Black and white filmstrips rolling backwards from climactic scene to opening scene in reverse screenplay order with clapboard

What is a Reverse Screenplay? The Different Approach to Crafting Movie Scripts

Have you ever reached the end of reading a book or watching a film and felt disappointed or frustrated at the resolution? As an audience member, perhaps you visualized a different ending or along the way wished the storyline had taken a more intriguing path.

Well, aspiring screenwriters face this same challenge in reverse – needing to successfully build an entire story that leads to and meets their ultimate narrative vision. This complexity is why some writers elect to map out their movie scripts in reverse chronological order through a unique method called a reverse screenplay.

So what exactly does this term mean? How does the structure differ from drafting a traditional screenplay? And what are the potential benefits to writers in developing this particular skill? By the end, you will understand the purpose and overall approach used for writing reverse screenplays.

What Is a Reverse Screenplay?

A reverse screenplay follows the same standard scriptwriting format of action descriptions, locations, dialogues, and character names. The big difference lies in the writing sequence. Instead of starting at the opening scene and writing chronologically until you reach your ending, the reverse approach does the exact opposite.

Using this methodology, you as the writer begin envisioning the precise climactic closing scene you desire first. From there you work backward – creating each major scene that builds up and leads into the other in reverse order until you map out the opening moment. Essentially you start with detailing how you want the story to end, followed by mapping the incremental stepping stones toward this resolution.

Why Write a Movie Script in Reverse Order?

Many novice screenwriters jump into drafting lengthy scripts from page one without fully visualizing their ending target first. Then they reach Act 3 unsure of how to satisfyingly wrap up their stories and struggles commence! They may find themselves stuck in narrative dead ends, with inconsistent character motives, unsatisfying climaxes, or logical plot holes.

To avoid this frustration, the reverse screenplay technique aims to address these hazards upfront. As a screenwriter, you envision and commit to your specific story finale from the very start.

This clarity then provides a target to build toward using cause-and-effect logic working step-by-step backward. The benefits of adopting this approach include:

  • Enables visualizing your aspired climax first before committing effort into writing an entire script blind.
  • Provides confidence in purposefully building events and characters toward a pre-defined resolution goal.
  • Clarifies the appropriate character motives required from the opening scenes onward that organically drive the overall story arc toward this ending target. Establishing these elements from the start prevents inconsistencies later that can arise from wandering plot trajectories.
  • Helps identify key story pillars and turning points needing to feature along the reverse timeline to support coherent pacing and plot progression. Moments of tension followed by relief, victories, failures, introductions, and more can be mapped methodically in conjunction with your known resolution.
  • Analyzing your ideas in reverse order enables assessing if there are any narrative dead ends or holes that would prevent feasibly arriving at your planned finale. These can be reworked earlier in the process before you actually write entire script drafts.
  • Provides opportunity to outline possible alternative branches or outcomes at various potential pivoting moments. Although you craft scenes to intentionally lead toward your known ending target written first, exploring some optional forks along the way that serve character development can add exciting and unexpected story richness for audiences.

Now that you grasp the purpose behind approaching screenwriting through a reverse sequence, let’s overview exactly how you’d structured such a script using this methodology.

How to Write a Reverse Screenplay

To craft a coherent reverse screenplay that logically builds scene-upon-scene toward your pre-defined climax, the following steps are involved:

Begin Brainstorming Your Storyline by Starting with Your Ending

Rather than opening up an empty script template to a blinking cursor awaiting inspiration for what story you want to tell, the reverse approach has you start by detailing precisely how you envision the climactic resolution scene.

Jot down the location of the finale, which characters are present, the emotions you aim to evoke in audiences leading into it, and a vivid imaging of how the ending unfolds beat-by-beat.

This could be a dramatic life-or-death confrontation between a hero and nemesis, tearful reunion of loved ones, the revelation of a culprit behind a mystery, the achievement of some lifelong quest, or any number of genre possibilities you desire.

Take time to vividly picture how you want audiences feeling as the credits roll. Having this firm ending anchor envisioned first gives you a target to build your entire story toward.

Map Out the Major Story Events in Reverse Order Leading Up to Your Finale

Next begin outlining the key scenes required to set up and drive into your visualized ending sequenced in reverse chronological order. Ask yourself questions about how pre-established story elements are essential prerequisites for the climax you defined to logically happen or what new pivotal moments need introduction earlier to appropriately set your finale into motion.

For example, perhaps your ending features your outlaw protagonist gunfighter facing off against the corrupt Sheriff who rules a town with an iron fist. This impending showdown requires earlier scenes that organically lead toward their meeting given their respective character goals in conflict.

Maybe we see the drifter arrive in town, the Sheriff threatens locals to turn against him, he forms bonds with some residents, and he ultimately decides to stand up against the oppression despite the risks knowing that the Sheriff won’t give up control freely.

Sequence these cause-and-effect milestones in descending order from the climactic face-off. Follow a reverse outlining approach like:

  1. Protagonist gunfighter and corrupt Sheriff meet for dramatic showdown
  2. Gunfighter bonds with local townspeople oppressed by Sheriff
  3. Drifter protagonist arrives penniless in new town aiming to earn quick money and move on
  4. Sheriff rules town through intimidation that drives prior challengers out
  5. Sheriff consolidates power after prior Sheriff is murdered mysteriously

And continuing working backward adding additional key plot points that fit together like intentional storyline dominos until you map all the way back to your opening scene.

Detail Each Major Scene in Sequence Making Sure They Logically Lead to the Next

With your reverse timeline of integral story beats mapped from climax to opening, you can begin detailing the substance of each major scene. Ensure you include critical elements like specific locations where the action unfolds, characters involved, the motivations and goals driving them forward, particular dialogue exchanges or events that occur, plus emotional tones evoked.

Re-read each completed scene afterward and scrutinize if all the included narrative details organically lead toward and justify the next one logically in cause-and-effect fashion given what is established about characters and their situations. Identify any potential gaps in the progression and fill these holes by adding bridging details or modifying earlier portions to improve flow.

Repeat This Process Until You Arrive Back at Your Opening Scene or Moments

Preserving your commitment to the ending finale originally visualized as your target, iterate on these reverse outlining and scene detailing steps. Enhance descriptions, tweak preceding events to build logic or intrigue, play with pacing, adjust character goals/backgrounds, and bolster other elements that structurally support arriving at the defined climactic resolutions.

Upon fleshing out all intervals linking major moments backward, you should arrive organically at the appropriate opening scene details that launch characters on trajectories aiming precisely toward your planned concluding resolutions.

Why Writers Leverage the Reverse Screenplay Method

Beyond aiding writers in committing to and successfully building complete stories that stick the landing at climax moments hoped for, several other advantages exist for developing reverse screenwriting skills:

It Improves Story Coherence and Cause-Effect Logic from Start to Finish

Since scenes are intentionally written to lead strategically toward the next in descending order with your ending always in sight, reverse screenplays enable continually verifying logical causality throughout.

Any narrative gaps generated along the way become visible through asking simple questions about each preceding event – does this plausibly follow from what came before? Does it move key characters toward goals necessary to set up my intended climax?

You can spot these issues immediately while ideas are still flexible rather than after you’ve already written a full script draft when reworking is more painful. This adherence to cause-and-effect coherence from end-to-beginning creates air tight plots.

Reverse Planning Enables Visualizing Both Macro and Micro Story Structure

Sure, the macro goal of the reverse methodology is cementing your entire storyline arc spanning from opening to climactic finale first. But the technique also allows designing micro story structure surrounding how individual scenes flow together properly.

Outlining key moments paired with writing full scenes in sequence enables analysis of pacing, dramatic highs & lows, balanced incorporation of action, humor, suspense, or other desired tone elements right from your earliest creative stages.

Generates Unexpected Story Connections and Ideas throughout the Process

Since scenes are crafted sequentially in reverse order, the context from what follows may unlock surprisingly useful new directions you wouldn’t have conceived otherwise.

Say while writing a scene where our heroine investigative journalist character is meeting with a nervous insider leak, we get the inspired idea later to make this source actually turn out to be the serial killer she had been tracking all along – but this twist hadn’t occurred to us prior to structuring events backward.

Reverse planning can spark these fun “Aha!” light bulbs organically in the creative process.

Develop Engaging Plot and Resolutions Before Investing in Writing Lengthy Script Drafts

Who wants to painstakingly spend months writing, tweaking, analyzing, rewriting, and attempting to workshop/salvage entire screenplay drafts that still fail to come together coherently in the end?

Preventing this nightmare outcome is why deliberately cementing your climax vision paired with reverse outlining major story beats first is invaluable. It crystallizes so much foundation before you actually begin drafting full scripts from Page 1 forward.

You can validate key pieces are logically connecting as intended through continual reverse writing rather than leaving this guessing game for after finishing an extensive screenplay manuscript. This aids rapid prototyping for refining engaging ideas faster.

Reverse Screenwriting Develops Invaluable Screenwriting Skills

Whether you serially complete reverse screenplays or leverage the technique temporarily to cement endings and robust outlines for traditional script writing, practicing this approach undoubtedly bolsters critical screenwriting muscles.

Skills like visualizing tight plot progression, avoiding plot holes, delivering satisfying resolutions, and investing viewers in characters with clear motive directions pays dividends for all your future cinematic stories.

Key Takeaways on Reverse Screenplays

By starting with precisely detailing your desired climactic finale first and working backward toward an opening rather than the other way around, reverse screenplays provide screenwriters an intriguing methodology for crafting scripts with more coherence.

The technique clarifies character goals early that organically drive toward pre-defined resolutions. It reveals plot or pacing issues quickly to address flexibly. Additionally, reverse writing builds invaluable screenwriting skills around structuring cohesive narratives that deliver on their promises to audiences.

If exploring an experimental avenue for ensuring your next short film or feature screenplay sticks the ending, give the immersive reverse planning approach a try! It may unlock unexpected storytelling angles you wouldn’t have conceived otherwise by forcing you to ask questions from a new backwards perspective.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you write a reverse story?

To write a reverse story, you structure the plot events in reverse chronological order – starting with the ending and concluding with the opening scene. Build each event backward, ensuring they logically lead to the next in a cause-and-effect fashion. Use consistent character motivations/goals that justify the reverse sequencing.

What is a reverse chronological structure?

A reverse chronological structure tells a story in descending time order. The plot starts at the final climax moment or scene and builds events backward until revealing the opening incident. This differs from traditional narratives told in normal chronological order (beginning → middle → end).

What movie is told in reverse?

Some famous movies told in reverse include Memento, Irreversible, Betrayal, and 5×2. Memento is perhaps the most renowned example featuring a man with short-term memory loss trying to solve his wife’s killer in inverse sequence scenes.

What is the movie where the plot is backwards?

Memento is the most well-known movie with its plot presented backwards. The story starts with the final scene and works backward through time showing the protagonist Leonard piecing together clues to find his wife’s murderer. This mirrors his short-term memory loss condition.

What is an example of reverse storytelling?

The film Memento epitomizes reverse storytelling, revealing plot points out of chronological sequence in backward order to mirror the main character’s memory issues. Similarly, Martin Amis’ novel Time’s Arrow tells the life story of a Nazi doctor but in reverse order from death to birth to provide an unusual moral perspective.

What is an example of backward writing?

A classic example of backward writing is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which heavily utilizes anachronistic storytelling. Many scenes are shown out of order, flouting normal chronology. It starts near the end of WWII and jumps around to different points in time centered on the protagonist Captain John Yossarian.

What are the three types of chronological order?

The three main types of chronological order are:

  1. Reverse – Descending order from end to beginning
  2. Normal – Linear order from beginning to end
  3. Non-linear – Jumping between different times frequently.

What is the purpose of reverse chronological order?

Reasons writers use reverse chronological order include providing a unique viewpoint on events, building mystery and suspense gradually, mirroring a character’s memory loss condition, highlighting the ultimate effects before exploring their cause, and experimenting with narrative structure in an innovative way.

How do you write experience in reverse chronological order?

To write about an experience in reverse chronological order, start with the final moments or aftermath. Detail the climax resolutions first. Then build the next major scene moving backwards. Slowly reveal key events leading up to the experience climax in a descending time sequence while incorporating character thoughts, observations, and emotions along the journey back through time. Use transition words like “earlier” when jumping to previous scenes.

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