Divide & Conquer

One of the biggest things folks talk about in writing is cause & effect and the transition of the main character changing from Who They Were into Who They Are (at the end of the story). No good story is without change, conflict & tension rise like good dough from this battle between stasis and action, but it's the getting there that makes it happen. The story is in the journey.

So here's a neat little cheat-concept to help you out when you're writing something fresh (or something not-so-fresh? Sourdough perhaps? They're notoriously tough to start!) to make certain that there is progression based on those two lovely words: cause & effect:

Imagine a line. (You're going to have to imagine it because I'm dreadful with online graphics of any sort.) Okay: a line. It's the shortest distance between two ideas and these are the ones everyone dreams of as they begin with "The Beginning" and end at "The End." I presume that when you have an idea for a book, you as the author know when it begins (most often with your Main Character on the day that starts the ball rolling, although not always as J.K. Rowling proved, you can break any and all rules if you know a) what you're doing & 2) what the rules are). The ending is when everything's resolved, when the conflict is over and your MC has changed and the story is (at least for now) complete. You can see that, can't you? That's your proverbial "end of the line."

Great. Now you have a line with a Beginning and an End. See the rest of that line? It's the rest of your book, that Big Swampy Middle that Jim Butcher's always talking about, that dash on the headstone that encompasses an entire life between birth and death. (Sort of humbling when you put it that way, eh?) ANYway, mark a midpoint and think: what is the THING THAT HAPPENS that changed what happened that first day into what will happen at the end? i.e.: What is the cause set up in the beginning whose effect is felt at the end? Here is where we are tempted to write the entire omnibus and try to smush it into one line, this is also when someone asks the deadlie questionne: "What's your book about?" that we are tempted to blather on a rambling hour instead of having our handy-dandy 10-second elevator pitch. I'm asking for the elevator pitch, here: what is the one thing or instance that happens that makes The End possible. All tension and growth will lead up to this. This is your climax. (Technically, it won't happen midway through the book but more like 3/4th of the way through the book, but this is just a concept game. Bear with me.)

Got that? Now look at the space half-way between the climax and the beginning: What happened there to get your wide-eyed MC at the start of all this to the climax? What was the turning point that lead them to get into this awful jam, making the Big Decision or Taking the Big Leap? Plunk that cause that lead to the effect here. Now do the same half-way between the climax and the end: what happened after the dust settles and the MC blinks about to bring everything to its merry/tragic conclusion? (This latter half, by the way, ought to be a very short trip.)

You're getting the gist of this: for every line of Action to Action there is a midpoint of "What got us there?" Keep dividing the distance in half and you'll have an outline of scenes, decisions, and reactions to actions that carry both the reader and the MC forward from beginning to end. If you have a "straight line of thinking" that leads you from one point to the other along the journey of the book, you create the core of the story, the spine around which all the juicy bits can cling to creating foreshadowing, red herrings, subplots, mini-arcs and full-reversals; the basic line of your logic will hold things together and you can confidently write along the path of A to B because you know that whatever you've set up has a reason and a payoff that comes at the next juncture, placed along the path like regular breadcrumbs, pointing inexorably towards the climax as if your hero(ine)'s feet were always destined to go there, which, indeed, they were. By you.

Maybe this is a little trick that helps you think of your story in a whole new way. Maybe this is just a bunch of words to take up space on my blog. The end is the same: Go! Write! Now! ;-)


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