Writing Backwards

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June 1, 2009 by Tracey S. Rosenberg

So I rewrote the first half of the book (roughly, but at just under 40K I expect that to be half) and then said ‘um.’

I had so many new things to add into the second half and even more things to remove. Moving from multiple POV characters to a single one meant that quite a few scenes had to be either recast or dumped. What information was actually necessary? Could scenes be combined? Is that character I introduced in chapter 5 and never did anything else with going to come back into the novel, or just exist as a ‘I have to provide information and fulfil my Contractual Obligation as a historical character who was present at this event’ throwaway?

First thing I did was to go through the second half of the draft as it it existed, and note down all the plot points/character developments. Then I went through various files of scraps/ideas and added those. Which meant that I ended up with a loooooooooooooong list of items ranging from questions to entire scenes summarized in a sentence.

Trying to find the through-story wasn’t as difficult as it sounds, though that’s only because I’ve been working on this for TWO YEARS and have also learned quite a lot about cutting those tea-drinking scenes (tm Donald Maass) – or in my case, cocoa-drinking scenes. But the best way to do it was to start backwards.

Because I know the ending – or rather, I knew it, and then I ended up adding an extra chapter to extend it, which works a lot better (she says hopefully). And once you are working on the ending, it’s WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE down the slope because you have the momentum. So I put that all into place, in outline form.

Then, having written the final and penultimate chapters, I moved back to the ante-penultimate chapter, and not just because I am very fond of the word ‘ante-penultimate’. But apparently anteantepenultimate is not a word, though it should be, so once I’d sorted THAT chapter out, I moved back to the fourth-to-last and fifth-to-last.

Now, this still means I had to fit all the rest of the stuff (or decide to cut it because it didn’t fit) into the twelfth-through-sixth-through-last chapters. But thankfully I had plenty of markers (character X has to leave at this point, so character Y has to get that object to give her) and, of course, it’s only an outline, so I could move bits around as much as I wanted to.

Anyway, long blog entry short, outlining ‘the second half of the book’ wasn’t nearly as bad once I’d laid out exactly where everything needed to go. Of course, I had to add lots of things to my ‘stuff to do in the first half’ file, because if something was going to be significant in chapter 18 then I’d need to make it part of the framework earlier.

The funny part is that I now keep thinking of that Sesame Street skit where three monsters (?) are telling a story, and the Beginning one gets to go ‘once upon a time’ and then the Middle one goes on and on until the End one finally cuts him off with ‘happily ever after.’ The Middle is definitely the toughest, but if it is a jumbled mess, then the End isn’t worth getting to.


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Photo credit: Rahima Subhan

Tiny bio

I live, work, and write in Edinburgh. I travel to other places as much as I can. To contact me, email writingmostly at gmail dot com.


CURRENTLY READING: The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo.

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