Friday, September 12, 2014

writing tools #9

Today, I want to talk about the reverse event outline.

To put it simply, a reverse event outline is a series of paragraphs going from the end back to the beginning.

This means you have to have a Skeleton of world building, characters — at least a base cast — a conflict and a starting point.

 For world building, I start with the magic system. It's what I love the most about fantasy worlds, so it's always what draws me to a story. I try to see how the magic system interacts and effects the world around it. I look into how politics and regular people would act towards those in the system as well as some small events in history to give a bit of a social conflict. Since I'm not an Iceberg writer, this is about as far as I go in my first round of world building.

-(Let's use the Avengers as a sample movie here since everyone seems to be using Star Wars) Superheroes, advanced technology, alien power, items of power and genetic engineering. Society kept in the dark while the government tries to keep it under control. Modern weapons seem meaningless against them. Thus, this brings a bit of tension between the governments and superheroes, pushing the government to try and become self-sufficient.

Next, I look at society and the area the story will probably take place in and start to come up with characters. After I get an idea in my head, I fill out these character sheets then interview my characters. Afterwards, I create a generic situation and write a sample scene for each character as they go through that generic situation. This gives me an idea of who my characters are before they come into the story.

-Ironman had two movies giving him the character introduction. The others each had at least one before the start of the Avengers, so the characters had well-established voices before they were brought together in the movies. (I realize they have decades of history and distinct voices from the comics, but let's assume that they are different cannon in the cinematic universe)

Then, we need a conflict that drive the story forward. What can draw the characters into a situation where they have to fight (Not always literally) in order to achieve their goal? This sometimes takes a lot of get idea. Scrap idea. Get idea. Revise idea. Scrap idea. Rework first idea. Combine ideas. Just mulling through it, and it changes by the end of the reverse outline.

-Super powered items left on Earth that aliens would want.

With the starting point, it gives you the base emotion of the characters, where they're at and what they're doing before everything hits the fan. Sometimes a starting point is just three lines explaining that and sometimes it's a sample scene. I find it works better with a sample scene, but each person has their own preferences. Even still, try to think of as much info for this part as you can as it will give you a good leap towards the end.

-Each of the Avengers working separately, carrying on with their own lives and doing what they think is best. Most are content to continue living as they are.

Now that we have these four starting pieces to the puzzle, we can begin the reverse event outline.

Where to start?

First, think of the greatest conflict/climax that these four pieces can come together in. What do you want your readers to see at the end of the novel? The heroes succeeding? The heroes failing? The protagonist and antagonist falling in love? Everyone dying? This is your big push, but this is not the first part of the reverse outline. You think of this because it will help you lead into how it all ends. Happy ending? Sad ending? WTF just happened ending? Once you have the ending, you write a paragraph or so describing it.

-Ironman hits the alien force with the nuke, everyone learns that superheroes are real and a happy 'we won' moment, showing the characters going their separate ways off into the sunset. Possible Xanatos-gambit by Loki.

Take the major conflict/climax and expand upon it. What had to happen before that final scene?

-Huge battle in New York where millions are hurt, killed or left to bear witness. Half the city is destroyed as Loki leads his alien army on a rampage out of the portal.

From here, just ask yourself, what had to happen before that? What event would lead to that great conflict/climax? Continue to ask yourself this same question after each paragraph until you make it all the way back to the start.

-As the four superheroes argue amongst themselves, Loki escapes from imprisonment, using the distraction to steal the items he needs to open the portal. He destroys the place he was imprisoned within and forces the characters to work together. This creates a team structure that allows the characters to overcome the final battle.

-Loki is captured after he attacks a big gathering. The four characters come together for the first time and fight with each other. Lots of character tension that Loki tries to exploit.

-Heroes are being gathered together from a database to deal with Loki and try to figure out what to do, how to find him and how to get the stolen magic item back.

-After making his way to Earth, Loki infiltrates a government facility, mind controls the workers and steals a magic item, sending the government into panic mode.

-The heroes are going about their business as if nothing is wrong and enjoying their lives (Back to the start)

(Note this is just a rough outline of the Avengers for time's sake)

From the end, just work your way back and back and back. This will give you an idea of your main conflicts and big events your characters need to go through to reach that awesome end you've envisioned. Depending on your writing style (Architect or Gardner), you can go further with this, possibly doing a one-paragraph chapter outline or you can just begin your story with these events in mind.

Either way, nothing gets done if you don't write, so put your hands on your keyboard/pen on that paper and get to work!

Thanks for reading.

Next: Conflict strings

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