Every Good Story Boils Down to Cause and Effect

There’s a lot that goes into telling a good story. You need to develop undeniably relatable characters, create captivating worlds and scenarios, and build tension with every twist and turn. But no amount of compelling detail or dialogue can fix a tale that’s missing the most basic (and crucial) story element: cause and effect. 

Cause and effect are what drive stories forward. They form a chain of events that guides the reader from point to point until they reach the end. Without it, readers are left with a jumbled mess of plot points and no real conclusion. Every good story relies on this fundamental dynamic to make sense—and to make a tale worth telling.

What is the Cause and Effect Trajectory?

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Cause and effect trajectory is a narrative device that links two or more actions and consequences together. It helps to create a sense of connection between events, explain why something happened, and make the story more cohesive and understandable for readers.

Take this sentence, for example: “John went to the store today, and the dog ran away.”

It’s not a story. It’s just two events that happened. But when you add the cause-and-effect dynamic, it becomes more than just an anecdote.

“John forgot to lock the door when he went to the store today, and his dog ran away.” In this example, the cause (John forgetting to lock the door) led to the effect (the dog running away). The idea that everything is connected makes the story more compelling and allows readers to gain a better understanding of why something happened.

Why is it Important?

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Cause and effect are essential for telling a good story for a multitude of reasons, such as: 

  • Providing cohesion: It helps the reader connect different plot points and create a sense of flow between events.
  • Creating suspense: It also helps build anticipation as readers wait for the consequences of an action to unfold.
  • Pulling readers forward: It gives readers something to look forward to and encourages them to keep turning the page.
  • Giving characters depth: It helps to build characters’ backstories and gives them a sense of complexity.
  • Enhancing meaning: It explains why something happened and provides deeper insights into the story’s themes and messages.

At its core, the cause-and-effect trajectory is what makes stories come alive. Without it, readers are left with nothing but a collection of disconnected events that don’t add up to a story.

How to Use the Cause and Effect Trajectory

The ways in which you can incorporate cause and effect into your work are endless. Below are a few methods to consider.

One Cause = One Effect

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The most basic way to use the cause-and-effect trajectory is to link just one action with one consequence. While this approach is straightforward, it’s also effective in creating suspense. You can use this as an overarching cause and effect that plays throughout the duration of your novel—like in the Harry Potter series, where Harry’s need to defeat Voldemort is the driving force behind every event—or in shorter scenes within your story.

On a smaller scale, one cause and one effect can continuously feed into each other, creating a cycle that pulls readers through the story until the end. With this approach, the cause and effect are tightly tied together and move forward in a linear fashion.

One Cause = Multiple Effects

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If you want to stretch out the cause-and-effect dynamic, you can create a branching effect where one initial action leads to multiple consequences. This will give your plot more layers and more possibilities for tension and suspense.

For example, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, when Ferris skips school, it leads to a series of consequences that snowball until the end of the movie. Each consequence builds on the last and creates a story arc that’s full of suspense and excitement. This is a great tool to use if you plan on writing a sequel or series, as cliffhangers can be used to drive readers into the next story.

Cause and Effect Within the Character 

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Sometimes utilizing this trajectory is more subtle and internalized within a character’s narrative arc. For example, if the reader learns early on that your protagonist is insecure, then the actions they take in the story can reflect that fear. Every decision and response serves as a cause-and-effect to their identity and how it affects their decisions.

By utilizing this dynamic, readers can gain a better understanding of the character’s motivations and how they develop over time. It creates an emotional connection between the character and the reader that goes beyond surface-level details.

Struggling to Write Your Story?

No matter what you’re writing—whether it’s a short story or an epic saga—you need to have a good grasp on the cause-and-effect trajectory. It’s the glue that binds events together, creates suspense, and helps readers understand why something happened.

If you’re struggling to make those important connections, click here to learn more about our book coaching services. Whether you’ve written three or 300 pages, book coaching can help you leverage the power of cause and effect to weave a tale that readers won’t be able to put down.

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Story Coach, Story Development

I’m Pam, Your Story Coach

I help busy professionals write and polish the book of their dreams. Let’s bring authenticity to your speculations, flow to your structure, and heart to your words.

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