The Inverted Pyramid – Begin at the End

Here’s another technique that I have found useful in my writing, the inverted pyramid. This method has been used by journalists and news services since the beginning of the 20th century. With the advent of the Internet, it is also being used as a model for web content writing.

With the inverted pyramid method, you begin with the end. Literally.

The whole point of the article is summarized in the opening sentences, and the remaining details follow afterward in descending order of importance.

Since many readers are impatient to get to the point quickly, this method gives them the goods right at the beginning. After that, they can stop reading at any time and still get the gist. This works well on the web where users tend not to scroll down the page to read the rest of an article.

However this method has it’s critics who consider it an “anti-story” … telling the story backwards. Since it gives away the ending up front, it’s not the best storytelling technique.

So why do I like it?

I’m not recommending this approach for the overall story writing process. Instead I use it for the initial stage of outlining and fleshing out the details of a new story idea.

Here’s how I do that…

  • First, begin with the end. Where do you want to be at the end of your story? (Some writers have even written the last chapter first.) If you had to summarize the entire story in 3 sentences, what would that be? This could become the official synopsis of your story.
  • Second, what situations or actions need to take place to get you to the end, from your starting point? Write all of that down as your major bullet points. These might become your chapter headings later on.
  • Next, add some detail to these major points. Not too much at first. It’s still too early to commit to anything too detailed that might end up changing several times during the writing process.

Once you have an idea where you are going, you can stop adding detail to this inverted pyramid outline and start writing the actual story. At any point along the way, give yourself permission to change the details and even the major plot points. And if you ever get side tracked while writing the initial draft, go back to the first step … and start with the end.

– KRR

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