Try this at the top of your next scene. It should help you guide readers through a character doing something that is “out of character” or against their own interests. It can make for a powerful moment in a story and set the tone for the rest of the narrative.

1. Emotion

Help us feel and understand the emotion of the character, especially regarding what has happened in the previous scene.

How much you write here depends on your genre. An action-driven might be a line or two whereas romance could be an entire page.

2. Reasoning

Now we follow your character as they reason about what has happened and what needs to happen next. In this section, they have moved from feelings to logic.

Again, the size of this depends on the genre. A mystery novel would have a lot of reasoning and logic whereas a thriller might cover this stage more quickly.

3. Anticipation

This is where the road is paved for the shocking change of character behaviour. Your character now thinks about how others will react to what has happened. They think about how others might view them. They consider the ramifications for them, their reputation, and their goals.

Take your time with this as now the character may have set themselves up for an unexpected right-hand turn.

4. Action

The character does something that is motivated by the anticipation stage.

Romance example

She realises that he has feelings for her. She is excited because she has feelings for him too. Her heart is thundering with the expectation of romance. (That’s emotion).

She realises that she must break things off with her fiancé from whom she has grown increasingly distant. It is the right thing to do. (That’s reasoning).

Her fiancé will be heartbroken. She thinks about her family and how much they have spent on the wedding. She realises that many people are going to be upset. Maybe her friends will think less of her? They may even think she was slutty. She anticipates that her best friend will be devastated as she too has strong feelings for him. What sort of friend does that? (That’s anticipation).

She tells him she feels nothing. She weeps alone before pulling herself together and going back to planning for the wedding she no longer wants.