• Jabe Stafford

Write Good Chain Reactions

Write Good: An Absurd Storytelling And Adventure Blog

The Chain Reaction

Who sets up dominoes and doesn’t knock the shiz out of them?

Not writers.

Chain reactions are part of the fun for you, and part of the stress of being a character in a novel. It can be dadgum tough writing a believable chain reaction that tracks back to one event in your story. Know what’s harder than that? Writing one that happens off-stage or outside the protagonist’s view. Ya can’t just say this was happening in the background the whole time. That’s what B movies failing at being Hollywood moneymakers do. Sometimes. Sparking the ultra-satisfying ending at the end of that chain reaction is fricktastically hard to pull off too.

Ready to do the tough stuff? No? Then prepare for adventuresome discomfort as we trek outside the comfort zone and into some domino-wrecking territory.

Foreshadowing and shotgun theory and all that stuff are great, but sometimes they’re terrible for writing a master chain reaction. Because readers know to look for them. Use those tricks and pile some more on, just like you did with whipped cream on waffles last ni—er, as a kid. Make that chain reaction you’re setting up itch at the back of the reader’s mind. Put those hints in with a red herring or two EARLY. Friggin’ EARLY. So early the reader swears they remember something important but can’t see it for the life of ‘em. This is easier if you’re writing longer stories like novels or epic fantasy because it’s easier for the reader to space out on what happened in the first three chapters when there are fifty. Or a hundred.

Hell, I read a recent bestseller by a snarky Pennsylvania author with a beard once. Okay, thrice. With that one, the foreshadowing in the first three chapters got lost ‘cause I was too busy orienting myself in the story world. Loved the characters too damn much to be paying attention to both short term important things and long term important things. Dude made me obsess over these things, but not those ones that looked like just the usual chaos in a novel like that.

So hey, writer out there, you practice doing that. Plot a little and ask yourself what dominoes you can hide among the genuine worldbuilding or super-tasty character arcs in a story you’re working on. If the reader adores bounty-hunter-daddy-man enough where they’ll gobble up his lines and only pay token attention to the action or the setting, that’s how you know your chain reaction’ll be ginormous.

Who am I kidding? We both know that’s not enough. First of all, none of your characters should be token anything. If you ask them, they all KNOW they’re the most important person in the story. Second of all, everything that happens to them is real. They have to face it. The daily obstacles and disasters they experience ARE part of the bluster shuck going on in the story world, so it’s not just something happening in the background as your plot barges forward.

They can’t ignore it.

That’s where you hide the dominoes that will set off the chain reaction.

Maybe it’s a character reacting to an emergency that hit them, and that seems like the same thing happening to others. Could be that it’s side effects of the giant cheese meteor that crashed into your story’s world. (Swap cheese meteor for whatever crazy event or incident in your story, of course.) Make one of those incidents more meaningful. Give it double meaning that only SEEMS like average, everyday chaos. Then mention it once or twice more when other high-level shiz is going down.

Et voila - your dominoes are in place and legitimate, all while being disguised as other things.


Totally read a novel once where the same slightly insane object appeared in every major place before the plot bomb dropped. That writer was PLANNING for you, the reader, to see this object each time and know something was up. Because the repetition was obvious.

So there’s your last tip, fellow writing adventurers. If you write up a storm and announce that chain reaction the way anime characters announce their moves, then it’ll be friggin’ obvious.

Write on and have some adventures, friends.