Monday, June 25, 2012


Getting ready to roll!
© Julie H. Ferguson 2012
Twenty-seven writers filled the room where Lois Peterson, creative writing instructor, led her workshop, Reverse Outlining: A Novel Approach to Developing Story.

Writers of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction can apply her technique to their first and subsequent drafts to test how well their elements of craft flow through the manuscript. Lois handed out her chart on which we learned how to analyse each chapter or scene in our WIP. Her column headings included Action, Backstory, Character, Details-motifs-themes, Ending, and Miscellaneous. Writers can add more columns to tackle their own needs or weaknesses as they become familiar with the approach.

Here's how Lois's choice of columns breakdown:

  1. ACTION: List what the MC does; check you're using active verbs. Leave blank if action happens TO the MC. Discovering this ensures a reduction in passivity for the MC
  2. BACKSTORY: Name each element. Your backstory should be finished in the first third of the book.
  3. CHARACTER: List the names of all characters present, mentioned, or alluded to in the chapter or scene and show their traits as they emerge. Shows you if there are character gaps in the narrative, especially for the lesser players. Also helps you know why each character is there, even the bit players.
  4. DETAILS-MOTIFS-THEMES: List  character objects and traits for the MC, antagonist, and other important characters; ensures consistency throughout if you use them strategically in subsequent drafts. Makes sure that motifs for characters and story are regularly used, change, or transform. Forces you to know what the characters are seeking (theme) as each has different motivators.
  5. ENDING: How each chapter or scene ends for the MC. May be a physical  action, dialogue, emotion, or a summary, etc. You're looking for a pattern so you can mix up the endings more and heighten the tension and pace.
  6. MISCELLANEOUS: A column where you make notes on work to be done, such as solving problems, making changes, filling gaps, or doing more research.

Practising the technique.
© Julie H. Ferguson 2012

Once you have completed the chart for all chapters/scenes, read the columns vertically. This is the moment of enlightenment where you discover that the antagonist lost his speech tic in chapter five and all your endings are the same; where the protagonist did nothing in chapter twelve and a lesser character has no reason to be in the book.

Then Lois introduced throughlines to us. These are the threads woven though story that deliver the forward momentum and keep readers reading. I'll post the details about throughlines later this week.

QUESTION: How do you keep track of everything in your fiction?