Day 30 – Tell It Backwards by Julie Duffy

writing prompt image
Starting at the end is a fun way to tell a story...

The Prompt

Start your story with the character walking away from a situation (figuratively-speaking) and then explain how they got there.

Things to Consider

  • Think of TV shows that start with a dramatic scene then jump back to eight hours earlier and show how the characters ended up there – in this case you can tell the rest of the story in chronological order from beginning to the moment we entered the story (Looks at the camera: this is where you came in…)
  • Another option is to step back through the day moment by moment, unpacking every event and the event before it, in reverse order. This can be very powerful if you take the readers on an emotional rollercoaster
  • Or you can do some blend of the two.
  • The great thing about this is that you know where you’re going, all the way through the story because you know the outcome. You know what you have to set up to make the ‘ending’ work. Even if you never use this story form again, it’s a great exercise that you can use to rough out the end of a novel or longer story, any time you get stuck!

Possible opening line templates:

As [character name] [active verb][setting], they [verbed] a [noun]. [Image]. [Transition]
e.g. As Joanne fled the crowded pub, she lobbed what remained of her lemonade over her shoulder. With one last look over her shoulder she saw it arc through the air–globules caught in the security lights like fireworks–and spray across the faces of her three meathead pursuers, momentarily slowing them down. She put on a burst of speed. How had it come to this?

[Vivid details about something disastrous]. And to think, just [time period] earlier, everything had been going so well…


A [profession] in a [setting] doesn’t usually end up with [unexpected result], [conjunction]

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Julie Duffy

In 2010 Julie was a frustrated writer, who decided that writing a StoryADay in May would be a great way to kickstart her writing practice. 13 years later, it seems she was right. The rest of the writing world quickly caught on and now May is known as Short Story Month! Julie is the author of writing handbooks, articles, podcasts, workshops and courses, as well as a short story writer, and ‘Book Boss’.

Join the discussion: what will you do with today’s prompt OR how did it go? Need support? Post here!


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19 thoughts on “Day 30 – Tell It Backwards by Julie Duffy”

  1. I got 615 words on the paper. I strayed from the prompt quite a bit. It turned into a “how did I get into this situation” story as I worked through 5 different characters.

  2. I wrote the ending before I found the one that sprouted the “before” that made me smile.

    Thanks for the prompt!

    1. Three endings…I didn’t realize that autocorrect got me. 🤦🏻‍♀️😬🤷🏻‍♀️

  3. May 30 2023
    Sick today but came up with outline as follows:
    The story begins in the winter, as a young woman gets off a train in a new city to start over, alone and unknown. Back in time, we learn about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents and siblings living in a cult in Florida until she was able to escape at 16. But as a runaway child with no social connections or skills, she is trafficked by a gang. No one knows who she is, so when she finally is able to stab her captor, she steals the cash back she earned, buys a new clean plain outfit, a hotel room for one night, shaves her head and buys a train ticket out of there and is able to get away completely. An awkward conversation on the train reveals her plan to get a GED and find work immediately. She has enough money to put down on a rental and get through a couple of months from all the trafficking she went through. She’s scrolling through on her phone to find an apartment, finds an affordable one available immediately. She’s going by a different name now. She smiles for the first time in the story as the train pulls into the station. The only identifying mark is her gang brand tattoo. She pulls her sleeve down, takes a deep breath, and begins.

  4. Challenging prompt, but a really interesting one! I don’t love the story I wrote, however, I am sure I’ll be trying this structuring method again. So hard to believe there’s only one more day/prompt/story left for this May!

  5. What happened to make Mestral and Lydia need to book a hotel suite with room service? Their newly-adopted teen tried to cook them a very fancy anniversary dinner! But he didn’t burn the house down!

    Gladys took a deep breath. Her back ached, but her mop was too soiled to lean on. With every slap and sweep, she took out whole platoons of the cockroach-looking aliens. Their bodies left behind smears of yellow goo. There was so much of the nasty stuff on her mop, she would probably have to throw it away. She sighed. It had been such a good mop. It had been her best tool during her forty years of service, with a nice thick handle that didn’t cramp up her hands too much. And she had finally gotten smart and taped up the slippery parts. No. She would not give it up. The Government would have to compensate her.
    What a battle! She pushed a wayward gray strand behind her ear, and mopped the sweat from her face with her embroidered hanky. That was a tough fight. The little alien life forms were not nearly as clever as the real cockroaches. What they didn’t have in cleverness they made up for in vast swaths of troops, all marching towards her. If she wasn’t stomping on them with her flopping boots, she was sweeping at them with her mob and feather duster. Whole platoons pushed towards her. Supporting the invaders were their palm-sized space cannons, flying in her face, trying to shoot her down. That’s a laugh, she thought. Those tiny cannons couldn’t come close to hurting her as much as her knees did after working at the president’s office.
    She heaved a sigh. She was getting too old for this save-the-world malarkey. She supposed she should make the effort to feel triumphant, but she was just too tired to care. This was hardly the first invasion she had shut down, all by herself. The generals and the president called her The Gladys, smiling proudly as if they had invented her, all by themselves. Well, she didn’t much care for it, and that’s the truth, but you couldn’t tell them anything. Like how this was only the beginning invasion, that the only way to shut it down was total annihilation. She even suggested adding other cleaners, but the generals decided she was the right weapon against such a force. So, she hung on, but this whole save the world gig was growing tiresome. She just wanted to get her work done, and get home to watch her programs, maybe warm up a can of soup. As far as she was concerned, this alien invasion was just another battle in the war against dirt.
    Of all the cleaning ladies on the government payroll, why she was the once chosen to defend the planet was beyond her. Of course, she did have a reputation. She had cleaned the offices of each of the generals in Pentagon, once upon a time. The generals were well-trained, intimidated by her scowl, should they dare to mess up her work before she even left the building. Yet on Monday, her other battles would begin again, the cleaning and the mopping, the dusting and the trash removal. She wanted to tackle the vice-president’s refrigerator again. Seriously, how could it get so sticky?
    She frowned at her mop. Already, the goo was forming a sticky mess. She plunged it into the bucket of hot water, but the goo coagulated, forming a thick yellow gel. She tried to pull the mop from the bucket, but the goo had adhered completely to the sides of the bucket. That was disappointing. Her best mop would definitely have to go, along with her bucket and wringer. She would add the cost of them to her expense account. Maybe she would get one of them new-fangled mops, the one with the push-button cleaner. What was that called again? Swinger? Swiller? She shook her head, not entirely sure if she remembered. Regardless, the government would pay for a new mop. Maybe she’d get a couple of the old fashioned string mops, in case that swiggler thing didn’t work out right. She wanted a thick handle, like this last one, and that old-fashioned adhesive tape, to make the handle easier to grasp. Did they still make that old tape?
    She grunted. The gooey remains of the invading army was hardening. She used her mop handle to push the squeaky wheeled bucket towards the generals’ war room. Her bad knee creaked and cracked as she pushed, eyeing the goo, wondering if something would emerge from the bodies of all those aliens. Curious, she wiggled the mop handle. The gel was solid as a rock. Well, at least the clean up was simple. This invasion was one of her easier conquests.
    She rocked on her bad knee down the pristine corridor. The floors were buffed within an inch of their lives. The ceiling tiles and light fixtures sparkled like the day they were new. Every trace of the aliens had been thoroughly cleaned away. For the moment, she was alone with her thoughts. The flap of her boots echoed along the pristine corridor. The sole of her shoes had finally broken after too many repairs. Perhaps she would add new shoes to her expenses. Enough of these ugly, heavy work boots. Her Mama always taught her that work had to be done in steel-toed boots. She never understood the need, and Mama had passed nearly fifty years ago. Besides, work boots were both expensive and heavy. She’d ask for sneakers. Maybe in purple. Yes, her reward for saving the world, yet again, would be new stuff. A mop, certainly, and maybe a new rag for her pocket. Maybe something in purple. She liked purple.

  7. This was weird. I decided to use my last story from the prompt that I’d combined with my story from the prompt before that and make this a continuation or join it somehow with the last ones. I thought I’d stick faeries in it somehow. Turns out what happened was the twins in my last story turned out to be faeries. They’d always wondered why they felt different. They didn’t realize until they accidentally met up in the crowd at the Faery Parade. Seeing each other they suddenly knew why their separate parents had kept them away from the outside world.

    I began this prompt by setting the story in the present where they found each other and, looking at their identical selves, realized they were faeries. They looked just like the riders in the Faery Parade up ahead. Then I went back to before the parade and progressed until when they were together at the end.

    If this isn’t making sense, I’ll see when I think about it more later today.

  8. I really liked this prompt when I read it and thought I’d include the crowd prompt I had missed with this one and start there. But somehow, 550 words later, I just dont like the direction my story is going into. I’m pretty confused so Ive left it for now.

    1. Hi, Prachi. I’m sorry that I misspelt your name last time.
      Keep writing even if you have the ‘writer’s block’ at times. I’d love to read some of your stories in the near future. Stay happy and blessed.
      Best wishes.

  9. Struggled a little at first, until I went “doesn’t have to be a world-shattering event, just a small, personal disaster”, which is right along the lines of most of the stakes in my stories, and then it took off. 1225 words and I think I can work it fairly well into the novella I’m currently working on.

  10. I started with the narrator’s first passionate kiss, and worked backward step by step, varying the time intervals, and shifting between individual specific actions and activities that were ongoing. It was challenging, but at the same time tackling it according to the prompt made it easier for me to write about the kiss. I have a very hard time writing halfway-believable sex scenes, and this one may have made it all the way to three-quarters believable. So yeah, this is a victory dance!

  11. (I have a feeling that I could have finished the story better. Anyway, Julie, thank you for the wonderful prompt.)
    An Unusual Love Story :
    “I’ll never go out with you again,” Soumya cried out to his wife as she managed to board bus 45. At 61, he had had enough of heartaches and heart-racing, he consoled myself.
    It happened like this. Shree and Soumya were considered to be the most ideal of couples. Though she was ten years younger than him, they were the best of friends. Besides, they had never had an occasion to quarrel with, deceive or lie to one another in their 35 years of married life.
    Of course, Shree was the darling to all. As she was the homey type, she never felt the need to hire a domestic hand, not even a cook! She told Soumya once that nothing provided her greater pleasure than cooking for her daughters and their grandchildren with her own hands. As long as she was physically fit, she would be the one in charge of the kitchen. There was, so she told Soumya, another advantage of her being the home maker. It helped them save a lot of money in a lot of ways.

    Things became different after Soumya’s retirement though. Most of Soumya’s savings had already been spent on the daughters’ marriages. In due course of time, they had to sell their apartment and move to a smaller flat. It was then Shree, aged 50 by then, started looking for a job. She looked younger than her 50 years and soon landed up with a job in an Insurance Company. Despite his reluctance initially, Soumya saw sense in Shree’s arguments.

    Starting with the day, Shree had to go for the interview and subsequent selection, Soumya never let her go alone. But age was catching up fast with him, so gradually their daily visit to office was reduced to Soumya accompaning his soul mate till the Bus Stand as she left for office.
    Even on days, when he wasn’t feeling well, Soumya would put on something in order not to miss the opportunity of reaching Shree till the Bus Stand. Shree, on her part, loved these simple gestures from Soumya and got used to them.

    One Sunday, Soumya and Shree were invited to a relative’s place. As the tyre of the bus they were going by, got punctured not very far from the relative’s house, they decided to walk instead of taking a rickshaw. They were walking along when Soumya, having noticed Shree straying towards the middle of the road, asked her to keep walking on the pavement to the left. Somya was stunned at the way a scene started enfolding before his eyes next. Shree kept on walking in the same way without bothering about the bus coming from behind. The driver was said to have honked before hitting Shree from behind. Soumya raced towards his wife still lying face down on the ground as the bus drove away.
    But for some scratches,nothing serious happened. Soumya, helped Shree back up on her feet, felt sick as his heart kept pounding non-stop inside.

    The way the bus went past him and hit Shree, he knew that nothing serious could have happened. But what if something had?After all, Shree fell face forward!
    “I’ll never come out with you again. How many times did I tell you to keep to the side?”
    Shree knew that her husband was shouting more out of shock and nervousness than anything. So, she kept quiet. Otherwise, she would have told him that she was just ahead of him. It was not her fault if the bus came from nowhere and struck her the way it did!

    But the next day, when it was time for Shree to leave for office, Soumya hurriedly threw his shirt around. People in their area, loved the sight of the elderly couple walking side by side, holding hands.

    A couple of months later, Shree narrowly missed being run over by a speeding car due to her absent-mindedness again. Soumya was near hysteric at that time. He even called her ‘a simpleton and stupid’ for the first time that afternoon.

    Just before The Pujas, Soumya and Shree were going to Gariahat for replacing some clothes that Shree had purchased the week before. They were already running out of time as Shree returned home quite late from office. All the shops would be closed at Gariahat market after 8 at night. And it was already 7.10 PM. It would take them at least half an hour to get to Gariahat by bus. They had been waiting for a Gariahat-bound bus for close to 15 minutes while Soumya had been thinking whether to go by a taxi or not.

    The traffic signal turned to green just then as a number of buses and taxis wheezed past them. There were at least three rows of vehicles plying on the wide stretch of CIT Road on their side of the road when they saw the 45 in the middle. The bus didn’t slow down as Soumya had expected. Before he could say anything, Soumya saw Shree running ahead, sliding around a car towards the 45. He closed his eyes in great fear thinking that that was the last he had seen of his beloved wife.

    “Soumya, get in, get in the bus,” Shree was already inside the bus with the help of the Conductor, was shouting at him from the door.
    Somya deliberately let the first row of cars go past him. The 45 in the middle row had stopped by then, as the cars coming from behind kept on honking.
    When Soumya got into the bus finally, Shree was pointing at him to sit on the seat beside her. He didn’t talk to her for the rest of the night.

    He spoke to her for the first time when they were returning home.
    “Would you like to have badas?”
    Shree shook her head.
    “Lassi, as it’s been a scorcher of a day?”
    She shook her head again.
    “In that case, let me tell you, my dear wife that I would never come out with you again. It’s time I learnt taking care of my poor heart.”
    The end

  12. 5:30 am. I’m getting ready for work but had to check out today’s prompt. Now I can’t wait till my lunch break to get this one started. Already have a few ideas. Happy writing everyone.

    1. Wrote 750 words so far. About my character walking away from her ex father in law and his inheritance offer. My characters son wanted to know who the man is and how did they get to that point. I almost wish it was tomorrow’s prompt so it would wrap up the month since all but 3 of my stories are a continuation. Again I’m looking forward to June to go back over and edit to make all the stories flow better. So proud of this accomplishment.

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