Join Lisa Cron for an in-depth discussion in this video Story check (Cause and effect), part of Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story.
Here are a few questions that will help you make sure your story stays on an if-then-therefore trajectory all the way through. First, does your story follow a cause and effect path so that each scene is triggered by the one that preceded it? What you want is an if-then-therefore pattern all the way through. It's like the one-two-three of a waltz. Get that rhythm stuck in your head, if-then-therefore, and use it to build momentum. Second, do the events that take place in your story spur the protagonist's internal quest? We don't care about a hurricane, a stock market crash, or even aliens taking over downtown Cleveland, unless it somehow directly affects your protagonist's pursuit of his internal goal.
Third, do you always show your protagonist's train of thought when he's making a decision? The reader wants to know how what happens affects the protagonist, so we understand why he makes the decisions he does. Don't forget, just because you know what your protagonist is thinking, doesn't mean your reader will. Finally, can everything in your story withstand the "And so" test? This is another way of asking what's the point? Why does the reader need to know this? How does it further the story? Ask it relentlessly, and the minute you can't answer, know that you're in the company of what's likely a deadly digression which will bring your story's momentum to a screeching halt.
So, boot it out before it does. The best way to practice the if-then-therefore logic is to pick a movie you know well and write it out the way we just did with Romeo and Juliet. Movies are much easier to do this with than books, because it's a simpler, more straightforward medium, not to mention the fact that it's easier to watch a 2-hour movie than to read a 400-page novel. When it comes to picking a movie, believe it or not, Disney and Pixar films work really, really well. Try The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, or my personal favorites, Toy story.
If you prefer movies with actual flesh-and-blood actors, you might try It's a Wonderful Life, or Die Hard. Once you get the swing of it, it will be surprisingly easy to apply it to your own work.
- What is a story?
- Hooking your reader
- Feeling what the protagonist feels
- Being specific
- Creating suspense and conflict
- Writing flashbacks and subplots