Writing with Repercussions
Writing isn’t just about action and dialogue and description. It’s not even just about all that and a few characters and a plot. Because what brings it to life—more than vivid descriptions, intricate world building, and scintillating dialogue, all put together—is having a world whose characters and other bits are reactive, responsive, and, most importantly, interactive. Having consequences for every choice, and equal and opposite reactions for every novelistic action.
Without repercussions, it feels a bit like throwing a rock into a pool—without it making a sound, a ripple, or a splash. Which is to say, it feels awesomely unsatisfying—and the opposite of immersive. It feels flat, and frustratingly unreal, no matter how gorgeous a picture of the pool and the rock description paints, and no matter how well-described the action of throwing the rock.
So, What Does It Mean?
Reactiveness and interactivity are the binding agents of your story. Without it, even if your dialogue, action, description, and plot are all beyond excellent, we’re going to be stuck in a serious state of wanting more. And by more, I mean that we’re want to know:
- What emotions people are displaying (or, for the point-of-view character, just plain having)?
- What thoughts people are broadcasting (or, what thoughts is the POV character is having)?
- How people are expressing themselves and communicating with one another nonverbally?
Try thinking of the social layer of your book as a pond with all your characters and cities and such in it. When a character does an action, it creates ripples that other characters react to, stronger when near the source. Big enough actions, like the fall of a city, might cause a large wave. Smaller actions, like farting under the water, might just aggravate that character’s neighbors and cause them to move farther away. Either way, the characters are going to be reacting to the emotions of others and having thoughts regarding the ripples that affect them that they likely will express nonverbally (as well as verbally, of course).
What Does It Do?
Writing reactively provides your writing with depth and realism. It helps us to understand the relationships between the characters, identify with the characters, and begin to understand where each character fits in to their world. It’s also key in helping us to understand why whatever is happening is important to the characters and the plot. Without these things, when actions happen in a vacuum, we have no idea if something is important or not, or what the possible consequences of an action might be. And without that, we are unable to really get nervous, excited, or fully engaged.
But beyond all that, reactive and interactive writing is absolutely essential to the pacing of your story. The ebb and flow of this tide of emotions, thoughts, and nonverbal communication helps drive climatic moments, and can create some of the fiercest tension. It’s what makes us worry when a character makes a perhaps fatal etiquette mistake, or makes us cry when a largely unseen character dies (you can illustrate a character not only by their presence, but also by the effect of their absence on the world and the characters around them).
Why It Is Important?
Essentially, reactions and interactions provide context. Without it, it can be hard for a reader (who doesn’t have all the background on the characters and the world that the author does!) to fully appreciate the subtleties of the events and relationships with which they are presented. Context also allows us to get emotionally engaged with your writing and your characters. And, repercussions and emotional engagement are the cornerstone of an immersive reading experience.