chapters, but that is not consistent. It is a mess at first, but when I get my draft done, it is easier for me to edit cause I know where I am going with each dialogue, plot twist and character. Makes my editing easier in the end, methinks.

  • sharongerlach

    I’m a pantser-basher who actually gives a passing nod to plotting. I can only plan so far before I start feeling a kind of restrictive panic that freezes my brain. When I complete a chapter, I’ll go back and read through and make edits until it’s pretty clean. After that, unless I change something in the plot that requires other edits in written text, I don’t touch it again until I’m done with the book and doing edits on the manuscript as a whole.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    As someone who’s still learning, I’m a basher who still needs to do lots of revision afterward, and am somewhere in the fuzzy middle between plotter and pantser with usually a poor idea of how the darned thing’s going to end.

  • Glad to hear from you again, Edmund!

    I’d not heard the Vonnegut concept before, until now, but it makes sense. By this definition, I’ve read of a lot of writers – including such guests here as David Hewson – doing some form of “bashing” as they go (in a blog post here Hewson writes “…at the start of each writing day I read through the previous day’s work. So I edit throughout the writing process.”) It’s an ideal that I strive for…

    In my own work… like AJ already is, I am starting to evolve* towards more of a hybrid, trying to reform towards being a better plotter (like KR1L3Y – I’ve tried pantsing novels in the past and stalled after a couple thousand words at my best effort). I’ve also been doing most of my writing of late like Patchi – writing long-hand and adding/editing in the moment as I’m typing up the pages.

    *Understand my use of “evolve” is meant to describe my personal growth in craft – that I have observed that what I had been doing wasn’t getting me the results I was after, so I am trying something different. So far, the hybrid approach seems to be working for me [when applied consistantly]… I’m not trying to suggest that it’s the best option for everyone.

  • Sagablessed – Sometimes the answer is just to let go and move on. If you’ve learned from your first WIP and it’s still not publishable despite all the subsequent bashing, apply what you’ve learned to the new project and let the old one go.

    Bo – Interesting counterpoint; you’re the first one to express a desire to learn to Bash. I’m starting to develop a feel for the real spectrum of possibilities here.

    Daniel – With my first (and thus far only) novel, I found myself in a position that forced me to write a four-page outline–and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Good luck with writing yours.

    Scribe – A Pantser-Basher. THAT must have been really challenging…

    Pea/Emily – Not weird at all. That’s pretty much how Card does it (as in my boss, Orson Scott). If it works well for him, I think arguments can probably be made in its favor.

    SiSi – That makes sense to me. Seems like Pantsing and Swooping would be a more natural fit.

    Lillian – I think most would agree that editing a second draft is easier than writing a first draft. But the bottom line is as Wolf said earlier: whatever works for you, whatever gets the job done, whatever gets the book written; that’s the right way to do it.

  • Gypsyharper

    I’d not heard of this basher/swooper concept before either, but it actually makes me feel immeasurably better. I’ve been trying so hard to just keep writing and NOT go back and fix things that I’m just itching to fix – it’s nice to know there are actually people who do it both ways.

    I am definitely a basher (although, I imagine I’m still going to need a lot of editing at the end, no matter how much editing I do as I go). On the plotter/pantser continuum, I’ve always thought of myself as a pantser, but when I wrote the first draft of my musical, I actually started with a synopsis I’d written as a class project (though I found out later it’s called a scenario before the musical’s actually written). I revised THAT several times before I started writing dialogue and lyrics, and then had it to refer to as I was writing. There were still some things I changed along the way (hopefully for the better!), but it was so nice to have that blueprint, that I’d really like to carry that approach over to my novel writing.

  • rebnatan

    Vonnegut’s terms apply to people working “with ink on paper.” When you can add a word, delete a paragraph or change a character’s name with a couple of keystrokes, it’s a different phenomenon. My father used to edit his novels with scissors and scotch tape. The introduction of photocopiers made his writing so much easier, as he could now convert those patchwork pages into single pieces of paper. And when he got his first Macintosh (capable of producing Yiddish text)…
    I’m a paragraph by paragraph basher, and pantser. I don’t know how good a sentence is without the context of what comes next. My plots sneak up on me.

  • Love this! And I never heard it either. Like a lot of others, I do a bit of both, and because I am contrary (mwahahahahaha) I will say I am a Swooper while Plotting and a Basher while writing.
    LOL
    This was Great Edmund!

  • I like this discussion! I’ve done both ends of this spectrum. I’m a plotter and basher by inclination, but was frustrated by the snail’s pace of my forward motion. I tried pantsing, but still bashing and that turned into a big mess. In the end, I found plotting and then swooping worked. I have to know where the story is ultimately going, but feel the need to get the words down fast. The revision is a bit of a mess, but I prefer that.

  • I’m a Basher, absolutely. I’m also a Plotter, but I’m an intermittent plotter – meaning I plan about 1/3 of the novel and then I write until I hit a dead end where I don’t know what happens next and then I have to plot some more. I used to write as a swooper (or try to) because I thought that was the way Real Writers did it, but I never finished anything that way. And I was basically a plotter any way – just a disorganized one. I still do a lot of my initial writing by going on a walk. It’s a wonder I don’t bump into things.

  • Basher-Plotter, here. I wish I could write faster, but for me, I can’t leave a paragraph behind unless I believe it’s as good as I can make it. Slow as molasses, but at least when I get edits back, there isn’t a nightmarish amount of changing to do.

    😀

  • […] revision processes. Edmund Schubert wrote a great post today about different drafting processes, Writing Styles: Bashers vs. Swoopers. In short, he describes Bashers as writers who edit as they write, and Swoopers as editing after […]

  • For my short stories, I’ve generally been a … pantster Swoosher. When I sit down I have an idea and (sometimes a silhouette of) a character. I write straight through to the end, but my fingers absolutely refuse to hit anything except the backspace key until I’ve fixed whatever’s wrong. It isn’t that I consciously Bash my way through – I can kick out a 4500 word short in six hours and only need minimal edits…

    I’m learning, however, that for novel length efforts, I need to do more plotting first. In the actual writing, I Swoop-reverse-Bash/Swoop-rinse-repeat, in scene or sometimes chapter length blocks. If the story turns sideways and something already written needs to change, I absolutely can NOT go forward until I fix it.

  • Coming to the discussion a bit late…

    I’m a plotter (completely, utterly, 100% – although I tweak the plot as I write, collapsing two chapters into one or breaking one into two, as the narrative takes less or more time than I predicted), and I’m a swooper. I *used* to be a basher — I would write for a day, edit for two, write, edit, edit, etc., emerging with a virtually finished ms when I typed “The End.”

    When I started writing category romance, I started swooping, and I’ve found that it works better for me. Swooping helps me to keep the energy flowing — the ends of chapters swoop me along to the starts of the next one. Swooping also helps me to remember the details of character, description, and plot, to hold them all in my head as I balance the whole story.

    The biggest problem for me, swooping, is that I have trouble sharing work with my First Reader. We used to exchange chapters as we were writing, and I found his insights valuable, as he said, “I think *this* is going to happen next”. Now, a lot of the time, my work isn’t polished enough to share until I make a full editing pass, which rushes his reading…

  • I’m a hardcore swooper. In fact, I’m such a swooper that plotter and pantser don’t work as description for me. I think I’d say I’m a signposter. I sketch a few scenes that I want to hit, and then I swoop from signpost to signpost.

    Then, of course, I have to go back and rewrite the entire thing, chunk by chunk. I don’t think I could manage being a basher, because I write so much crap – not just crap sentences, but crap paragraphs and scenes. If I were going to bash, I’d have to be a plotter. And I’d actually have to figure out what my characters were thinking and feeling before I muddle through the scene. :)

  • Razziecat

    For me it changes depending on the story. Sometimes I swoop, but I have to be “in the zone.” When that happens I don’t even know where the words are coming from. Other times I bash…plodding along little by little, and hitting the delete key quite a bit. I do whatever works best for the story I’m working on. I am trying to get more into the “swooping spirit”, though!

  • Been away from home for a couple hours and you all have really commented the dickens out of this post. Thanks; I’m gratified you found it interesting. Forgive me for not replying to every comment made–I did read all of them. If anyone has any questions, do let me know.

    There is one comment I specifically want to address, by Gypsyharper, who said “…it’s nice to know there are actually people who do it both ways.” Back when I was editing the magical Words book, I came upon an old essay by C.E. Murphy talking about the fact that many writers see their books playing in their heads like a movie and just have to transcribe what they see and hear. Catie (C.E.) said that she never saw her books in her head that way and had to grind them out. That made me feel so much better because I don’t see movies in my head either. If I’m really lucky I might get a fuzzy slideshow, and there’s never any dialogue. So to Gypsyharper I say hurray; I know exactly how you feel, and what a relief it can be to discover that there actually are other writers who do things the same way that you do.

  • Edmund, I firmly believe tweaking and editing are NEVER a waste of time, even if you do it as a day job or if you’ve been a full-time writer for years. Okay, so you edit and adjust four chapters then realize they have got to be tossed? Not a total loss. The process kept you in tune with your story and your characters; maybe you wouldn’t have realized that those chapters had to go if you hadn’t spent the additional time with them. The process also keeps your internal editor focused on your personal writing, as opposed to what you have to do for a day job.

    I’m unpublished (so far!) but I do exactly the same thing: editing a chapter or three back while I’m mulling over what comes next. Especially while I’m unpublished, I look at every opportunity to change my writing as a chance to improve it. In your case, it might be keeping your edge sharp rather than being the thing that creates the sharpness for the first time, but editing something while it’s still very much in progress has more than one benefit. I’m so pretentious!!

  • angelaquarles

    Interesting! I’ve never heard of this, but it is great to look at it this way as opposed to the pantser vs. plotter dichotomy. I normally pants and swoosh (45 days to write first draft usually), but recently I tried pre-plotting major scenes and turning points and swooshed it. I wrote a very rough draft in 14 days (56K words)! I found that my output per hour was higher because I already knew where I was going… Now, the fun begins as I revise and layer and polish… I find it easier to toss scenes that aren’t working because I’d maybe invested one hour in it. But because I pre-plotted a lot of it, I’m not finding as much to toss as I normally do.

  • TwilightHero

    Welcome back, Edmund!

    I’m more a basher than a swooper. Even when I’m in the zone, so to speak, I’ll usually take care with what I’m writing. Word choices and sentence structure don’t have to be perfect, but they do have to convey what I want in the way I want it conveyed. But I can swoop as well; it just doesn’t come naturally. You get the word count, but there’s that sense of ‘but you’re getting so many things wrong!’ inherent in writing flat out with no looking back whatsoever. Even when I go back to edit such stretches, there’s always the nagging feeling I could have done better if I’d taken my time from the start.

    BUT. There is one example I can think of where I swooped an entire chapter, went back and found it needed surprisingly little editing. I attribute this to the fact that I knew what was happening in that chapter; not in great detail, just that this had to happen somehow, a conversation must reveal these things, this spell has to be worked in in some way. My brain just filled in the blanks. So swooping works too, I think, as long as you have some sort of outline to work with and can disable your inner editor. Nothing wrong with stepping on the gas, as long as you know where you’re going.

    And to put this in context: between plotter and pantser, I’d have to say I’m a mix of both. A while back, Diana described a mix of these styles here, and a regular commenter – credits to Laura! – dubbed the middleman a Puzzler; someone who has the borders and some other parts nicely fitted, but still has to fill in the missing pieces. That fits me pretty well, I think :)

  • I know I’m late to the party. I’m a Bashing Pantser with aspirations of being a Swooping plotter… but it just hasn’t ever worked that way. I don’t get to write as regularly as I would like with my temp contract work, so going back and refreshing my mind on the story, as Edmund mentioned, but it also lets me feel like I’m at least making some progress as I sit at my desk stealing a few moments here and there poking at the ideas.

  • Basher/Panster. It’s a horrible combination. ;_;

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

    Sigh… I hate the term pantser–which was coined by someone who outlines and doesn’t seem to really get those who don’t.

    I think there are there kinds of writers: those who write by outline, those who write by the seat of their pants–kind of not knowing what they are doing, and those who listen to a muse.

    The third group look similar to the second group to the first group. But the second group is haphazard, and the third one requires tremendous effort and bravery and really should not be demeaned to the idea of ‘writing by the seat of your pants.’

    Okay…sorry. Rant over. I’ll go back under my rock.

  • KR1L3Y

    @Edmund Schubert – You had asked “Out of curiosity, why do you want to be a pantser?”. I would like to be a pantser because I like the idea of sitting down and having the story just flow from my finger tips. Having to outline the various plots and sub plots takes a lot of time and effort, and I usually end up changes things as I write, so I then have to re-outline. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it seems like I create more work for myself as a plotter than if I were a pantser, though the say the grass is always greener…