Arriving at Creative Writing Solutions by Thinking Backwards

Jim Green
 


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Here is a neat little trick I have employed all my life in resolving problems, in realizing goals, and finally as a tool for crafting fiction. I call it reverse plotting but it is in effect the act of thinking backwards to arrive at solutions.

I can best illustrate its power by showing you how I used it to create the basic storyline for my first novella…

I’d always wanted to have a crack at writing a murder mystery and in line with my policy of sticking to scenarios with which I am familiar I used the theatre as the setting for Beginners Please: Murder.

Now there is a world of difference between wanting to craft a mystery story and actually accomplishing it. I could have of course gone the route of pulling down a ready-made plot from the internet (there are hundreds freely available for download) but I wasn’t looking for an easy solution; I was determined to devise my own original outline.

All I had going for me when I started out was the concept of a repertory company based in a creaky old theatre in North Yorkshire during the late 1940s. The actor/manager is brutally murdered and the police narrow their suspects down to the youngest cast member. He is arrested on suspicion of homicide but one of the senior players in the company is convinced that the police have got it wrong and she sets out to prove her colleague’s innocence.

Seems straightforward – but how would I get from A to Z first time out of the trap on writing a murder mystery?

Here is what I did using my little exercise in inverted thinking…

1. I started by turning the situation on its head;
2. I looked first at the conclusion; suspect cleared, murderer revealed;
3. Then I worked backwards on all I had to do to arrive at this outcome;
4. I inverted my thinking by listing the events in reverse order; last through to first.

Inverted thinking…

  • Twist in the tale reveals the real murderer
  • Suspect is released
  • Police reluctantly conclude that new findings are of sound judgement
  • Trail of deceit discovered in pursuit of the truth
  • Leading actress disagrees with decision and instigates her own enquiries
  • Police make an arrest
  • Evidence discovered linking youngest cast member to the crime
  • Police interview cast members and compile list of suspects
  • Actor/manager found stabbed to death in back stalls
  • Dissention rife among cast over maltreatment
  • His vilification of the cast intensifies
  • Actor/manager humiliates certain cast members at first reading of play
  • New alliances are formed
  • Old friendships are rekindled
  • Provincial repertory company converges on theatre for opening of winter season
  • Now by turning these events on their head I have a storyline to make my outcome materialize…

    1. Provincial repertory company converges on theatre for opening of winter season;
    2. Old friendships are rekindled;
    3. New alliances are formed;
    4. Actor/manager humiliates certain cast members at first reading of play;
    5. His vilification of the cast intensifies;
    6. Dissention rife among cast over maltreatment;
    7. Actor/manager found stabbed to death in back stalls;
    8. Police interview cast members and compile list of suspects;
    9. Evidence discovered linking youngest cast member to the crime;
    10. Police make an arrest;
    11. Leading actress disagrees with decision and instigates her own enquiries;
    12. She unravels a trail of deceit in her pursuit of the truth;
    13. Police reluctantly conclude that her findings are of sound judgement;
    14. Suspect is released;
    15. Twist in the tale reveals the real murderer.

    How inverted thinking works

    It forces your brain to think outside the box and stimulates action by focusing your thoughts on the outcome before tackling the daunting task of providing a solution. Moreover, doing it this way in reverse order prompts the thought process to add to the list as you progress; much more easily in fact than producing the ‘events’ in conventional sequence.

    It works in other ways too

    I used inverted thinking to help me craft my first murder mystery but it works equally well when applied to any fictional storyline.

    If you would like to learn a host of other inventive ways to boost your creative writing output you should visit the website featured in the resource box below.

    JIM GREEN is a bestselling author with a string of fiction and niche non-fiction titles. http://ultimate-creative-writing-course.com

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