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The Role of Cause and Effect in Novel Writing
 
 

The Role of Cause and Effect in Novel Writing


A. Cause-and-Effect: Definition

How, exactly, do you define cause-and-effect, as it relates to a literary novel?

In simplest terms, cause-and-effect explains the relationship that exists between two ideas/objects, when one acts upon the other, and then moves on to create an impact upon a third, separate idea/object.

Further, cause-and-effect is the method of development in which the writer comes to understand the reason(s) leading up to a specific action, event, or decision.

As a writer, you may then ask, what is the benefit of using cause-and-effect?

The tool of cause-and-effect has numerous purposes, including:

  • Exploring the order that exists within a chaotic reality
  • Offering up supportive facts and privy information to the reader
  • Speculating upon future actions and historical events
  • Showing the shift that occurs within a protagonist, other lead characters, or the environment, as a whole

And, as a side note, because it is virtually impossible for one literary tool to work independently of other tools, cause-and-effect often is used in conjunction with other critical-thinking skills, such as: sequencing, classifying, comparing, problem-solving, and decision-making.

B. Measuring the Impact of Cause-and-Effect Relationships

The questions of how and why are addressed when attempting to understand the nature of these cause-effect relationships. For example: How does the construction worker overcome his fear of heights? Why does the police officer always carry two weapons?

When attempting to set up realistic, compelling cause-effect relationships, it is very helpful for the novelist to answer background questions before plunging into a writing frenzy. The time spent understanding the impact one story element has upon future incidents, helps the writer to create meaningful storylines based on true human conditions and behaviors.

It is basic human instinct to gain a sense of why things happen (cause-effect). This is because it allows humans to feel comfortable with things that otherwise may seem threatening or foreign. At times, there may even be an element of surprise, when the reader reaches the end of the entire chain of events.

Therefore, it is important for the novelist to quell the uncertainty in his/her readers, by showing a direct cause-effect relationship. Such a framework can be used to educate readers, present order, reverse behaviors, and speculate on unknown subject areas.

C. Signals and Types of Cause-and-Effect Relationships

Specific words and phrases, (accordingly, as a result, because of, consequence of, if, nevertheless, and thus), often indicate the start of a cause-effect relationship.

When attempting to include a cause-and-effect relationship, it helps to know the construction can take one of several different forms:

  • Stated cause-and-effect relationships -- The relationship is overtly stated within the text of story.
  • Unstated cause-and-effect relationships -- The relationship is covertly described, or alluded to, within the text of the story
  • Reciprocal cause-and-effect relationships -- Akin to a ripple effect, the impact of one development results in a specific change which, in addition to the shift, also goes on to impact a completely separate entity. This pattern then often continues on down the line, until the point where it gets to the end of its reach.
D. Introductions and Timing

Before a novelist can thrust the readers into a complex storyline, he/she needs to first introduce the characters and set up the details of the situation.

To better explain the structural approach required, you may first want to reflect upon the idea that, as opposed to being episodic, novel writing entails a series of events which occur in the story, based upon the notion of cause-and-effect.

Similar to what is known as the "snowball effect," an inciting incident leads to a chain of events, driven by the characters' storylines, and continues to unfold. In turn, the preceding action causes a subsequent action, and so on, and so on.

All of the following: disasters, celebrations, reversals, mix-ups, guffaws, heated exchanges, and setting-related occurrences can come under the heading of cause-effect relationships.

Therefore, in order to talk about "Event A," involving characters "X" and "Y," the novelist needs to first introduce the two characters by providing a bit of their back stories, their affiliation with the story, and their connection with "Event A." Once introduced into the story, characters "X" and "Y" can be more casually written about, as the genesis in the story has been clearly identified.

The order -- or sequencing -- of events depends upon the novelist's agenda for the story.

For example, he/she may wish to introduce all of the characters, one-by-one, as they enter the door to a grand ball taking place at the estate of the village's wealthiest bachelor.

By selecting to tell the story from a third-party narrative perspective, the novelist would also include a series of flashbacks to provide the full history of each character, and his/her reason for being at the party.

The second scene may very well be a present-day interaction between one of the supporting characters, and another one of the village's townspeople, talking negatively about the lead female protagonist.

Again, it is the element of cause-and-effect, because of its ability to create natural flow, which spurs on the writer's development of scenes.

And though it has been said before, scenes are like building blocks, which serve the purpose of moving the protagonist closer to, or farther away, from his/her ultimate fate.

Essentially, the cause-and-effect framework complies with the journey of the protagonist, whereby he/she pursues his/her goal, encounters obstacles, experiences emotional reversal and then, most of the time, regroups to try again.

Dialogue

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Talk, talk, talk, that is all you ever do.

As the saying goes, everything has a place. And, within the novel, talk -- or, dialogue, as it is more formally known -- definitely plays a major role.

A. Dialogue: Purpose & Impact

When it is done well, dialogue can serve both to advance the story at a manageable pace, and to provide insights into the central characters. Further, when used properly, dialogue is an excellent technique for injecting needed breaks into numerous action scenes, long narratives, and/or descriptive passages.

Unfortunately, writing realistic dialogue can be one of the most difficult aspects of the creative writing process. Without convincing dialogue, readers can quickly lose interest, as false notes often distract from the essence of the story.

When novelists first begin to develop their writing skills, they may elect to minimize the dialogue for fear of injecting inauthentic voices into the story.

Rather than attempting to sidestep conversations among the characters, there are steps that can be taken help writers become adept at writing dialogue.

B. Replicating "Real Talk"

To produce dialogue that reads like "real" people talking, writers are advised to follow two processes:

1. Observe how people talk to one another in real-life situations.

2. Strive to create dialogue that sounds like everyday conversation, as opposed to theatrical dialogue, which often sounds stilted, and is designed more for dramatic purposes. Novels should reflect an honest interchange between key characters, based upon the nature of the circumstances.

Now that we have spelled out the rules, we can append them. Due to the fact that real speech has plenty of words and sounds that would be distracting if included on the written page, it is recommended that writers edit "real speech" to make it more appealing, and to create a better flow.

 

Beginning writers often feel that including words like "uh" and "oh" will help make their dialogue sound more authentic. However, truth be told, such extraneous words and phrases, (as well as speech impediments or unique linguistic patterns), can take on an amateur quality, whereby it comes across to the publisher/reader as lazy or careless.

For this reason, writers should not include a slew of grammatically incorrect sentences, poor word choices, fragments, or run-ons, unless they directly add something to the story.

It is not desirable to create exact replications of people's real speech patterns. This is because dialogue spoken by your characters, in addition to being a direct outgrowth of your story, should be moving and stimulating.

Ideally, dialogue should convey something new to the reader -- something that contributes to mounting the suspense of the story -- eliciting an emotional response, or revealing some hidden components.

There is no need to put everything into your dialogue constructions. This will only serve to make the conversations overly heavy and complex, as opposed to simple and straightforward.

Should the novelist wish to include other pieces of information, (e.g., "as told in the shrill, shaky voice" of the character), this then can be told within a narrative, or reiterated with another character's point of view or quote.

When attempting to create compelling, authentic-sounding dialogue, a wonderful quote to keep in mind is from Alfred Hitchcock, who once said, "A good story is life, with the dull parts taken out."

C. Dialogue: Writers' Guidelines

In an effort to truly capture the reader with gripping, meaningful dialogue, writers can employ 10 specific guidelines:

1. Do not be afraid to edit. Editing for omission is an important element when constructing dialogue. This is because words and phrases that do not serve the conversation's purpose, should be removed or replaced with more relevant verbiage.

2. Ask whether the dialogue is moving the story forward, while also bringing the characters to life. If it does not do at least one of these things, then there probably is no point to keeping it in the novel. According to Oakley Hall, author of The Art and Craft of Novel Writing,"One thought at a time, and keep the lines short."

3. Make an oral dialogue copy. Consider orally recording the dialogue as it is written so that you can listen to how it sounds when you play it back. If parts of the dialogue sound false or contrived, perhaps you may want to consider reworking those specific passages.

4. Exercise restraint when writing dialogue. This goes directly to the idea that the writer need only include that information which contributes toward moving the story forward, or gives closure to a previously introduced conflict.

5. Switch up your content. Attempt to alternate your passages between dialogue-driven pages and those heavy on action sequences and narratives.

6. Avoid use of stereotypes. While this idea should be self-explanatory, some writers still like to try and interweave subtle stereotypes, without ensuring they are part of a character's profile, or essence of the story itself.

7. Keep quote attributions simple. There is no need to vary attributions to any great degree. He said/she said, (as opposed to "he emoted," or "she exhaustingly expressed"), works just fine, for it does not distract from the content of the quote.

8. Read everything. As a writer, it is very important to read many different types of books, publications, and literary pieces to gain a true sense of well-constructed dialogue.

9. Avoid an excess use of slang or inflammatory comments. On occasion, to make your writing seem authentic and alive, you may need to use an expletive or off-color phrase. However, a heavy reliance upon such dialogue will cause the writing to come across as "trying too hard' and, in turn, will cause you to lose credibility with your readers.

10. Keep sentence constructions tight and clearly focused. As a novelist, bear in mind that your work is viewed as a form of entertainment or enlightenment to the reader. If you inject too many difficult constructions, or hard-to-decipher conversational threads, you will inevitably lose your reader.

 

Is it better, then, to produce simply-constructed dialogue passages, or singularly-focused ideas, as opposed to complex, over-blown text? This is hard to say, for in either instance, the writer runs the risk of alienating the reader.

In an effort to avoid either scenario, it is advised that the writer spend time developing effective dialogue-writing skills with the power to both pique the interest of the reader, and challenge them a bit, to reveal the mysteries laden within the text.

Play to your strengths -- Just because the story requires dialogue, does not mean the writer needs to replicate every aspect of writers' styles. Rather, in all types of writing endeavors, it is best that the writer seek to develop his/her own style for creating dialogue.

Perhaps tersely constructed dialogue is something at which the novelist can excel. Well, then, it is a good idea to stick to these methods as much as possible throughout the story. Should a particular scene call for more extensive dialogue, then the writer should tread carefully -- thinking first how the characters would sound if given a voice, and what they would say in that particular situation.

Writing, and Punctuating, Dialogue
When we write dialogue, there is a specific way that we need to punctuate what is said. Many writers have trouble with this, it seems to be one of the first things we forget when we leave school.
This is simply a section that will brush up on those rules. If you'd like a more in-depth review, a great book that can help is Writing Dialogue, by Tom Chiarella
Back to our review:
To set off quoted material, you'll use a comma. This sets the quoted bits off from the main body of the sentence, in sentences that contain quotes. If the main body of work precedes the quote, your comma will appear between the end of the main body and the beginning of the quote. Sound confusing? It's really not. Here's an example:
Michelle said, "Hand me that book."
The boy thought, "Why doesn't anyone understand what I'm trying to say?"
For those two examples, when you are setting the quoted material--what is said or thought, off from the speaker, the comma is outside the quotation marks. But if the main body follows the quote, the comma (or other punctuation) goes inside the quotation marks.
For example:
"I am so happy!" she screamed.
"I think you are going to win," Jim told Alexis.
The comma is there (or the other end punctuation) to show that this is still part of the same sentence. If it were not, then you would put a period to end the sentence.
For example:

"I think you are going to win." John then turned to Alexis and shook her hand.
Now, if the spoken words are broken up, here is how you would punctuate the sentence:
"Well," she said, "there goes the ball game."
The main body, above, comes between the first piece of what is said and the second. Note that your punctuation is inside the quotation marks on both sides.



 
 
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