As you might recall, I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in Los Angeles in September. I learned a thing or two and felt all grown-up and writerly sitting among real writers.
In one of the sessions, author Steven James spoke about the “Six Secrets to Novel Writing No One Ever Told You.” One of the secrets was the proper handling of cause and effect in your storytelling. Huh. Never thought about that.
Mr. James said, “Everything that happens in a story is caused by the thing that precedes it.” Huh, again.
His premise is you should tell your story in the order things happen. Why make your reader circle back, retrace their steps, and need breadcrumbs find their way back to the trail of the storyline.
Sure, there are places for a flashbacks and circular storytelling if you are so inclined. But that is a topic for someone smarter than moi to tackle.
It is better to propel the story forward, rather than explain what just happened. The difference is subtle, but there is a difference.
For example . . .
Instead of: Main character did yadda, yadda, yadda because something, something happened.
Try: Something, something happened so your character did yadda, yadda, yadda.
In many cases, it is simply a matter of switching the order of your sentence, or sentences, by using “so” or “and” rather than “because” and “when.”
Let’s see if I can make more sense here with some examples.
Charles Dickens squealed with delight when he discovered Robin’s blog.
Charles Dickens discovered Robin’s blog and snorted in disgust.
William Shakespeare followed Robin’s blog because her words are riveting.
Mr. Shakespeare is Robin’s biggest fan.
Robin writes nonsense so Billy-boy Shakespeare unfollowed her blog.
“You are one smart cookie,” Robin said to John Steinbeck when he praised Robin’s blog.
He must have been hitting the bottle.
When John Steinbeck wrote a scathing review of Robin’s blog, she said, “How could you be so cruel, John-John?”
How about a longer example in a non-Pulitzer-worthy paragraph form . . .
Robin put a shelf up for all the new awards she was sure would come her way because she wrote what she thought was brilliant blog post. She screamed in horror when there was a mass exodus of followers because of the drivel she wrote. Moments before, she was happy as a clam at high tide. Embarrassed, she took down her blog and faded into blogging oblivion. Robin’s post offended many bloggers.
In the above example, here is the order of what happened.
Put up a shelf
Wrote a blog post
Robin wrote what she thought was a brilliant blog post. She was happy as a clam at high tide and put up a shelf for all the new awards she was sure would come her way. But her drivel offended many bloggers and there was a mass exodus of followers from her blog. When she saw people leaving in droves, Robin screamed in horror. Embarrassed, Robin decided to give up the ghost.
In that example, the order is linear.
Wrote a blog post
Put up a shelf
See the difference?
For the record, I have 148 “because-s” in my novel. I’m off to see what I can do about that.
Don’t forget I put all of the Strong vs Weak Word posts under a link on the left sidebar in case you need a cure for insomnia.