Monday, December 31, 2007

What's at stake?

Last week, I mentioned I wanted to discuss Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel. I'm reading it as part of my never-ending effort to further improve my craft.

I haven't finished Maas's book yet. So much to do, so little time. You all know what I'm talking about. But one of the things that struck a cord with me is his reference to constantly raising the stakes.

It's an obvious question. What's at stake? What does your heroine/hero have to lose? Upping the stakes at each turn increases the tension and suspense. Let's take a look at this technique, starting with Angela's The Company You Keep, the first book in her Kendra Clayton mystery series.

In The Company You Keep, Kendra wants to find out who killed her best friend's boyfriend. So what? What's at stake, you ask? Kendra's best friend is at stake. The police like her for the murder. Angela raises the stakes several more times, but I don't want to give too much away.

We'll move on to my recent release, On Fire. What's at stake? The heroine's career is at stake. Along the way, I raised the stakes to public safety by adding a serial arsonist and made it personal by introducing you to one of the victims. Then I raised the stakes a couple more times, including framing the hero for the crimes.

In my debut romantic suspense, You Belong to Me, I raised the stakes several times as well. First, by placing the hero on the brink of financial ruin, then endangering the project that's supposed to rebuild his company, and a couple of other things that would give away too much if I mentioned them.

You may remember I'm a copious plotter. I've added asking, "So what?" when I outline my plots now, just to make sure I don't forget to raise the stakes. In your latest book or work in progress, what's at stake?

Happy 2008, everyone! I wish us all great publishing success.

Patricia

2 comments:

Cherlyn Michaels said...

At my very first writer's conference in 2003, I sat in on a seminar with Donald Maas and he discussed that major point. I hadn't even begun my first novel yet, so I had that line of thought from day one of writing. His key thing in the seminar was that if your character has little to lose or doesn't care, why should the reader? He stated that how you draw the reader in is to show them what's the most important thing to the character, then have it taken away from them. I know I took his seminar (and it was awesome), but I want to read the book as well.

Patricia Sargeant said...

Hi, Cherlyn. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with Donald Maas' seminar. It does sound like it was awesome. It all goes back to connecting the reader to your characters to pull the reader further into the story.

May I ask what you're writing? Is it mystery, suspense, romantic suspense?

Thanks so much for stopping by.

Patricia

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