Friday, June 15, 2018

The Magic Of Cause And Effect In Your Story

You've got this

You're doing a terrific job of structuring your novel. Keep up the great work. You'll be glad you stayed the course when you finish your book.

Okay, so you have your story line plotted out and you're ready to start writing.  


There is one critical thing your storyline should have before you write your opening sentence. This thing will magically transform your tale into a novel that readers love. What is it, you ask?

Cause and effect.

Your story must follow a clear cause and effect trajectory that makes sense to both you, and the reader.

You may remember from your school days, when you sat in science class, how you learned that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is an important principle of physics. As Albert Einstein once quipped, "Nothing happens until something moves."

When you review your Blake Snyder beat sheet and scene worksheets, and lay out your beat cards on your board, you should see plenty of things happening. If you don't, you're going to have a long, boring novel--a novel readers won't love.

Assuming you do have events where your protagonist takes action, either preemptively or in response to said events, you need to examine them closely for one important thing.  Yep, you guessed it.

Do your events have a clear cut flow of cause and effect?

To say it another way, do the scenes or beats in your story follow some sort of logical progression that captivates your reader? The Blake Snyder beat sheet, your beat cards and your scene worksheets should help you ensure that every one of your scenes has a legitimate story reason to be there. Meaning, every one of your scenes should have a profound impact on your protagonist's internal transformation.

Do the events in each scene take place because the events in the preceding scene cause them to happen? Does the action in a given scene happen because the outcome of the previous scene forces it to happen?

Throughout every beat or scene you analyze, say the following words to yourself, over and over again:

If, then, therefore

If one things happens, then it will cause the next thing to happen. If, then, therefore. Action, reaction, decision.

Think of it this way, when you review the scenes in your story, you want to be able to say, "This event happened, and as a result, the next event happened, which inevitably caused the third event to happen. And so on, and so on."

You don't want to simply say, "Well...this one thing happened, and then another unrelated thing happened. And then something totally random happened after that." If this is how you're describing your narrative to others, your events may not be following a logical cause and effect progression.

Recite these words over and over again: If, then, therefore.  Action, reaction, decision. Get these words indelibly stuck in your head. Recite them every time you look at your beat sheet, beat cards or scene worksheet.

If, then, therefore. Action, reaction, decision. 
Learn it. Know it. Live it.

This rhythm works like magic when you chart your novel's cause and effect course. Every time. It will help you move your story in the right direction.

Understand that just like everything else in the universe, story has some irrefutable laws of physics. Let's call them "the laws of story physics". Ignore them at your own peril. These laws of story physics must be observed and obeyed.  Otherwise, your novel will make absolutely no sense. Your story won't really be a story. It will only be a series of events that happen, but have no point. Read this letter for more information on this subject. 

In my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, my heroine, Sandra Porter sparked a reaction for every action she took. As a result, she was constantly faced with making hard decisions over whether or not to keep her friends. Her story-specific cause and effect trajectory landed her in jail, but also made her the happiest young woman on earth--all at the same time.

The most important thing to know about the cause and effect progression of your story is that it must be anchored to something even more important. Your cause and effect trajectory must be anchored to your protagonist's third rail

Remember, your protagonist's third rail is the story-specific struggle between her greatest goal and her longstanding misbelief. Every revolution of your story's cause and effect wheel must turn because your heroine's internal struggle is working like an engine, making it turn.

Every step along your story-specific cause and effect path must have significance in regards to what your protagonist wants, and the longstanding misbelief that keeps her from easily getting what she wants. In fact, it must intensify her inner struggle, and force her to change internally. It must force her to confront, defeat and overcome her misbelief, and give her freedom from it, once and for all.

If you craft a compelling cause and effect trajectory that makes your protagonist undergo a marvelous internal transformation, your will have magically transformed your narrative into a novel readers love.

Success is yours,

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse 
and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. - From the opening sentence, your novel's cause and effect progression must be evident to the reader. It's what pulls her into the story. 

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