Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Because: One of the Most Important Words a Writer Can Use...

...behind the scenes.

I've come to appreciate this word like no other. After months of struggle and perplexed scratching of the head, it eventually came to me that I'd forgotten the importance of the word because and that most of my revision headaches stemmed from a lack of focus on that word. It sounds silly, doesn't it?

A writer seeking information will find it in droves if they take the time to look. Information on improving the craft of writing is distributed, bought, sold, and imparted freely online, in bookstores, libraries, workshops, colleges, writing circles, and conferences. And it's easy to get overwhelmed, even when trying to take it in small bits and chunks. Like many other writers, I took detailed notes, experimented with procedure and technique, speculated, gambled, and in some instances had breakthroughs. How frustrating it has become to then present a much better revision of a WIP to beta readers to find out I'd omitted one of the most basic parts of storytelling--a part I'd inherently known before seeking to get schooled in writing craft.

A fun children's book called Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo!; by Rosetta Stone, illustrated by Michael Frith; shows clearly how Cause and Effect drive a story. Because this happened, that resulted. Because that resulted, this next thing happened. And so forth. Each event in the book results logically from what came before and each action triggers something else.

Writer's Digest had a great article recently about this very thing, by Stephen James. To quote:
"When a reader tells you that he couldn’t put a book down, often it’s because everything in the story followed logically. Stories that move forward naturally, cause to effect, keep the reader engrossed and flipping pages. If you fail to do this, it can confuse readers, kill the pace and telegraph your weaknesses as a writer."
How embarrassingly simple is that? Yet in my quest to learn and include all of the other things I needed to know I had failed to stay true to the word because. It won't happen again.

The word because also comes in handy when trying to compose the dreaded synopsis, or when outlining a novel after the first draft (and even before that first draft if you happen to be a compulsive outliner anyway.) The story falls into perspective and place when you take the time to consider the cause and effect. It's more powerful than only considering the characters and their motivations.

For example:
Because...the protagonist comes home to find their house on fire--they now must locate their family; are homeless; have lost the important project they needed to submit to work to keep their job.
Voila!--inciting incident, inner and outer conflicts all lined up. Then by following each cause and effect, and knowing how your characters act/react (and their backgrounds), it becomes easy to see the possible twists and turns of the story. It also becomes easier to avoid the most obvious paths that readers' minds will stray towards. Each scene of the story will have a purpose and a reason for being, each character's actions will make sense or bring up new questions, growth can also be charted.

The word because is a writer's best friend—as long as it is primarily used behind the scenes—don't actually pepper the MS with a lot of becauses. Put the word to work. And kudos if you've kept it firmly on your internal writing dashboard.

I had to sit down and take the time to comb through my current WIP to outline the cause and effect of each part of the story anew. Part of me regrets to admit that I would have saved so much more time if I'd done this when starting my massive revisions on the original. I probably wouldn't have needed as many brainstorming sessions or as many new revisions.

Don't overlook the basics in favor of all the trimmings, because if you don't, everything else won't work.


  1. Good luck with the new blog. I highly recommend Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders as a book in which everything proceeds from one plucked string. In your genre, I also highly recommend Sara Douglass's Starman novels, which turns every event on its head with each movement forward.

  2. Thank you! I'll add them to my To-Read List.

  3. Hello Clippership,

    It's nice to see your blog up. I am assuming this means that your current manuscript is ready to query.

    Cause and effect, or action, reaction, catastrophe that leads to the next scene is the major building blocks of every page-turning novel. I am honored to become your first blog follower. I will link your blog with mine.

  4. Thank you, David. I really appreciate your input and support.

    I can't believe how silly I felt when I realized I'd omitted the consideration of cause and effect. I'm working hard to correct the problem and hopefully that manuscript will be ready to shop soon.

  5. You know, this is a really good point, and I'm guilty of forgetting it plenty of times. ^^;