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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Public Stakes

Raising the stakes for a protagonist is what keeps conflict in the story.

I have had a problem trying to figure out what public stakes are when my protagonist is not going to save the world or stop some horrible interference from a villain that will change the world of my characters. It isn't SF or Fantasy, or some serial killer on the loose. So what would be the public stakes in my novel?

I believe it is family. My character has lived with her mother for 14 years. She knows no other life, and now her mother is going to move her closer to her grandparents. Grandparents she has never met and don't even know she exists. Family is something everyone cares about, whether yours is dysfunctional or not. With this move, she, my protag, will lose everything familiar and meaningful to her. Her life, her best friend and being the only one in her mother's life. 

I need to make this family thing so important to her that it is important to everyone. (at least the readers)

She is worried that her grandparents won't like her, that they live differently, that her mother won't only belong to her. These are her personal stakes, I think. Okay so I am going to make them personal.

I think what I am trying to tell myself is that my reader needs to care about the "stakes". Even in a save the world story, the stakes must be personal to the character. The character has to care enough so that I, we, the reader cares what happens.

Donald Maass has a chapter on stakes in his book Writing the Breakout Novel. I read it again.

The writer must ask the question, "So what? Why should anyone care?" The reason anyone cares is we care about the protagonist.  We must make her sympathetic. She has to be someone people like.

That's it. Family is universal, no matter what kind of family you have. People will identify with family, with the struggles and the love-hate relationship in the circle.

What's the public stakes in your novel?

3 comments:

dawnall said...

Ginny is genetically engineered and on the run from government factions who want to either sell her to the highest bidder or destroy her before the public finds out about the 'secret genetic engineering' that's been going on in Kansas.

Alice said...

In Kansas? So there's godly gov't factions in Kansas too. Sounds like a good concept. You could sum it up in one defined sentence. You are good.

dawnall said...

Thanks. What better place to hide it than Kansas? Who'd suspect?