I hear it all the time working in the TV biz. “What are the stakes?” Every story line, every character has to have “stakes,” and usually the stakes aren’t big enough. You need to go add more stakes.
This is all just a fancy way of saying consequences. If a character does this, what happens? What does it mean if a person does that? How will it play out going forward?
There used to be an unwritten—and then later a really-written in the Hays Code—rule in Hollywood where crime could not pay. A criminal had to get their comeuppance.
Witness the demise of Little Ceasar, or James Cagney’s firey denouement in White Heat. Things changed in the late sixtes and seventies with the rise of the antihero. From the slacker outcasts of Easy Rider to the too beautiful to live gangsters of The Sting or Bonnie and Clyde, the anti-establishment ruled the screen.
And now we have Walter White of Breaking Bad, possibly the ultimate antihero. We have rooted for him, stayed with him as he slid from sympathetic dad/teacher/cancer patient into a crime boss, drug dealer, and killer. The slow blackening of Walter’s soul has been a pleasure to watch, and that’s no small feat.