Monday, July 27, 2009

From The End to The Beginning


On another author’s blog I mentioned that when I wrote For the Love of a Devil I outlined it backwards. When I mentioned it, I didn’t think it a particularly foreign approach, but at least one person hadn’t considered that possibility, so maybe it’s worth covering in more detail.


Why Outline Backwards


There are some good reasons to outline backwards anytime, but in my case, I was working with a story with a known ending. For the Love of a Devil is based on the first three chapters of Hosea. I was also dealing with an unlikely scenario in modern society. Slavery is illegal in America, though it still exists in some form. Read the first three chapters of Hosea, then ask yourself, how do you take a modern woman, married to a good Christian man, sell her into slavery and then have her husband buy her back? The book of Hosea gives us a hint, when we see that Hosea was to choose a wife of the children of whoredoms. Gomer came from a family that didn’t teach her right. But she escaped that lifestyle, so how does she end up a slave for sale to anyone who can pay the price?


I also had a scene that I wanted to make sure made it into the novel. I wanted a stark contrast to the dark filth of the female character’s chosen path. When we know the final scene, we want to get there without it seeming too forced. We need to address the question of how did we get here?


Outlining backwards is a great way to develop a tighter story. Because you are beginning with the end and working backwards, every storyline will naturally converge on that point. At the beginning of the book, it may not be clear how all of the storylines are interrelated, but by the end they all merge into one.


Begin with the End


How do we want our story to end? Let’s look at the Romance Genre. They all end something like, Jen agrees to marry George and they life happily ever after.That’s pretty much set in stone, so it is up to the Romance author to make it significant.


Find the Events Leading to This Point


What things must come together at the same time for Jen to agree to marry George? Well, they probably have to be in the same room, or at least talking on the phone. It wouldn’t do much good for him to propose if she can’t hear him. She has to realize that she does want to live without him. Why would Jen decide that she doesn’t want to live without him? Maybe time away from him has made her realize she needs him. What caused the time away? An argument? A trip one of them made? What were they arguing about? What was the reason for the trip? What had to be done to get ready for the trip? What kind of job would she have if she is making a trip of this type? Being in the same room with someone doesn’t automatically create a marriage proposal situation. They must have gotten to know each other somehow. What did they do together? How did they meet? What job does he have or who do they know that would cause their paths to cross?


For everything that converges on the end, we have things that converge on those things, which in turn have the same. As we move backwards, we keep asking what things had to happen or be true to cause the event. We pay special attention to those things that must come together for the next thing to happen.


Stop at the Beginning


As we move backwards through the story, we expand into a number of converging threads. The farther we get from the final event, the more there are. If we go back far enough, we would get back to the birth of our characters, which is a requirement if they are to marry, eventually. Going back even farther, we would get back to the marriage of their parents and the stories associate with them. We don’t want to go back that far. Instead, we need only go back to where the story begins. Where is that? Most likely, it is when George opens a store next to Jen’s. This is romance, so we throw the characters together as soon as possible.


Tools


I used Visio’s cause/effect diagramming tools for the example, but a brainstorming tool like FreeMind or some other mind mapping tool will work just as well and may be the preferable method. For that matter, you can draw it out on paper. Whatever tool you use, start with the final scene on the right side of the page and work toward the left. When you are finished, what you will have is a roughly chronological listing of events in a number of threads that will converge on your final scene. Some of those threads will need to be fleshed out in detail. Others can be ignored in the book if we don’t need them to explain what caused the results we see.

3 comments :

T. Anne said...

Thanx for the post, What a great idea! It flexes my mind in a way I would have never imagined.

Cindy said...

I had never tried this approach until yesterday, but I guess I naturally know how my book is going to end and then I go back from there. In order for this to happen, this has to happen, etc. But I didn't realize that's how I was doing.

I think I'm going to try your idea as I work through a more detailed outline. Thanks.

Lady Glamis said...

Timothy, I'm doing a post about outlining. I'm using your image in this post, and I hope that's okay! It's to illustrate an example of one way to outline. Please let me know if this is a problem.