Make Your Story Stronger Using Cause and Effect

Think of dominoes lined up on a table where you tap one domino and it pushes over the next domino until they all fall down. That’s how every scene in your story should work. The cause of one scene creates an effect in another scene.

For example, think of the opening scene in “Star Wars” where Darth Vader attacks Princess Leia’s starship (cause). As a result of this attack, Princess Leia hides the Death Star plans inside of R2D2 where he escapes from the starship in a pod that crashes on Luke’s planet.

R2D2 wanders away from the escape pod and gets caught by sand people, who then sell droids to Luke’s uncle. Because every scene relies on an earlier scene, the collection of scenes tells a tightly focused story.

Now look at any mediocre movie such as “The Flash” and you’ll see this cause and effect relationship completely ignored. In an early scene in “The Flash,” the Flash rushes to save falling babies who have tumbled out of a collapsing hospital. Yet the collapse of this hospital and the rescue of these babies serves no purpose to any other scene in the entire story.

Cut this entire falling baby scene at a collapsing hospital and the entire story doesn’t suffer one bit. That’s because this falling baby scene is completely separate from the rest of the story. That’s a huge clue that this scene is completely useless and should never have been filmed, let alone written.

The conclusion of one scene should directly affect the actions in another scene. This cause and effect relationship is the key to telling a focused story.

Another example of a movie that fails to understand this crucial cause and effect relationship between scenes is “Mortal Engines.” An opening scene shows cities on wheels where larger cities hunt down and devour smaller towns for their resources.

When the city of London finds and attacks a smaller town, it’s an interesting scene but has no effect on the rest of the story. Just creating a visually exciting scene is never enough. Every scene must be linked to another scene in some way or else that scene has no reason to exist.

So the next time you write a scene, ask yourself if this scene directly causes a problem that must be resolved in a later scene. If not, why does your scene exist in the first place?

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