Quick Writing Tip #15 – The W’s: Actual Event

This is the second of a 6-part series on the W’s.

WHAT is happening? – Apparent Event
WHAT do you want? – Actual Event
WHERE are you? – Environment
WHO are you? – Character and Relationship
WHAT is the obstacle? – Conflict
WHAT just happened? – The Moment Before

What Do You Want? – Actual Event

The Actual Event is the meat of the scene. What the scene’s about. If the Apparent Event is what you see through a keyhole, the Actual Event is a plot point. A story element.

Okay… so what are those things? For the Apparent Event, we used the example of a birthday party. Everyone knows what a birthday party looks like: candles, cake, singing, presents, etc. etc. And for 99% of birthday parties, the Actual Event is also a birthday party.

But not your story. No, the Actual Event at your characters’ birthday party is something completely different. Maybe it’s when the detective realizes the murderer is his own wife. Or when the villain confesses everything, knowing that no one will believe his confessor. Or when the star-crossed lovers finally come together, at last.

The Actual Event Is The Story

Every scene must involve change. Either the plot moves along (the story changes), or the character grows (the character changes). Or both. A scene that does neither serves no purpose.

The Actual Event does not have to be positive. Most of your story should be setbacks for the characters; if every development is positive, you’ll have to twists to your tale.

If your main character has a birthday party, the fallout should be dramatic. He thinks he’s going to get cake and a few well-intentioned but ultimately useless gifts. Instead, he gets the news that his mother isn’t his real mother, she’s his grandmother, and the woman he thought was his older sister is really his mother, and has been all along.

That would be devastating news to anyone. Maybe positive in the (very) long term, but at that moment – at that party – the news is a definite blow to the character, and a setback. How’s he going to deal with this? What about his plans to get married? Is she really his cousin? How can he know for sure? And on, and on, and on.

The Scene Can Have More Than One Actual Event

If your scene has more than one character, there can be more than one actual event. This is tricky to pull off, and delicate balancing act, but it can be done. When it’s done right, it’s usually a smorgasbord of dramatic irony.

I would avoid doing this with any but main characters. To be honest, secondary and tertiary characters are there to serve the plot and the needs of the main characters. I wouldn’t bother giving them an actual event. Sometimes a bartender is just there to serve drinks. But if your hero and your villain find themselves at the same birthday party… someone’s gonna win and someone’s gonna lose. And it may not be who you expect.

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