Monday, August 04, 2008

The Hot Seat

Posted by Lisa Marnell

According to Donald Maas …

“If there is one single principal that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes.”

Donald Maas is a literary agent, president of Donald Maas Literary in NYC. In his book, Writing a Breakout Novel, he goes on to suggest that many writers cannot answer that question of what will happen to the protagonist if he doesn’t reach his goal. Too often, he reports, writers sit dumbfounded; we love our characters and we simply HATE to see bad things happen to them. Not good. Stakes aren’t high enough.

Look at Harry Potter. (Oh, how I loved that series). And think about the stakes, the personal stakes to Harry. Voldemort killed his parents, brutally, and tried to kill Harry as well; he was just a baby! Now, Harry has discovered he is a wizard – how cool is that – and he has this wonderful new life in front of him, away from those dreadful Dursleys. Harry has so much more to fight for now. He has friends now, a muggle-friend no less, Hermione would be first on Voldemort’s list. The stakes are high. Back comes Voldemort into Harry's life.

In his chapter on plot, Donald Maas holds that we, as writers …”must be willing to push characters into situations that you would never go near in your own life.”

I’m afraid I’m too nice, and frankly, I don’t like where I’ve put my protagonist. Chapter 18 gives me a downright icky feeling. But, I tell you, she's staying put! One of our writer’s group members once said something wise. In fact, she’s said many wise things, but one sticks with me and gives me comfort. I paraphrase her words but the gist was this: “It shouldn’t bother us when our characters find themselves in an awful situation because we, as writers, are the ones to help them out of said situation.”

I do love a book with high stakes. So, I’ll keep putting my fiction friends into that mess. I must; I want to write fiction.


Larramie said...

And, yet, reality can be stranger than fiction.

Carleen Brice said...

I thought of this last night watching Finding Nemo with my heart in my throat. Another so-called kids' story and yet it starts with Nemo's mom and 399 siblings being killed! And the stakes are raised even after that. I've got lots to learn.