Weaving a powerful tale is not easy. Whether you pants or plot, ending up with a cohesive tale means understanding the key moments in a story. Today’s post by Angelica Hartgers offers up a great technique to use if plotting is something you struggle with, so read on!
“Begin with the end in mind.” -Stephen Covey
Whether it’s planning a goal, an entire curriculum unit, or a book, backward design is an effective concept that can be applied to any strategic planning process – storytelling included.
Think about it: As writers, we often start mapping out our stories by focusing on the beginning, then working our way through the murky middle, until we reach, with relief, the inevitable end.
But, what if you were to plan your story backward, and reverse engineer your entire plot?
If you’re struggling with writer’s block or discovering that your story’s events don’t seamlessly lead your reader to a resolution, try reverse engineering your story with backward design.
What is Backward Design?
Backward design, also known as backward planning or mapping, is a popular strategy used by educators to design learning experiences that lead students to end-of-year success. Teachers use this strategy to plan their curriculum unit or lesson plan with the end-goal in mind, rather than construct it around the everyday classroom process.
How Can You Apply Backward Design to Storytelling?
By starting with your story’s end in mind, you can navigate your way through the major plot points that led up to that end. You can take your reader through a well-constructed, thoroughly mapped out experience.
You can apply the backward design strategy on a macro and micro level. On a macro level, you can use it to plan the main events in your plot. On a micro level, you can apply it to strengthen your characters’ development, so that they achieve the desired persona.
Let’s take a look at how we can apply this strategy to our storytelling!
Step 1: Establish the End-Goal
Just as a teacher might begin with laying the foundation, you must begin with a setting and some basic characters for your piece.
Once this is established, you can dive into the big question: How do you want your story to end?
The answer to this question can vary depending on your writing goals. Do you intend to write a series of books, a single novel, or a short story? Either way, thinking about how your story will end is the foundational question you must answer.
Identifying your end-goal first is a beautifully simplistic thing that opens up a plethora of opportunity for your characters and plot.
As an example, let’s examine J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The end goal of Tolkien’s series is that Frodo destroys the one ring, crumbling the dark forces of Sauron. Due to the establishment of this ending, Tolkien’s characters’ actions, and the course of his plot is dedicated to attaining this resolution. Without the inception of this ending, the beloved characters of The Lord of the Rings would find themselves wandering Middle Earth for three novels until their author deemed it a good time for the story to end.
To avoid disappointing your reader with plot holes, start by establishing your story’s end goal and guiding your entire plot and characters towards it.
Step 2: Determine Your Principle Plot Points & Create an Index
Once you’ve established your end-goal, you get to delve into the meat of your story, constructing the path your plot must take in order to reach the desired resolution.
With your ending scrawled out before you, you can now create an index of what titular events must take place in order for your ending to be achieved.
Using The Lord of the Rings as an example again, Frodo must have the ring in order to destroy it, he must find a way to get to the only place where the ring can be destroyed, his enemy must be distracted upon his final approach, etc.
Creating an index of these important events allows you to space out your story, and precisely build an outline for your plot to follow.
Step 3: Construct the Filler
Your story now has a roadmap. You know where you are, where you’re going, and what your primary stops are along the way. All that’s left is to make the journey.
From this point you get to connect all of your principal events in whatever way best suits your characters. It is within this step that you can use backward design on the micro level to plan your characters.
Using Backward Design to Plan Character Dynamics
A complex character development is just as beneficial as a good plot, and backward design provides an effective strategy to constructing this development throughout your piece.
To formulate your characters using backward design, simply follow the same format we used for mapping out the plot.
Establish where you want your character’s development to end, then plan out the events that will shape their personality to get them there.
Step 4: Tie in Character Construction
At this point, you have planned out the arc of your plot, starting with its end, and have discovered who your characters will be upon reaching your tale’s resolution.
Now, you can simply tie the two together, recognizing what events in your plot line will cause for the necessary changes in character. By the time you are finished, you have a beginning-to-end story with no loose ends, formulated so that every event that unfolds supports the conclusion.
Try Using Backward Design to Plan Your Story!
While this strategy of plot-planning may not be for everyone, it is a surefire way to turn an idea into a viable story, and to avoid writing a plot that doesn’t support your ending.
While this article focuses on applying backward design to fiction writing, you can even apply this strategy if you’re writing a nonfiction book. Instead of outlining a plot, you’ll outline each topic that will guide your book’s main point.
What do you have to lose? Try it – it just might be the strategy you’ve been looking for.
Angelica Hartgers is the Content Creation Specialist at SelfPublishing.com. With a background in writing and education, she is passionate about empowering other writers to improve their craft and promoting the power of the written word. When she’s not creating content that helps writers tell better stories and publish their books, she’s reading, writing, and traveling the world. Read more on our blog.
Have you ever written a novel by starting at the end? Let us know in the comments how it worked out for you and if you’d try it again!
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.