Friday, May 19, 2017

Writing Exercise #12: Working Backward

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Since finishing my latest manuscript, I've had trouble settling into reading again. I blame it on Newton. His first law of motion says that "an object in motion stays in motion" and that has absolutely been the case for me.

After several weeks of pushing to the end of my manuscript, I've been unable to stop my brain from whirring and spinning. I try to sit still, try to rest--something I thought I had mastered--but my hands want to be busy, my legs twitch, and I find myself simply skimming the words of books instead of actually reading them.

There's not much to do but wait it out, I think. I'll get reading back. It'll happen. I just have to wait. There's a lot of waiting in writing. Did you know that?

Anyway, as I've been unable to sit still, I've been doing a fair amount of walking. And listening. To podcasts. To lectures about writing. To instructional videos. And one thing that's been surfacing again and again is this idea that you can (should?) start drafting your novel by writing the ending first.

I've touched on this idea before. There's conflicting advice out there--and that's totally normal--but it's never been easy for me to start my stories by writing the ending first. If I know how it ends, I get bored with the writing. I feel the ending should be earned by all the work that comes before it--both by the story's protagonist, and by me, the author. I fight my way there and it's a struggle I enjoy.

That said, the more I write, the more I choose my habits with self-preservation in mind.

"What do you mean?" you ask.

Well.

The truth is that the more you write, the better you get at it. And, in my case, the more I write, the more I realize I don't like rewriting scenes any more than necessary. Oh, I love editing. But editing my seventh or eight edit? That's a bit painful. And writing chapters and chapters that I'm going to end up cutting? It's almost like hacking off an arm.

It's not even about the words that I love. It's about the time that I lose. I hate losing time.

And so, from a self-preservation standpoint, the idea of starting at the end is an interesting one. Because when you start at the end, you know exactly where you're going. And you write to that moment. And, ideally, you don't waste too many words getting there.

Author Victoria Schwab--read her stuff, seriously--picked up video blogging again and in one of her recent videos she talks about how she writes the ending first. She does this for several reasons--go watch to find out--but one of her reasons beckoned to the self-preservationist in me.

She writes the ending first so that she can reverse engineer her characters.

Now, I do this too. Only, I do my reverse engineering after I've written an entire first draft. The idea of tackling it from the outset is compelling and I just may have to try.

Reverse engineering is practiced in all sorts of different fields. It's the process of taking apart a completed product to understand how it's put together. By doing this you can explain, and possibly replicate, what's been done.

When we talk about reverse engineering a character, we're talking about looking at that character at the end of the story and working backward to develop a story arc. I've done this, to some extent, for most of my books. And it does take a little practice.

So that's what we're going to do today.

Your task

 

1. Pick up a favorite book and flip to the last chapter--this is so you don't spoil a new book for yourself. Read that final chapter through.

2. After you've read it, create a list of questions that can be asked based on the information in this chapter alone. Do not attempt to answer these questions. Simply let yourself ask them. 

3. Leave your list of questions in the comments section below--PLEASE DO NOT GIVE US THE TITLE OF THE BOOK (and, if the characters have unique names like Katniss or Peeta, please replace the names with pronouns like he or she). We're not in the business of spoiling books here.

What we're looking for is proof that endings, inevitably, give us story fodder simply by existing. I think they just might.

Remember!!! If you participate in the writing exercise, you can use the Rafflecopter to enter our drawing. A winner will be selected next week and will have the opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for an upcoming episode of Go Teen Writers LIVE.

48 comments:

  1. 1. Where did the dagger come from?
    2. What does it mean?
    3. Has the future been too altered to foresee?

    This was honestly hard for me since I read books and reread books and I know what's going on in the book. But it would be terrible to read the last chapter of an unknown book. It would spoil everything and that's awful. So I picked up one of my favorite books (because there are many) and did the best I could.

    Also, just a quick note, I'm not entering the contest yet. Maybe one day. I just enjoy participating in the exercises and seeing what other people answer. Thanks for the wonderful exercise. I think I might do another book I haven't read in a long time to see if I have more questions on it. Thanks again! :)
    ~PT

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    1. Know what you mean. I found myself automatically answering the questions as I wrote them.

      Someone I know used to read the last page of a book when she was only halfway done with it. She couldn't take the suspense. That is all kinds of wrong. :(

      -Ann

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    2. Sometimes I look ahead in the book a little before I'm done with it. *Hangs head in shame* But I don't look at the end. That's awful. I like to be surprised at the ending.

      Yeah, I already knew how the story goes. It was hard to do.
      God Bless
      ~PT

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    3. You're forgiven, since I do that myself. :p

      -Ann

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    4. Oh good, I was feeling a little sorry for myself. Lol, jk. I get mad at myself for doing that, but sometimes I just want to see what happens a little further ahead. XD
      God Bless
      ~PT

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  2. -Why do people deliver that one life is more or less qualified than the other?
    -Why don't the gawkers treat others what they want how they want to be treated?
    -he cared so much about him that even on the death bed he told him to go and have fun
    -he didn't have the best parents, but they understood near the end.
    -if protecting someone who can't protect themselves is so powerful, then why don't people do it? Why are they so careless and vain?

    *Knowing me, I'll have LOTS more questions later, but as of now, that's all I can think of*
    This was a fun exercise. You made me almost cry, but I loved it. Thanks for the exercise! :)

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    1. Woah, that was deep. Waaaayyy better than mine. I'm going to do another one with a different book later (probably in a few minutes).

      This was awesome. Great job.
      1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 NLT
      God Bless
      ~PT

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    2. I just read over it and am so confused by my wording. Sorry!!!
      I meant to say:
      -why do people believe that one life is more or less qualified than the other
      -Why don't the gawkers treat others how they want to be treated, rather than treating them like a pice of trash (some I just added)
      *those are the ones that were worded weird. Sorry! Lol*
      Thanks. :) No, the ones we do are the questions we are really wondering. Yours is great too!
      I actually think deep a lot (not always a good thing when cops come busting into an Urgent Care place. That is another story for another time. Lol), but it isn't always the best way to think. You know, seeing cops with guns and think there's a murderer who's gonna kill you....yeah. lol

      I looked up that verse, and it's so powerful!!! Wow, I needed that so much, PT! Thank you for listening to God. You're so sweet. <3


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    3. Sounds like it had a sad ending. :( Great questions for characterization here. I got a good sense of the story world too.

      -Ann

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    4. Uh, maybe don't be in deep thought when police are raiding a place. Can I ask what happened? If you don't want to tell me, that's okay. Just curious. :)
      God Bless
      ~PT

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    5. Ann: No, the ending was so powerful. It changed me, but sometimes it take sad things to get us to change our ways. Thanks!

      PT: Yeah...that's be the best idea. Lol Sure, I don't mind telling. Okay, so we were all just sitting there, being sick people in need when these two cops came busting in with their guns out and ready to use if necessary. So, me and my little mind came up with the worst scenario (that's me for ya), and thought it would end in a blood bath. It turned out that one of the employees accidentally tripped the alarm, and that everything was fine. The cops gave a long speech about being more careful around the alarm and that someone could have seriously been in trouble. That employee must have been embarrassed. So...yeah. That's basically what happened. Everyone was bewildered when they saw the cop car pull up.
      God bless you all! ;)

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    6. Lol, that sounds scary and then kind of funny after knowing what happened. I'm sure the last thing you wanted to hear while sick was a speech about being careful.
      ~PT

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    7. You know, I had trouble not busting out laughing while it was happening. I coughed to cover it up. I don't know why, but once i knew everything was fine, I almost lost it. xD
      I know right, I'm trying to recover. I mean, I wasn't the most careful about my health in the first place, but.....yeah. I already knew that.

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    8. What did you have, if you don't mind me asking?

      After being scared with armed police jumping in the place, I'm sure it was a relief that it was all a false alarm. I'm just not sure the police should have made a lecture about safety with the alarm. I think that should be something the business has with the employees when there aren't sick customers waiting.
      God Bless
      ~PT

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    9. Severe cold. Or the flu. It was rally bad.
      All I wanted to do was sleep, so I was totally relieved. Well, we were just sitting in the waiting room. I mean, they were dealing with other sick peoples, but we were just waiting. I think it was a silent alarm, so no one was kinda freaked out until we saw the cop car slowly pull up in front of the entrance. So, we were just sitting there anyway, but it made things a little more stressful.
      :)

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    10. Oh, that sounds terrible. Hopefully you're feeling better. The police thing was probably pretty stressful. Especially when feeling awful. It probably was a silent alarm.
      Blessings
      ~PT

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    11. I felt horrid. Well, it was like...last year, but I still remember it (my brain hasn't failed me).
      It was stressful at first, but I was too sick to really care. If you know what I mean. Lol
      Colossians 3:13-NIV

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    12. Lol, my brain likes to fail me sometimes. Yes, I know what you mean. When you feel terrible, nothing really matters except sleep. And medicine. Sometimes medicine helps.
      God Bless
      ~PT

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  3. 1.Did Tom get to safety? Where is he hiding?
    2.Is Tim going to be caught?
    3.Is Melanie helping the guild? Is she recording Tim?
    4.How will the kids get out if Tim was caught helping his family?

    Okay, this probably isn't any better. Still not entering. Just participating in the fun. :)
    God Bless
    ~PT

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    1. What is the guild? Sounds ominous. Is that what the kids are trying to get out of?

      -Ann

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    2. The guild is the government of a land in a certain book that's pretty cool. It actually is ominous. The children are trying to get out of the land they're in. The main characters are trying to get the children out to safety and away from the government.

      God Bless
      ~PT

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    3. I want to read it so bad!! Darn, I wish we could know what it is. Lol
      Good job, PT. ;)I'm guessing Melanie isn't the nicest person.

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    4. It's a trilogy. This was one of the books in the trilogy. I will tell you what it is.

      ANYONE WHO DOES NOT WANT A SPOILER, DO NOT MOVE FORWARD ON THIS COMMENT. DO NOT LOOK. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
      .
      .
      .
      .
      It's the safe lands trilogy by Jill Williamson. It's pretty good. I don't think my questions gave much away, plus, I changed the names of characters.
      ~PT

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    5. Wow, it sounds interesting! I should check it out! Thanks! ;)

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    6. Nifty.

      -Ann

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  4. 1.Why did he run away from home, only to be running back?
    2.Why did he have to jump from a roof, injuring his foot?
    3.What note did his mother send that makes him feel sorry for her?
    4.Why’d a captain ask him to write if he changes his mind about England?
    5.What does he have in his wallet that makes his brother act embarrassed?
    6.Why did he hate his brother before, and now feel very loyal?
    7.How did he run away ten times?
    8.If he knew he was English why did he insist he was German-born?
    9.Why did he have to talk to the police about a man called Uncle Frank?
    10.What significance does the sword Chrysaor play?
    11.How was he kidnapped as a child then restored back to his family years later?
    12.Was there a German spy involved in the story?

    -Ann

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    1. Wow. That was a lot of questions. You did better than me. I feel intrigued. Sounds like an adventure packed book.
      God Bless
      ~PT

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    2. Thanks! The protag gets himself in a lot of trouble. Poor kid.

      -Ann

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    3. That sounds like a really cool book! Your questions really make me want to find it and read it to find out what happens in it!

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  5. 1. What happened to the captain?
    2. Why does the main character like the crew members?
    3. Whe is she so uncomfortable with her family?
    4. Why does she love the ship the best?
    -Emily D.

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    1. Ooh, family issues of some sort--past hurts. And makes me think the crew has stuck with her more than the family.

      -Ann

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  6. I've actually had my endings all planned out before anything else. Going backward helps me stay focused on what the story is about and how the characters need to change. No doubt about it.

    But actually writing the ending would be a new one for me. All those nuances picked up along the way would be hard to envision right out the gate.

    Besides, that would be like eating the cherry first on a sundae. How could I? 8)

    -Ann

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    1. Really? I usually have the beginnings....kind of planned out, and then i go from there. Wow, that's a really good way to write. I should consider doing that.
      I know right? Who would eat the cherry first? I save the best for last. The bittersweet moment. ;)

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    2. I usually know how I want it to end and I start at the beginning. I think working on the ending first, while helpful for some, would keep me disinterested because I like working from point A to point B. But that's just me.
      God Bless
      Romans 15:5-6
      ~PT

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    3. @LHE: It especially helps if you're writing a mystery. My first book I didn't have a planned ending, so I didn't know until the end whodunit. That was some confusion I could have done with out. X)

      @PT: Exactly! I'm not sure I could even make my brain work like that. Seems like you'd be emotionally distant from your character if you don't write scenes in chronological order. Different strokes for different folks.

      -Ann

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    4. @Ann: Yeah, my thoughts exactly. I think everyone is going to have different methods for writing and that's what makes us all awesome writers.
      God bless
      ~PT

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  7. I usually don't get the endings worked out first, but I can really see how it can help a writer to develop their story without a lot of rabbit-trails. For my WIP, finding where the story goes is almost part of the adventure for me, but I can definitely see how writing backwards would be helpful and an adventure in its own right. I think I'll try it sometime soon.

    1. Why did she take a vacation alone, and why is there no one there when she returns?
    2. Why had she talked to everybody but [Mary] in the last two weeks?
    3. Why did the three of them cut their hair?
    4. Why is Aunt [Sarah] on crutches?
    5. Why does [Ginny] need a piano?
    6. How did they meet [Fred] and how did they find out who he was?
    7. Who is [George]?

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  8. I know this doesn't have anything to do with this prompt, but I have a MAJOR prayer request, guys.
    My older cousin got burned REALLY bad trying to put out a fire in his kitchen. His wife and baby daughter are okay, but he is in MAJOR pain. Please, PLEASE pray for him. Please.

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    1. Will do, GJE <3. I hope he's alright soon.

      ~ Savannah @ Scattered Scribblings

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    2. Oh my gosh, I'll keep him in my prayers.
      God Bless
      ~PT

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    3. Thank you guys for your prayers! I'm thankful for you all! <3

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    4. Hope he has a speedy recovery.

      -Ann

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    5. Thank you, Ann! <3

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    6. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He is doing a little better, but he's still at the hospital. Keep praying. He's in a lot of pain, and his nerves are SHOT. Let's just say that not all nurses are kind, and not all of them know what they're doing.
      Just keep praying! Thanks again!!!!!!

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  9. 1. Why did he need to remember?
    2. Where are they going on the ship?
    3. How does his identity have to do with the situation?
    4. Who is his mother?

    And those were only a few questions that could be asked, looking at the last chapter if the book I was looking at. This was a cool exercise, Shannon!

    ~ Savannah @ Scattered Scribblings

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  10. Just wanted to say your blog is really nice.
    God bless
    ~PT

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    1. Oops, I thought I hit reply. @Savannah Grace, I was trying to tell you that your blog is really nice.
      God Bless
      ~PT

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  11. -Will he stay or go?
    -What will his stepdad be like now?
    -What did the final line of the prophecy mean?

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