Plotting backward might seem counter intuitive when you’re plotting a book. After all, isn’t the object to go from front to back?
Plotting backward is a great tool for jumpstarting writer’s block. If you’re stuck and can’t push through the wall holding you back, jump to the next scene you know you can write. Work backward from that spot. What’s the next thing that has to happen before that scene? Start a list and write it down. Now, what has to happen before that scene? Add it to the list. Continue working backward until you reach the spot where you were stuck. Reorder the list. You now have a mini outline on how to write forward.
Plotting backward can work on an entire novel, as well. It is a logical step for structuring a mystery novel. After all, you know who the killer is, his motive for the crime and the clue he left behind that the detective uses to catch him. Back to front, it’s an obvious method for plotting this genre.
My first book (which will never see the light of day or the inside of a Kindle) started with the climactic scene. I woke from a dream with the Big, Black Moment so vivid; I knew I had to write the book. Working backward (and sometimes sideways), I finished a four hundred page writing exercise.
If you know the ending of your story, begin with the end and list what happens before the final scene. Using the plotting backward steps, continue building the list until you’ve plotted your way to the beginning.
The above is an excerpt from The Plot Thickens, 21 Ways to Plot Your Novel, available on Amazon.
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The first time she stepped into the pages of a book, she delivered a baby boy.
When graduate student nurse Annie Faraday enters books to deliver babies, she blames the illusions on multiple stresses. Her fiancé fights in the bloodiest battles in the Pacific Theater; her family is falling apart; and her boss, who is also her future father-in-law, controls whether she graduates from nursing school.
Now, with the end of the war within tantalizing reach, and the return of her beloved Jimmy, she can no longer find excuses for her visions. She must dig deep into her family’s unspeakable past to discover whether she’s traveling into an alternate world, or following the trail of insanity blazed by her mother. Which is real?
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I often plot backwards, especially if I get stuck. I just jump to where I want to end up and work back from there. Thanks for the tips!
I think there’s a lot to be said for plotting backwards.
Moving forward, one might have this “idea” that you have to somehow work “the old fashioned rifle on the mantle” into the story, whereas working backwards, you can organically realize “this scene would be so much better if I added an old fashioned rifle” and then insert it into an earlier point in the story.
Most of my story ideas start out as a climactic resolution.
I often have an ending in mind and fill in the gaps to get there. I’ve never worked backwards, but need to give it a try. Great tip!
One of the 7 habits of highly efficient people is “begin with the ending in mind”. Knowing the end makes writing toward it easier. Thanks for visiting.
Checkov’s gun? “If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act.”
Working backward is a great way to get unstuck. Take baby steps backward and the blockage doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Thanks for visiting and commenting.
Great post, Cheryl! There’s definitely a certain amount of backward plotting that happens in my process. I find it helpful to make sure I’m not going to be writing over my intended final word count. Will add this into my Facebook post schedule. 🙂
I love your post today Cheryl. I think we do work best when we allow ourselves to write out of order, at least I have found I am more creative when I allow myself to jump around in scenes. It does help with writer’s block. Thank you and happy hop day 🙂
This is a great tip, thanks for sharing 🙂 I’m stalled on my work in progress at the moment because the plot isn’t great, and I think plotting backwards would really help me move forward!
I’ve never heard of plotting backward. What a great idea. Thank you for sharing. I’m putting together a blog about writers block for another site, so I’ll reference you.
I agree plotting in reverse is a great tool. With so many red herrings, clues, etc it is a good way to make sure there are no gaps that leave the reader cursing out the writer for cheating. All is fair in love and mysteries. hehehe
Anna from elements of emaginette
This is cool! I’d never really thought of doing this before, but I can see how it would be helpful! Great tip, thank you for sharing!
I’ve skipped ahead to a scene I knew I could write during NaNoWriMo when I’ve been stuck, but I’ve never thought about working my way backwards from there to work out what needs to happen in the previous scenes. Good advice, thanks Cheryl!
This is a really solid suggestion, one that I find incredibly useful when I can remember to do it. Thank you for the reminder, and the explanation!
It sounds silly, but I do see the logic in plotting backwards. After all, many genres require a certain kind of ending: the hero and heroine must be together at the end of a romance. The murderer must be found at the end of a mystery. The plot must be foiled and the world saved at the end of a thriller.
I’ll check out your book!
Iola, any trick to make writing easier is golden.
Thanks for browsing my books!
You’re welcome! With the bombardment of information we receive all the time, a reminder might be the nudge to complete a task.
Thanks for stopping by.
NaNo is freeing. I use ***’s,
, Badguy#2, all kinds of tricks to keep the story moving. I feel like I’m running a race. Best of luck to you in completing the missing scene.
I’m all for making the writing easier. If it means skipping a scene, so be it. Often, when I go back, I can’t see what the obstacle was in the first place!
Kristina, I appreciate the reference! Writer’s block is a bear, and I’ll use any trick I can to avoid going down that dark path.
My first book started at the end. If I have the end in mind, I’ll make fewer mistakes reaching it.
Thanks for stopping by.
The thing to remember about a work in progress is the in progress part. Don’t beat yourself up. Get it down then clean up. I hope my little tip helps you get to the end.
I write mostly linear, but jumping to the fun stuff to write is a great incentive to keep writing. Skipping a scene that you dread writing may be a sign from your subconscious that it’s not important or it needs time to simmer.
Thanks for stopping by.
Raimey, I have yet to master intended word count. It is an elusive goal, but for my next books, I have a beat sheet that I can add the total word count and it tells me at what point I need to be when. It should make planning easier.
Thanks for the FB repost!
This is a great idea! I’ll have to try it out with my next WIP. Thanks for sharing!
I hope my tip helps you plot easier!
Great article! I recommend reading “Pen the Sword: the universal plot skeleton of every story ever told” by Adron J. Smitley it’s free with kindle unlimited. Walks you through the entire plotting process for both Plotter and Pantser.
Thanks for the tip! I’ll look it up.