Working backwards

I ran across this fun video the other day, which got me thinking about writing. No really! I suspect most of us, whether we’re outliners or “pantsers” still prefer to let our stories evolve sequentially. But do we really need to work that way? Could there be advantages to working backwards?

The most obvious case where this might be an advantage is for mystery writers. While I’m sure you can write a mystery sequentially as well, there could be some clear advantages to, having figured out what the crime is, working backward from the moment the protagonist figures it all out to decide what clues need to be revealed at which point in the story for maximum effect. No, you probably don’t need to write the story backward, but it could certainly be mapped out that way.

But could this be applied in other ways?

What if, in planning your characters, you start at the end of their arch: what do you want them to be by the end of the story? How do you want them to have changed? Knowing where you want to end up, how can you bring this change about? What events need to happen in the story? Boom! Reverse outlining!

But what about “pantsers?” Can they do this too? Granted it’s not as easy–how do you figure out how to get somewhere if you don’t know where you want to go? Rather, I suspect this approach might be most useful in revision. If you’re satisfied with where the story went–or if you feel you need to make significant changes–you can look backward to see how you got there. Are the key turning points sufficiently dramatic or invoke the right amount of tension? If not, by looking backward you can identify key points where your editing can deliver the most bang for the buck.

This clearly isn’t going to work for everyone. Rather, this is merely a suggestion of yet another tool a writer could try to help with the messy process of writing. Starting with the end in mind and working backward could help write a more cohesive story that holds together better than it might have otherwise. At the very least this can be a useful technique for a single editing pass just to make sure everything in your story connects right.

Just a little food for thought.

And if you’re interested in knowing how the video above was made, here’s the corresponding “how we did it” video.  Or maybe I should have started with this and shown the finished video here…?

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.