Karen Wolfe

Writing in reverse

You know that feeling...literary euphoria, imaginative overdrive, the creative high? The novel’s going well. You’ve nailed the attention-grabbing beginning, the hilarious/haunting/happy ending, and you know exactly where the story’s going.
Your characters are, ahem, staying in character, stepping into the limelight at the right moments, talking amongst themselves off-page when not required. There have been no outlandish departures or ludicrous story-lines.  
 You’ve done the research, the foot-slogging, the fieldwork, printed out photos of celebs,  lookalikes or random stock-image models (your characters made flesh) created elaborate plot-plans, written character back-stories, drawn maps of imaginary locations. The plotlines are flowing like bourbon over ice. Your carefully-seeded devices are germinating, buried deep in the rich mulch of your (yeah, right) best-selling prose. You, the writer, are in complete control.
Until.... hang on! What just happened? Where did it all go wrong? When, and why, did I insert that passage/introduce the random character/meander off down that track/completely lose the plot? HELP! I’ve ascended my soapbox/ moved into lecturing-bore mode  and, worst of all, turned into author intruding!
The whole thing now reads badly, it’s lost focus and cohesion, the characters are in rebellion and the wheels have dropped off. Does this situation call for (gasp) the dreaded re-write? Yet what else is there?
Okay, there is one other option: my version of have-you-tried-switching-it-off-and-on again?
So here goes. Start with that great ending, and go backwards. Re-trace your steps, or rather, words. That last line, paragraph. epilogue even, ties it all together, sums up what you’ve tried to convey, and,  if you’ve got  that right, what went before should read well. Have you captured that lingering sense of...whatever? The feeling, the after-taste?  The leaving your readers wanting more?
If (a) then yes, great. But if (b) then try reading and then writing, in reverse. Chapter by chapter. Until somewhere, you will come upon the weakest link, the blind spot. The bits in the middle that moved sideways, diminished your central plot, derailed the narrative. And trust me, once you’ve put on your backwards-goggles, the holes will be blindingly obvious. Try it and see. Sometimes, backwards means forwards.

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