Writing Tips: Reactions

What does this image have to do with writing? It’s a good visualization of a basic story structure. Let’s break it down.

The colored balls are stationary representing the status quo. This is what the day to day life is for your main character at the beginning of the story.

Next is the inciting incident. This is the incident that causes change. In the image, it would be the figure grabbing the ball. Note that it’s not the incident itself that cause the story to take off.

Think about how the figure grabbing the ball could simply slowly lower it back into place and it would all be still again. What causes it to take off is the reaction, which begets more reaction.

Once the figure drops the silver ball, it will hit the green ball, the green ball will hit the red, and so forth. When the momentum starts, the balls react to each other bouncing back and forth until all of the energy is resolved.

A story should work in a similar fashion. You start with normal. Something happens. Your character reacts in a way that causes normal to change. Each change causes a new reaction, until everything is resolved and it goes back to normal.

Each action, or plot point, should feel like it was caused by, or is a reaction to, previous plot points. And wherever possible, let the main character start the reaction.

Susie is driving to work like she does everyday (status quo). The car breaks down (inciting incident). What she does next sets the plot in motion. Does she walk to work and deal with the car later? Call a tow truck? Does she call her neighbor? Maybe she fixes it herself.

Each of those decisions creates a consequence that she will then need to react to. If you cannot say, “A happened because of B,” then chances are you need to delete it.

Visualize how Newton’s cradle transmits energy through each strike. Your plot’s energy should come from each decision and following reaction and consequence until you come to a new status quo.

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