Writing in Reverse: 25,000 Words from The End

I started writing my new project at the beginning of October as planned, and I’m now 25,000 words in (or back?), so I figured it was time for an update on how this writing in reverse method is going. As I mentioned in my pre-drafting post, I prepared to write in reverse by creating a much more detailed outline than I’ve ever used in the past. I structured it using K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL. First I placed the three acts with the major plot points, then I layered in the scenes within those major plot points, working backward from the resolution and climax. Yes, that means I outlined in reverse as well. I found thinking backward very helpful from the standpoint of figuring out what needed to happen to get to the climax.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far and some predictions as well.

There’s less pressure writing those first sentences. Well, obviously the end of the novel is important, but it doesn’t have to grab the reader the way the opening lines do. By starting with the end, I didn’t have to worry about what backstory should be loaded into the first words I wrote, how soon certain characters should be introduced, etc. Instead, I got to wrap everything up (because you all know I don’t like sad stories, right?). It was a much easier place to start.

It takes time to get in a groove with your character’s voice whether you start at the beginning or the end. I fill out character worksheets before I start writing. I’ve been doing that for the past few manuscripts, so it’s not new to this one. But even with that prep, it still takes a while to get into a groove with the character’s voice. I was feeling her out in the closing few chapters, but writing her is familiar now. By the time I get to the beginning, I’ll have the main character’s voice down so well that those opening pages should really flow. And when it comes time to revise, it will be much easier to fix any inconsistencies at the end.

I’ve already figured out my character’s issues. This point sort of goes along with the one above, but when I outlined the story and filled out my character sketch, I had a particular character arc in mind for her. As I wrote the end and started working backward, I realized there was another issue she had to work through. If I’d started at the beginning, I wouldn’t have laid the foundations for that flaw, and it would have been something I had to solve in revision.

The first draft is going to be short. I always write sparsely in a first draft, but thanks to my detailed outline, I see that I’m not going to be anywhere near the word count goal I set. Which is fine. I’d rather know that everything I’m putting in this draft is essential to moving the story forward–which is what my outline tells me–than be trying to figure out what scenes have to be cut later. And that’s what I’ve had to do with every manuscript in the past, I think partially because I didn’t outline enough, but also because I was working toward a word count goal and thought I needed to fill the space. Looking at my outline as I draft, with the major plot points in front of me, I’m not tempted to try and fill the MS with unnecessary scenes that won’t add to the forward momentum of the story.

I’m adding as I go, but it’s ok. Usually when I draft I don’t allow myself to go back and revise any chapters I’ve already written, but I’ve been more flexible with this one, and it’s entirely due to the reverse nature of the drafting. I find that I’ll write a new scene, and because of something that happens in that scene, I now need to add to the later scene. But because I’m writing in reverse, it’s not really an edit. It’s more that I left something out of the later scene because I hadn’t written the earlier one yet and didn’t realize the character needed to reflect on a particular incident or hash something out with another character. Because even with my outline, there’s still flexibility for little incidents to be added. I’m sticking to my guns about not changing any text that’s already there, but adding more totally works. Plus it helps with my sparse draft🙂.

I’m less likely to give away information too soon. I noticed this benefit within the first few days of writing. When you’re writing forward, you’re planting seeds for a later reveal. Writing backward, you get to just put it all out there right away, and it’s a lot easier not to talk about it the further back you go because you know you’ve already written it and the characters either don’t know or can’t talk about it yet. I love this! I already feel like things are being revealed at the right times to produce the most conflict, so as I keep working toward the beginning, I’ll be creating more tension as I find ways for my characters to stay in the dark. Plus, I’ll know exactly where to plant those seeds.

I still look ahead (or behind) when I begin writing for the day. I worked with a much looser outline in the past, but I would glance ahead to see what I was working toward before I started writing each day. Since I’m writing backward, I look at what I’ve planned for the scenes leading up to the ones I’m writing each day. That way I have an idea what the characters were doing immediately before the scene began–what their emotions should be, where they physically are, what they’re working toward. I thought this might be trickier working backward, but with the outline, I’ve found it only takes me a few minutes to get in the right mindset for a new scene.

So, with the manuscript close to halfway drafted (at least according to my outline–I said it was going to be short!), I’m pretty sold on writing in reverse. Now, I’ll be completely honest. I still don’t love drafting. I have to make myself sit at my desk and do it every day, and I stop when I reach 2,000 words, even if I’m on a roll. I do that because if I’m in a great place, it will be easier for me to start again the next day. I don’t think I will ever be a writer who loves drafting, but at least this method is helping me feel good about where this draft is headed.

Have you ever tried drafting in reverse? If so, how did it work for you?

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YA Review: TWO SUMMERS by Aimee Friedman

I love books–and movies, for that matter–that play with time and space. When I came across the description for TWO SUMMERS by Aimee Friedman, I was intrigued by the premise. How much difference can one decision make? I really liked the way this story explored the question.

Two Summers by Aimee FriedmanONE SUMMER in the French countryside, among sun-kissed fields of lavender…

ANOTHER SUMMER in upstate New York, along familiar roads that lead to surprises… 

When Summer Everett makes a split-second decision, her summer divides into two parallel worlds. In one, she travels to France, where she’s dreamed of going: a land of chocolate croissants, handsome boys, and art museums. In the other, she remains home, in her ordinary suburb, where she expects her ordinary life to continue—but nothing is as it seems.

In both summers, she will fall in love and discover new sides of herself. What may break her, though, is a terrible family secret, one she can’t hide from anywhere. In the end, it might just be the truth she needs the most.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The title – I so love a clever title, and you can’t get much more perfect than this one. Because her name is Summer and it’s summertime, so she’s experiencing two summers and there are two Summers in the two realities. Anyway, I’m sure you got it before I explained it🙂.

2. The descriptions – I loved the descriptions, particularly of France (a country I’d love to visit again), but also of her home town, and the way Ms. Friedman would slip in the slightest hint each reality could be a dream.

The wind rustles the leaves on a lemon tree above us. I feel detached from the table, separate, watching myself having a conversation with this handsome French boy. That can’t be me, I think hazily. It’s another Summer. One who isn’t scared. Over Jacques’s shoulder, I notice a tableful of girls blatantly staring at us, their mouths half open. I totally understand their shock. I share it.

3. The friendship – In both realities, Summer experiences the uncertainty of a changing friendship. It’s much more confrontational in the Hudsonville storyline, but it’s still there in the Provence storyline. On the other hand, there’s another relationship that’s much more prominent in the Provence storyline, but explaining that would give away a major plot point.

4. The romance – There are two very different romances happening in the two storylines, and yet I found them both sweet in their own unique ways. As with the other point, I’m really holding back here so I won’t give anything away.

5. The ending – I loved the ending of this. The story is set up as: here’s what could happen if she goes to France or doesn’t go to France. Certain events happen on certain dates no matter what, and then you get to the end and … well, it’s just brilliantly done. Enough said.

Have you read TWO SUMMERS? What did you think?

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If you don’t know I participated in The Writer’s Voice contest in 2012, then you’re probably new around here🙂. But the reason I bring it up–again–is because one of the entries from that contest is now a real, live book! I had the privilege of reading Erin Petti’s THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE after the contest (although I think the title was slightly different then), and I’ve been so thrilled to watch Erin’s journey to publication. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky winner, but first, let me introduce you to Thelma Bee.

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma BeeEleven-year-old Thelma Bee is never bored. In fact, she has curiosity and adventure in her blood. She spends her time running science experiments, practicing Spanish, and daydreaming about exotic landscapes. But Thelma gets more than she bargained for when a strange woman sells a jewelry box at her father’s antique shop. That night, a ghost kidnaps her father, and the only clues are the jewelry box and a word the ghost whispered in her ear: “Return.” Now it’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be harder than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

I asked Erin to answer questions about my five favorite things–with a little help from my eight-year-old son, who actually snatched this book and read the finished copy before me🙂.

1. I love Thelma’s interest in science and the use of the scientific method throughout the book. What made you decide to make this a focus for her character?

It may sound silly, but I think that Thelma kind of told me about herself. Since beginning drafting (about a hundred years ago) her voice was always strong and I knew she wanted to investigate things – this led pretty naturally into a scientific disposition. Once that groundwork was laid, her notes became a really helpful tool in telling the story!

2. The illustrations are fantastic. How did you determine THELMA BEE would be an illustrated book?

I love the illustrations, too, thank you! I had no idea that the book would be illustrated. Even after I signed with Mighty Media and had conversations about the direction of the book – it was a real surprise to me when I saw the care that they took integrating all the internal drawings. Kris Aro McLeod is a gifted artist and I feel so lucky that we got to work on this together!

3. The supporting cast of characters—from Alexander to Izzy to Eugene—is so strong. Did you plan out each of these characters in advance, or did they come to you as you were writing?

In my outline, I planned most of the characters, but Menkin was a surprise to me. She just showed up in one scene as I was drafting and became an important part of the story.

4. I love the setting. It’s so spooky and well drawn! How did you research the area, and/or is it familiar to you?

Thank you! The town of Riverfish, MA, is based on the town of Maynard, MA, where I lived when I began drafting. Thelma’s house on the river was my house on the river! The area around Maynard, Lincoln, and Concord, MA, is rich in woodlands and history. It was a giant inspiration!

5. The ending is satisfying and yet leaves the story open for more. Do you have additional adventures in mind for Thelma? My eight-year-old particularly wants to know the answer to this question!

First, a big-huge thank you to your 8-year-old for reading! This is so new to me still and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to imagine a kid connecting with my characters. And yes! More Thelma on the way. A draft of book two is with the publisher right now, and we should be hearing more about Thelma’s adventures very soon! The problems get a little bigger, Thelma learns more about who she is, and RVPS might even get some new members!

That’s great news about additional Thelma Bee adventures!

Now on to the giveaway. I will send a copy of THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE to one lucky winner. North America only please. To enter, click on the link below or leave a comment. I’ll choose a winner next Monday, Oct. 17.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Whether you win or not, I hope you all check out THELMA BEE!


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Before the Draft: A New Approach to Outlining in Scrivener

It’s no secret that drafting is my least favorite part of the writing process. In the past, I’ve been what you’d probably call a plantser. I did a fair amount of planning in advance, but I left a number of details open during the drafting process. I had enough filled in that I’ve never felt like I had writer’s block, but I would still start most drafting days with a feeling of dread. As I began brainstorming this new project, I decided to explore a new process, and I drew inspiration from two sources.


I’ve been following Ms. Weiland’s blog for years, and she’s written several posts on using Scrivener to outline and edit your novel. One particular post on flagging the major plot points in your Scrivener file caught my attention, so I ordered her book to explore it more in-depth. As I read through STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL, I felt reassured that my previous novels hit these major plot points, BUT I’m positive they didn’t on my first draft. I had to go through several revisions before I was hitting the inciting incident, first plot point, second plot point, etc., at all the right areas of the manuscript.

So what am I doing different with this manuscript? I set it up in Scrivener the way Ms. Weiland suggested. I laid out my major plot points first, and now I’m filling in the necessary scenes to reach each point. I’m confident that my first draft is going to be so much more solid from an overall pacing and structural standpoint than it’s ever been before. Here’s a shot of how it looks, minus the specific scenes of course🙂.


2. Writing in Reverse seminar by K.R. Conway at NESCBWI

When I read the description for K.R. Conway’s seminar, I was intrigued. How do you write in reverse? The main idea is to plot in reverse–to figure out the climax of your story and work backwards. This concept made a lot of sense to me, so I’ve been using it to plot out this story, and I’ve found it quite beneficial to start with where the characters end up and work backwards to the beginning. It’s helped me figure out how they reached the tipping point at the end and actually who they are as characters. (The reason you only see generic scenes in the screenshot above is because I’ve plotted out everything after that already.)

I intend to take this one step further and attempt drafting most of this in reverse. Like many writers, I believe the beginning is the hardest thing to write. I think by starting at the end, I’ll know my characters so well by the time I get to the opening of the story, I’ll be less tempted to info-dump and have a better sense of how to introduce them to readers. We’ll see. I’m excited to find out!

Now there’s something–me excited to draft. I shall be starting next Monday … at THE END🙂.



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I’ve had THE SLEEPOVER since the NESCBWI Conference this spring, when I finally got to meet Jen Malone in person. I’ve reviewed several of her books and even interviewed Jen for her debut, AT YOUR SERVICE. (Also see my reviews for YOU’RE INVITED and WANDERLOST.) I planned to jump right into this book as well, but I took it along on our family lake vacation in June, and when my kids saw the cover, they demanded I read it aloud to them. As you can imagine, doing a book as a read-aloud doesn’t happen every day or even every week with everything else going on in life, so we just finished it last week. Anyway, here is the cover that so excited them. You can see why they had to know what it was about, right?

The Sleepover by Jen MaloneIn this tween version of the movie The Hangover, Meghan, Paige, and Anna Marie are super excited for the Best. Night. Ever. The sleepover they’re planning can be nothing short of EPIC. There will be junk food, there will be crazy-scary horror movies, and there will be karaoke smack-downs. Not even the last minute addition of Anna Marie’s socially awkward, soon-to-be-stepsister Veronica can dampen their spirits.

But nothing prepares them for the scene that greets them when they awaken the next morning: the basement is a mega disaster zone, Meghan’s left eyebrow has been shaved off, her “pillow” is the prized-possession hoodie of the class rebel who lives next door, and–heavenly heckweasels!–what is the deal with the slew of tiny ducklings in the bathtub!?

Worst of all, Anna Marie is missing. As in completely and totally gone-zo. Now the remaining girls have to piece together what exactly happened the night before, in the hopes it will lead them to their missing friend before the parents arrive for pick-ups. If she’s not waiting safe and sound when that doorbell rings, heads will roll and their social life as they know it will cease to exist. Trouble is, none of them can remember anything of the prior evening past that hypnotism trick performed by the two-bit magician Veronica arranged in an effort to impress the other girls.

The clock is ticking, the clues are weird and weirder, and one thing is certain: last night got a lot wilder than karaoke and make-your-own-sundae.

So, I tried to get my kids to help me write the review, but when I asked them what they loved best, they were basically giving away the whole story. My attempts to guide them back to more general points unfortunately annoyed my eight-year-old so much he refused to tell me his favorite things anymore, so I’ll just tell you the things I think we all loved best🙂.

1. The pranks – You can tell from what they found in the morning that the pranks they got up to overnight involved ducklings, shaving off Meghan’s eyebrow (yikes!!), and then there’s a whole thing with a hedgehog … Suffice it to say we couldn’t stop laughing.

2. The mission – Their efforts to figure out what happened the night before and why they can’t remember what happened the night before are as hilarious as the actual events. I love how this provides the forward momentum for the story.

3. The crush – Meghan’s crush on Jake is the most adorable thing ever. And I love how it’s just sweet and confusing and exactly right for her age. Oh, and there’s one scene that’s so excruciating my son was hiding his face on the couch and howling.

4. Veronica – I think Veronica might be one of my favorite characters ever. She completely owns her wackiness, and every time she spoke, I waited for something brilliant to come out. Like this:

Veronica blushes and sticks out her chest a little. “I completed the Junior Hardy Boys Detective Certification Course.”

Um, oooooookayyyyyyy.

“Well, since I don’t know how to respond to that, I’m just going to move on,” Paige says, gripping the banister. “Okay, so let’s be superquiet, girls. Stick together and do not make a noise.”

“I also take ninja lessons,” Veronica whispers when we reach the top stair.

And then there was the squirrel. Believe me, it’s hilarious!

5. The villain – Who caused all of this mayhem? Well, I’m not going to tell you, but I thought the resolution was brilliant. In fact, my son listed what happened in the last five pages as one of his favorite things about the book. Too bad it’s one of those spoilers🙂.

Go read this book! You will be laughing–and cringing–throughout. And as you should be able to tell from my review, my son found it just as entertaining as my daughter.

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YA Review: MY LADY JANE by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows


Me at the Tower of London in 2007. It’s a very dark place!

All you have to do is read the dedication to know this book is going to be awesome:

For everyone who knows there was enough room for Leonardo DiCaprio on that door.

And for England. We’re really sorry for what we’re about to do to your history.

Well, I’m not! Because then I wouldn’t have read this awesome revisionist history of Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen of England. Admittedly, before I read MY LADY JANE, I had only a passing memory that Lady Jane Grey existed (although I have been to the Tower of London, so I’d heard her story at some point). I’ve now thoroughly refreshed my memory after reading this delightful story. But I guess I should share the description for those of you who haven’t heard about it yet.

My Lady Jane by The Lady JaniesThe comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England.


Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The way the authors revised history – The actual story of Lady Jane Grey, queen for nine days, is quite tragic. She was a victim of a power struggle and really didn’t have a chance. What’s interesting to me is how the authors took the central historical issue –religion–and turned it into a magical conflict. Because why shouldn’t Catholics and Protestants become Verities and Edians (animal shape shifters)? Obviously it’s not such a straightforward swap, but essentially that’s how they revised the history, and it’s completely brilliant!

2. The prologue – Yes, I love the prologue! Because it sets the stage for the story so perfectly. You know how the description above compares this story to The Princess Bride? It’s such a great comparison because the authors speak to the reader. From the very beginning, the reader is encouraged not to take it too seriously, and yet, even though you expect things can’t end well for the characters based on the actual history, you’re hoping they’re going to fix it.

3. The dialogue – I particularly love the banter between Jane and Gifford, but the dialogue throughout the book is excellent. Here’s an example from shortly after Jane has discovered her new husband Gifford is an Edian who transforms into a horse every day.

“No horse jokes,” he said.

“My lord, I apologize for the horse joke. If you put down the book–unharmed!–I will give you a carrot.”

He brandished the book at her. “Was that a horse joke?”


“Was that a horse joke?”

I almost gave humor it’s own separate point, but since you can see it in this point about the dialogue …

4. Edward – In the history books Edward dies young, leaves his crown to Jane (who becomes the tragic heroine and now gets a book named after her), one sister (Bloody Mary) takes over, and then his other sister (Elizabeth) becomes one of the best-known monarchs in British history. I like this version of Edward, a dying teenager who cares about his best friend, Jane, and has never known anything other than being a coddled king but would like to experience life if he could only get around his death sentence. I was rooting for him to escape the machinations of the court, but I wouldn’t dream of telling you whether he does🙂.

5. The romance – I was cautious about the romance considering the setup. Things did not look promising for our characters, but in the end I was very pleased with how the romance played out in this book. And that’s all I’ll say so as to avoid spoiling it.

Definitely pick up MY LADY JANE. And since I loved this book so much, I obviously need to read the other books these authors have written. Any recommendations on where to start?

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YA Review: P.S. I LIKE YOU by Kasie West

I don’t know where the month of August went reading-wise. I guess I spent it reading that romance novel series I mentioned in my post about reading just for fun🙂. I have to admit that as much as I was enjoying my romance novels, it’s quite a long series and I started longing for YA again, so I took a break in the middle to binge-read a YA series I’d never read before–the Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart. I’m not going to review it because Ruby’s boy-crazy antics sort of drove me crazy, even though I couldn’t stop reading for four books, so … I have to admire Ms. Lockhart for keeping me engaged despite my frustrations with the character. There’s a lesson there, I’m sure. But the purpose of this post is to rave about a book I absolutely adored. I expected to because I’ve loved every other book of Kasie West’s. I’m so glad P.S. I LIKE YOU lived up to the long wait for a new Kasie West book!

P.S. I Like You by Kasie WestSigned, sealed, delivered…

While spacing out in Chemistry class, Lily scribbles some of her favorite song lyrics onto her desk. The next day, she finds that someone has continued the lyrics on the desk, and added a message to her. Intrigue!

Soon, Lily and her anonymous pen pal are exchanging full-on letters — sharing secrets, recommending bands, and opening up to each other. Lily realizes she’s kind of falling for this letter writer. Only who is he? As Lily attempts to unravel the mystery, and juggle school, friends, crushes, and her crazy family, she discovers that matters of the heart can’t always be spelled out…

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I mean, Kasie West basically found a way to turn You’ve Got Mail into a YA novel, without going the obvious route of texting. I’m sure there’s a way that could have worked, too, but I really liked the letters. Actually, they could be a whole point themselves, but I’ll let them tag along with this one. I loved how the anonymity of the letters allowed Lily and her pen pal to know each other on a deeper level without the usual insecurities you have face to face.

2. The backstory – Wait, what, you’re saying? I’m not sure I’ve ever listed backstory as something I love in a book before, but it’s so relevant in this one. These characters have some major hangups that prevent them from moving forward. Without that backstory, this would be a short story instead of a novel. It’s very well done. *slow clap*

3. The friendship – I love Lily and Isabel’s friendship throughout the book. It’s solid at the beginning, and yet there are still some obstacles they have to figure out how to deal with to make sure they stay solid.

4. Lily’s family – They’re big and crazy, but they also love each other. I especially enjoyed Lily’s parents, who ask their kids to vote on who makes a better necklace or pie. And all of the sibling dynamics rang true, with both the love and frustrations of being one of four kids.

5. The romance – I already mentioned the letters, but obviously that’s not all there is to the romance. I don’t want to risk giving anything away, so I can’t gush too much. Suffice it to say the romantic tension is off the charts.

I really loved this book, maybe even more than THE FILL-IN BOYFRIEND. Or not–it’s so hard to choose. Fortunately Kasie West’s next book is coming in February, so it’s not that long of a wait. If you’ve read P.S. I LIKE YOU, what did you think?

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