Create Better Stories With Long-Term Effects

Whether you're writing fiction or non-fiction, long-term effects could improve your story.

Image by Louise McLaren (CC 2.0)
Writers, photojournalists, producers… the people who determine how stories are presented, often make it seem as if life is a string of short circuits. By that, I mean we often omit the long-term effects. We could create better, more powerful stories if we didn’t do that.

The current focus on sexual misconduct has a lot of people asking, why victims want to dredge up incidents that happened years ago.

One reason people feel that way is because they’re used to short-circuit stories. They’re used to hearing that A resulted in B.

A: Nurse Bevins was sexually assaulted by Dr. Smut, a top surgeon.

B: Nurse Bevins was let go after reporting the incident.

In many cases, that’s as far as the story goes. There’s a C, D, and E that follows but we’ve moved on to a new conversation before we hear them.

And, if the conversation about Dr. Smut ever comes back around, we’re so interested in big numbers – Dr. Smut is currently accused of assaulting 10 women—that we don’t really take the time to focus on how it has affected the victims individually. He’s the star of the conversation.

So, most of us will never know that Nurse Bevins was blacklisted from the medical community in her city, lost her home, became addicted to drugs, and spent five years fighting to get clean.

But yet people will question why, after years, Nurse Bevins won’t just won’t let it go. The answer is because it affected her for years. It may still affect her.

That’s a profound part of the story.

We all have something, if not some things, that happened to us years ago that have an impact our lives right now. It’s human.

But too often the people we write about aren’t humanized. They’re flat subjects. Statistics. Fillers for the chapters.

If you’re writing a novel, and something tragic happens to your character in chapter 1, but by the ending in chapter 12, you haven’t shown your character thinking about it, there are no follow-up incident and no long-term effects, you could be missing a major opportunity to create a more powerful and cohesive story.

Showing how and why problems and events affect people long-term adds dimension to their character and depth to our stories.

This isn’t only true for incidents that involve bad. The good people experience also molds who they become and how they act.

A subject (real or fictional) could attend a rally, hear a speech, and be so moved she donated $100,000 to a related non-profit. That’s cause and effect. Another short circuit story.

But what about the fact that five years later, she’s still volunteering for monthly fundraisers for that same cause?

Whether you’re writing non-fiction or fiction, you can often improve your story, and sometimes find a better story, by focusing on long-term effects. It’s not just about the bigger picture. Sometimes, it’s about a longer field of vision.