It’s a really common problem that a writer will be writing along, discovering what comes next as they write, and before they know it they have taken a path they weren’t expecting and wound up in some plot territory that they don’t really want to be in. Today we’re going to talk about a really simple plot-framing exercise that will help prevent this meandering and help you tie your scenes together.
There is a phrase which is going to make all of the difference when it comes to keeping your major plot points on track and out of the weeds. This magical phrase is because of that.
Why It Works
It’s essential to remember that a story hinges on cause-and-effect. Without it, there are just a bunch of random moments floating about like bubbles, bouncing off of one another with no logic. Because of that reminds us that each scene needs to lead into the next one with intention and purpose. This is what ties your scenes together.
We’re going to look at this phrase from two levels today – the external level and the internal or emotional level. Let’s consider the external level first. This would be the events and circumstances surrounding the protagonist.
Because of That in External Action
Let’s say that in one scene, a man robs a convenience store. There are several different directions the story could logically go from there, so I’ll give you a few examples. He robs the store. Because of that, he goes into hiding in his girlfriend’s basement. He robs the store. Because of that, the cashier sounds an alarm and the man is immediately arrested in the parking lot. He robs the store. Because of that, he is triggered to continue on a crime spree.
These are examples of the surface level cause-and-effect, things happening in an order that will probably make sense to the reader if the reader has a basic understanding of the consequences of a robbery. So this is a starting place, but it isn’t enough.
We don’t want the reader just to get it. We want the reader to care. And the way we help the reader care is by making sure that the cause-and-effect, the because of that, is happening at an emotional level inside of the protagonist. In other words, the next scene or plot point happens because the protagonist is experiencing a set of thoughts and emotions. The emotion is what really ties the scenes together. And if you are only thinking about the external events, you are completely missing what really matters.
Because of That in the Emotional World
So let’s consider our convenience store robber again. He robs the store. How does he feel in that moment? Why is he there? What is he hoping to gain from this action? Is it an act of desperation, impulsivity, criminal intention, or anger? And once the scene concludes, and he leaves the store, what does he want next? Perhaps he immediately craves safety. Perhaps he immediately craves notoriety.
The decisions you make in response to these questions are going to drive what happens next. Let’s say it was an act of desperation and he knows that what he has done is wrong. Because of that, he might run home and hope he won’t get caught. On the other hand, maybe it was an act of revenge on the store owner. Because of that, he might nonchalantly walk out and brag to his friends. What he wants in the next moment is what will drive the decisions he makes – that you as the author makes – for the next scene.
Yes, there will be times when things happen that are unexpected to the protagonist. Maybe he is heading off to brag to his friends when he hears sirens in the background. But here is what’s important…he is going to react according to what he wants. So if what he wants changes (in this case he goes from wanting notoriety to wanting safety) his decisions and actions will reflect that. He hears the sirens, and because of that he decides to postpone the brag session and hide in his girlfriend’s basement.
How to Use Because of That
In a perfect world, I would strongly suggest planning out this cause-and-effect trajectory before you dive into that first draft, but if you haven’t and you’ve found yourself wandering through the weeds, insert the phrase because of that between your scenes and see if what you’ve got is working…or if you need to change course.
Writers, tying our scenes together with cause-and-effect that is driven by the internal, emotional state of your characters is what is not only going to keep your plot on track, but is what will tie your scenes together and keep your readers engaged.
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