Have you ever tried to write things backwards?
.tib ynit a tsuJ .truh niarb ym sekam fo dnik sdrawkcab gnitirw ,tuo snruT
Right. If you haven’t already, this is the part where you roll your eyes at me. Because that isn’t what I meant by writing backwards.
Earlier today, I was trying to figure out a character’s personality. I wasn’t really sure who she was. But I more or less knew who I wanted her to be by the end of the story. So I figured that out exactly, and then I worked backwards, and figured out who she’d have to be first, so that she’d become what I wanted by the end.
Working backwards works with a lot of things, in a lot of different ways. Retracing your steps to find where you stuffed your keys could be considered working backwards. Knowing where your ending is, you can figure out where the characters need to be (both physically and emotionally/regarding their character arc), and then you can figure out how they got there, and then you can figure out the beginning.
Working with the ending makes sense, though. If you know where you need to end up, you can work backwards to where you started, and voilá, we know our route. Or at least several possibilities. (And then you’ll know how you ended up at Point β instead of Point B, even though those don’t even belong to the same alphabet.)
But working backwards can also help in other ways, too. Why? Because it changes your perspective.
I’ll show you.
In drawing, we have this technique called “drawing negative space”. When you draw negative space, you will end up with the exact same object as if you…didn’t draw negative space. So why do it?
This chair. It’s very simple. There’s the black part of the chair, the white part of the dead space, and the purple square that I drew on it. The black part is the positive space. (Actually, I don’t know if that’s what it’s called, but for simplicity’s sake, that’s what it is.) The white part is the negative space. Probably pretty easy to figure that out.
If someone were to try to redraw this chair, they’d start drawing the edge of the black, yes? Or they’d print it out and trace it because let’s face it, tracing is way easier. Usually. Or, you could draw the edge of the white instead.
Basically, look at my purple square. Instead of drawing the edge of the seat, the two sides of the legs, and the top of the bar, you’d draw the square. You end up with the same thing. But it’s a different perspective. Once done with that square, you could draw the other squares between all the legs. (And…I’m now realizing they’re actually rectangles, and none of them are squares. I really did pass geometry, I swear.)
The point in drawing all of the white rectangles instead of the chair itself is that you don’t have to worry about depth. All of the things around us are three-dimensional, and sometimes it’s hard for our brains to look at those objects and turn them into 2D objects so that we can get them onto paper. Drawing that front leg, and then making sure the back leg is in the right place is sometimes harder because that back leg is, guess what, behind the front one. But if you draw the space between it…
Once you have these nice simple little squares in, its easy to see how to draw the rest of the chair, yes? Add it in, and we have a purple chair. Not only that, but it’ll actually be more proportionally correct (usually) than if you’d gone about drawing it a different way. (Although, drawing it upside down would work too.)
So in the end, we have a chair. And we went about it…well, not really backwards, but more like negatively.
To wrap this back around to writing. Sometimes, when you’re stuck or you need to figure something out, you look at the negative space. What’s already there? What is inherently caused by the things already there, and how does that affect everything else? What isn’t there?
I use this to figure out plot points, develop characters, even for my world-building. And, of course, for drawing chairs. It really does help to look at things differently.
Look, I found my keys!