The Law of Unintended Consequences brings conflict, tension, and surprises to your story. A character does something and intends for it to have a certain outcome. Maybe it accomplishes what was planned, maybe not, but other unplanned events happen because of that one decision. The following scenario is an example of this.
Michelle and Dan are newlyweds. He wants his first anniversary gift to her to be really memorable. She loves animals and has always wanted a dog of her very own, so he goes out and finds a puppy for her. Their landlord, who isn’t crazy about animals in his apartments, has graciously given him permission to get this one dog, as long as it is well-behaved, for his wife.
Michelle is thrilled with her present. That is the intended consequence. Unfortunately she has no clue that the puppy is quite capable of wreaking chaos in their apartment while she is gone. She goes to the store, thinking the puppy will just lay there and sleep until she arrives back home. Not! When she arrives home, she finds her favorite pair of dress shoes in pieces in the middle of the living room floor. Not only that, but her leather purse, the one she saves for special occasions, has been adopted by the puppy as his new chew toy. Even worse, he has used the bathroom in several places on the brand new carpet.
Dan arrives home from work to find her in tears. “That puppy you got me has ruined my shoes and my purse! He is tearing up everything!”
Somehow the landlord finds out about the mess the puppy has created in the apartment and ups their rent.
So the present intended to bring joy has now brought sorrow and anger. That is an unintended consequence. The cold shoulder he now receives is another unintended consequence.
Skip forward five years down the road. Michelle and Dan now own a house. The puppy, Jake, has grown into a well-behaved adult. He is house broken and no longer chews up everything he finds.
Over the years, Michelle has grown to love Jake, though she is still upset she didn’t get the joy of choosing him. Michelle is home by herself while Dan is out of town on a business trip. She wakes up in the middle of the night and hears a man yelling, “Help! Help!” She puts on her robe and runs into the living room. There she finds Jake growling, his teeth around the leg of a man who had apparently been trying to climb through the living room window. Michelle picks up her phone and dials the police. Turns out there has been a string of robberies in a neighboring city and this man is a prime suspect. In previous burglaries there was never any danger to the victims, but this time the suspect is carrying a knife, duct tape and rope.
When Dan arrives home from his business trip, Michelle wraps her arms around him and proudly relates to him what the dog he presented her with 5 years ago has done and how proud she is of him. “Thank you for Jake. What a wonderful first anniversary present he was!"
The situations do not always have to end well. You are in charge of the final outcome.