Thursday, June 21, 2012

Raising The Stakes

Raise your hand if you have read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. *Raising my own hand* I may be alone here, but I am going to go out on a limb and be honest. As I read this book I asked myself how I could apply his teachings to my own WIPs as well as other books I've read.

Fast forward a few weeks and the reading of Insurgent (Divergent #2) by Veronica Roth and that Ah-ha moment slapped me in the face, hard. I'm not positive and haven't found anything yet stating that Roth specifically used Writing the Breakout Novel, but I have my strong suspicions she did. 

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Which brings us face to face with today's post - Raising the Stakes. Maass gives two questions in his book which I have affixed to my editing folder. (Yes, I have a manila folder with editing notes scribbled all over it.) As I have been recently editing an older WIP I've been reminded to ask these questions with each chapter/scene.

  1. "How could things get worse?" 
  2. "When would be the worst moment for them to get worse?" 

At each and every turn of Insurgent something was happening, causing Tris to continually change her course of action. The stakes weren't always life threatening, but they all added emotional danger to Tris. That's why as readers we keep turning the pages. Just when you think things can't get worse, they do. We keep moving forward to make sure Tris is making the right choices. I will be honest, again, I had my doubts about Tris's choices a few times, but in the end I finally understood why she made the choices she did.

In addition to those two big questions are the type of stakes. You NEED both!

  1. Personal Stakes
  2. Public Stakes

And, no, the stakes don't all need to be huge. But, they do need to create emotional danger. They need to cause the main character to make choices which lead to their own suffering and sacrifice. There were so many points during Insurgent that my heart was breaking for Tris and what she was going through. Roth hit home with the emotional suffering and sacrifice she put Tris through.

So, now that we are armed with two very big questions and two types of stakes to raise, let's all take a little time to reassess our WIPs.

Good luck!


  1. This falls under the "Torture your Characters" rule I've heard other novelists recommend.

    I'm just glad that my real life is much less adventurous.

    1. Oh, me too, Kimberlee. Compared to my various main characters my life is rather unadventurous. lol :-)