Agency and Consequences #amwriting

In my previous post, Agency and Character Development, I briefly mentioned the importance of consequences. It is a word with many uses and connotations.

WritingCraftSeriesAgencyLIRF01302022Let’s look at both the meanings and synonyms for the word consequences.

Consequence (noun)


consequences (plural noun)

[1] The result or effect of an action or condition.

“Many programmers were laid off from work as a consequence of the failing economy.”


Result, upshot, outcome, sequel, effect, reaction, repercussion, reverberations, ramification, end, end result, conclusion, termination, culmination.

[2] Importance or relevance.

“That’s of no consequence.”


Importance, import, significance, account, moment, momentousness, substance, note, mark, prominence, value, weightiness, weight, concern, interest, gravity, seriousness.

[3] Social distinction. (Slightly dated usage. Its synonyms are more commonly used.)

“Adelaide Brown was a woman of consequence.”


Fame, distinction, eminence, preeminence, prominence, repute, reputation, prestige, acclaim, celebrity, note, notability, mark, standing, stature, account, glory, illustriousness.

For today’s post, let’s consider agency and the importance of choice. How will the results of their decisions affect our characters’ lives? After all, a story isn’t interesting without a few self-inflicted complications.

Once again, we will go to J.R.R. Tolkien and look at Bilbo’s choices and his path to becoming the eccentric eleventy-one-year-old hobbit who vanishes (literally), leaving everything, including the One Ring, to Frodo.

ConsequencesLIRF07122020In the morning, after the unexpected (and unwanted) guests leave, he has two choices, to stay in the safety of Bag End, or hare off on a journey into the unknown. He chooses to run after the dwarves, and so begins the real story—how a respectable hobbit became a burglar and became a hero in the process.

The consequences of his decision will shape his entire life afterward. Where he was once a staid country squire, having inherited a comfortable income and existence, he is now expected to steal an important treasure from a dragon. At the outset, that particular job doesn’t seem real. He is beset by problems, one of which is his general unfitness for the task. He’s always been well-fed, never had to exert himself much, and suddenly, his opinions carry no weight.

Bilbo’s hidden sense of adventure emerges early when the company encounters a group of trolls. He is supposed to be a thief, so he is sent to investigate a strange fire in a forest. Reluctantly, he agrees. Upon reaching the blaze, he observes that it is a cookfire for a group of trolls.

Bilbo has reached a fork in the path of life. He must make a choice: the smart thing would be to turn around at that point and warn the dwarves. However, his ego feels the need to do something to prove his worth. “He was very much alarmed as well as disgusted; he wished himself a hundred miles away—yet somehow he could not go straight back to Thorin and Company empty-handed.” [1] Bilbo feels the need to impress the Dwarves and makes decisions he comes to regret.

In the process of nearly getting everyone eaten and having to be rescued by Gandalf, he discovers several historically important weapons. One of them is Sting, a blade that fits Bilbo perfectly as a sword.

At first, Sting has no name, a long knife that the hobbit Bilbo Baggins discovers in the cave of trolls. Gandalf and the dwarf Thorin also find their respective swords, Glamdring and Orcrist.

Although it is only a dagger, its length corresponds to a short sword for a creature the size of the hobbit. It turns out that, like the swords of Gandalf and Thorin, this dagger was forged by the elves of Gondolin in the First Age and possesses a magical property—it shines with a blue glow when orcs are close.

the hobbitThe blade does not acquire its name until later in the adventure, after Bilbo, lost in the forest of Mirkwood, uses it to kill a giant spider and rescue the Dwarves. This is when Bilbo’s decisions become more thoughtful, and his courageous side begins to emerge.

Decisions and consequences shape Bilbo’s character and force his growth. His experiences and bad choices along the way have consequences that shape how he thinks. As the Dwarves continue to get into trouble, he makes plans for their rescue and considers what may or may not go wrong before implementing them. He doesn’t know it, but he thinks like a warrior instead of a staid country squire.

Consequences force the character arc. Sometimes the decisions our characters make as we are writing them surprise us. But if those decisions make the story too easy, they should be discarded.

We, as their creator, must take over, cut or rewrite those scenes, and force the story back on track.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote from The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, by J.R.R. Tolkien, published 1937 by George Allen & Unwin, Ltd.


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