Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Writing a Reverse Outline

Hello friends! I don't know about the rest of you, but it seems that every time I do NaNoWriMo, I burn out for a while afterwards. And this year/cycle/whatever you want to call it, I burned out for a solid two and a half months. I stopped querying my manuscript, I stopped reading for my critique partners even though I'd just taken on a new one, and in general I stayed in bed about 18 hours of the day and didn't really leave the house.

Yeah. It was bad.

Recently, though, my partner nagged me into being vertical for an extended period of time. I needed something to do, and I'd played way too many hours of video games. So I came to terms with the fact that it was Time.

It was Time to Revise My NaNoWriMo Manuscript.


I started by dragging myself to my laptop rereading what I'd written. It wasn't terrible, and I was pretty pleased with some parts of it that I had thought were dumpster fires while I was writing them. But I just...didn't know where to go from there. I vented to one of my writing buddies that I knew what I wanted to change, but not how to change it. And, like the gorgeous font of amazing ideas and perfect advice that she is, she suggested I make a reverse outline.

A reverse outline?

What is this mysterious creature, you ask? Yeah, I hadn't heard of reverse outlines, either. The idea is that some people make outlines before they write their manuscripts with the major plot points or what needs to be revealed at what point, etc. With a reverse outline, you make an outline after the manuscript is completed. That way, you can get a better sense of where to insert the changes you want to make, and you don't have to be searching through the whole document for that one scene where I think the main character says this to her friend but then her friend is ambivalent, yeah, where'd that go?

Yes thank you I am very organized.

Anyway, if you're stuck in the revision trenches like I was, give this a shot. It might give you a better sense of the timing of your manuscript and just where you should be making edits. Make sure to get down not only the major plot points but also the things they influence, like character reactions that will be important later or information this plot point brings out. Then you can go through and note where you want to make revisions. It's also a good idea to note where you did a good job! It's like encouragement from your past self :)

And because I'd be remiss if I didn't include an example, here's an excerpt from my own reverse outline:

Excerpt from my reverse outline for my manuscript, tentatively titled GIRLS BREAK THINGS. The main bullet points are the major plot points, and the secondary ones are reactions to that plot point. I've also commented on the outline to make notes to myself about other things to consider that didn't appear in the manuscript.

Check out the Dear O'Abby post this Thursday for more information about revising!


  1. Since I am a wingman when it comes to writing, I find it helpful to outline either after the draft is completed, or while I'm somewhere in the trackless middle reaches of the manuscript and feeling a little stuck. Reverse outlining can help reveal holes/problems, etc., and outlining when somewhere in the middle can help reveal where you need to go next.

  2. That's interesting. I've never tried writing a reverse outline. Thanks for sharing.


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