“Plots Need Believable Consequences” by Joan Y. Edwards
A great plot in your fiction novel must have believable consequences in the world you create for it. Otherwise, your story falls off the deep end. Even though you may know that your story needs believable consequences, you may not have noticed they weren’t as believable as you thought.
Sometimes, if you’re like me, you create unbelievable consequences and happenings for your characters. You need a gauge that lights up and goes “BEEP BEEP BEEP” when you put a character in a far-fetched situation or consequence. If you don’t have one of these gauges and can’t find one in your local bookstore, how do you keep the events in the flow of your story natural, believable, and true to character? Perhaps a look at what is the difference between natural consequences, logical consequences, and unrelated man-made consequences that are neither natural or logical will help you:
- Does what happens to your character as a natural consequence for his chosen actions?
- Is what happens to your character as a result of his action a logical consequence set up by another person…the consequences for breaking a law of an antagonist, bully, family, parent, teacher, organization, church, county, city, country, or society? (who makes up their own rules and consequences)
- Is the consequence or result of his action neither natural or logical but a man-made punishment unrelated to crime decreed by a bully, family, parent, teacher, organization, church, county, city, country, or society (who makes up their own rules and consequences)?
In an article “Natural and Logical Consequences” on Kansas University.edu website it states that D.B. Pryor and T.R. Tollerud say that that natural consequences are outcomes that are not planned or controlled but happen as a result of behavior. (Pryor, D.B. & Tollerud, T.R. (1999). Applications of Adlerian Principles in School Settings. Professional School Counseling, 24, 299-304.)
Jerry Webster in his About.com article, “Consequences, Not Punishment,” says that a natural consequences can be dangerous, for instance, when you play with fire you are going to get burned.
Logical consequences teach a lesson because they relate to the behavior. If a three-year old rides his bike in the street, the parents take the bike away for three days. If you do not do your work and a boss fires you, it’s a logical consequence.
Dr. Laura Markham says that punishment is imposing something painful (physically or emotionally) on a child in the hopes that he will behave as we’d like in the future to avoid more punishment. If our child hits and we respond by spanking, sending him to his room, or rescinding his screen privileges, that’s a parent-imposed consequence, otherwise known as a punishment. It may or may not be a logical consequence.
According to, purposeful action can have unintended, unanticipated, unforeseen consequences both positive and negative:
- A positive, unexpected benefit which is sometimes called luck, serendipity, or windfall.
- A negative, unexpected detriment that occurs in addition to the desired effect of the policy.
- A perverse or ironic effect that is the opposite or contrary to what the character intended and/or expected. For instance, instead of making it better, it makes the problem worse. Or instead of making it worse and stopping someone, it makes their path easier.
When you use unintended, unanticipated, and/or unforeseen positive and negative consequences for a character’s actions, it adds pizzazz to your manuscripts. It embeds unexpected twists and turns of the plot in your stories that heighten the interest of readers.
What is literary irony? Oatmeal.com and LeastTern.com say there are three types of irony:
- Situational Irony- when the reverse of the expected happens or when the person you least expect to do something, does it – such as: It is ironic that Cinderella gets the prince.
- Dramatic irony happens when the person watching the movie or the reader of a story is aware of a situation, but a character does not realize it. In Romeo and Juliet the reader knows that Juliet isn’t really dead, but Romeo doesn’t know it. Dramatic irony can be a source of tragedy, comedy, or tension.
- Verbal Irony (Language Irony) happens when a person says one thing but means another…the opposite of the truth. For instance, after his wife went on a griping kick, the husband says, “My but you’re in a good mood.”
I hope that studying these different views of natural, logical, consequences and punishment which may be logical or decreed as an aim for control you may be able to put your consequences into a category or figure out a better consequence for the action your particular character takes and what happens to him as a result. Add a dose of irony to put a little layer of oomph in your story.
7 Questions to Make Sure Your Plot Has Believable Consequences:
- What would happen to me if I took this action?
- Would the consequences be different if I did this somewhere else – in a different environment?
- Are there unwritten, unspoken, unknown rules and consequences? Are they natural, logical, or neither?
- Does your story show natural consequences for your character’s actions?
- Does your story show logical consequences for your character’s actions? Decided by: Self, Bully, Parent, Teacher, School, Church, State, Country, Society
- Punishment, neither natural or logical? Decided by: Self, Bully, Parent, Teacher, School, Church, State, Country, Society?
- What result or consequence do you or others expect for the character’s action? Does this happen or does something different and unexpected happen as a result of a character’s actions? Is it situational irony, dramatic irony, or verbal irony?
- Jerry Webster. About.com. Special Education. “Consequences, Not Punishment:” http://specialed.about.com/od/managementstrategies/a/Consequences-Not-Punishment.htm
- Sara Bean, M.Ed. “Five Areas to Let Your Child Face Natural Consequences:” http://www.empoweringparents.com/5-areas-to-let-your-child-face-natural-consequences.php#
- University of Kansas.edu. “Natural and Logical Consequences.” http://www.specialconnections.ku.edu/?q=behavior_plans/classroom_and_group_support/teacher_tools/natural_and_logical_consequences
- Least Tern.com. “Literary Terms: Irony of Situation, Dramatic Irony, Irony of Language:” http://www.leasttern.com/LitTerms/literary_terms.htm
- The Oatmeal.com. “3 Kinds of Irony:” http://theoatmeal.com/comics/irony
- Robert K. Merton. American Sociological Review:“The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action:”
- Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony
- Laura Markham, Phd. “What’s Wrong with Consequences to Teach Children Lessons?” http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/positive-discipline/Consequences_Punishment
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Joan Y. Edwards, Author
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