Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cause and Effect

In Jack M. Bickman's fabulous must-read Scene and Structure, he has a chapter addressing cause and effect. I have read published authors who would do good to study this chapter, because I'm one of those readers that notices inconsistencies. And they bother me.
  In the last post I wrote a review on Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. The book is totally addicting. But there were two places when I could have closed the book and walked away without a second glance, because in both instances the cause of something that occurred was not adequately stated, which made the effecting action unbelievable, and I lost interest. It still bothers me. I can't recommend the book as highly as I would like because of it.
  Mr. Bickman points out that fiction needs to make more sense than real life. In real life, things happen, and we sometimes don't know the cause and we sometimes don't know the effect because we only have our little lens of the world to look through. But when we're reading a book, we are presented with the whole world, and we need to know each cause and every effect. And they need to be spelled out clearly. I don't want to be left guessing. It takes me out of the story when I sit and think, "Why on earth did that happen?" or "Did I miss something? Because that was out of nowhere." These are two questions that readers should never have to ask.
  Along with Cause and Effect are Stimulus and Response. If a character is going to do something, there has to be a why to the action. And both the why and the action have to be something that we could see if we were watching a play. If someone throws you a ball, you react to the ball either by catching it, moving out of the way, or (for some reason you would have to explain) allowing it to hit you. But you can't say that someone threw a ball and then never mention the ball again.
  I see this happen a lot, as well. The author introduces something that seems really important or intriguing, but then we never hear of it again. If something important happens in a character's life, they're going to react to it. We, as readers, need to see that. And if there is something going on in the mind between the stimulus and the response, we need to know what that is in a stimulus - internalization - response pattern. For example, "Jane threw me the ball. I had already told her I wasn't going to play, so I refused to react as the ball hurled toward me and hit me in the stomach." Just saying, "Jane threw me the ball and I let it hit me in the stomach", with no reason why, doesn't work.
  As you read or write, pay attention to each cause and effect or each stimulus and response. Make sure all the parts are there and, if necessary, the internalization, too.

Happy writing!

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