All About The Story Chain
Cause and effect is super-important in your novel or screenplay, which means a solid ‘story chain’ is everything.
Cause and effect creates an engaging and cohesive story. In simple terms, cause and effect is all about showing how one event leads to another. This creates that ‘chain reaction’ that ultimately shapes the story.
An obvious example of this we’re all familiar with is The Hero’s Journey. This plotting archetype shows us how a protagonist goes from ‘zero to hero’ via a number of well-thought-out steps that escalate.
During the journey, the protagonist must go up against a powerful antagonist. The hero must identify allies and go through a number of ordeals to overcome the villain. The story chain in The Hero’s Journey is so popular and so enduring because it is so obvious and easy to follow.
The story chain can refer to ANY story however, not just The Hero’s Journey. Just remember: each scene must lead to the next one.
Why The Story Chain Is So Effective
1) Builds anticipation
By establishing a clear link between actions and their outcomes, this sense of cause and effect creates tension and builds anticipation.
As viewers or readers witness one event after another unfolding, they become more invested in what will happen next. This sense of anticipation keeps them on the edge of their seats, eagerly waiting to see how everything will unfold.
2) Adds depth to characters
Cause and effect not only moves the plot forward but also provides insight into a character’s motivations and choices. When we see how their actions have consequences, we gain a deeper understanding of who they are as individuals. This allows us to connect with them on a more personal level, making their journey even more meaningful.
3) Creates logical progression
Without cause and effect relationships, stories can feel disjointed or random. By linking events together through clear causal connections, writers can create a strong story for our readers and viewers to invest in.
Common Mistakes Writers Make With The Story Chain
Unfortunately, many writers make mistakes trying to incorporate the story chain in their scripts or novels. Here’s the most common I see when I’m reading spec scripts or unpublished novels …
i) Not Establishing Clear Connections
One of the most important aspects of cause and effect is establishing clear connections between events. Each action should have a clear consequence that directly leads to the next event in the story. Without these clear connections, the story may feel disjointed or confusing for the audience or readers.
To avoid this mistake, it’s essential to carefully plan out your story beforehand. Map out how each event will lead to the next one. This will ensure that your story follows a logical progression and keeps the audience engaged. MORE: Why Lack of Structure Is Killing Your Characters)
ii) Focusing on Minor Events
Another mistake writers often make is focusing on minor events as causes rather than significant ones. While small actions can certainly have consequences, it’s important to prioritise major events that drive the main plot forward.
For example, if a character’s decision to skip work leads them down a path of destruction, that choice would be more impactful than simply spilling coffee on their shirt earlier in the day. Make sure you are choosing meaningful causes for maximum impact.
iii) Forgetting About Escalation
As any writer knows, it’s important not to be boring. South Park’s Trey Parker says BORING stories occur when “A happens and B happens and C happens and D happens”.
According to Parker, if we change our “Ands” into “Sos” “Buts” and “Therefores” it alters the story chain completely. Our stories become: “A happens SO B happens BUT C happens THEREFORE D happens”
The ’cause and effect’ is very clear here, plus it shows how good stories escalate. Escalation is the lifeblood of good storytelling and avoids them becoming boring.
iv) Ignoring Character Motivations
Cause and effect should always stem from character motivations rather than just serving as plot devices or convenient coincidences. When characters’ actions are driven by what they want, the story is much more relatable … Even if what those characters want is deplorable. That’s right: even villains should have strong motivations!
v) Forgetting about genre conventions
It’s not rocket science that genres exist because people SIGN UP for certain things, eg.
- Comedy? They want to LAUGH
- Horror? They want to be SCARED
- Thriller? They want to be EXCITED
This stuff is obvious because it IS … but it also means the story chain is affected. There are certain things certain genres HAVE to do … For example, in both horror and thriller, the story chain frequently deals with what B2W calls ‘flight to fight’.
This is why immersing ourselves in our chosen genre is so important. It helps us realise what the non-negotiables are.
The story chain is a key element of structure. Since structure (aka plotting) is often something writers struggle with, the story chain is a useful visual to remember because …
- It helps keep readers and viewers invested
- Creates layers and nuance to characters and their actions
- Stops us writers from going off at a tangent
So make sure you build up your story chain in your novel or screenplay. It can really help keep your story on track.