You flip a light switch on. The room floods with illumination.
You turn the key in the ignition on your car. The car either starts smoothly, sputters, or just clicks on a dead battery.
You see a man driving a car blow through a red light doing 80. You later see the same man at the side of the road with a police car parked behind him.
Maybe these aren't the only things that could have happened. Maybe when you flick the switch, the light bulb explodes, or the stereo plugged into the wall outlet shorts or plays Beethoven's 5th. Maybe the man isn't pulled over, but gets off scot-free (unless the driver is me, that's likely to be the case, in fact.) But each of these examples show a possible effect to a given cause. Cause and effect are what we're talking about today... you might have heard of the sort of lesson we're doing today as "Scene and Sequel", if you do a lot of reading on the subject of writing. That makes it sound difficult, though.
So to make it easier, I'll paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton: "Every action has a reaction." Note that I didn't say equal and opposite, because that's not always the case in writing, as it is in physics. But every cause should have some effect, every scene should have some form of sequel, from the time you start to the time you write The End.
Take a gander, sit a spell. And we'll try to keep it fun.
Okay, before we go any further, let me throw out a few definitions, so you don't get too confused. Especially by the terms scene and sequel, which are tossed around a lot haphazardly in film screenplays and stage scripts, as well as in fiction. But when the two are put together, especially in fiction, they mean something that is only loosely related. So let's lay down some ground rules for this lesson, huh?
Cause is the impetus, the stimulus or action that can create some form of result that moves the story forward. It doesn't always have to be an action: a simple thought or line of dialogue can be a cause. It doesn't always have to be something huge and groundbreaking: the simple opening of a beer bottle can be a cause, and in that case, the effect might be the spritz sound of the vacuum seal breaking.
Effect is the result of such an action being taken or stimulus occurring. If the cause is Jim tossing his girlfriend a can of cola, the effect can be her catching it, or her dropping it, or her opening it to have it foam up and spatter all over her. An effect is not always necessarily the very next thing that happens because of the cause, but it should be the next thing that happens that moves the story forward or changes its direction.
Cause and Effect are completely interrelated, in that many separate Causes may lead to a single Effect, or that many different Effects can occur from a single Cause, and Effects can spawn other causes and effects, too. And on top of that, each of the multiple causes and effects may not carry the same weight. Take the infamous can of cola incident above. Let's say Jim's girlfriend Tracy catches the can, but thanks to Jim's toss (cause), the can gives her a nice Coke shower when she opens it (effect). What happens if we expound upon that a lot more?
Jim tosses the can. (This causes:)
Tracy gets doused in sticky cola. (an effect, which also causes:)
Jim goes wide-eyed, says he's sorry. (an effect)
Jim tosses the can. (This causes:)
Tracy gets doused in sticky cola. (an effect, which also causes:)
Jim goes wide-eyed, says he's sorry. (an effect, which causes:)
Tracy says Jim's always been thoughtful and uncaring to her. (an effect, which causes:)
Tracy doesn't believe him. (an effect)
Tracy doesn't accept his apology. (another effect, also from the cause above)
Tracy leaves the house, fuming. (another effect, from above, which in turn causes:)
Jim realizes he'd better get his act together. (a new effect)
Julie drank the strange, mystical potion. <---Scene
She turned into a stone statue. <---Sequel
Michael turned the ignition key. <---Scene
The car roared to life. <---Sequel
Jim dropped the lit match into the gasoline. <---Scene
A huge fireball lit the night sky. <---Sequel
I know, that sounds pretty familiar. Eerily so, in fact. But while cause and effect may be split up throughout the story-- for instance, Eric petrifying his pretty lab assistant in the first part of the story may be the cause that leads to the effect of his being arrested in the end-- Scene and Sequel are generally taken care of within a matter of paragraphs, at most. Sometimes, they are separated, but only by internalization that helps to define and drive the reason for the sequel.
Look at this example... I've broken it up from the paragraph format it would ordinarily be in to show you how that works:
Julie drank the strange, mystical potion. <---Scene
It had an odd, bitter taste, and almost immediately upon touching her tongue, it left a bizarre tingling feeling that flatly refused to go away, like the first time she tasted champagne. But instead of slowly subsiding, the tingling seemed to intensify down her throat, moving throughout her body with startling speed. What's happening to me? She thought, but before she could voice the words, <---Internalization
she turned into a stone statue. <---Sequel
Now, you could ask "Why isn't the fact Julie found the potion bitter the sequel, or the tingling, for that matter?" And although the tingling, especially in a drawn out petrification sequence, could be a sequel, in my example above, it is not the resolution of the scene, but a side-effect of it. If we were listing it as causes and effects, though:
Julie drank the strange, mystical potion. <---Cause
Julie found the potion had an odd, bitter taste, <---Effect
A bizarre tingling feeling that flatly refused to go away hit her tongue. <---Effect
The tingling sensation moved throughout her body with startling speed. <---Effect
Julie thought, What's happening to me? <---Effect
Julie turned into a stone statue. <---Effect
You see, scenes and sequels tend to be singular in scope, especially in the area of dialogue, or at least snatches between two or more characters. Imagine you're playing tennis and you serve the ball. Then your opponent hits ten back at you. Not very fair, huh? Same holds true here:
The mad scientist laughed as Gwen struggled against the mannequinizing beam. "Soon you'll be pretty forever." he said. He pressed a few buttons and grinned. The lights in the lab switched from white to red. "When this last switch is flipped, the oscillator will start, and you'll be just a display figure!" He walked over and caressed her cheek. Then he made his way back to the control panel, laughing insanely the whole time.
Okay, Gwen's got problems. Not only is she about to be a department-store dummy, but between the gauges, the maniacal laughter, the fondling, the dialogue and the formula itself, what the bejeezus is she supposed to respond to first? She's just been hit with a barrage of tennis balls, in other words. In photomanips, where you only have a given space for a caption, and the picture tells part of the story, anyway, this is acceptable. In fiction, it's not just tacky, it's all but unreadable.
The best way to go about this is to think of each major action (and dialogue, in fiction, is a major action) as a scene, and provide a sequel. To straighten out the above glorp, we use the sequel to have Gwen do something beside be a silent witness, (for now, while she can, at least!) as I've tried to do below.
The mad scientist laughed as Gwen struggled against the
mannequinizing beam. "Soon you'll be pretty forever." he said.
"You're mad!" She gasped, pulling against the bonds with everything she could. Nothing; she was still tightly roped to the crossbeam. "What have I ever done to you?"
The mad scientist didn't answer. Instead, he pressed a few buttons and grinned as the lights in the lab switched from white to red.
"Please," she said, frightened beyond belief. "What do you plan to do to me?"
"When this last switch is flipped, the oscillator will start, and you'll be just a display figure!"
She gasped. "A what?"
He walked over and caressed her cheek. She fought back a shiver at the clamminess of the hand as it touched her. He must have sensed her fear, reveled in it, because then he made his way back to the control panel, laughing insanely the whole time.
Now, I can't say that this is any good, for sure. But I know it's a helluva step up from the one before. Why? Because each small scene has a resolution, even if it's just temporary and leads into the next scene. Because rather than just standing around like a cardboard cutout, Gwen is part of the scene. She's reacting to the stimuli as they get to her. As a side note, as long as Gwen is conscious and able to, she needs to react, even if the reaction is internal (thoughts, feelings, etc.) rather than external (movement, dialogue). If Gwen couldn't move or talk, the last paragraph might read like this.
He walked over and caressed her cheek. (Scene)
She couldn't move even to shiver at the clamminess of the hand as it touched her; she couldn't even see him when he moved from in front of her blankly staring eyes. (Internalization)
She could just stand there, horrified out of her mind, as his hand slipped downward and two fingers touched her bare throat, lightly. (Sequel)
Yet he must have sensed her fear, even reveled in it, because then he made his way back to the control panel, laughing insanely the whole time. (A new Scene, brought on by the previous Sequel.)
Now, Gwen is a lot better off. At least, she is, up until she starts her new career modeling swimsuits in a storefront window.
Okay, so you've gotten a little bit of the whole fun of Cause and Effect, Scene and Sequel in mind. Don't worry if it doesn't completely sink in. I have it on good authority that even professional writers get confused by it. I know I do, and I'm about as far from professional as anyone you'd ever want to meet. Let me say that Scene and Sequel are more of a stylistic thing than an actual good craft in ASFR issue, and are far better covered by authors who actually have books out. Hunt books on the craft of writing up at the library or Amazon.com, and I'm sure you'll find someone that can go into more detail, and probably make it a whole lot easier to understand.
But Cause and Effect? That's a whole different story, no pun intended. After all, cause and effect aren't just stylistic parts of a writing piece, they're the logical way actions should realistically progress. If you're wanting your prose to be based in realism, even if it is, as a lot of folks will obviously say, fantasy, you have to keep cause and effect in mind.
So what's next? Well, putting it into practice, of course.
A lot of the stories that I've read tend to have a cause-effect problem. You know about cause and effect now-- A, B and C happens, and because of that, D, E and F happens, and so on-- but few writers take it to its logical next step, let alone to an extreme. And that's really too bad, because not only is cause and effect a staple of good writing, but it is the number one builder of follow-up stories and prequels in the fictional world. But in our fantasy world, it often (and this includes in my own writing) ends up forgotten. Part of that is to create much more simplistic stories, with as few loose ends to tie up as possible, granted. But in some cases, it's left out entirely, and makes for an extremely frustrating read.
Look closely at the line in the definitions that says Tracy says Jim's always been thoughtful and uncaring to her. You see how an awful lot of effects can come from this single cause? That's important... very few large-scale causes have only a singular effect. You may choose to focus only on one or two effects that move your story forward, but as an author, sometimes you have to think these other effects out. A good for-instance is the invention of the automobile. That's an impetus, a Cause. But no one in the time of Henry Ford probably foresaw Fast food drive-thru's, drive-in movies, car cell phones, the huge influx of traffic fatalities, the idea that a few backwards (in their time) warring middle-eastern nations would all but control the oil market and hold people by the groins, and the rebirth of the Japanese economy through auto manufacturing and technology for cars. Here's the bad news: as an author, you have to think laterally like that.
Cause begets effect. It has to, or the question of 'what happens?' in a story becomes only half-answered. Suppose we are creating a story (all of this is right off the top of my head) in which your standard, prototypical teenage couple, Bill and Kelly, are our protagonists. Our idea is that while Bill has been messing with his chemistry lab in the basement, he's come up with a variant of soft-soap that has petrifying side-effects, so natch, our loving Kelly decides to try it out. Note that I've completely disregarded everything I said about characters before for this little storylet here, because this is a top-of-my-head example. These are just prototypical teens.
Okay, let's start with what comes naturally. Bill lets Kelly muck around with his petrifying bottle of Zest, and she is silly or adventuresome enough to plop some of it on herself, and voila, we have the instant Kelly statue we always wanted. And now, the somewhat standard twist we find in many of our stories: Bill finds that his antidote is inneffective, or his dog drank it, or he even hasn't created a cure for his side-effect petrification yet. So Kelly's stuck in a nice, unmoving, solid stone state.
What frankly amazes me is that, so often in these stories, all we focus on is Bill feverishly working in his lab to find a cure, or even on Kelly's internal monologue about how nice it is to be a statue (or how horrible it is to be a statue, or how boring it is to be a statue). It's actually in its own way sort of funny, because for the duration of her imprisonment, be it hours, days or even weeks, these two teens or young adults might as well be suddenly living in a vacuum. I wish I had a life like this when I was a teen: no one bothering me, ever, nothing ever interrupting me at inopportune moments, the world going on hold when I went to bed.
Real life doesn't work like that, usually. Consider our pretty petrified teenage Kelly. You think maybe after a couple days, if not a few hours, maybe her mom or dad might wonder why she hasn't come home from Bill's house? Or seeing that she's a teenage girl, her friends might come around looking for her? Or worse still, especially if Bill hastily reassures any of them over the phone that she's not there, the police might get involved? (For God's sakes, a person only needs 24 hours these days to officially be considered missing!) What if Bill's taken away for conspiring to kidnap Kelly, whom he obviously has some sort of sick obsession with-- the guy has a freaking statue of her in his basement! Now how does she get turned back? This is the sort of thing you have to consider with cause and effect. The cause is our nubile femme's petrification. What are the effects, aside from just her standing around immobile?
Along that line, think about the people who become permanent displays in ASFR fiction. You mean to tell me that not a single one of them told anybody that they were going to a spa in the mountains, or O'Reilly's department store, or the new art studio downtown? None of these people have relatives or friends that would give enough of a flying hoopootzie to check into what might have happened to them? None of them even have creditors and bill collectors that might hunt them down? None of them keep datebooks? There's a whole subgenre of stories that could be built from this little question... what happens afterward? For that matter, if some model's pretty friend goes on the search for her missing friend, that can spawn a whole set of sequels... Vincent Jarrod did an excellent job of this with his Perils of Penelope Hoze series, but on the whole, cause and effect are a vastly untapped resource in our genre.
Let's take another tack, using another clichè (again, hate that term) of the genre. Our pretty young femme (or whatever the french is for male: Jacque, maybe?) finds that not only is petrification really cool, but they orgasm themselves into unconsciousness whenever they are transformed. That's a fairly standard twist on the petrification or mannequinization theme, right? Now think about it in terms of cause and effect. Are they going to keep this wonderful discovery to themselves?
What happened to the first caveman (let's call him Oog, for convenience's sake) that burned a funny five-leafed substance to try to get his nightly cook fire going? Oog was looking to have a nice saber-tooth tiger steak dinner when he found that when he inhaled the fumes from this weird weed, it made him feel good, it made him forget your problems, it made his wife (hell, it even made the wooly mammoths) look like a desireable sexual object, and it REALLY made him want to find a convenience store and hit the Hostess aisle? Well, if Oog kept it completely to themselves, we'd all be sniffing airplane glue and thinking that was as good as it got. So naturally, somewhere down the line, he told someone about it.
But beyond that, Oog or one of Oog's friends probably thought, you know, he could make some serious beads (money) off of this. And so he hoarded up what odd weeds he could find and sold off some of them to other people. And slowly, other people started to enjoy it, and maybe even get dependent upon it. Supply and Demand increased. This is all effects from the cause of Oog dropping an odd green leafy substance into the fire at home.
So why is it we never go that in depth with the amazing discovery of coming-till-nightfall associated with petrification? Think of all the effects that could come from Jennifer being petrified by her boyfriend Fred and having a five-alarm orgasm: (keep in mind, this is all off the top of my head. With a little more thought, you can probably come up with a few hundred more effects.)
Again, this is just a spur of the moment list. But from little causes, numerous and infinitely larger effects can happen. Think about it. Take a small idea, a cause... maybe the idea is that an art museum is capturing its critics and making them art pieces, or that a store is offering money for models to become displays, or that a college student is forced to do a science project on Cryogenics. Now spend five minutes, or more, if you like, and type out at least three effects that can come from that cause. Really, I trust you. It's not hard... and from that, you have the workable beginnings of a story.
Remember, cause and effect make your stories go around and add sequels where there weren't any. It's a tremendous tool.
I hope this helped you. I enjoyed talking about it. Next time, we'll work on one of two things (I'm not sure which will grab me first) -- Plot Twists or Dialogue. Hell, drop me a line and tell me which one you'd like to see, if nothing else. Or if you'd like to see something completly different, tell me that, too. I'm here for yas! See you soon!
Continue to Part 3...