Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Raising the Stakes

I haven’t posted much lately because I’m revising madly and critiquing a manuscript for a friend I met at a workshop. It’s got me thinking about raising the stakes. Sure it’s important to make the situation worse, to add layers of complication so that a happy ending seems impossible.

But raising the stakes is secondary to creating a character the reader cares about. The protagonist doesn’t need to save the world. He only needs to save his world, and make the reader believe this world is worth saving.

5 comments:

Lori said...

That's insightful, Ann. Bonding with the characters is huge. And the way it happens is if the reader feels they have been given privileged information. Like any relationship, it can't go to the next level unlessa person (character) trusts you (the reader) enough to share something that indicates they trust you implicitly. Even if they trust no one in the story itself. Good luck with revisions!

Ann Finkelstein said...

Lori:
You are so wise.

Natalie Aguirre said...

That's so true. If you don't care about the characters, you won't care about the stakes. It took me awhile to learn the importance of stakes.

Ann Finkelstein said...

Natalie: Thanks for stopping by.

TimInMich said...

"The protagonist doesn’t need to save the world. He only needs to save his world, and make the reader believe this world is worth saving."
This is pretty smart and I mostly agree with it. It certainly applies to my writing.
But there are a couple (at least) of genres where the protagonist DOES have to save the world (and which I cannot abide, though kajillions of readers can).
But to look at the other side of the coin, which might reflect some gender "stuff:" There wasn't much character development in "No Such Thing as Dragons," but I couldn't put it down. Of course, if it had been longer, I would have put it down.
And I just read the Newbery winner, "Moon Over Manifest." That is, I read the first two-thirds and skimmed the last third. Not high enough stakes for me, partly because the protag is trying to figure out the high-stakes stuff that happened a generation ago. And partly because it's all too easy to figure out.