Reverse Outlines, and a Whole Other Level of Writing

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* The Writing
* Speaking of Reverse Outlines
* A Whole Other Level of Writing
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“Why would I write from AI outline? it wouldn’t even be my story.” Balázs Jambor in a comment on yesterday’s post

The Writing

Yesterday I went to the Hovel at 6:30 but spent the first almost four hours of the morning finally putting together a reverse outline. Duh. During my absence and spotty return to writing fiction, I’d forgotten how necessary this is.

When I stopped for the day, I’d written only a little over 2000 words, but including the reverse outline I considered the day a complete success.

Speaking of Reverse Outlines

Up front, no, a reverse outline is nothing at all like the outlines so many shysters talk about in their how-to books. I’ll explain shortly.

As I constructed the reverse outline, I allowed myself to touch the novel here and there as I went. Over the whole thing, I added around 270 words. During brief breaks, I also wrote this Journal entry. (grin)

The current novel is filled with twists and switchbacks, making the reverse outline absolutely essential. Already I’ve had to search back through the story for the name of an airport or a restaurant and sometimes even a character’s last name or affiliation. A reverse outline would have given me a quick glimpse and let me stay in the flow of the story.

Briefly, a reverse outline is exactly what you might imagine. You list the chapter numbers down the left side of the page, then as you finish writing a chapter (or two or three, don’t interrupt the flow of writing) you note a few significant details about what happened in the chapter: characters and their descriptions, places and their descriptions, timelines, etc.

I also include a few separate sections: a listing of character names in order of their appearance, a listing of significant places (both geographical locations and individual buildings and businesses, etc.), a listing of the specific weaponry used, and detailed character descriptions for main characters, all for quick reference.

Basically, the reverse outline is a great aid later in the novel when you’re searching for something. You can quickly refer to the reverse outline instead of searching through the whole manuscript.

If like me, you like to keep your chapters at a certain approximate length, you can also add the word count to each chapter next to the chapter number.

To learn more about what they and how to create one, key in “reverse outlines” in the Search box at

Also, if anyone would like an example of a reverse outline, I’d be happy to share one of mine with you. It will arrive as a .txt document. If you use a PC, you can open it with Notepad or Wordpad. You can probably open it with a Mac too, but I wouldn’t know which program you’d use.

A Whole Other Level of Writing

I mentioned awhile back that I’ve reached a new level in my fiction writing. This is due in large part to my having read (and then studied, afterward) stories by Stephen King, the only Stage Five writer working today, and a couple of other very advanced writers.

I’ve been practicing a technique ever since I restarted my fiction writing a few months ago. Now, in the current novel, I’ve finally made it my own, so I’m ready to share.

First, as I’ve said many times before, there is a significant difference between content editing and cycling. Content editing is always a function of the conscious, critical mind. It has absolutely no place in fiction writing.

(Copyediting is fine and often necessary, but that’s a different animal. If you have a good first reader, you probably don’t need a copyeditor.)

Cycling is a function of the creative subconscious. It is essential, in my view, to writing good fiction.

But when cycling you MUST remain in the creative subconscious. You can allow yourself to touch the manuscript here and there, but adding words can never be a conscious decision. It can never be the result of the writer thinking (critical mind) “Ooh, this word would be better” or “That sentence is too long or too short.”

Anything you add while cycling is something extra that the characters themselves and the story situation give you.

So bearing that firmly in mind, lemme ask you a question: When you read back over your manuscript, no matter how many times, can you remain in the creative subconscious?

In other words, can you avoid “looking for” problems (conscious, critical mind) and nitpicking little things like sentence length, paragraph length, specific words or phrases, and all that?

Put yet another way, can you stay inside the heads or personas of your various characters in the different situations?

If you can’t, I urge that every time you sit down to write, you practice silencing that critical voice. If you practice, you will get better. And eventually you’ll be able to turn out a short story or novel in record time.

But if you can’t currently do that, do your best to force yourself not to “look for” (again, critical mind) anything as you read back over your manuscript.

Here’s the kicker. If you can already do that—but ONLY if you can—your work will invariably improve. And you will have moved to another level of fiction writing.

Understand, I’m not talking about or condoning going over and over and over a story, editing and nitpicking things the reader will not care one whit about, like whether you use “that” or “which” or “beneath” or “under.”

But if you can remain firmly outside of yourself and inside the story and in the voice of your characters and your creative subconsious, you’ll turn out better work.

So if you can do that, do it. Don’t be held back by the necessity of writing one quick draft and being finished.

I still write one clean draft, then move on to the next chapter or story or novel. And often I still cycle back over what I’ve written only one time. Then when I reach the white space again, I just keep writing. Then I cycle back over the new writing when I return from my next break.

But sometimes—especially for truly intense, stop-action scenes—I’ll go over the scene more than once. And the result always conveys the story more deeply and more intimately than it would have otherwise.

For those who can recognize it, this is a gem to be mined. Don’t let the opportunity pass.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Here’s how NASA will test space internet with lasers on ISS” at

See “20 Delightful Slang Terms From the 1930s” at

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1140

Writing of Blackwell Ops 9: Cameron Stance
Brought forward………………………… 4087

Day 10…. 2696 words. To date…… 26039
Day 11…. 3200 words. To date…… 29239
Day 12…. 2007 words. To date…… 31246

Fiction for August……………………… 37762
Fiction since August 1………………… 37762
Fiction for 2023………………………… 152309
Nonfiction for September……………… 1140
Nonfiction for the year……………… 175610
Annual consumable words………… 327919

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 2
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 4
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 73
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)… 232
Short story collections…………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.