Tuesday, 19 February 2013

What's at stake?

Taken from this website.
Not this kind of steak. Which is pretty awesome.

If you're a writer, you've probably heard the advice, which many people shoot home to Donald Maass from his seminal book Writing The Breakout Novel.

"Raise the stakes", and "what's at stake?" and "Who cares"? etc.

Somewhere in your story is an underlying urgency and strong need to make something happen.

It pushes the story along. It drives the characters to do what they do.

Every agent, editor and publisher is looking for this. They need to see in your writing an edge that puts your manuscript ahead of the others.


Lately I've been wondering. And thinking. Two of the most recent world phenomenons have been, to me, pretty darn dull. (Obviously, I'm talking about 50 Shades and Twilight). I've read the first Twilight and honestly felt like there was nothing at stake, apart from one girl's desperate need to become subservient to another man. If Edward didn't return her love, she'd die. Not just figuratively, but emotionally and most likely physically (because she'd stop eating and become even more mopey).

I look forward to your angry emails.

The other book I deliberately haven't read because so many of my friends have told them how much it annoyed them. But from what I understand, 50 Shades follows Twilight pretty closely, and again, there's not much at stake.

What's up, universe? I'm busting my chops to raise the stakes, make sure the protagonist has a driving goal, show what will happen if she doesn't achieve her aims and make sparkling characters we can cheer on. Meanwhile, two of the biggest phenomenons don't have this.

Is it a case that agents, editors and publishers are in fact burnt out?
Do they read sooooo much, that they've become jaded? Have they forgotten that most readers might only read one or two books a month, and they want something comforting instead of confronting?

I don't know.
Sorry if you got this far and wanted answers.
No, seriously, I'm sorry.

I really am wondering whether publishers are reading so much that they need more and more at stake to keep them interested, to keep them excited. A little like the way adrenalin junkies need to take bigger risks to get the same high.

Whereas the average reader doesn't need to be blown away on the first page and sucked in so they simply cannot put the book down. Maybe most readers prefer something they can ease into and wallow in, something that wraps them in a warm blanket of love and nostalgia?

All I know is, I keep trying to write the next big thing. High concept, loads at stake, heaps of conflict... and I'm getting the most beautiful rejections that it's not what publishers are looking for at the moment.

They all say they love my characters, which makes me smile, because I love them too.

And then I sit back and take stock. After a few days I realise I can only write the sort of novels I write, and hope like hell there's an audience for them. I would really, really love a huge audience for them.
Maybe I'm so busy trying to please publishers I've forgotten that I should first and foremost be pleasing myself?

If I don't, I may go insane. That's pretty high stakes, don't you think?

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