One thing that's utterly crucial for first-time novelists is suspension of disbelief. The reader has to fall into your world and follow your story with zero "Really?" moments. I think two things contribute to opening a book in a way that draws the reader in this way:
- Minimal backstory
- Maximum cause and effect.
A few weeks ago I posted advice from Taylor Mali suggesting every writer had to base every word they wrote in the physical world. To my mind the most important thing he said was:
"...Don't expect anyone to listen to your advice and ignore your examples..."
I think a common misconception is that Cause and Effect are plotting devices: Love + Jealousy = Intrigue. Rage + Obstacle = Murderous Intent. Lust + Time = Love, etc - that if we simply put the right elements in a room together, we have created cause and effect.
While there's some basic foundational truth there, cause and effect goes much, much deeper.
Real, day to day life is driven by cause and effect. Every move, every decision, is rooted in cause. And every action creates effect.
I have a manuscript to finish, so I write. I am hungry, I eat. I love my husband, I pick up his dry-cleaning. My son runs a fever, I make a doctor's appointment....
Let's take it down another level...
I have a hunger to be a published writer - I read books about the craft of fiction, study the advice of those who've achieved what I am aiming for. I want my characters to be realistic - I observe the life and feelings of those around me. I need an agent and a publisher - I query, and submit, and edit and wait...
But it goes deeper than that too:
I am inherently driven by a need to prove myself - to those detractors who, in my junior high and high school years told me I was nothing, hated, ugly and worthless; to the university professors who told me I was ill-disciplined, untalented, never going to be good enough; and to the adults who have (and do, and will) inwardly scoff at the idea I could ever be a success, because "She's just Aimee. She's normal. She's nothing special."
So I don't just write, I strive.
"Cause" can be anything from an unexpected phone call, to car crash, to a harsh word from a parent when the character was five.
"Effect" is demonstrated in every detail from getting dressed in the morning, to one character setting out to murder another.
Really good writing doesn't just let cause hang in the wind, whipping the characters too and fro. Really good writing delves deep. It lets every detail have a point and gives every character intent a foundation. Events and actions, big and small, are twined and tangled until the ultimate moment when every single event and intent collide in a cacophony of Effects.
The reader heaves a sigh of relief, not simply because the Hero has won the day, but because when they look back they can clearly see every action and reaction logically drawn from and pointing to this moment. Emotions have been spent, actions have had consequences, now reactions will end the day.
Dig deeper, friends. In yourself and in your characters. And watch brilliance unfold.
Your Turn: What comes to mind when you think of 'cause and effect'? Does the concept enter your writing process?