How to Create Cause and Effect in Stories

A writer watching the 27-Step Tutorial: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? on-line needs more help with how to create cause and effect in stories.

Cause is the why something happens.

Cause in stories serves as a:

  • trigger
  • catalysis 
  • reason
  • explanation for 


  • precipitates
  • prompts
  • elicits
  • sets off
  • sparks
  • stirs up
  • provokes
  • causes

an effect.

The cause is internal, external or both.

Example of cause: because she is tired and overworked… What happens next is the effect. 

Effect is what happens as a:

  • result
  • the upshot
  • aftermath
  • ramification
  • repercussion
  • a consequence
  • because of the cause 

Cause and effect are inextricably related and when interwoven help to create a meaningful story.

If the reader doesn’t know why something happens, the effect or action in the scene feels random, untethered and the scene loses power.

In the Beginning (1/4) of a story, best to use tight, surface, external causes. Without going into backstory causes or deep psychological causes up front, lure the reader into the story with clear and concrete causes. Clear and concrete causes create clear and concrete scenes in the beginning.

Not this: this happens and this happens and this happens…

This: because she does this _________(fill in the missing blank), this happens ________(fill in the missing blank) next and because that happens, she reacts this way, and because of that… and so on…

Her reaction to what happens may be wild, random and confusing, and stimulates the reader’s curiosity: why does the cause make her act that way? But the cause is clear and concrete.

The tighter the cause and effect, the easier time the reader has becoming grounded in the story world and the time to sink into the characters without becoming confused about what is happening when and why. 

For more on cause and effect:

Writing Blockbuster Plots: Step by Step Guide to Mastering Structure, Plot and Scene

Writing Deep Scenes Plotting Your Story Through Actions, Emotion, & Theme

The Plot Whisperer Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master