Showing characters trying to process the aftermath of an event reveals what the action has cost or how it may have benefited them. As well, it creates a beat that allows the situation to settle for both the characters and the audience.
The consequence scene in Juno of Vanessa and Mark’s interview is shown after Juno and her father leave. Vanessa smiles with tears in her eyes and wraps her arms around her husband. In 3:10 To Yuma, the consequences are shown in Wade’s reaction to his henchman shooting Dan. Wade processes the action, and in a split second, responds with a death force that stuns everyone, including himself. He then completes Dan’s mission, turning himself in and getting on the train. In Se7en, the direct aftermath of the climactic scene of the movie (where the final murder is revealed) we see the ultimate effect of the events on Somerset. He will keep up the good fight and not give in to the forces John Doe represents.
Consequences and Reversals
Preparations and consequences often set the audience up for one result, but then deliver its opposite. Reversals heighten the tension and momentum by introducing an element of surprise.
The beginning of Jerry Maguire illustrates this beautifully. Jerry is laying out exposition for us, but he is actually preparing his mission statement. His frantic intensity drives the action and reveals how important the mission statement—The Things We Think But Do Not Say, The Future of Our Business—is to his psyche. Jerry has the memos copied and distributed, then returns to his hotel room where second thoughts pounce on him. He tries to recall the memos, but too late. He panics, and we panic. In the following scene, nervously preparing to enter the lobby the next day—ta-da! He’s met with applause. The audience is whipped around and smiling with him. As he exits the lobby, the focus shifts to two agents. “How long you give him?” asks the first agent. “Mmm. A week,” says the other. A second reversal hits the audience before the first has waned.
Preparations and consequences are effective tools for outlining a plot. They’ll help you design the sequence of scenes so that you know where to place emotional emphasis. When writing these scenes, remember to find the emotion and use it in an interesting yet authentic way.
In well told stories, plot development and character development work together. Rather than sacrificing one to develop the other, use each to mutual benefit. If you do, the reader will end his or her experience believing that the story could only have happened the way it did and with those precise characters.