"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris ... then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, 3 November 2011

NaNoWriMo is here - is your storytelling telling? Cause and Effect. A post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

If you're looking for Jessica Bell's String Bridge Blog Tour post, it's below this one!

For more posts, go here...
Nanowrimo  is here again! Wow! Day Three already!

This post is not about the 'showing vs telling' debate, this is about how to make your story un-put-down-able. I'm writing this as much for myself as anyone else as I wrestle with the premise/chapter one of my third NaNo novel. This post looks at cause and effect in our writing.

"I just couldn't put that book down. You must read it!"

Now wouldn't we like readers to say that about our stories? If they do it probably means:
  • the story followed logically - it moved forward naturally - cause and effect was in place.
You want your readers to be captivated by your story. If they're forced to think about why something happened, or maybe didn't, they're forced out of the story, they disengage while they try to analyse the plot. Maybe if you do it too often your book may languish, unread...

Example: You book is a thriller. Your MC is home alone. Your might write:

"With shaking hands she fumbled for the lock on the door. She could hear the killer outside, moving through the bushes."

Too much information? In a logical order? YES to the first, NO to the second. Your reader would be taken out of the story while he/she wonders why is she locking the door? Why didn't she already have the door locked, especially if she's a woman home alone, blah, blah...So he/she reads on, getting it. Yep, there's a killer outside, so sure, she should lock the door alrighty! 

If one sentence is there to explain what happened in the preceding sentence, it can be improved. Reverse the order - logic! 

Maybe your rewrite looks like this:

"She could hear the killer outside in the bushes. She reached out with shaking hands and fumbled the lock on."

CAUSE:  The killer lurks on the other side of the door.
EFFECT: She locks it.

Tip to remember today! 
  • When writing scenes, especially complex scenes, realizations and discoveries happen after actions, not before.
  • Always build on what has been said or done, rather than laying the foundation after the idea is built.
  • Continually move the story forward, rather than flip-flopping around with cause and effect. 
  • Each event should cause the one that follows it. 
  • Show your reader what is happening as it happens rather than explain what just happened, or what happened several sentences ago.
Like all general rules, there are exceptions, especially in section or chapter breaks. You might begin a section with:

"Why did you do that?" she screamed.

This would make the reader curious - who is 'she'? why is she screaming? who is she screaming at? This could be a good hook. However, if this happened in the middle of a scene, it would be wiser to go back to cause and effect - 

He slapped her, hard.
"Why did you do that?" she screamed.
  • can you suggest any other exceptions to the rule of cause and effect? Please share...
  • I know I like to be mysterious when I write and often blow the cause and effect rule. It's hard to know what works best. Interested in what you think...
Thanks to the Writers Digest for the ideas behind this post.


  1. I blow this rule out of the water too. It's definitely something I am working to improve on. I guess for me it just depends on how well the book is written as to whether or not out of sequence events make me love it or hate it.

  2. Dafeena: I'm with you. Sometimes being out of snync might be a good thing.


  3. Good tips to remember! Just the thing since I'm starting my second book.

  4. Nancy: That's excellent. I hope your novel goes well!


  5. That's an excellent example. Makes it easy to visualize how to do cause and effect in our writing.

  6. Prologues usually break this rule; it showing cause without effect, I think. I'm not a fan of prologues though.

    Or starting your novel at the end (thereby showing the effect) and writing to a memory/flashback until the story comes full circle. Again, I'm not fond of those beginnings; but Nicholas Sparks did it well in Choises.

    A good topic to think on Denise. Thanks.


  7. Being out of sync is the story of my life! Great post. I thought of a way to make my novel non-put-downable. But I couldn't figure how to put super-glue on the cover of the book! Have a great week, Roland

  8. Such a small sounding thing, yet it makes so much difference :-)

  9. Hi,

    I'm with Roland! ;)

    No, seriously, I think the key is in thinking like a script writer. Keep it short, succinct, in order of events! Read any good "How to write for TV Drama" and you see the light... :o But, as all my stories come to me via dream movies I'm only relaying what happened in sequence and hope I haven't missed one.


  10. SOmetimes when we are writing fast, we don't think about cause and effect. Especially with NaNo. However, the points you made to day are great!

  11. Reading posts like this always makes me nevous, because I think: gosh, have I done that? :) Generally speaking, I think I'm okay with cause and effect. It's description that generally gets me - I don't do enough!

  12. Thanks for dropping by my blog and saying HI. Since November is Romantic post-free, I have instituted my own weekly Friday post (just for my own fun) :


    each week a new exotic locale with my characters dancing with death, the supernatural, and, of course, romance.

    See what you started?

  13. Wonderful reminders and tips. Hope your doing good on the NaNo project. I'm keeping up with the goal. Some of us do word wars at night. Look for us on twitter! <3

  14. Hi Brenda. I'll probably be in bed when you're doing them! Glad you're keeping up!



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