Thursday, October 01, 2009

Raising the Stakes

*** Schedule Note: As the author of Word Wanderings, I've decided to put the blog on a more regimented schedule where posts are concerned. Unless we're having a special guest interview or blogger, Word Wanderings posts will begin to appear on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month. And now, back to your regularly scheduled blog. ***

When I have readers critique my work, one thing I'm typically complimented on is my pacing. I'm not bragging, it's the truth, and I honestly don't know how I've managed it. Since I know I have many areas of weakness in my writing, I'm grateful to know what I'm doing well. At least it's one less thing to worry about!

But, that's gotten me to think about what makes a story that's paced well enough that it'll keep the reader hooked.

Personally, I think the biggest thing is to keep raising the stakes on your characters. They have to have some reason to keep moving forward, or your story's just not going to keep that reader hooked. It doesn't matter if you're writing a western, a romance, or a mystery. Raise the stakes


In J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Fellowship of the Ring', everything is just going along peachy for Frodo. Then he gets the ring. (Raising the stake #1.) The ring has mysterious powers and is very dangerous to The Shire, so he has to get it out of there. (#2.) His stakes rise further when Sam, then Merry and Pippin, join his party, and he has to be concerned about their well being. Having to avoid the Ring Wraiths, then getting stabbed by one takes it up another notch. When he's healed--and you think he can go back to The Shire--Frodo does something unexpected, and takes on the burden of carrying the ring to Mordor to destroy it.

Insert dramatic music here.

Just in the first half of the movie (or book for you purists), Tolkien has raised the stakes a minimum of five times--probably more if you really want to get specific about it. Each time makes it less likely you as the reader will want to tear yourself away and stop reading (or watching.)

So, how's your story coming along where raising the stakes are concerned? Do you need to add a body on page 47, after your P.I. discovered the first one on page 32? Or maybe your cowboy needs to get kidnapped--or worse--shot! Maybe your leading lady is too focused on her intended, and needs to have a few irons in the fire to burn through--an ex-girlfriend wanting to get back with her old flame could be waiting in the wings for your Mr. Right.

As for me, I'm going to check my stories and make sure my characters have a few more hoops to jump through before they reach the end.

Until next time,

As an aside, I just wanted to make note of the fact that one year ago today, at 2:06 PM, my little girl was born. While I actually wrote this several weeks ago, anticipating I'd be a teensy bit swamped, I would be remiss as a mother if I didn't acknowledge this. One day, I hope she'll see Mommy's blog and know I thought so much of her to note this for her special day. So, Happy Birthday, Sweetie. I know you can't read this now, but one day, you will. Love you.

For more information on the topic of creating tension, please refer to the following blogs:
The Art of Frustration
The Necessity of Conflict


Tabitha Bird said...

Great post Liberty. Pacing is a hard one to get right. I raise the stakes in my work every time a critique partner calls me to 'more' in my writing. I am hoping to rise to the stakes :)

Happy Birthday to your little girl :)

Cindy said...

Happy birthday to your little girl!

Pacing challenges me on some stories and not on others. In my last story I edited, I recognized that it wasn't moving quickly enough. It took me until the second edit (several months later) to realize it, but it just goes to show how much you learn about writing even in a few months. Pacing is important and it's great that's one of your strengths.

Lorna G. Poston said...

Great post, Liberty, and a nice reminder about raising the stakes. Thanks!

K.M. Weiland said...

Happy Birthday, Felicity! :)

Can't remember where I first read it, but it's always stuck with me: Think of the 10 worst things that could happen to your character, then write them!

Liberty Speidel said...

Thanks, ladies, for stopping in--and for the birthday wishes for Felicity! :)

@K.M., I've heard that quote somewhere--probably in a Writer's Digest or something like that.

When I've had a chance to write, I've been working on this 'problem' all week, though I think you've seen my post over at CW. I need to tweak the next section and get it up there, too--'cause I love the interplay between my hero and heroine!

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