Second Verse in Reverse: Managing Revisions through “Reverse Outlines”

One thing that I don’t like to do, almost as much as I don’t like writing a synopsis, is doing revisions on a large tome.

1358279498hxu51I love the art of creating the manuscript, letting my fingers make that beautiful music as they press against key after keyboard key. I love character invention! If you are anything like me you will be able to see little pieces of yourself in each character that you give birth to through your imagination.  Doesn’t matter how crazy the person may turn out to be, you still may find yourself thinking, “Oh look at him, he has my eyes.”

But revisions…revisions make me massage that space in between my eyes. Revisions make me turn to actually doing my household chores. Revisions make me want to weep like a child. Lets face it, revisions can be the pits. 13527586582mo5k

But they don’t have to be. (Yep, there is a silver lining.)

So I am not even finished writing Ascension Graveyard, not hardly, and I have already been breaking a sweat and having to take deep breaths to keep myself from wigging out over all the pages I will have to mull through.

Which things do I keep? Which things do I discard? Which “darlings” will be getting the axe, and what do I need to add to make this thing flow with greater ease?

These are all the questions that roll through my head, and I am sure you have had the same thoughts at one point or another. Ascension Graveyard is 29 chapters in (not including the prologue,) 95,000+ words, and although I see the end somewhere near the horizon, suffice it to say there will probably be another 30k words or so before the end ACTUALLY comes, and I am being very conservative with that number.

Truth is, I am a writer who generally writes without an outline. Yes, I said it and I am not ashamed. I find that outlines, though useful in some types of writing, generally act as creative roadblocks for fiction.

Sure I jot down all of my ideas as they come (my “Spice Rack” blog post explains this) and add them to the story if and when a place becomes available. But for the most part I just let the story tell me what it is and I follow its lead.

SO WHY MENTION AN OUTLINE?

I have never done this before, but have you ever considered writing an outline AFTER you have finished your first draft? Sounds silly but hear me out. After you have finished your first draft, you already know who the characters are, you know the major plot points and conflicts, you know how the story ends and begins, and how you could possibly tweak all of these things to make them better.

You are ahead of the learning curve.

Writing an outline after you have finished your first draft allows you the grace to have said everything you could have possibly wanted to say during your first run, but now with a reverse outline (lets call it that; reverse outline) you can use that as you revise, use it as a guide to help you know where and how to “trim the fat.”

I intend to use this method when it comes time to revise Ascension Graveyard. But since I have yet to do it, this is what I would suggest for those of you who may have participated in NaNoWriMo or have written a novel recently.

KEEPING IT SIMPLE: HOW TO BUILD & USE A REVERSE OUTLINE

  1. Build the Reverse Outline the same way you would any other outline.
  2. If you can’t remember ALL of the major points of the story, leave space to fill them into your RO as you go through the first read of your first draft. (Yes, read through your manuscript FIRST before you actually start REVISIONS. Highlight potential places to build upon or pull out. You know the drill.)
  3. Be unbiased. Using your RO, go at your manuscript as if you were both reading for entertainment, and editing for future marketing. Ask yourself which things build upon your RO or derail it.
  4. If you find your points of derailing make for a stronger story, you might want to consider writing a second RO following those derailing points. Once you have done that, consider doing a second read through using the second RO and determine which outline makes for the strongest story.
  5. Finally, with your RO in hand start doing your revisions!

Sounds simple enough, right? I will let you all know how it turns out for me once I have done this. What is the saying, “Adversity is the mother of invention.” Well, my struggle with AG has birthed this idea, and that is a good thing.

If you introduce Reverse Outlining to your revision reunite, please let me know how it works out for you. And if you haven’t read Ascension Graveyard, you will find the posted chapters in the main menu. Please leave me feedback as well.

Cheers and happy writing!

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12 thoughts on “Second Verse in Reverse: Managing Revisions through “Reverse Outlines”

  1. Reblogged this on I came for the soup… and commented:

    Since I have decided to “listen” and follow the creative direction of my blog novel, Ascension Graveyard, I thought it necessary to republish this post from a few months back, introducing “Reverse Outlining.” As I stated in the original, I am going to use this method with Ascension Graveyard and see what my results are. Since I am “revising” this week, and probably into next week, I wanted to give you all the heads up so that you will be ready to read about my results and experience with RO. Cheers!

  2. What I came across somewhere worked for me. Take an Excel Spreadsheet with headings: Chapter # / Chapter Title / 2-sentence chapter summary / # words.
    Once filled in, you’ll see the holes immediately as you run you fingers down the page. As well, this is a great place to move your chapters around easily and then go back to your manuscript and do so if you must. 😀 😀

    1. Excel, hmmm. I never really learned how to work with Excel. No real reason, just never did. For me though, being that I write as things come without knowing what is about to happen, I would struggle greatly figuring out what is in each chapter. lol. But as you have already tried the method it obviously works very well. Thanks for sharing another method.

      1. This method works both ways. If you want to outline (I never have) supposed to work great too. I have done this AFTER the thing was written. It works like a map. Amazing how you can spot something’s that doesn’t fit when you line up all the printed pages and lay them out one below the other. You can use Word tables if you like, but I like Excel. Easy to move chapters as well. You can add another column, split the story into beginning, middle and end. So much easier to run you finger down the pages than read through actual chapters. Anyway, just sharing. ❤ ❤ ❤

      2. No I totally appreciate at it! And as I am not married to one way of doing things I am open to other ideas. Revisions are one of my least favorite parts of writing, so anything to make it more palatable I am willing to try. 🙂

      3. I think, as I read your comments and chew on them a bit, and read the comments of others, that I am now able to see what the root of my struggle is with revisions…the lack of instant gratification. If only the first draft were perfect. But since that is like NEVER going to happen, I need to acquire a taste for them. 🙂

      4. Lol! Thank you for the encouragement. I think once I gain a new attitude I will get a LOT more work done and actually get my stories polished enough for future publication…which is the goal.

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