Nano Tip #25: Read It Backwards

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 thoughts on “Nano Tip #25: Read It Backwards

  1. 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. 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! 😀

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

  5. 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…

  6. 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!

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