The plot is what happens to your character. The story is about how your character reacts to the things that happen. It’s simple cause and effect, right? Hold on there. It’s not quite that simple. For the most effective story your forces of antagonism (see this post) and your character’s lies, secrets, and scars (see this post) are interwoven. Easy for me to say. Difficult to do. Until you have the golden ticket. What’s that golden ticket? Because there are lies, secrets, and scars and opposition, there is a unique plot.
Writers often worry about a story being “done to death.” It’s easy to believe there are no new stories in the world. One look at all the titles in Amazon can overwhelm you. Let’s rephrase.
There are no new story concepts in the world. A story concept is reducing the story to the basics. Concepts include: the revenge plot, the detective story, the space marine story, and so on. There are hundreds if not millions of stories about revenge. That’s the test. If it’s a concept, there are lots of other stories like it.
So how is a writer to make his story stand out?
You make choices. Your choices create a plot.
Choose Your Adventure
You choose what your story concept and theme are. Those are often generic. Your choice of which forces of antagonism you’ll use to structure your story makes your story yours. Which lies, secrets, and scars you choose for your protagonist and antagonist won’t be the same as anyone else’s. This combination of choices sets you up to create a unique plot.
Episodic vs. Cause and Effect
An episodic story lacks plot. Sam sends Mary a dozen rose and then Sam visits her and then Sam proposes to her and then they lived happily (or unhappily) ever after. Not very compelling, is it?
Remember how I said the lies, secrets, and scars of your character are your story’s third rail? And that third rail is what keeps the story train moving. (See the post Lies, Secrets, and Scars Make Better Characters)
If the lies, secrets, and scars are the third rail, “because” is the train’s engine.
Because is a conjunction meaning “for the reason that or due to the fact that.” (Dictionary.com)
Watch what happens to the “and then sentence” when you replace the “ands” and the “thens.”
BECAUSE Sam’s doesn’t trust himself to tell Mary he loves her, he asks his best friend, Jack, to give her a dozen roses and say they’re from Sam.
BUT Jack, determined to have the Mary first, gives the roses to Mary saying they are from him.
THEREFORE Sam decides he can’t trust anyone, ever and won’t talk to Mary or Jack.
BECAUSE Sam doesn’t trust anyone, he moves out of town and vanishes.
BUT years later, Sam returns to town after his father dies and discovers that the love of his life, Mary, married Jack.
THEREFORE when Sam receives a message from Mary stating she still loves him, he must decide if he can trust the message, Mary, and himself.
As an off-the-top-of-my-head example, this scenario isn’t as strong as I wish it were. But I hope you can see how the tension builds and the conflict gets deeper and deeper using this technique.
Because links the character to his past decisions, actions or beliefs. His past is always influenced by his lies, secrets, and scars. He makes decisions BECAUSE of his belief in his lies, secrets, and scars.
But is the opposition, the thing that prevents your character from achieving his goal in the scene and the story. This is where unintended consequences can come to play. It can be a case of collateral damage, something the protagonist didn’t foresee. These actions originate from the character’s state of mind OR from the antagonist.
Therefore is the consequences. It can be an internal or external event or a reaction. It always includes a decision (or refusal to make a decision). This is the “how the story events” go forward. Until the next bit of opposition.
Choose Your Tools
Because, But, Therefore are tools you can use to construct a solid plot. There are many other tools that you can use. This is the one I prefer. Will you try this one?
The “because, but, therefore” construction keeps me focused. Because there are lies, secrets, and scars the plotting process is more focused. And because their past influences the choices I make for the characters, a unique plot is born.
Thanks so much for this, Lynette! “Because, but, therefore”–I’m going to try it.
You are welcome! Yes, try it. Let me know how it works for you. I am loving how it helps me see where I’ve got plot or motivation holes. Good luck!