CAUSE AND EFFECT – Nothing frustrates me more than when I’m reading along and the writer has put the effect or reaction before the cause or action. You can’t react until the action has occurred.
Let’s take this one step further - everything in a story must be caused by the action or event that precedes it. That might seem obvious, but it’s that little something that can make your writing tighter and more effective. It’s realizing these little things that improve your writing.
Keep in-mind - you want your reader to always be emotionally vested in the story. When readers are left to guess why something did or didn’t happen, even for a moment, they will remove themselves from the story. They are no longer there alongside your characters. They will start analyzing and questioning the development of the plot. And you definitely don’t want that.
When a reader tells you that he couldn’t put your book down, it’s because they were logically pulled through the story. It moved forward naturally, cause to effect, keeping the reader captivated and turning those pages with anticipation. If you fail to do this, it can confuse readers and kill the pace. The reader will put your book down – and never pick it up again. Worse yet, may never pick up another of your books either.
Let’s say you’re writing a thriller and the heroine is at work alone. You might write:
With trembling fingers she locked the door. She knew the killer was on the other side.
You wouldn’t write it like that, because it would fracture the reader’s emotional involvement in the story. He would wonder; Why did she reach out and lock the door? Then he reads on. Oh, I get it, the killer is on the other side.
If you have to write a sentence to explain what happened in the preceding sentence, you can usually improve your writing by reversing the order. This way you depict rather than explain the action.
It’s stronger to write the scene like this:
The killer was on the other side of the door. She reached out with a trembling hand to lock it.
Cause: The killer is on the other side of the door.
Effect: She locks it.
Effect: She locks it.
Let me share a dead giveaway: If you’ve written a scene in which you connect the events with the word “because,” know you can improve the scene by connecting the events with the word “so.”
Take the example about the woman being chased by the killer:
She locked the door because she knew the killer was on the other side. If written in this order, the sentence moves from effect to cause.
She knew the killer was on the other side of the door, so she locked it. Here, the incitement leads naturally to her reaction.
Of course, most of the time we leave out the words ‘because’ and ‘so’—but you get the idea.
Remember in creating complex scenes insights and detections happen after actions, not before them. Again we are talking about action then reaction. Don’t tell a reader what a character realizes and then tell him why she realizes it; “She finally understood who the killer was when she saw the key.” Write it this way: “When she saw the key, she finally understood who the killer was.” Always build on what has been said or done. Keep in mind you want to continually advance the story, rather creating a flip backward to give the reason something occurred.