Monday, March 12, 2012
How Do you Like Your Stakes?
So how do you? If we’re talking steaks, I’m a medium well kind-of-gal, but when we’re talking about ‘writing’ stakes. The best way to serve those up is well-done.
What is a stake, you ask?
Well, besides the wooden piece that holds down your tent, or heretics are strapped to, or slays certain toothy-undead, it’s also one of the key elements to create a page-turner novel. It’s the reason readers care.
Stakes increase our empathy, draw us in, capture our hearts, and lead us to the last page. It’s like climbing a hill that keeps getting steeper and steeper until the hiker is clinging to the side of a cliff, barely able to keep from falling down against the jagged rocks below.
Donald Maas says “high stakes yield high success”
What’s the essence of increasing the stakes? Guiding the readers into as deep a relationship with your characters as you have. Close first person. But that means we have to know our characters intimately – otherwise we cannot describe what we do not know.
So once you know your character what questions should you ask to increase your stakes?
1. What does your character NEED? WANT? Whether it’s to destroy the ring of power, find a husband, an anectdote, or solve a crime – you must know what your character needs most – or wants most.
2. What makes my character freeze with fear? Obviously in the Twilight saga, vampires do not cause Bella to ‘freeze with fear’, but Edward leaving does. So, of course, it has to happen.
4. How can you make your characters suffer? Or place them in danger? (I’m not talking just making them uncomfortable, I mean twist the knife. As sad as it sounds, readers enjoy reading about people suffering to the max…and then overcoming the impossible.)
6. Can you write down the stakes in your wip? Do you know what they are?
7. How can you make those stakes higher? How can you make the trouble worse?
8. And even higher? Write it down.
Remember – you must be MEAN to your hero or heroine. Being nice does NOT increase tension. You want to try and push them to the breaking point.
She WANTS to work at UVA, Charlottesville like her dad. (external)
She WANTS to prove to herself she is not like her alcoholic mother, and certainly not dependent on anyone else for her well-being. (internal)
1. She’s in rural Blue Ridge Mountains
2. She makes a wager with her supervisor to turn cattle farmer Reece Mitchell into a high-class, smooth talking gentleman in 6 weeks or her supervisor will present her research at the national convention (which gives her a good boost toward a job in a much better place than Wise, VA) - He's not an easy fixer-upper either. Cute, but far from high-class.
3. She feels an immediate attraction for the cattle farmer – who has no intention of leaving his farm and family to move anywhere else.
4. She has a condescending college Dean who wants to get rid of the satellite program, but the program is the way the heroine (Adelina) will prove herself.
5. By the end, she is almost loses her life because she gets drunk (something her mom would do) and crashed her car into a dam waterway which is filling with water.
6. The final stake is her choice: to stay in Wise with the guys she loves and forego her dream, or give up on this amazing man and go to Charlottesville.
I’m bound to think of more ways to make things worse as I go along, but you get the basic idea.
So what about you? Can you list some of the stakes in your wip? How can you make them worse? And even more worse?
Share – and let us brainstorm a bit with you.