The Worst-case Scenario

Or Why Humans Tell Stories


First things first—this being my inaugural post, I’d like to thank all the Miss Demeanors for their warm welcome. They are truly the hostesses with the mostesses.

As I mulled over my first ever topic, I said to myself, well, what’s the worst that can happen if I write a boring one? And it hit me. Worst-case scenarios are at the crux of every story ever told in any genre. It’s either something that happened to a character and they spend the story recovering/rebuilding/re-something, or the character spends the entire story trying to prevent it from happening.

From ancient myths to fairy tales to epic poems and literature of every era and genre, it’s the worst-case scenario that glues us to the page/stage/screen. We shudder and close our eyes trying to imagine what it’s like to go into battle or to lose someone we love. The story takes us by the hand and lets us live through the tension and fear, then lets us out at the end, still whole, our lives still intact.

Reading about horrible things help us deal with them IRL.

I might say that often reading about a horrible event and watching a character survive it, helps us deal with a similar event when it happens to us. Conversely, sometimes the worst-case scenario is so scary, it can scare us away from some situations forever. I don’t know about you, but reading/watching The Shining has made me forever terrified of closed shower curtains… Just sayin’.

I’m sure every reader has their special book or film that had influenced them greatly. I have more than I can count, but two stand out.

American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis scared me before I even began reading. I knew it would be horrifying. But I loved Less Than Zero, and so, with eyes partially averted, I read American Psycho. It was, indeed, horrifying. It was demented. And something happened as I read it–I began to laugh. The book took the worst-case scenario and pushed it to such an extreme that it semaphored itself as satire. I finished it. Took a deep breath. And felt relieved for having survived.

The other book I read as a young person over and over obsessively was Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Part satire, part occult fantasy, part psychological thriller, it is the epitome of not just surviving but overcoming the worst that can happen to a person–madness, loss, death even.

Has reading about difficult situations helped you in real life?

I would love to hear from YOU. What is the novel or film that has shown you a way to deal with a difficult situation? Or, like The Shining and me, which has scarred you?


  1. So glad to have you as a fellow Miss Demeanor, Emilya. I loved Master and Margarita, and I recall reading it on my honeymoon (along with To The Finland Station.) We’ve been married 38 years so I guess that turned out all right. I made it through The Shining all right, but I think Stephen King’s It scarred me for life. I love stories about people who triumph over tremendous odds, and if they fall in love along the way, so much the better.

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