The Journal, Wednesday, October 24

Hey Folks,

Over the past two days, I’ve written lengthy topics as part of my Journal posts. I’ve included another one today on The Reverse Outline. And I probably will include another one tomorrow on A Different Kind of Outline (for those who would like a safety net).

These posts are mostly for new folks who have subscribed to the Journal or who follow along on Facebook.

But I enourage those of you who’ve been with me awhile to read over them too. Even if it’s a topic you’ve seen before, you might pick up something you can use. It isn’t all the same old information, and even what is, isn’t said in exactly the same way.

Also, check out the comments on the posts for the past couple of days.

A chilly morning with the cloud cover gone and the temps hovering around 40°. Also there’s a full moon this morning (or close to full) and the coyotes nearby are all paying homage to it.

But their singing keeps my little girl in the yard, so it’s all good. Of courses, song dogs can easily leap our 5-foot fence. To inhibit them, I occasionally turn on my flashlight and shine it around the fence line.

Topic: A Look at the Reverse Outline

Those who write outlines before they start writing a novel do so (I’m told) to keep themselves and the story on track.

They lay out plot points, major twists, etc. Then they stick rigidly to the outline and bend the characters and the events of the story to their authorial will.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m not that angels-singing-on-high, Ivory Tower, omnipotent Author Guy. I have no desire whatsoever to control anyone, either in real life or in the stories I’m fortunate to write. Too much work, too much responsibility.

So probably I sound like a hypocrite when I advocate using a reverse outline. But it ain’t so. (grin)

A reverse outline is as odd as it sounds. Basically, you write the scene or chapter first, then outline it.


Well, if you’ve ever had a reader wonder why a character’s name suddenly changed from John to Jim in Chapter 28, or wonder why John was wearing a blue sports jacket when he went into a bank and a brown one when he came out, that’s why.

If you’ve ever had to stop writing while you searched back through the previous eighteen chapters to find the make and model and caliber of the pistol or revolver your PI is carrying, that’s why.

If you’ve ever had to search back through fifteen or twenty or thirty thousand words to find whether a car was a Buick or a Pontiac, whether it was dark blue or light blue, etc. that’s why.

Ugh. Stopping in the middle of your writing to invoke the conscious mind, go back, and find something you need is just deadly.

I use a reverse outline for anything I write that has chapters and is 15,000 words or longer. I also use one when I’m writing a series in which any characters from one story continue in other stories.

So what is a reverse outline? It’s an outline of what’s already happened in your book.

Different writers use this technique, and each has his or her own way of doing it.

Dean Smith keeps a yellow legal pad next to his writing computer. As he finishes a scene or chapter, he jots a few notes about the characters and the scene.

Because it’s easier for me to type than to write, I use a Notepad (.txt) document. I start with the title of the book, followed by a list of character names and maybe who the character is. (Grocer, chief of police, so-and-so’s son, etc. Each item in this list is on one line.)

I follow that with a list of place names of any significant buildings, cities, towns, intersections, etc. That list might include dimensions and other attributes if they’re important to the story.

Finally, I list 1, 2, 3, etc. along the left margin of the page.

Unlike Dean and others, most often, I don’t update my reverse outline after each chapter.

I usually wait until the day’s writing is finished, then add notes to my reverse outline for the chapters I’ve written that day.

During that process, first I add any new character names and place names to those lists. Then I skip down to the number of whatever chapter I just wrote, and I basically write a short synopsis.

Most often that includes the characters who appear in the chapter, what they’re wearing (if they change clothing often), the main conflict/event of the chapter, etc. This is one paragraph, anywhere from 10 to 70 or 80 words.

On average, my chapters are around 1200 words. The novel I just finished is slightly under 44,000 words and 38 chapters, an average of 1158 words per chapter. The reverse outline for that novel, not including the character and place-name lists, is just over 1800 words. An average of 48 words per chapter description.

Important: If I provide an in-depth description of a character or a setting in a particular chapter, in my reverse outline for that chapter I note “Desc of [character or place].” This is extremely valuable and saves tons of time when I’m wondering, late in the book, whether the small scar next to John’s eye was by the right eye or the left. (grin) I just go to the reverse outline, search for “Desc,” find the one about John, and eyeball him.

As you can see, an accurate reverse outline can be a real time and sanity saver for you. As with any new technique, it will become easier and more useful the more you practice it.

I encourage you to try it on your next novella or novel. If you do, let me know how it works out for you.

Well, my “streak” of writing fiction every day lasted all of 9 days. (grin) No biggie. It was a false goal anyway, with no payoff and no consequences.

So I let it go. It’s better to not sweat the small stuff and to write on days when I legitimately feel like writing fiction. For me, today was more of a nonfiction day.

Went to the Hovel around 7, wrote everything above, then sent the latest Nick Spalding novel off to my first reader.

After that I filtered through some ideas in my head and set them all aside. Nothing piqued my interest.

Then I fidgeted through a few idea files on my writing ‘puter, including a few short stories I thought might make good novels and a few openings I wrote awhile back and then set aside. But nothing interested me there either.

I just didn’t feel like starting anything new today. I dunno, mebbe I’m still mourning the one I finished yesterday. (grin)

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “A Different Twist on Storytelling” at

See “No Sweat: Solving Crimes and a Sweaty James Brown” at

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1150 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 1150

Writing of ()

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 22124
Total fiction words for the year………… 358850
Total nonfiction words for the month… 13530
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 146626
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 505226

Calendar Year 2018 Novels to Date………………………… 8
Calenday Year 2018 Novellas to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2018 Short Stories to Date……… 11
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 34
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 6
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………………… 193