Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chaos and Unintended Consequences: Tips from the Tops Thursday

Today, children, I'm going to discuss Unintended Consequences which is a sub-section of Chaos Theory. It is natural that I might do this as I'm thinking of my writing while packing up glasses, wondering whether our tenant will see the light or decide that she is going to squat in our other house until the posse arrives, and trying to plan my fella's 60th birthday. See - Chaos!

Wikepedia: In the social sciences, unintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action. The concept has long existed but was named and popularised in the 20th century by American sociologist Robert K. Merton.[1]
Unintended consequences can be roughly grouped into three types:
  • A positive, unexpected benefit (usually referred to as luck, serendipity or a windfall).
  • A negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy (e.g., while irrigation schemes provide people with water for agriculture, they can increase waterborne diseases that have devastating health effects, such as schistosomiasis).
  • A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (when an intended solution makes a problem worse), such as when a policy has a perverse incentive that causes actions opposite to what was intended.

Tip: consider unintended consequences when writing a novel - it favours nature and will reward you mightily if you handle it with care.

Top: The Universe in all its chaotic glory

How it Works in My Life
Right now I have a very unhappy tenant. She does not want to move out of our other house for any number of reasons that I understand and empathize with. However, the truth is that she will have to go. As we go back and forth with her stated intention to stay and mine to have her leave with the least fuss possible I will look at the possible unintended consequences.

Here are the three unintended consequences that I can foresee:

1. Serendipity - While hearing about her life and her view I get a completely fresh view of the universe than the ones that I and those close to me hold. This is good both in my life as someone trying to wake up and also as a writer who needs to dip (sometimes uncomfortably) into worlds that I don't much like in order to understand them and relay them on the page.

2. Negative detriment while still obtaining the desired consequence - she will leave in the time asked and the other tenant (it is a duplex) will tell us later that he doesn't intend to stay either.

3. Perverse affect - she will become a cause celbre with the poor unfortunate victims of terrible landlords and we will be ostracized in our community and have to leave to find another place to live.

Gawd! I hope those last two don't happen. This is a hard exercise as if I can imagine it then perhaps it is more in line with the intended? No. That doesn't make sense.
I am going to take this theory into my book and see where it applies. I have some ideas of how to jack this up a bit while still staying as real as possible. And you?


Margot Kinberg said...

Jan - Oh you are so right! I think we have to open to all sorts of consequences and prepared for them. I also hope your tenant gets a new perspective and leaves. As I'm reading your post, I'm thinking of how often we get hurdles like that where being open to what it brings us can lead to good things. As to using that in writing, well, I had this minor character in one of my stories. I came to a hurdle when he decided he wanted a more important role. I did the work to write him in better and voila - the story is richer.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Sorry about your situation with your tenant! I hate dealing with issues like that--you must feel so uncomfortable. Hope it ends up working out well.

Good tip for writing unexpected consequences. I use those for humor sometimes, but I haven't tried them for a more serious context.

Anonymous said...

Unintended consequences? Hey, I work for an airline, all our consequences are unintended. Enjoyed the post.

Jan Morrison said...

Hi Margot - well...she'll be leaving but I'm thinking with no attitude change. Life is hard when you think your only strokes come from being a victim! I like your story of your character who wanted more!!! Who doesn't? We all want to be the main character I'm sure.

Elizabeth - true - I feel terrible about it but I know that I can't do anything but move forward and so I will.

And yes, I think I've used them for humour too but I want to see how to shape it as the Greek tragedians did - the sort of hubris of wanting to do right but not getting there because one lets one's ego interfere. Fuzzy but I'll work on it.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I used a 'great' unintended consequence in my novel coming out at the end of the month. Great post and I hope thing works out with your tenant.