The Reverse Outline

milestoneI have accomplished a great personal best: creating a complete pre-history, flora, fauna, culture, alien races and government for five alien planets that the humans or Terrans in my new novel series “The Five Rims”.  It came in at just over 15K words as well.

Now to write the first book set in that universe.

I want it to be a mystery novel, as in someone or a group of someones is murdered, and then our intrepid hero who is the last human in existence (as far as he knows) has to solve the crime in order to bring justice to those who were murdered.  He does all this while dealing with the idea that he is the last Terran (the working title) and that the victims of the clime are the remaining Terrans in his fledgeling colony.

I have set the bar high.  You mystery novelists blow my mind, really.  I have read deeply on the subject, and there are several methods for outlining a mystery novel, but I want to go with the reverse outline.  It is what works best for my process and it holds the most promise for my second attempt at concealing the end result from the reader.

Basically, a reverse outline is where we begin with the end result (who murdered who and how they did it) and we work backward, laying out the red herrings after the murder design is created.  I already know how I want the first book to end, and I simply have to record all the details of how the murderer reached the ending I have envisioned.  I will, however, be working in a little bit of political intrigue into the story, along with a plot by an unforeseen nefarious force who wishes to bring about the destabilization of the planetary government.

I know I have a few of you who follow this blog who write mystery novels.  How do you go about it?  What is your process?  How do you plot out a mystery novel?  I may be out of my depth here, but I’d really like to make this story a success, and I think I have a winner of a plot here.  Please post below with any ideas as I love to hear from readers who are working through the plot of their stories.  If nothing else, vent about the plot you are working on at present and how you designed it.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

8 thoughts on “The Reverse Outline

  1. Wish I could help, but mystery writing intimidates me. It requires a special way of thinking that i do not possess.

    Anyway, good luck with your project. I’m sure it will turn out great! I know I’ve said that before, but I remain confident you can pull it off.

  2. Sounds like a great story. My NaNoWriMo project has an element of mystery to it (I hope) with my protagonist trying to prevent a crime. Problem is he doesn’t have a suspect or a victim, he just has to figure it out. Oh yeah, he’s also a ghost.

    I’m 33,000 words in, and to be honest, this thing is a mess. I know I can revise this later, but the deeper I get the more I find myself wondering if I can even fix this! I made an outline. I plotted everything scene by scene. It made sense then. Somehow, I lost it. I might try the reverse outline when I am done with the first draft, before I do a revision and see how that works. Good luck with yours!

    1. Yours sounds pretty interesting. I’d love to read it when it goes live. Just hang in there. Remember that we can always revise the heck out of the thing when its done. Finish writing it, then don’t look at it for a few weeks, then come back to it and it will click together like my kid’s legos.

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