Outlining Backwards

It’s a totally different experience writing a novel compared to writing a short story. You have to get a special novel-head on to cope with the sheer magnitude of words and scenes, and to tie a longer plot together. Things are looser, in terms of how much you write, but sometimes that can work against you and you end up veering off your plot.

I was just thinking about how I’m writing my novel—or, more accurately, how I’m plotting my novel. Rather than work out a detailed outline before I began writing, like I did with the test-run novel I wrote in 2011, I let this one fly, with only the major plot points (my key milestones) in mind. Everything connecting those milestones unfolded as the story progressed. It’s like carrying a torch along a night-road that has twists and turns: you can only see a restricted portion of the road ahead of you, and you can only reveal more of it by moving forwards. I’ve never written in this way before and it’s been eye-opening and mind-boggling and an adrenaline rush of discovery so far.
My path is almost fully illuminated now, as I’m nearing the climax of the story and I know what needs to happen right at the end to round it off. And it’s not until this point that I’m starting to write down my outline. Seems a bit of a backwards way to ‘plan’ a novel—planning it after the fact—but this method seems to be more about looking back at a map of the road recently walked, taking note of what I’ve uncovered along the way, and then considering which parts need to be shuffled around and which need to be discarded so it’s the tightest, clearest, and most interesting route for readers.
I’m not entirely sure if this rumination has a definitive point to make, but I wanted to highlight it because it’s one way of doing things. Like with most methods, it depends on the type of story you’re telling, but don’t ever worry about starting out without a clear outline in mind. Sometimes, a story will unfold on its own, and all you can do is write and have fun with it, and trust it to lead you to your goal.
And while we’re all about writing processes, here are some links to other authors’ blog posts on the subject:
Elizabeth Sogard – Outlining After You Write A Novel.
Paperback Writer – Novel Outlining 101.
Randy Ingermanson – The Snowflake Method.
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