The Importance of Repercussions.
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If storytelling had to be boiled down to one thing, it would probably be this: repercussions. A story that has no repercussions has no depth, no flavouring, no “salt”. Bringing the dead back to life would be a humdrum occurrence if it didn’t bring with it a terrible consequences (the best example of this being W.W. Jacob’s classic short story The Monkey’s Paw), and wielding a ring of power would be dull if you could use it without fear of losing your mind in the process. Stealing the mob boss’s money or having an affair with the beautiful wife of a psychotic cop would be inconsequential if they didn’t come bundled with lots of trouble. Repercussions spring from choices, and these choices often go the core of the character’s psyche, the Id. They reveal to us who the character really is, whether they are a good guy or a bad guy; or simply deluded.
The reason we, as both readers and writers, enjoy repercussions so much is because we can see them coming long before the poor character can, and so we can lick our lips in anticipation, or gasp in surprise when something unexpected happens. We love these characters because they do things we would not in a million years do, and so we feel superior to them because they were either foolish or hopeful, and yet at the same time we sympathise with them because if we had their balls we might just make the same choices. Everyone likes saying “I told you so”, even when we’re reading books.
And when there are no repercussions, or when they fail to happen, we feel cheated. Storytelling has broken down. We feel that there is something is important missing from the story, that somehow the author has reneged on a promise he made us when we opened the book and dived in for the first time, and that instantly devalues the work in our eyes.
And how the character deals with those repercussions, well that’s another story.