It worked for me! Plotting backwards...


I was stuck right in the middle of my two-year novatical. (A sabbatical for writing my novel.) I had developed strong characters and written hearty scenes. The prose was sometimes perfect. My dialogue was true. I had a strong sense of where I wanted to go. But no structure. None at all.

At best frustrated, at worst scared that all this work would end in nothing, I decided to take the afternoon off writing scene after scene after scene and look at structure.

A week later, I had it! The answer. No kidding. 

How did I do it? I plotted backwards from the climax. This is how it went.

Step 1: Checked that the climax (an attempted suicide) was the right one according to the themes of the story. I did this by brainstorming all of the different reactions my protagonist (Bill) could have to the events I’d already written.

Step 2: Brainstormed any and all other actions, events or shifts that could lead Bill to attempt suicide, according to the world I had built so far.

Step 3: Mapped a logical course between the events in brainstorms 1 and 2. This was the funnest part. (How long will it take for funnest to make it into the dictionary?)

I sorted all of the ideas into plot types, printed each on coloured paper then cut them up into snippets. It was a humungous mess. 

Step 4: While staring at that mess for ages, I decided I needed to pin the snippets to a board. A physical sheet of plywood, not a computerised board. If I’d had a spare wall, that would’ve been nice. I divided the board into three acts and started pinning like crazy.

Step 5: I stared at that board for ages, shifted events around, made notes on the snippets, pondered ‘if this, then …’ over and over. By the end of the week, I had the structure of my first novel.

Years later, this structure has stood the test of time. So I wanted to check if it would work on other people’s ideas and stories. It does!

This is what plotting backwards is all about. If you know the climax of your fiction or creative non-fiction work, plotting backwards works a treat.

May your words pour onto the page, 



If you like the sound of the technique, but don’t think you can get your head around it on your own, come to one of our workshops