Here is an example of a cause and reaction outline while keeping the theme always at the forefront of the mind. Cause and reaction is the easiest way to keep your plot line moving.
Cause: Tommy sees a commercial on TV that he desperately wants. His dad just lost his job and his mom is the sole support on a maids wages. The toy costs $100 dollars but his parents have too many bills. You have your motivation, and your problem, so in essence you have your cause. Tommy wants an expensive toy.
It doesn’t do Tommy any good to want something and not tell someone. Reaction: He tells his parents who both look sad when they explain that it might have to wait. Tommy isn’t any good at waiting. He wants his toy now. Explore his emotional state.
Cause: Jealousy. Tommy goes to school and every one is talking about the toy. Here is where you can get some specifics on it in a way that is telling not showing. It launches darts that stick to anything! Bobby tells him at length all the things it stuck to. He really wants the toy now.
Reaction: He goes home and barters with his parents. He’ll feed and water the dog all week if they will get him his toy. “Sorry bud,” his dad tells him, “we can’t afford it”.
Cause: That night he hears his parents talking about the toy. They know he really wants it. He sneaks around the corner so he can hear them better. His dad catches him and he has to go to bed without hearing the rest of the conversation.
Reaction: that night he dreams about what it would be like to have said toy.
Cause: When he wakes up in the morning he fully expects his parents to have gotten him the toy. He dresses nice, brushes his teeth, and combs his hair for the first time without being prompted (again more back story, character motivations in a showing way, not telling).
Reaction: When he goes down stairs and there is no toy he throws a fit. He wants it. His parents must not understand how badly he wants it. If they did they would have already gotten it for him.
He avoids Bobby at school. He doesn’t want it rubbed in his face that he doesn’t have his prized toy. Cause: He starts wondering if there is another way he can get a toy.
Reaction: He asks his teacher if she’ll pay him to clean the erasers. Nope. (You could go into a long narritive about how art is his favorite class, but if he isn’t drawing a picture of his favorite toy, then it doesn’t forward the plot! If you wanted to sneak it in there because you have an epic paint spill scene then have him draw the toy!)
he asks the bus driver if he can drive the bus and make money. Nope.
He asks the neighbor lady if he can rake her laws for money. YES!
Cause: Tommy cleans up the leaves with the promises of being paid.
Reaction: He earns a dollar for his efforts.
He is proud of his accomplishment becuase THIS is how he will get his toy. When he comes back the next day and the old lady doesn’t need her leaves raked he broadens his search. He does it for one dollar and later he adds walking dogs and later shoveling driveways.
He counts him money and has over the course of many months gotten $100 dollars (after raiding his piggy bank and saving his allowance). He counts it twice just to make sure.
His parents are proud of him and they take him to the store. It took him months so the toy is on sale. It only costs him $70. He proudly walks from the store, with his parents in tow, hardly able to contain his excitement.
They go home and he plays with it all night.
Cause: That night when his mom and dad tuck him into bed they ask him what he is going to do with his other thirty dollars. He thinks real hard. He already has everything he wants. He goes to his piggy back and pulls out the money. “I want to pay the bills.”
His dad ruffles his hair and tells him what a good boy he is. He tells him to save it until there is something else he wants.
Reaction: The next morning he is watching his cartoons and he sees that his super awesome toy has a car. It would make his already awesome car even awesomer. The only problem is it costs $50 and he only has thirty.