Get the order right
Action or stimulus, then response…in that order.
Storytelling is about showing a character wanting something—either a need or desire—and moving towards it.
However, the real guts of the story though are in the action and response, or stimulus and response. A character takes action, and the world responds. Or the character receives a stimulus from outside or inside themselves, and they respond.
It seems simple and basic, but when our readers get confused, we've poorly communicated it correctly.
Either we think we've put it on the page and haven't, or we've screwed up the order and arranged the response before the action/stimulus.
We must listen to our readers, find out where they get confused and fix our mistakes.
Just because we think it makes sense doesn't make it so.