Monday, July 19, 2010

Mentor Monday: Then what happened? The Importance of Cause and Effect

I was visiting a childhood friend who lived in the south. While we were out one day we ran into one of her acquaintances. I don’t remember the woman’s name so I’ll make one up. The introduction went something like this:

“Mur, this is Tabitha. Tabitha is my southern Muriel. She reminds me of you.”

Of course I was curious. I was also prepared to like Tabitha very much. We must, after all, have some things in common if Old Friend was reminded of me when she spent time with Tabitha. A flurry of thoughts ran through my head. Did Tabitha and I like the same books? Did we have similar senses of humor or even just sound alike when we laughed? Was she a teacher, too? Maybe she had three kids like I did. I was anxious to have the mystery solved.

If I were writing this meeting into a novel, I would choose some interesting twist that would allow Muriel and Tabitha to connect and maybe give the plot a way to progress. Maybe they are two single mothers struggling to make ends meet. They join forces and start a business. Or, they’re two women who discover they both once worked in the circus. They left for very different reasons... Or, if it was a horror story, maybe Muriel and Tabitha are both serial killers. Nah… I’m not Steven King…

Writing a story is like building a roof. When someone builds a roof they have to climb a steep ladder (the tension builds) and while doing so, they tote nails, roofing shingles, and tar paper (details are added). Building a roof is methodical—and just like a story, must have structure. Finally, the hardest part: roofing the peak (the climax).

So, I’ve kept you waiting. I’ve let the tension build. Why was Old Friend reminded of me when she was with Tabitha?

Because we each had a small, brown, hairy mole on one arm.

I will give you a minute to laugh.

Imagine where the meeting went from there. Nowhere. There was nothing left to say. Tabitha and I looked at each other uncomfortably, trying of course, not to stare at the other’s arm to compare moles. Tabitha excused herself and we went on our way.

Basically, I’ve just told you a story with a dead end. I’ve left the roofer on the peak and the customer has cancelled the roofing job.

Every part of a story needs cause and effect. Every section should answer the question: “And then what happened?”

Otherwise your reader will excuse herself and go on her way.


Sally said...

So not fair . . . .

Diane Mayr said...

Is that true? The mole business, I mean.

Mur said...

Oh, yes. It really happened to me. Old Friend had a tendency to say things like that...