Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday Writers Tips... Cause and Effect in story structure

While riffling through one of my many writers craft books (and if you've been following my blog you know I have a lot) I found this interesting discussion on Cause and Effect from Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron.

The Logic of If, Then, Therefore 
As we know, both life and story are driven by emotion, but what they’re ordered by is logic. Logic is the yang to emotion’s yin. It’s no surprise that our memories – how we make sense of the world – are logically interrelated. According to [Antonio] Damasio, the brain tends to organize the profusion of input and memories, “much like a film editor would, by giving it some kind of coherent narrative structure in which certain actions are said to cause certain effects.” 
Since the brain analyzes everything in terms of cause and effect, when a story doesn’t follow a clear cause-and-effect trajectory, the brain doesn’t know what to make of it – which can trigger a sensation of physical distress, not to mention the desire to pitch the book out the window. The good news is, when it comes to keeping your story on track, it boils down to the mantra if, then, therefore. If I put my hand in the fire (action), then I’ll get burned (reaction). Therefore, I’d better not put my hand in the fire (decision). 
Action, reaction, decision – it’s what drives a story forward. From beginning to end, a story must follow a cause-and-effect trajectory so when your protagonist finally tackles her ultimate goal, the path that led her there not only is clear, but in hindsight, reveals exactly why this confrontation was inevitable from the very start. Note the critical words in hindsight. Everything in a story should indeed be utterly predictable, but only from the satisfying perspective of “the end.” 
This is not to say that a story has to be linear or that the cause-and-effect route it takes must be chronological — quite the contrary. It can take death-defying leaps in time and location and even be told backward.

Each chapter in Wired starts with a "Cognitive Secret",  how we perceive the world around us and how we can use that to write a more compelling story, then how it translates to the "Story Secret". 

For example, in Chapter 8: Cause and Effect, where the quote is taken from, the Cognitive Secret is: From birth, our brain's primary goal is to make casual connections -- if this, then that. The Story Secret is: A story follows a cause-and-effect trajectory from start to finish.

Other chapters include: How to Hook the Reader, How to Zero In on Your Point, What Does Your Protagonist Really Want? and Courting Conflict, the Agent of Change. Those are just a few of the story-building topics covered.

Check out my Writers Craft Bookshelf.

Have you read this book? What was your favorite topic?

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