I love Donald Maass! Okay, what I really love are the techniques he writes about in his WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, especially this week’s lesson. Basically, Maass tells us to raise the stakes. And then do it again . . . and again . . . and again . . . and again.
Maybe it’s the suspense writer in me, but I love to see my characters suffer. And no, I’m not an evil person nor do I enjoy causing pain in real life. But in fiction, the sky’s the limit. So Maass’ advice resonates with me.
In this lesson, he explains that if problems arise from an outside source—meaning they’re not self-imposed internal conflicts—and if the problems continue to escalate, they eventually become what Maass calls "public" stakes. At a certain point, they touch the reader on a universal level.
All of us can relate when the “world” or “fate” or “karma” seems to overwhelm the hero and heroine in a string of situations beyond their control. As readers, we identify with the characters and can see how their situation also relates to the problems we may be having in our own lives. When we, as readers, are able to make that leap from the literary problem to those in real life, the story moves out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary.
Early in my writing career, I wrote a scene where bullets were flying, yet the hero and heroine escaped unscathed. Then I had a EUREKA! moment and wounded the hero. The story took off and became something bigger and better than I had first imagined. Since then, I’ve been upping the stakes and enjoying the problems that makes for my characters.
Want to build excitement into your story? Shoot someone! Or have them come down with a life-threatening illness? The rent’s due, and the hero loses his job. Fire destroys his home and his insurance coverage has lapsed. Now string the problems together and make them all happen to one character. You’ll get the reader’s attention and end up with a memorable read.
Wishing you abundant blessings!