Why the Reverse Outline Works for Me
With the ending being the first idea I come up with, it gives me focus, a goal to work
toward. And I don’t have to know what happens down to the every detail, just a shadow of what is to come works for me. I’m not saying you just type, “They lived happily ever after,” down. No, imagine what your hero and heroine do to bring a close to your story. Not the epilogue stuff, but how they take the walking dude down, so to speak. The climax. Where everything falls into place and it comes down to the nitty gritty. Write that and you’ve already proven you can handle the rest of the book.
Next, I split my book into three sections: the beginning, the middle, and the end. I give each section a title such as, Up North, Down South, and Unified. Under Up North, I’m going to introduce my characters, tell who they are, where they are, where they’re going, what’s going on, what’s happened to excite the incident(the incident being your plot i.e. the ghosts that haunt Crystal, Oklahoma are bent on destroying the town.), the hook(the first spring that wells up and brings the hero/heroine into disaster or sends the headed on their journey, the when of the book, and the why(not only why we should care but why the character does.).
I can use as many chaps under here as I want to sketch out. For me, though, again, I do the bare bones, and leave the rest to flesh out as I go along. I guess you can say I’m a bit of a pantser as well. It’s all in what strikes me. I usually end up with five to ten pages of an outline at least to go on, and that which I can use when nothing comes to me at the moment. I simply glance over my outline, remember where I’m going, and soon I get back on track.
Down South, or your middle, ventures further into the story, bringing the stakes higher, the tides near-impossible for the character to face. Things in their life fall away. Their wife/girlfriend leaves, friends desert them, those in town ostracize their movements/thoughts/beliefs. It comes down to a falling away of all that the hero or heroine hold dear in their life. It is also where they begin to learn just what the villain will do to bring things to pass. I.E. Enslavement of the townspeople, the earth opening a huge chunk of ground beneath the place to swallow it whole, plans expand to take over the outside world as well. Our protagonist learns just what it will cost him/her to save those they love.
Again, you can knock out as much detail as you want here. The more the easier it might prove for you when it comes time to write. For me, I find that I don’t want to box myself in or know too much of the story up front. I know just enough to keep me on the path to that ending. And that’s what this outline’s all about: keeping you on course. Now, I’m not saying if something brilliant occurs to you, not to use it but proceed with caution, make sure it fits into your story, and isn’t just a wild overgrowth trying to lure you in to be sidetracked.
Then there’s Unified. This is where everything comes together for our characters. Those that have judged them harshly realize how wrong they were, even in this late hour. Will it be too late to save the day? We, the reader, hope not. Here is the time to pull out all the stops. To burden your hero/heroine with quicksand. No matter how much they want to get out of the box and help their loved ones, they can’t seem to. They’ve given up. This is their darkest moment. The crisis hit home.
Again, tell as much as you want to in this part. Leaves the lines open or close them altogether, whatever helps you the most. This is your story, take full control, and full speed ahead. Fire those torpedoes, loose the wild dogs, climb that mountain. The faith in you placed by the reader will continue to grow the more you show them the story, and that you know what you’re doing. Now is not the time to stand on the sidelines, give it your all.
Of course, you MUST maintain a steady progression of terror/defeat throughout the story. You can’t simply give it your all at the end. The agent/editor/reader wants to hear the trials, the tests of the characters, so wade in there and shine that flashlight over the campfire, tell your tale. Bring goosebumps to your listeners. Win their hearts. That’s what it’s all about.