Quick Plotting Tip: Write Your Story Backwards

If you have a difficult time plotting, try writing or outlining your story backwards—from the end to the beginning. Writers who have a difficult time outlining, plotting, and planning their stories often benefit from this technique. You’ll need a general idea of what your story is about for this to work, and of course you need to know the ending, but you might be amazed how helpful this trick can be.

Why is writing backwards easier? Basically, instead of answering the question “this happened… now what comes next?,” you’ll be answering the question “this happened… so what would come right before that?” which narrows the possibilities for your next move and can help keep your story on track. (Incidentally, it’s also the way Joseph Gordan-Levitt’s character comes out on top in the film The Lookout.)

Writing backwards can also help you more tightly weave together your subplots, themes, and character relationships, and keep you from going too far down any irrelevant rabbit holes.

If you don’t want to write or outline completely backwards, remember that you’re free to jump around! If you’re feeling stuck in your story or novel, jump to the middle or end and write a few scenes. Many writers get stuck because they feel they have to write their story linearly from beginning to end, which results in an overdeveloped (and often irrelevant) beginning and an underdeveloped ending.

So go work on that ending! It’s much more likely that you will need to change your beginning to fit your ending than the other way around, so spend time on your ending sooner rather than later!

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A lot of boys and girls think their lives will have meaning if they find a partner who wants nothing else in life but them. That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person.
—  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, on his character in “500 Days of Summer”