Thursday, April 4, 2013



If your story is wandering all over the place and you have no idea what happens next, it might be helpful to think about cause and effect.

One thing leads to another. Event #1 causes event #2  to happen. Not always right away. A delay, perhaps while you move to a subplot, can create suspense. But at some point, event #2 happens because of event #1. It could be an action taken by a character, a piece of dialogue, even the weather.

Paying attention to cause and effect will make your story stronger. It will give you a structure to build your plot on. It will make your scenes feel that they were meant to happen rather than randomly chosen.

A fatal mistake is to create a scene because you, the author, need it to happen to make your plot work. A scene should occur because a character did something in a previous scene to make it occur.

I learned this while I was writing my Enchanted Theater series (fantasy time travel books for 6 to 8 year olds.) In the first book, Jeremy and the talking cat Aristotle travel to Mount Olympus. In an early draft, they had lots of narrow escapes but the order of events  was random and it felt flat. My editor suggested using more cause and effect.

This is how it worked in one scene when I rewrote it:

Ares, the god of war, is about to shoot an arrow at a target as part of a contest between the gods. He has just drawn the arrow back when a deer with silver antlers steps in front of the target. That causes Jeremy to leap out from behind a tree and shout, "Don't shoot!" That causes Ares to get distracted and miss the target. That causes Ares to lose the contest. That causes a furious Ares to chase Jeremy and Aristotle.

The scene was linked by cause and effect and was much more dramatic. Once I started thinking about cause and effect, the whole series was much easier to write.

Elizabeth George, a best-selling mystery writer,  uses the image of dominoes to describe cause and effect. She calls them dramatic dominoes!

Some advice from Elizabeth George in Write Away . . .

The key here is to remember that scene one is the first domino. It knocks the next one over and so forth. If that doesn't happen, you have failed in your duty to make your scenes casually related.


If I Just Had Two Wings by Virginia Frances Schwartz

Phoebe runs away from a plantation in Alabama and flees to Canada on the underground railway. This is a beautifully written story which won the Geoffrey Bison Award for Historical Fiction for Young People and the Silver Birch Award. Another great book on the same topic is Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker.

 Next week:  Don't Stop Now!

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