The Journal: A New Use for Reverse Outlines

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Happy Birthday
* Topic: A New Use for Reverse Outlines
* The Value of Cliffhangers
* Tomorrow
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“The faster the action, the more the writer should slow down the description.” Debbie Burke

Yes. In the heat of battle, the POV character will notice far fewer aspects of the setting, but he will focus on that one aspect (or those few aspects) with a heightened sense of awareness because those aspects are crucial, as if time has slowed almost to a crawl.

Happy birthday and Semper Fi to any Marines who might be reading this. For us, today is a combined celebration of Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and the birth of our Corps 245 years ago today.

And to all my brothers-in-arms and sisters-in-arms everywhere in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard who took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, I offer my annual birthday toast:

May your days be vibrant,
your evenings calm,
your heart safe and warm at home.
Semper Fi

Later today I will have a slice of cake and a shot of Who Hit John both in celebration and in memoriam to those who’ve gone on before.

Topic: A New Use for Reverse Outlines

I got back into writing yesterday. But first I created my reverse outline. I use one for every novel and series, but I usually wait until I’ve written a few chapters and know the story is going somewhere.

For this one, I kept putting it off. I waited until I was almost 37,000 words in. (grin) So it took a little over four hours just to create the RO. I also did a little writing today, but not much.

Note: If I may indulge in a “do as I say, not as I do” moment, not only do I recommend you create and use a reverse outline, but I recommend you start building it as close to the beginning of writing your novel as possible. Four hours is a very long time to spend backpeddling. (grin)

For those not familiar with the concept of a reverse outline, it isn’t something you write in advance and then adhere to with your critical, conscious mind.

In my reverse outlines, I list all the players, the major settings (as they occur in the story) and any other major information I might need to refer back to later in the story. Below that, each time I finish a chapter or major scene, I add a very brief synopsis of that chapter or scene to the RO.

If you need the correct spelling of a character’s name (or a place name), physical characteristics, etc. it’s a lot easier and less disruptive to quickly refer back to your reverse outline than to search through your manuscript for the necessary information.

For a great deal more (and more thorough) information, please see

* “On Reverse Outlines” at and

* “The Reverse Outline (RO) Revisited…” at and

* “Yet Another Use for a Reverse Outline” at

As always, comments and questions are welcome. I prefer comments directly below the post on the website because those help with search engine rankings. But if you’d rather offer comments or questions anonymously (vs. in public on the website), feel free to email me at

This time creating a reverse outline brought a new benefit to the table. It provided a good overview of what I’d already written, and in that way it helped ease the conundrum I mentioned a couple of days ago. It also refreshed my memory of the overall story and helped me focus.

Topic: The Value of Cliffhangers

In “Of Interest” today, Debbie Burke of TKZ talks about ways to speed up the pace of your story. I agree with some of her advice, but not her tip on cliffhangers.

There are at least five different categories of cliffhangers, and several types within each category. To learn them I recommend WMG Publishing’s course on Cliffhangers.

Today is the last day of the 1/2 price sale (use the code HolidaySale), meaning you can get the Classis workshop on Cliffhangers for only $75. (Or simply buy a good book on cliffhangers.)

Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll present a free session right here on The Essential Elements of a Story. This will be especially valuable to those of you who want to (or do) trust your creative voice and write into the dark.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “10 Tips for Bringing a Scene to Life” at To this post I would add, “focus down on details.” Doing that will bring life to the story and pull the reader more deeply (and quickly) into the scene.

See “Before It’s Too Late – Six Tips to Speed Up the Pace” at

See “Last Day for Half Price Holiday Sale” at

See “Why Authors Should Know Their Target Audience” at

See “How To Find Your Target Audience, Part One” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 840 words

Writing of The Ark (novel)

Day 10… 4361 words. Total words to date…… 31495
Day 11… 3312 words. Total words to date…… 34807
Day 12… 2142 words. Total words to date…… 36949
Day 13… 1344 words. Total words to date…… 38293

Total fiction words for November……… 14624
Total fiction words for the year………… 377902
Total nonfiction words for November… 4000
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 169840
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 547742

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 5
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 13
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 50
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 214
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

2 thoughts on “The Journal: A New Use for Reverse Outlines”

  1. This was timely… I just wrapped up a 75,000-word draft that met all the hallmarks of what Dean and Kris call the exploratory draft. And I really, really, wished I had kept a reverse outline. On this redraft, I’m starting right away. Thanks, Harvey, and a combined “Happy Birthday / Thank you for your service.”

    • Thanks, Phillip. This would be an excellent time to go back and create a RO for the whole thing. You might be surprised into keeping it as-is (minus typos, etc. of course). And thanks for the well-wishes.

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