Stories are a chain of events, and each event, or scene, evokes the next. It’s easy to imagine a sequential yarn of happenings: This occurs, followed by this, and this, and so on. But what about the space in between the toppling dominos? In reality, an event can happen in the course of one or two sentences. The space between these events is equally important. Consider the following:
The lights flickered and went out; when they came on, her diamond necklace was gone.
A rush of icy water hurtled across the bow and swept him into the sea.
These situations, from a narrative perspective, are probably important. In fact, they could serve as the inciting incident for a novel; however, the simple fact that someone lost their jewelry or fell off the side of the boat isn’t enough to make a compelling story.
Every moment that moves your story forward needs a reaction, a second half. These reactions are the fuel that keeps your story going. They draw a line from one piece of the action to the next, providing the logical sequence that makes your story tick.
What Counts as a Reaction?
Before your character makes a decision, he needs a gut reaction – an emotion. Here are a few ideas:
Identifying the Action / Reaction Cadence in Your Story
Reaction may be a bigger part of your novel than you realize. Generally speaking, the second half of your narrative is a reaction against the first. As your character moves through each scene, grappling with the first and second plot points of the novel, she gains a better understanding of her opponent until click! – something changes and she makes a decision. She starts to act against her antagonist, working toward an attainable goal, which culminates in a final confrontation.
Scenes work the same way. What does your heroine do when her diamonds go missing? How does she feel? What action does she take, if any? Perhaps she calls an old friend who is now working as a private investigator. Or she could mount an investigation to track down the thief by herself. The important thing is she reacts.
Similarly, think about our castaway from the second example. Does he wash up on the shores of a deserted island, wallowing in defeat and self-pity? Or is he rescued by an aged fisherman who reveals a quest for buried treasure? These reactions naturally flow from the original events, so take a look at your work in progress and identify the important moments and the scenes that show your character’s reaction to them.