Friday, October 17, 2014

For Writers: Plotting a Story with Cause and Effect

Here’s a crash course on how to plot a novel. A lot of writers seem to struggle with plot. Their stories meander, and their scenes are episodic, which means they only feel loosely connected. The story never gains momentum. Consider these three scenes in a typical YA book.

Scene 1: Amy goes to school and hears about a school science project
Scene 2: At lunch, Amy’s boyfriend breaks up with her.
Scene 3: At home, Amy argues with her mom that she’s too coddling.

Is there anything that connects these scenes—other than the fact that it’s the same character? No. These scenes feel disconnected. Zero momentum. In order to make them feel connected, you have to make sure each scene inevitably leads to the next scene through cause and effect. You might think these scenes are in logical order, because they occur one after another in time. Amy goes to school, experiences a breakup at lunch, then comes home. It seems logical. But it’s really not. It’s just one random scene after another as we’re slogging Amy’s boring ass day. We need to add a missing ingredient—cause and effect. Each scene should cause the next scene, even if it comes right after in time. Now consider these three scenes.

Scene 1: Amy goes to school and hears about a school science project
Scene 2: Wanting to have the best science project, she ditches her boyfriend at lunch and heads straight to the library to look up ideas.
Scene 3: Because she ditched her boyfriend, he calls her later at home and breaks up with her, saying he’s sick of her putting school before him.

Now, it’s not the best plot, but you can see how each scene directly causes the one that follows. You can structure an entire book this way, and it will hold together much better than if you just show random snippets of a characters day.

I write mind-bending YA sci-fi series. To see cause and effect in action in a book, sign up for my newsletter below to get an email when my next book comes out:

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  1. Great advice. Simple too. Hey, we would love to see the enlargement of the stickems image. Intriguing.

  2. Believe it or not, that's part of the actual plot for Timeloopers #2 (contains spoilers, so don't look too closely!) Maybe I'll post the whole thing when I'm done. That would be fun:)