This is one type of planning I’ve never done, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work well for certain types of novel. For example, take a story with a crucial final scene – a great reveal which pulls together all the rest of the book. I’m not just talking about the ending of any book here, but specific types. Think, for example, Hercule Poirot, pulling all the characters into the Drawing Room and revealing the murderer. Alternatively, think about a major twist, whereby we suddenly realise that the main character is dead, or is Keyser Soze, or whatever.
These sorts of story revolve so much around that final reveal, that it could be argued you need to write the reveal before you can do anything else. It’s not how Agatha Christie did it, but many crime writers certainly go into the story knowing exactly whodunnit, how and why, and if that’s how you work, then starting at the end might be a good outlining method for you.
Step 1: The Solution
Work out, clearly, and with diagrams and research if necessary, exactly what the solution is, how and why it happened, and – crucially – why this wasn’t immediately apparent at the beginning. Who was hiding something? How much will you just be playing on readers’ expectations?
Step 2: The Reveal
Decide how you want to get the solution across to readers. Do you want to do something formulaic, like pulling all the characters into one room? Do you want to have a sleuth-type character work it out, or someone who comes in knowing nothing about the background and has it all explained to him at the end? Will you reveal the solution through action, conversation or exposition? Plan the reveal scene in detail – you might even want to write it out in full (bearing in mind it will need a substantial rewrite by the time you’ve finished the rest of the novel).
Step 3: The Clues
The best mystery novels, and the best plot twists, give the readers half a chance to solve it before the reveal. For some readers, this will give them a sense of achievement when they do, for others it will give them a sense of recognition and of having been dealt with fairly when they realise that they should have known all along, but didn’t. They will want to read back and pick out all the clues and sneaky pointers you left along the way, whcih they missed at the time.
Think about how you might set up clues to the solution throughout the novel. Things people might say which have a double meaning, descriptions which point towards the solution, etc.
Step 4: The Red Herrings
Having sorted out the pointers you’re going to give everyone to the RIGHT answer, think about the traps you’ll lay to take them away from it. How can you keep them guessing, make other solutions seem possible, and then at the last minute, impossible. In a murder mystery, this could be other suspects, or apparent attempts on the life of the murderer herself. It might also include a list of things you DON’T show but allow the reader to assume – if your narrator is in prison, for example, you might mention them getting up, meeting friends, lining up for lunch, but miss out the things which would place those activities in a cell block.
Step 5: The Beginning
Finally, you can work out where the story starts. For a story with a twist, this is going to be where you set up all the misunderstandings you rely on for the rest of the novel; in a murder mystery, it’s probably the discovery of a body, or pretty close to it. Although not always, you might have Poirot bumble through some preparations for Christmas and if you’re Agatha Christie, people will still read on and make their way to the murder scene!