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The Reverse Outline

December 1, 2014
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A few months back I touched on something called the reverse outline. What the hell is a reverse outline? A reverse outline is when you go back through your completed story, after you’ve finished your rewrites, scene by scene to make sure that you have all the elements needed. What are the elements needed? You’ll need a Protagonist, Antagonist, Conflict, Turning Point, and a Setting: PACTS. You might not need all of them for every scene, but you must have a Protagonist (the main character of your story), Conflict (obstacles or opposition, something to stand in the way of your protagonist’s goals), a Turning Point (something to move the story to the next scene), and a Setting (where’s it happening).

So some of you may be asking, “Well, what’s a scene?” A scene is a unit of action that takes place in a specific time and location that moves the story forward. Now that we have that established, go through each scene using this sentence to help you label each element: A protagonist [P] with a distinct desire against [C] a powerful antagonist [A] in a significant setting [S] with a turning point [T]. Be honest with yourself, if something is missing, don’t fudge it. Highlight it and fix it.

Make each scene a bullet point. Try to keep each scene to one sentence, no more than two if absolutely necessary. Once you have every scene listed, use the sentence above to make sure you have a scene. Does it have a turning point? What happens in the scene? Does it matter? Does it move the story forward? When you find each element, mark it like I did above. If you are missing any of the key elements, then you need to reconstruct that scene to fix it, or, if it isn’t significant to the story, eliminate the scene all together.

This process will help you find the faults in your scenes, but deciding if it needs reconstructing or eliminated is the hard part. Sometimes you just have to take a step back, let it rest for a few days, and look at it again later with fresh eyes. Afterwards comes more rewrites, but this technique will help you create a better flowing story. One that will keep your audience reading/watching to find out what happens next. As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have questions. Happy writing!

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