Once you have decided on a Story Goal, your next step is to ask yourself, “What disaster will happen if the goal is not achieved? What is my protagonist afraid will happen if he/she doesn’t achieve the goal or solve the problem?”
The answer to these questions is the Consequence of the story. The Consequence is the negative situation or event that will result if the Goal is not achieved. Avoiding the Consequence justifies the effort required in pursuing the Story Goal, both to the characters in your novel and the reader, and that makes it an important part of your plot outline.
The combination of goal and consequence creates the main dramatic tension in your plot. It’s a carrot and stick approach that makes the plot meaningful.
In some stories, the protagonist may begin by deciding to resolve a problem or pursue a goal. Later, that goal becomes more meaningful when he discovers that a terrible consequence will occur if he fails. Other times, the protagonist may start off threatened by a terrible event, which thus motivates him/her to find way to avoid it.
As Melanie Anne Phillips points out, in some stories the consequence seems to be in effect when the story opens. Perhaps the evil despot is already on the throne and the Story Goal is to depose him. In that case, the consequence, if the protagonist fails, is that things will stay the way they are.
In our novel plot about the female executive, we’ve already come up with one possible Consequence – that she could end up like her spinster aunt. We could make the Consequence worse (perhaps the aunt dies of starvation because she is feeble and has no immediate family looking after her). Or we could create a different Consequence. Her employer may go bankrupt unless it becomes more family-friendly.
Write a list of possible Consequences you could have in your plot outline. Then choose one to be the counterpoint to your chosen Story Goal.