Saturday, January 15, 2011

Raising the Stakes!

I’m not a gambler by nature. I don’t play poker and black jack eludes me (I know it has something to do with reaching twenty one.) However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Vegas or the watching others gamble away their hard earned cash.

The same is true for my characters. I love putting them in situations that I would never allow myself to be in. Watching them struggle to survive and learn from their mistakes (or not) definitely gives me a serious God complex sometimes, and there is nothing I like better than constantly raising the stakes for them.

Raising the stakes is critical in writing. True, you gotta make us love those characters first, but once we care, then we are definitely tuning in when they face problems that seem insurmountable. For example, let’s say your main character is a six year old boy with above average intelligence. The government wants to use him in military testing in preparation for a war against an alien species. The little boy doesn’t want to go. As a writer, it’s time to raise the stakes. He’s told that his parents will be harmed if he doesn’t obey. He’s six, so of course, he’s going to do what he’s told and as readers, we feel bad for him because he’s so little and being forced to make a big decision. This is the beginning of a great book called Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

Here’s another example: An aging rock star collects rare things. He buys a coat that is supposed to be haunted. All too soon, the rock star starts seeing a dead guy in his house. Then his assistant mysteriously dies. His girlfriend starts go a little wackadoo zoo on him. He can’t sleep and has bad dreams. He discovers the coat belonged to a relative of an ex girlfriend who committed suicide and the dead relative swore to get revenge on the rock star for causing her death. Now the rock star has to figure out how to stop the dead guy from killing him, too. This is the premise for Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box.

Still not sure what raising the stakes means? Okay, try a television example then and check out an episode of Gossip Girl. Like it or hate it, that show knows how to constantly raise the stakes. Just when you think one character is knocked out for the count, they find a way to rally and turn the tables, putting another character in hot water. Fun characters and raising the stakes for them has long been the key to soap opera!

Take a look at your own writing. How are you raising the stakes for your readers? What situations are you putting your characters in? And then what are you doing to add to that situation?

Happy writing!

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