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Nano Tip #25: Read It Backwards

November 25th, 2009

This is my ante-penultimate Nano Tip, so you must be nearing the end of your fantabulous NaNoWriMo novel. Soon you’ll need to read the whole thing over with an editorial eye, polishing every sentence for sparkling clarity.

But how to concentrate on mere clauses and word choice while your amazing story is sweeping you along in its wake? How can you focus on all those pesky details when your characters are bleeding heroically onto the page?

Three words: Read it backwards.


Reading through a novel in reverse order is an old trick used by many writers. It’s like when an optometrist covers up one of your eyes to test the other. You’re covering up your “story eye” to bring grammar, spelling, and sentence structure into focus.

So what do I mean by “reading backwards”? Do you literally read the last word of your novel, then the one before that, then the one before that until you get to the beginning?

Well, that depends on what you want to concentrate on. Reading in reverse word order would bring spelling errors into sharp relief, but would probably also break your brain. No one I know does that.

A more feasible strategy is reading in reverse paragraph order. That serves to isolate sentences and word choices, without the drama of the scene pulling you past mistakes. On the other hand, if you read in reverse chapter order, you’ll be focused on the structure of individual scenes.

See how it works? The larger the unit you use for your reverse reading, the more “pulled back” you are from each level of writerly technique. But it’s up to you to discover which kinds of reverse reading are helpful for you.

Another reading-out-of-order technique I’ve used is to look at all the scenes in which a certain character appears, just to make sure they stay consistent.

Warning: if you start to get a headache, stop for a while before continuing. But don’t worry. It’s just like your first non-flipped manga; your brain will adapt eventually. That’s what it’s good at.

That’s it for today! Don’t forget to check out Justine’s Nano Tips on the even-numbered days of November. See you on the 27th.

14 Responses to “Nano Tip #25: Read It Backwards”

  1. 1
    November 26th, 2009 00:26

    that’s brilliant
    I always get caught up in works of others, so I easily of course get caught up in my own work, especially if I have invested a lot in my characters… I def need to pull it out of context to catch any bogus grammar and or structure

  2. 2
    November 26th, 2009 00:31

    That great advice! I love breaking apart paragraphs and looking for word choice and seeing if it ‘flows’ if ya know what I mean. I am a big spelling freak so spelling isn’t much of a problem for me but when it gets to sentence structure and consistency I like to take a closer look. This is great because then I won’t get all caught up in the story and will also be able to see what I am saying. Grazi Scott! :D

  3. 3
    Peter Ahlstrom
    November 26th, 2009 02:09

    In my freelance copyediting work I do my second pass on a book exactly as described here: backwards by paragraphs. That way my brain is much less likely to read what should be there than what’s actually there.

  4. 4
    Team toshi banana
    November 26th, 2009 02:10

    I do that every time i read a book but I never thought to do that with my own novel!! :)

  5. 5
    Team toshi banana
    November 26th, 2009 02:14

    Sorry this isn’t my computer so I can’t figure put all the controls… I hope my comment went through!

  6. 6
    Jillian~the Pre-Jess
    November 26th, 2009 05:38

    Yes! I do this. it definitely helps. What’ve you been doing that for lately, Scott?! Bohemoth?! How’s that coming along?

  7. 7
    November 26th, 2009 05:40

    More re-wiring the brain tricks I see, bubbly. So I guess I’ll spend December reading my story forwards and backwards (literally) until I’m satisfied, the editing is starting to look like it’ll take a while…

  8. 8
    November 26th, 2009 07:19

    I remember my first manga. Man, was that confusing! Awesome, though.

  9. 9
    November 26th, 2009 09:17

    that’s odd & i never would’ve thought to do that, but im gonna have to try it sometime. ^_^

  10. 10
    November 26th, 2009 10:01

    I was number one!
    was in a rush before, haha

  11. 11
    November 27th, 2009 01:05

    (Claps) Well done Scott-Sensei. I will remember this bubbly technique in the future!

  12. 12
    November 27th, 2009 07:25

    This is a really good idea. I never really thought of editing that way before. I’m going to dig up my old NaNo novel from last year and try it out!

  13. 13
    Jillian~the Pre-Jess
    November 27th, 2009 09:12

    Happy Thanksgiving!! I’m thankful for YOU Scott Westerfeld!!!! (And Rex)

  14. 14
    January 23rd, 2010 05:53

    wow– bubbly! that is super awesome tip!! plus it works!!

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