KM Weiland on Reverse Outlining

I am THRILLED to feature writing guru K.M. Weiland on the blog today to discuss Outlining. As a reformed panser, I have seen my writing evolve by embracing outlining techniques. And while I’m not a full outliner yet, it is a tool that helps me at certain stages during the writing process to form stronger story structure and character development.

Katie’s book, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success guides writers with a step-by-step approach to developing and writing a novel. One of the story mapping techniques is Reverse Outlining, a creative approach to help writers build a strong, cohesive timeline in their novels. Read on for an excerpt straight from the book!

Reverse Outlining

When you think of outlines, you generally think about organization, right? The whole point of outlining, versus the seat-of-the-pants method, is to give the writer a road map, a set of guidelines, a plan. An outline should be simple, streamlined, and linear. An outline should put things in order. So you’re probably going to think I’m crazy when I tell you one of the most effective ways to make certain every scene matters is to outline backwards.

During the outlining process, we have to create a plausible series of events, a chain reaction that will cause each scene to domino into the one following. But linking scenes isn’t always easy to do if you don’t know what it’s supposed to be linking to. As any mystery writer can tell you, you can’t set the clues up perfectly until you know whodunit. Often, it’s easier and more productive to start with the last scene in a series and work your way backwards.

For example, in my outline of a historical story, I knew one of my POV characters was going to be injured so badly he would be unable to communicate with another character for almost a month. However, I didn’t yet know how or why he was injured. I could work my way toward this point in a logical, linear fashion, starting at the last known scene (a dinner party), and building one scene upon another, until I reached my next known point (the injury). But because my chain of events was based on what was already behind me (the dinner party), more than what was away off in the future (the injury), my attempts to bridge the two were less than cohesive.

Had I outlined these scenes in a linear fashion, squeezing in the injury might have become a gymnastic effort instead of a natural flowing of plot. Plus, the fact that I had no idea what was supposed to happen between the dinner party and the injury meant I was likely to invent random and inconsequential events to fill the space.

My solution?

You got it: work backwards.

Starting at the end of the plot progression—the injury—I began asking questions that would help me discover the plot development immediately preceding. How was the character hurt? Where was he hurt? Why did the bad guys choose to do this to him? Why was he only injured, instead of killed? How is he going to escape?

Once I knew these things, I knew how I needed to set up the scene, and once I knew how to set up the scene, I knew what to put in the previous slot in the outline. Eventually, I was able to work myself all the way back to the dinner party. Voilà! I now had a complete sequence of events, all of which were cohesive, linear, and logical enough to make my story tight and intense.

Facing the wide unknown of a story is scary, and putting one foot in front of the other, when you’re unsure of the terrain, can be overwhelming. But when you can work your way backwards from a known point, finding your way becomes as simple as filling in the blanks. The result is a story that falls into order like a row of expertly placed dominoes.


K.M. Weiland is the author of the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, her book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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117 Responses to KM Weiland on Reverse Outlining

  1. Kathy says:

    I’m sure I’ll do great with this idea. I do mazes backward all the time. It’s a lot easier, somehow. Thanks for the tip.

  2. K.M. Weiland says:

    @Tom: Honestly, a big part of sticking with a story is nothing more than sheer determination. We all get sick of our stories, for one reason or another, somewhere in the middle. Unless that feeling is a sign of a larger problem that needs fixing, the best thing we can do for ourselves and our stories is just to power on through.

    @Lori: It’s marvelous how the techniques we use to find success in other areas of our lives and professions can actually bring the same measure of success to our fiction!

    @Sheri: If you know where you’ve been and you know where you’re going, it’s actually not all that difficult to figure out how to get there. Think of the scenes in your middle as one domino running into another and creating the chain reaction that is your story. After that, it’s just a matter of figuring which dominoes you need to use to get that reaction.

  3. Sheri M Cook says:

    I know my beginnings and I know my endings…it’s the MIDDLES I struggle with. I think your book OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL would help me so much. Thank you for the great tip to work backwards.

  4. Lori Oster says:

    Love this post!

    I teach academic writing, so we often begin writing with our final claim in mind. How is it that I never applied the same theory to my creative writing?

    I struggle with planning, in general. I’ve always been a let-the-movement-of-the-pen-guid-you sort of gal, so outlining, in any form, has never been my strong suit.

    Thank you for a great post!

  5. Tom Farr says:

    I struggle with keeping myself interested in a story I’m writing all the way through.


  6. K.M. Weiland says:

    @JessG: The thing to keep in mind about outlines is that there are no set “rules” for them. Your outline can be as unique as you are. So just keep hunting around, improvising, and refining until you find exactly the right method for you.

    @Robin: Thank you! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the book.

    @Karen: Being able to balance the strengths of both the outliner and the pantser is the way to go. If we can have the best of both worlds, why not go for it, right?

    @Deb: Renowned screenwriter and director Sam Peckinpah once talked about how every story needs to hang around a big event in the middle. I like to think of it as the “turning point.” If you can identify that moment, you’ll be way ahead of the game in figuring out your middle.

    @Alison: Overly pat endings are a pet peeve of mine. I like it when an author can resolve the issues but still leave the sense that life, in all its messiness, still goes on after I close the book.

    @Julie: You’re very sweet! Glad the post hit the spot.

    @Kitty: I had a similar experience with my (soon-to-be-published) fantasy. At the time when I started it, I was seriously burned out on another project and didn’t want to mess with a lot of preparation. So I just dove in. And, boy, did I live to regret that decision. Four outlines and as many rewrites later, I’m approaching the end of that very instructive journey.

    @Fiona: That’s brilliant! I’m gonna have to give that a try myself.

    @Julieann: It’s easy to get lost in the flood of conflicting advice from other authors. The best thing we can do is try to figure out which pieces of advice resonate and which don’t – and keep them and throw them out accordingly.

    @Lester: Pantsing would be a disaster in just about any other project – just as it is for many authors. The fact that some of us can get it to work is a testament the creativity and patience of writers.

    @Sarah: Most of art is half creativity and half analysis. The logical sides of our brain are rarely wasted in our writing.

    @Aimee: Outlining is one of the best ways I know to inspire us to finish stories.

    @Lindsay: Thanks for commenting!

    @Amanda: Since you already know your ending, you’re already halfway to the solution. Reverse outlining might be just the thing for you.

    @Charlie: The book talks quite a bit about character and thematic arcs, so you might find just the answers you’re looking for in those chapters.

    @S.K.: Writers aren’t broken. Just our keyboards where we’ve banged out heads against them. :p Thank you for kind comment! I’m pleased to pieces that the book was so useful to you.

    @Lenny: Outlining backwards certainly isn’t a cure-all, but used in concert with other outlining and plotting techniques, it can be a huge catalyst.

    @inluvwithwords: Great! I hope you find as much success with the technique as I have.

    @The Magic Violinist: If you know your characters (and I mean really dig deep into their pasts and personalities), you can identify their core needs. From there, creating a plot is often just a matter of figuring out how to thwart those needs and create conflict.

    @Patrick: Thanks for stopping by! Sounds like another good non-fiction tip we fiction authors can learn from. 🙂

  7. Patrick Ross says:

    This reminds me of my journalism training, where you determine what the point of the story is (the lede), and build from there. In a story involving passage of time, it’s not uncommon to start at the culmination, then work the reader backward. Good post.

    Given the number of comments here it is unlikely I’ll win the book, but should I do so, please draw again; there are folks here who really seem to want it and I wouldn’t want to interfere with that!

  8. Reverse outlining. That’s an interesting thought.
    The thing I struggle with most is creating a plot. Characters pop into my head all the time (and pretty good characters, if you ask me), but I have a hard time thinking of a goal for my characters. Once I think of one, though, I do great! 😀


  9. Wow, this sounds like a great book. I just started working my backwards on my current WIP. So far, it has really helped me to make progress.

    ruthschiffmann (at) hotmail [dot]com

  10. Lenny Lee* says:

    wow for sure i gotta read this a couple time so i could know better how to go backwards. mostly i dont plot stuff but im learning how to do it and how it could help. so maybe learning how to go backwards sometime could be a big help. cool post. i always learn lots when i come here.
    …hugs from lenny

  11. Ms. Weiland has written a great, practical guide to getting that book written. On top of that, she is extremely responsive to questions and comments; very approachable. You won’t regret reading it. It changed my view of the writing process and helped me see that I wasn’t broken.

  12. Charlie says:

    I think this is a great post that will help seasoned veterans and rookies alike. Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, breaking out of the box is usually a good idea.

    I have no idea what I am. I struggle with every part of writing, but I’m still trying. I have an easy time with creating a picture in the reader’s mind, but haven’t figured out how to create depth of character, tie scenes together, keep a plot going, or anything resembling a full book.

    I need help! I think this book would be one stepping stone to getting me on at least the Junior Varsity team of writing.

    Thanks for the great post!

  13. I have written half of a YA novel and the ending scene. As a pantser, I am having trouble filling in the missing scenes. I love the idea of a backwards outline! Thanks for the insight!

  14. Thanks everyone for sharing your processes and struggles. I like reading about how your experience in other jobs has helped to improve your writing processes as well.

    Happy writing, everyone! 🙂

  15. Anonymous says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. Great post and fantastic insight!

  17. That’s such great advice! I never finish anything so perhaps I should start planning stories more often 😀

  18. Great post – so creative. I use this approach when projecting revenue goals in my business, a reverse P&L if you will, but never thought to apply it to my creative endeavors. I love this! Thank you for sharing, and for a chance to win!

  19. My experience designing and building computer systems taught me many things about planning (one does not create global computer systems by “pantsing.”) My expertise in structured, n-tier, object oriented system design channels my method of storytelling. I do top-down, bottom-up, forward-analysis, and backward-analysis as I work through repeated iterations of the telling of the story, each pass adding more details, more depth, and more density.

    Your description of reverse outlining validates my methods and makes me feel good about myself. (I believe that is one reason I like K.M. Weiland’s “Wordplay” blog — it legitimizes my labors.)

    My current project is five volumes totaling about 500,000 words. There is one main story arc in five phases, multiple sub-plot arcs, and multiple character change arcs. Reverse outlining is crucial for designing the reveals, setups, and foreshadowing required to sustain the story. Often I know the destination, but I must discover the path. Reverse outlining does that for me.

    Thank you for your guidance.

    I look forward to winning the book. I am in constant need of continuing education.
    Lester [at that there] LesterDCrawford [period] com
    The Dragon Universe on Facebook

  20. I am a budding author and I would love to have a copy of this book. I am tackling my first novel and I want to plot it out first however I am confused with all of the advice that is offered. I found advise that KM Weildman has given is brilliant and it resonates well with my writing style. Even if I do not win I’ll buy a copy anyhow. Thank-you for this oppotunily…….

  21. Fiona Ingram says:

    I really enjoyed this post. Something that helps me is writing a synopsis of each chapter after it is finished. Then I read the entire manuscript chapter synopsis backwards. It works even better reading the whole manuscript in reverse because you pinpoint how your characters arrive at various stages in their journey. It’s amazing how the story makes sense or nonsense as your mind works in reverse.

  22. Normally I use an outline, for a guide of sorts, but for NAno I went with just an idea and let the story write itself. It’s a nightmare to revise because it has no solid plot. It was supposed to be a ‘coming of age story’ and instead I spend 100 of 150 pages with the MC adjusting to her new way of life. -_-

    What was I thinking? I know how It’s supposed to end… But getting from beginning to ending just isn’t working with the first draft I have. 150 pages. over 82K words and no discernible pot. Talk about frustrating!

    I wonder if this book would help me fix this mess?

  23. Julie Musil says:

    K.M. is a genius, and this is BRILLIANT! I love the idea of working backwards. I’ve never tried it before. Thanks!

  24. Thanks for this suggestion. I am struggling with the closure at the end of the book. I don’t want to wrap it all up with a bow. I want to leave the reader satisfied that questions were answered but wanting to know more and continue reading about the main character. I will see if I can come up with the end and then work my way there logically.

  25. Deb Marshall says:

    erm, my contact info is

    justdeb at debamarshall dot com

  26. Deb Marshall says:

    I am a forever struggler with the murky middle. Great post and thanks for the giveaway!

  27. I work all sorts of ways, outlining, panster…And I often write, or at least, imagine the end first. How I want it to come out or the final scene. I write a lot of horror, so it usually ends badly. I am “writing” one novel, and I’ve been outlining that to death. I think it’s time to actually start the novel.

  28. I have the book now and super super awesome. I have a hole in my story now and just what I needed – a reminder to try reverse outlining. Highly recommend K.M’s book.

  29. JessG says:

    Awesome giveaway! Thanks for the tips on reverse outlining. I’ve been trying to figure out how to work with certain storylines and I know I need to outline but it’s by far my biggest weakness in writing a story. I am a panster writer and I get so many holes or other problems in the story if I can’t follow some type of an outline.

  30. K.M. Weiland says:

    @Jeannie: Not to throw a corkscrew into it or anything. 😉 Actually, I think you’ll find that the forward outlining can become even easier with the occasional help of the reverse outlining.

    @Jason: Outlining in reverse is very intuitive. What you’re reading here is pretty much all the book offers on outlining in reverse. But you will find lots of other tips and tricks on building and fleshing out your story.

    @Athena: Subplots are all about mirroring, reinforcing, and supporting the main plot. When you’re hunting for likely subplots, one of the best things you can do is start looking at facets of the main characters and relationship with the minor characters that you can further develop.

    @Cindy: Have fun with it, and good luck in the drawing!

    @CortlandWriter: So many people think outlining is going to limit their creativity, but really it’s just the opposite. When you already know where you’re going and what you need to do to avoid the blocks, you’re free to explore so many extra levels of your story.

    @Kit: Most of the time, I have just the opposite problem. I think up characters – and then have to figure out the concept to support them. I would suggest asking yourself lots of “what if” questions (something I talk about in the book) to start getting your creative juices flowing in the right direction.

    @Southpaw: Reverse outlining rarely goes amiss, but it’s particularly helpful in figuring out logical relations between Plot Point A and Plot Point B.

  31. Southpaw says:

    Working backwards make a lot of sense. The book sounds awesome (contact info in my profile).

    I have lots of blanks spots in my plot maybe the backwards thing will help me out.

  32. Kit says:

    Apart from actually sitting down and starting to write? I struggle most with getting from a concept to an actual plot. I have all these ideas for settings and worlds, but no clue what story to tell in them.

  33. I have never been a good outliner for whatever the reason. I usually just come up with an idea, some characters, setting, and develop conflicts as I go along. I would love to know more about becoming organized and structured to make things less frustrating when I “hit those walls.” This concept of “working backwards” sounds very intriguing!

  34. I really need this! Never tried it, but am getting ready to! Thanks for the good advice and for offering the giveaway!

  35. Some awesome tips! I’m still learning how to outline, it’s quite a process. One thing I’ve been struggling with lately is weaving in subplots with the main story line. Thanks for the tips!

  36. Jason says:

    Turns out I’ve been doing some of this by accident, and would like to learn more.

    Jason at jediqb (at) gmail (dot) com.

  37. Jeannie says:

    Just as I’m figuring out how to outline (and am having good results!), you throw me into reverse! ha ha

    I learn so much from you K. I need to add this book to my ever growing how-to library. Good post!

  38. K.M. Weiland says:

    Try it out! I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the results reverse outlining can bring your story.

  39. Reverse outlining is a great idea. I will try this next time I outline a story. This sounds like a great book. I prefer to outline before writing so I could see it coming in handy.

  40. K.M. Weiland says:

    @Janet: Good luck!

    @Stacey: I’m the same way. I don’t recommend the editing-as-you-go routine to everyone, since it can definitely become a never-ending cycle of numbing perfectionism. But I like to fix problems as go, both to minimize the work required in the second draft, and to bring the story together as seamlessly as possible. Mistakes in the early chapters can snowball into big problems late in the plot.

  41. Stacey James says:

    At times, I struggle with “not changing” what is going on within the story as I’m writing it. I tend to want to make the first draft perfect…thus, it slowwwwws me down!

  42. Janet Smart says:

    I would love to win this book. I don’t usually outline, so this would be a great help to me.

  43. K.M. Weiland says:

    @Jackie: That’s almost always the way I work as well. The conception stages of the story leave me with a handful of scenes, and then I have to figure out how they all connect. It’s like a connect-the-dots puzzle!

    @Yelena: Stories are all about sequence. Once we get that figured out, the rest is just putting flesh on the bones.

  44. YelenaC says:

    This is extremely useful. I often find myself struggling with the same thing – the sequence of events, what happened and why.
    I would love to read your book.

    Thank you!

  45. Jackie says:

    Wow! You’ve made me feel so much better.
    When I write a situation pops into my mind and won’t leave. From that situation, I try to decide what characters this could happen to. Then I move forward and backward from the main situation.
    Thanks for sharing, and please enter me in the contest!
    Thanks again!

  46. K.M. Weiland says:

    @Heather: Outlines can be as rough or as sophisticated as you want them to be. My outlining process is pretty in-depth. I’ll spend a few months filling out several notebooks before I’m finished. But not everyone will find it useful to go to the same extremes I do.

    @Rhonda: Outlining is a cure-all for road blocks. Plow right on through!

  47. Woule love to check this out. I have a difficult time getting to the end because of road blocks. Never thought of outlining backwards…might be the answer for me. TY for the chance to win! pianolady_62(at)yahoo(dot)com.

  48. Heather says:

    I’m slowly learning to make outlines. Rough ones, but I’m getting there. Your post has some good ideas. Thanks.

  49. K.M. Weiland says:

    We can’t get where we’re going if we don’t where we’re supposed to end up!

  50. Janet says:

    The plotting tips that were given are terrific. A destination either coming or going helps you to ultimately get there.


  51. K.M. Weiland says:

    That’s the trick: finding the outline that works for you. It’s just a matter of poking around for the methods that resonate with your personality and lifestyle and then putting them to work.

  52. Brenna says:

    I need to try this. Maybe it’ll help me create an outline (or rather, a plotline) that actually works for me. 🙂


  53. K.M. Weiland says:

    Most people notice a dramatic difference in their storytelling when they employ an outline. I’m so glad they’re working out for you!

  54. I only recently created an outline for the first time and I think it will help quite a bit. Can’t wait to try that reverse thing! 🙂

    Sign me up
    pyrosama @

  55. K.M. Weiland says:

    @Kern: Thanks so much for your comment! I’m thrilled to pieces that you found the book so useful.

    @Alicia: Outlines are great tools for extensive revisions as well.

  56. I love this idea! I’m struggling with two revisions right now and this sounds like a great way for me to fix the plot holes. Thanks!


  57. I bought a copy of Outlining Your Novel a little while ago — no regrets! It was been hugely helpful during the planning stages of my current WIP, and I continue to return to it as I hit those little bumps along the way.

    The reverse outlining technique may not make intuitive sense at first, but it sure helps sort out and prevent those cumbersome issues with seemingly impossible sequencing.

    (No need to enter me for the draw, since I already own the book!)

  58. K.M. Weiland says:

    Thanks so much for having me!

  59. I’ve never thought about this approach, but it makes total sense. I’m a planner all the way. My stories are all outlined before I get started, but I always run into problems along the way where I can’t figure out how to get from point A to point B. This is a great way to figure out those issues. Thanks so much for guest posting!

  60. K.M. Weiland says:

    @Word Crafter: Reverse outlining is just one of the many outlining tricks available for us to try. The field is wide open for all kinds of experimentation!

  61. K.M. Weiland says:

    @Dawn: I wish you luck in the drawing!

    @Dave: I have a pretty lousy short-term recall (thanks to head trauma in an ATV wreck) as well. Outlines are incredibly useful in helping me keep my mental stuff together.

    @Janel: Really, your story *is* your ending. If you know the ending, you’ll know what you’re trying to achieve in the story and exactly what you have to do to get there.

    @Koala: “Mental” outlines are just as useful as the kind we write out. So long as we can remember everything we’ve come up with, that’s all that counts.

    @Glynis: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if you find yourself struggling with plotting or getting stuck halfway through, outlining is great for that. I haven’t tried Scrivener myself. But yWriter is very similar, and I’ve been hooked on it for years.

    @Joe: I’m reading Syd Fields right now myself. Even though his material is aimed more specifically at screenwriters, it’s chock full of vital info for novelists and short story writers as well.

    @Brynn: Thanks for commenting!

  62. Word Crafter says:

    I would have to say I’ll try this. Sounds like a good approach though since you should always have the end in mind before you write a story. One of those “gee, why didn’t I think of that” moments. I’d love to win the book to see how you do it = )

  63. Brynn B says:

    If there’s one thing I need help with, it’s outlining.


  64. JoeMello says:

    Just getting into writing, I think this method will help. I’ve had to overcome a view that stories are written front to back, like you read them. Also, once I understood you can still write with freedom and artistry, this method began to look more appealing – it looks like it provides enough structure to open up possibilities and help sharpen the work.

    I’ve been reading McKee, Syd Fields, Brooks, and Ingermassen, as well as Weiland and I think an outlining method will help me develop the story more quickly.

    Is there some point in using it, though, where it comes down to personal preference? Do most people use it to a certain point, or to get past certain problems?

  65. Glynis says:

    I am a panster all the way. I have not found a method yet that can change that fact.

    My three novels have always started out with a title and a rough idea of the ending, the rest seems to come to me as I write.

    With number three, I have used scrivener cork board. I was a fan of ywriter, but DH bought me Scrivener for windows, so switched over. I do like the cork board, it has set me on a path of keeping track of the minor characters and place names. Maybe I am ready for change. 🙂

  66. I wrote my first novels by the seat of my pants… if I got stuck, I’d just take a break until another idea came to me. Now, I’d plot most of the way through (although, since I haven’t been actually writing for years, I’ve got most of the plots up in my head, ready to be written when I do have time to write…). I think my very first novel would benefit from some good outlining and planning to make it stronger, to make sure that every scene leads to the next scene, as you say here. 🙂 Great tips; thanks.

    bway underscore writer at yahoo dot ca

  67. Janel says:

    I usually come up with great beginnings, but never endings. I bet if I can come up with an ending to go along with a beginning I can use this technique to fill in the middle. Sounds like a great book. So glad I found out about it!


  68. DaveK says:

    One of my major problems when editing is too many ideas and a bad memory. I’ll be reading along and come up with a great idea or line. So I insert it and then two paragraphs later I find that I’ve written it already. You would think I would learn.

    I’m trying to use headings and the navigator view in Libre Office to keep all my “great” ideas in front of me as I write and revise.

    Wish me luck.

  69. K.M. Weiland says:

    Thanks for reading, Dawn! Good luck in the drawing.

  70. Dawn says:

    Thanks for the cahnce. This book sounds like it would be a very helpful tool to help with completing what comes next.

  71. K.M. Weiland says:

    @Taffy: Reverse outlining is a fabulous way to untangle knotty plot problems.

    @siilenti: Even if you find that outlining doesn’t work for you, I highly recommend the software program yWriter for keeping track of all those little details.

  72. siilenti says:

    I haaate outlining, but I have always really wanted to because I think it would really add to the overall quality. I often forget the little details I need to carry through to the end of the story.

    siilentii27 at gmail dot com

  73. Taffy says:

    I love this idea. Sometimes I get stuck and maybe working backwards would help.
    THANKS for the chance to win this book!

    PS I posted about your blog today on my blog and how helpful you are!!


  74. K.M. Weiland says:

    @Cheyanne: Tangents can be a lot of fun—and also a lot of work. Outlining won’t eliminate tangents, since those spur of the moment ideas occur all the way through the writing process, but the outline *will* help you identify whether the tangent is going to be feasible within the overall arc of your plot.

    @Joanna: Just remember to take small bites out of the big scenes. Sometimes it helps to break it down into sentences. Write a sentence. Walk away. Write another one.

    @Tracey: Outlining can definitely help you identify the proper pacing—the ebb and flow—for your story. We have to balance the tense scenes with “sequel” scenes, and outlines are great for making sure we’re accomplishing that effectively.

    @Dane: One of the things I talk about in the book is that, really, we’re *all* outliners. The difference between pantsers and plotters it that for the pantser the first draft is his outline, while for the plotter the outline is his first draft.

    @Clarissa: Learning from the methods and techniques of other authors is one of the best ways to refine our own methods. I borrow a bit here and there from all kinds of people.

    @Amber: The idea of outlining frightens a lot of people, just because it seems like a huge/long/boring task. But, really, I find outlines one of the most exciting parts of the process. For me, outlines are the time of the greatest discoveries in my story worlds.

    @Shannon: There’s nothing technically wrong with pantsing. It seems to work for a great many authors. But I would definitely encourage pantsers to at least give outlining a try. You never know, it might transform your writing process—just like it did mine!

    @JCC: It’s very easy to write a forward outline, thinking all the scenes tie together causally, only to get into the nitty-gritty of the first draft and realize the pieces don’t all align. Reverse outlines are great for tightening up scenes and refining the logic of the connections.

    @Vicky: You’re in good company! John Irving reportedly has to write the last sentence of every novel before he can write the beginning.

    @Nick: A lot of people struggle with that. For some, the best thing they can do is *not* outline. But you might benefit from the outline in its loosest form: as just a few notes (perhaps even just mental ones) about the plot points and the eventual outcome.

    @Nicole: Beginnings are rough for me too. I rewrite them more than almost any other part of the story, because it’s *so* important to get them right. As soon as I get past the 50 page mark, I can always breathe a little easier.

    @Kate: The great thing about outlining is that it allows you to indentify your major plot points at the 25%, 50%, and 75% marks. Once you know those, filling in the blanks becomes relatively easy.

    @Joan: Mysteries, in particular, can benefit from the outline, just because there are so many clues and moments of foreshadowing that have to be sown early into the story.

    @Colene: I hope it comes in handy!

    @SP: Thanks for reading!

    @Tara: I’m a huge fan of twists as well. One of the steps I always take in my outline is to write a list of “what isn’t expected.”

    @David: Glad to know I’m in good company! 🙂

    @Heather: Outlines are marvelous for interweaving subplots. You can lay them all out and see how they mirror and contrast with one another.

    @Ava: I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  75. K.M. Weiland says:

    @Angela and Becky: Thank you so much for hosting me today!

    @Theresa: Thanks for commenting! I find it’s relatively easy to start stories, but finishing them when the going gets tough (and it always does) is where things get complicated. Keep on keeping on!

    @Sue: The notion that outlines are immutable is one of the most common misconceptions. Actually, this is one of those things that can have no more power than what we give it. If we believe the outline is unchangeable, it will be. But if we can make ourselves realize that the outline can be just as flexible as we need it to be, a whole horizon of new possibilities open up.

    @Alyssia: One of the reasons I fell in love with outlining myself is that it works wonders for eliminating those extraneous scenes. In my pre-outlining days, I would sit down at the computer and just start writing, without really knowing where I was going. And the result was lots of dead ends and useless scenes. I love outlining because it helps me see the overall arc of the story, so I can then figure out which scenes are necessary and which aren’t.

    @Amanda: Outlining doesn’t work for everyone, but if you can find a routine that works for you, it’ll lick the organizational problems in no time.

    @Laura: I usually end up outlining my rewrites as well! I’m a visual person, so nothing helps me get ahold of the big picture faster than a “map.”

    @Traci: It’s a great technique, isn’t it?

    @PBuff: Glad you enjoyed it! Have fun with book #2!

    @Sarah: I find that that the key to avoiding clichés in plot, as well as all other aspects of story, is to stay in touch with your subconscious creativity. Let the story flow organically, guided by the motivations and goals of the characters, rather than trying to force what you *think* should happen.

    @Stina: Exactly. Outlines are “more like guidelines.” Authors are bound to stick to them only insofar as they continue to mirror their vision of their stories.

    @Tony: Reverse outlining can get a little tricky, especially when you’re dealing with a complicated plot, but the results are always worth the extra “figuring.” I recommend breaking the story down into chunks (chapters or scenes) to make the reverse outline more manageable.

    @Natalie: Outlining is a great way to defeat writer’s block. The very fact that we know where we’re going every day when we sit down to write means we can focus more energy on the actual writing, instead of worrying about *what* to write.

    @Tabitha: Getting stuck – along with the resulting hair pulling and head banging – is never fun. Good luck in the drawing!

    @Matthew: The middle is murky territory for a lot of authors. We hear so much about beginnings and endings being important, but, if the middles can’t pull everything together, we’re sunk. I talk about subplots and complete story arcs more in the book.

    @Jeff: “Winger”—I think I like that term ever better than “pantser”!

    @SA: Thanks so much! I really appreciated that.

    @Gale: The simple fact is that outlining just doesn’t seem to work for everyone. But it’s important to realize that outlining doesn’t have to be a set “method.” It can be as structured or as flexible as you need it to be.

    @Febe: One of the blessings of the outline is that, before you ever start writing, you know how your story will end. It’s difficult to write a beginning that works and resonates if you don’t know where the story is supposed to end up.

    @Heather: The biggest trick to linking up scenes is remembering that they’re dominos: every scene must directly influence the scene that follows.

    @Karen: I found a quote the other day that I thought applied perfectly to this post: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”—Soren Kierkegaard

  76. Ava Jae says:

    Reverse outlining…I like it! Great thoughts and a really fantastic guest post. Thank you both! 🙂

  77. This book is on my wish list. My biggest challenge is interweaving plot points to make complexity – and outlining would help with that.
    Have a blessed day

    HM at HVC dot RR dot Com

    thanks for this generous offer


  78. No way! I do this all the time. So glad I’m not alone. Awesome post! 🙂

  79. Tara Tyler says:

    awesome concept! i like the new perspective!
    my trouble is choosing a path that readers wouldnt expect. i love twists!

  80. SP Sipal says:

    I’ve plotted backward before, in cases similar to what K.M. mentions, when I know where I want to go, but not sure of how I want to get there. Great excerpt! — Susan

  81. Wow! What an interesting concept! And it makes so much freaking sense! Will have to remember that for the next book to try it out! And definitely need to pick up that book!

  82. Joan Leacott says:

    I’m about to start planning my first cozy mystery, so this book would be a huge help. My first novel was a pantser effort and I swear I wrote 150K words to end up with 82K. I’ve been a committed plotter since then, usually only trashing about 5K. Much more effective!

    Contact me at joanleacott @

  83. Kate Briles says:

    This book sounds amazing! I wrestle midpoint everytime … often tempted to turn my novel into a Choose Your Own Adventure and be done with it. Reverse outlining sounds like it could be a key tool for me. Thanks for the chance to win!

  84. My problem is always the beginning. I’ll write and rewrite it and knowing where exactly to start always gives me fits.

  85. Nick Rolynd says:

    I can never finish a story I outline. That’s my problem. I feel like my outlines–no matter how detailed or loose–just restrict my writing, and I end up getting stuck, deviating from it, and…well, it just becomes a mess.

    amaranthinedominion @ gmail

  86. I work with very skeletal outlines but one thing’s for sure–I HAVE to know how it ends before I can start writing. To that end, not falling into the “muddled middle”trap is a challenge. This technique sounds wonderful and I would love the book!


  87. JCC says:

    I can’t finish my novels, which means that somehow my outlines aren’t working. So maybe working backwards through it would help. Worth a try! Thanks.

  88. Oh, wow. This is one I could definitely benefit from. I haven’t kicked the pantsing habit yet. This sounds absolutely brilliant K.M.! 🙂

  89. amber polo says:

    If I had to outline a complete novel I doubt if I ever would begin. Sometimes (a lot of times) I write scenes out of order. When I get stuck in a sagging middle I write the end and then the middle becomes clear.
    Your method sounds amazing.

  90. I have never heard of reverse outlining, but it sounds fantastic. I usually have no problems outlining my novels but it does interest me how other do it.

  91. Dane Zeller says:

    My private eye in my novel has no love for rules. Outlining would be a task he would not do. Oddly enough, I don’t follow rules either.

    I think outlining a book will blunt, or stop, my creativity. But…that’s just me and how I write. I would not recommend it for all.

    In a sense, I outline by writing a really bad first draft. The organization begins then (and the list I make at that time may well be called an “outline.”)

    This method stems from the idea that I write to discover. (Even the big things like plot and ending.)

    Again, many people will benefit by starting with an outline; I just organize in a different way.

  92. My biggest struggle is with creating enough tension, and varied amounts of tension in different places. I think plotting goes a long way to ensuring that there are sufficient events to facilitate that as I write. The book sounds great! And thanks for the advice.

  93. Joanna says:

    I struggle with ‘what comes next?’ and trying to write enough detail. Sometimes the thing that happens next is so big that I don’t feel like I can write it adequately so I give up.

  94. Cheyanne says:

    What a great book! My problem with outlining is remembering to tie together all my sub plots and loose ends. I tend to write tangents that have nothing to do with the story!

    cheyelizabeth at

  95. Karen says:

    I’ve never tried outlining backward, but it makes sense. As I move forward, I end up going back and making “change this/set up that” notes.
    karen(at)inspiredbylemurs (dot)com

  96. The biggest struggle for me is writing the in-between parts. The events are easy. It’s linking the scenes that gives me trouble.

    Outlining Your Novel sounds like a great resource. Thanks for the giveaway. If I win, you can contact me through my website


  97. This comment has been removed by the author.

  98. Febe Moss says:

    Febe Moss

    I struggle with the ending. I have great starting ideas, then boom. How do I end it all? Maybe this book could help with that:-)

  99. I am very eager to try this technique as well, and I think (like Matt), that it will really help with the middle and ensure that tension remains high by focusing the scenes better.

    Thanks everyone for your comments! And @SUE, I think that’s a valid concern–can outlines be adapted once written? I think they can–we always have to leave room for inspiration. Sometimes our initial ideas are not the strongest, and a better idea hits as we’re writing or as we see the plot and characters develop. 🙂

  100. Gale Stanley says:

    I’m a complete pantser. I’ve tried The Snowflake Method, Writing the Breakout Novel…. I need Help!

  101. SA Larsenッ says:

    I just heart K.M. I highlighted her site, earlier this years, as a must check out!

    I’ve done backwards thinking while plotting, but never actually outlining. I so have to try this and I’m off to buy that book! Thanks.

  102. JeffO says:

    Would I like a copy? Sure! As a dedicated Winger, I often find myself not knowing where things are going. I have tried outlining from time-to-time when I get into sticky spots, but this sounds pretty helpful.

  103. I’ve always struggled with weaving cohesive subplots into the middle. I’m generally pretty good at the inciting incident, rising action, and the climax, but it’s the middle that always gets me.

  104. This sounds like a great book. I hate it when I get stuck.

    Tabithablake at ymail dot com

  105. I’d love to win. Because I really wanted to outline this new manuscript before I started it. I’m an organized person so thought it would help. But I was having writers block so had to go with knowing the key plot points and just writing.

    Thanks for the interesting tip.

  106. Tony Riches says:

    I am going to try reverse outlining, as it seems a great way to be certain of actually arriving at the right destination!

  107. I couldn’t imagine writing without an outline. Not that I always stick to it exactly, but it’s always there to guide me if I do take an unexpected side route.

    I have several ways in which I create my outline, and I think at points the reverse one comes in. But that’s during brainstorming. Like Laura said, knowing the ending helps with coming up with the middle.

  108. Sarah says:

    What a terrific-sounding book! I’d love to have it as a resource for the book I’m writing. I find what I struggle with most (especially starting out, as I am now) is developing a strong, non-cliche outline for the foundation of my story and this would be perfect.

  109. PBuff says:

    That advice is exactly what I need as I plan book 2 in my series! Thanks so much.


  110. I’ve used the reverse outline for 3 books now and it works great at motivating you and helping you stay on course. I tried all kinds of other outlines, but this reverse one is the best one I’ve found.

  111. I’ve used the reverse outline for 3 books now and it works great at motivating you and helping you stay on course. I tried all kinds of other outlines, but this reverse one is the best one I’ve found.

  112. I think knowing what happens at the end always helps in shaping the beginning and the middle. My toughest part is the first major rewrite and deciding that parts don’t make sense or don’t link well and then plotting so it does make sense!

    laurapauling at yahoo dot com

  113. This looks like a book I MUST own. I struggle with outlining, despite the fact I know it helps when organizing my thoughts for a story.

    Great post!


  114. Alyssia says:

    Wow, what a book! I, too, am a bit of a reformed Pantser, although I’m still working on it daily. My problem? I don’t know when to stop, which is why I wind up with useless scenes; scenes that fail to move the story forward. I really like her concept of working backwards. Makes a lot of sense.

    Thanks for the guest-author post!

  115. Sue says:

    What do I struggle with? I struggle with the old to plot or not to plot. And if plotting, how to do it so that I don’t feel tied in. I have this weird horrid feeling when I’ve outlined that somehow I can’t change anything now. As if the inner critic comes in on the back of plotting to try to set it all in concrete so it’ll stuff up.

    It’s very annoying!! 🙂

  116. Theresa says:

    Maybe this book would help me to actually finish something I’ve started! LOL Thanks for the giveaway.


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