Tell the Story Backward

I read a suspense-slash-mystery novel last month called ALL THE MISSING GIRLS by Megan Miranda. In some ways, it was your typical whodunit with a love triangle theme thrown into the mix, but the author took a big risk. Miranda told the story backward.

We got to see the aftermath of plot points and clue discoveries before we experienced the actual events.

At first, I struggled to keep up. The “One Day Earlier” section titles threw me for a loop, and several times I put the book down, thinking WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.

By the end of the novel, however, the story had reached a satisfying and suspenseful climax, and I realized that the book had transformed how I think about plot structure, storytelling, and even content marketing.

Why Not Tell the Story Backward?

The more I thought about it, the more familiar the format became. We tell stories backward all the time.

Let’s set up a real-life story example.

I’ve just been mugged, and I call you, my bestie of ten years, to tell you about it:

ME: You won’t believe this, but I got mugged today.

YOU: Oh-Em-Gee, are you serious? Are you okay?

ME: Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. He got my wallet with a couple hundred bucks, but he didn’t hurt me.

YOU: I’m so sorry. How did it happen?

ME: Well, I rode the subway like usual, and he pulled a knife right there in the car.

YOU: Weren’t other people there?

ME: Yeah, actually, a few people. In fact, I’d just complimented this really elegant woman on her scarf. She told me it was a gift from her daughter.

YOU: Wow, and none of those people helped. What assholes.

ME: He did have a knife. Anyway, they might not even have noticed. He was real subtle about it.

YOU: People are always in their own world on the damn subway. Look alive, people! [Pause.] Hey, why were you on the subway at all? I thought you had to work.

ME: [Sigh.] That’s a whole ‘nother twisted tale. You know that guy Alex—the one who’s been stealing from petty cash?

YOU: Right, you said something about it the other day.

ME: I should have taken your advice and turned him in. He got caught yesterday, but he somehow convinced Mr. Morris that it was me, so I got fired…

We’ll end that riveting story here, but you get my drift, right? We’re always telling stories backward.

In fact, that’s how journalists are trained to unfold the latest scandal. Begin with the lede—the most interesting information—and fill in the backstory later.

Nothin’ New Under the Sun


Megan Miranda has no problem telling the story backward.

ALL THE MISSING GIRLS by Megan Miranda

It’s all been done before, but sometimes shifting an established trope to a new medium makes it fresh again. The strategy worked for Miranda in ALL THE MISSING GIRLS.

It can also work in content marketing for novelists.

Transformative content changes how the reader views the subject. The shift can be subtle, and the reader might not even notice, but there’s always an outcome.

After consuming a piece of transformative content, the reader should change some aspect of how he or she thinks, lives, speaks, works, or relates to people—even in a small way.

Transformative Content: Your Homework

You can apply this technique to your own content marketing efforts as a novelist. Whether you write romance, historical fiction, suspense, speculative fiction, or something else entirely, you might want to consider telling a few stories backward.

For instance, maybe you could tell a true story about something traumatic, uplifting, joyful, or otherwise transformative in your own life. Start with the outcome—what happened at the end of that event—then work backward.

What led up to that event? How did the stars collide to produce whatever ending you’ve described?

Once you’ve told your story, tie it to one of your novels. How do the two stories relate? Did your own experience impact the way you wrote the novel?

Oh, and don’t forget to include a link to your book.

What do you think about telling stories backward? Have you read novels told in this fashion? How will you apply it to your content marketing?