Fiction Must Have Order Part II

Be A NovelistIn my last post, Fiction Must Have Order Part I, we looked at the subject of order in fiction writing. I pointed out that when the novelist misunderstands or overlooks stimulus/response patterns, it can result in amateurish writing. Trusting that all who read this are on a quest to create work that is professional and polished, let’s take an even deeper look at this subject.

As a bit of a review, I explained that in the case of a straightforward stimulus/response pattern they should be presented:

  • Clearly
  • In the proper order and
  • Close together (so the connection between the two is not masked)

The Complex Transaction

Not all stimulus/response patterns are simple; some are more complex.

“Will you marry me, Gloria?” Ralph asked.

Gloria kicked him soundly in the shin!

Obviously, there’s something more going on here. We have stimulus and we have response, but at this point it makes no sense. Why did Gloria kick Ralph in the shin? In order for this to make sense, you must show what’s going on inside of Gloria. In other words, you must play Gloria’s internalization in between.

(Stimulus)  “Will you marry me, Gloria?” Ralph asked.

(Internalization)  Ralph’s proposal – the one for which she had been waiting for an entire year – shocked her to her core. Just this morning she had finally said yes to Carver Bradshaw. Anger raged through her.

(Response) Gloria kicked him soundly in the shin!

When should you go inside the character’s head? When that is the only way you can explain a complicated and unexpected response to a stimulus.

Background Motivation is not Stimulus

Here is another subtle trap that I see beginning writers fall into – using bits of background motivation as a stimulus.Be A Novelist

                Margie went to the kitchen to find the antacid tablets.

This is a response, but to what? You might reason that it’s because Margie has had an upset stomach all day. Now we have a structural problem in the order of events. This response is not immediate; it is not specific.

Let’s look at it another way.

Margie’s stomach had been rolling and churning ever since lunch. (This is background information.)

The stack of unpaid bills on the desk in front of her suddenly looked like an insurmountable mountain. (Here is the stimulus.)

Suddenly, she was sure she was going to be sick. (Internalization.)

Margie scooted back her chair and headed to the kitchen to find the antacid tablets. (Response.)

Awareness of Stimulus/Response

As an exercise, go through your novel-in-progress and look for stimulus/response Be A Novelistpatterns. How are you doing?

  • Are the patterns presented clearly?
  • Are the patterns in the correct order?
  • Are the patterns presented close together?
  • Do you find internalizations and are they where they should be?
  • Are you skipping steps in the patterns?
  • Are you using background motivation as stimulus?

Don’t assume anything. Be your own best editor. The result of your hard work will be clear, dramatic copy that holds reader attention. And that should be your main goal!


Be A NovelistRe-release of the fourth book in my Tulsa Series (Return to Tulsa) originally published by Barbour Publishing in 1995, now available on Kindle and Nook.  Return to Tulsa is historical fiction set against the backdrop of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. Check it out HERE.


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