Monday, October 16, 2017

What it means to "Raise The Stakes" for your characters

The concept of raising the stakes relates to the idea of conflict in the story. It is a relatively easy concept to understand, but when writing, adding this element can often be difficult.

When we think of the conflict in the story between your hero and heroine, we are talking about the thing that is keeping the two of them apart from that wonderful happily every after (yes, I am talking about romance writing here in case you didn't figure that one out). As an agent, this is something I really look for in the story.

It is important to understand that the conflict cannot simply be a miscommunication issue. This would be considered a complication. If you think of most sit-coms on TV, the problem in that 30 minute episode is generally considered a complication. This would be when one character overhears a part of a conversation and assumes they know the full story. In this case, it is a complication because the solution comes down to simply getting the full story. A conflict, however, needs to have something more than a quick conversation to solve.

Now, we get to the tough part - how to "raise the stakes."

What we are talking about here is what the characters stand to lose. If the two characters are meant to be together and there is nothing really big getting in the way, then the stakes are too low. Let's use a Regency romance for example. Let's say that a son of a lord is expected to find a good girl and get married. He finds someone he likes but she is not of the same social class. If this is the only issue, then the stakes are pretty low. Now, let's add to this. The girl comes from a family that may have once had power in the Ton, but due to an indiscretion from her father or uncle, they have been made outcasts. Now, someone dating her would also be drawn into that scandal. The stakes have just been raised. Add to this more that the son's dad is determine to make a statement of this and will disinherit him unless he marries someone the dad chooses. Now the stakes are up there!

If he decides to proceed with the relationship with the girl, he could lose family, name and money.

Does this make sense?

It is important to remember that we don't want to add a ton of extra back story and plot twists to the story. That will simply overly complicate things. Stick to what you have in the skeleton of the story and you build with that.

It is also important to remember to not make the situation impossible to fix, or something that only an act of God can fix. Keep it to something that the characters can resolve with a little critical thinking skills.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Reviewers May Hate Your Book - Suck It Up!

Look, I will begin by simply saying that a bad review sucks! You worked your butt off on that story and darn it, someone tanked the story on a review. But here is the thing. That is going to happen.

We are in a subjective business. Publishing is a world of people liking things and hating things simply on gut instinct. And you cannot say this is something that should change. Everyone does this. Do you, as a reader, like EVERY book you read and only give it favorable reviews? Do you even have some of your favorite authors who have written books that have left you questioning their ability? Sure!

Maybe this expectation of amazing reviews comes from our present society that rewards everyone for everything they do. Schools make sure EVERY kid gets an award. Even some sports have eliminated the concept of 1st, 2nd and 3rd so we don't hurt little Billy's feelings. I don't know. The reality is that there may be times when your story gets a bad review...so suck it up!

I heard an author lately complaining about a bad review. Instead of looking to the comments the person made about the books, the shift was immediately shifted to other reasons and ideas:
  • The reviewer was a complete idiot.
  • "You know, that entire website doing reviews only likes a particular genre.
  • I am sure the person didn't read the entire book.
  • What is this person thinking? All my Beta readers loved the book
But consider this. Maybe, just maybe the reviewer wasn't a complete idiot and your beta readers don't know their butt from a hot rock. Maybe, just maybe, someone finally had the nerve to tell you the story was not good.

In other words, your book really may suck!

Maybe the reason all of those editors and agents were passing on your book really did come down to the quality and they were trying to save your feelings and not telling you the truth?

The point is, if you get a bad review, own it! Learn from it! Grow! You might find the next time you write a book, that good review will come your way!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Small Picture and Large Picture Editing

I know that writers work hard at editing their stories. They want to have the best product out there and often go over those stories time and time again. They make tweaks. The change plots. The re-write scenes. When they go back and re-read what they just did, the writing is AMAZING! As they close down their computers for the day, they head off into their other world really feeling a sense of satisfaction.

And yet, for many, the work they did is not always going to work as well as they think. This comes down to an issue of the small and large picture editing.

Too often, writers make changes on their story and the work they do, really is good. It works great for that scene. But, the work often contradicts issues in other sections of their story. In some cases, although that individual scene rocks, it forces changes that will need to be made in the rest of the story, and sometimes, those changes never get made.

As you make changes in your story on those individual scenes, make sure to constantly think about how those changes work with the rest of your story. I often use the analogy of the thesis for an academic paper. You might add a section to that research paper that seems interesting and you might think, at that point in the paper, the readers would like to see this, but if that work is not something that supports the thesis, the work you do is not going to help you.

We aren't just talking about plots here. We are also talking about adding or changing internal and external conflict elements, or even those nasty GMC's (goals, motivations and conflicts) of the characters. For example, maybe you have written a scene where you wanted to increase the sexual tension of the characters earlier in the book. Although that might increase the heat for that moment, you now have to add the sub-story of the characters having to adjust and work through that sexual encounter. If that line is going to get in the way of the main story line and detract from the story, maybe that change should not be made.

Just something to consider.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Russian Hacking, The Internet and Professional Writing

No, I am not going to launch into politics here and start taking sides on the Russian hacking thing going on right now. But, I do want to take a look at how the latest revelations that came out this last week have to do with quality professional writing.

If you have been following the story lately, we have found out that much of the "meddling" in the election came from a disinformation campaign. It seems that the Russian government, through the use of social media simply started to shape how the US population thought about things going on in the world. Their approach was simple. Through the use of well-placed hashtags, great lines and fake accounts, information spread like wild-fire.

Now, here is the twist that I want to look at. Why it spread?

The answer is quite simple and also quite frustrating. There are a lot of people out there who believe in the power of technology and seem to think that when we see it on the Internet, it must be true.

We all remember this commercial and laughed at it...


But, the scary thing is, we continue to do this.

The reason this approach taken last year worked so well is essentially due to the over-all ignorance of the American people and their use of technology and the Internet. Yes, I fully admit I am using a hyperbole here, but this is what we are seeing. We get something and we simply "SHARE IT".

My father does this all of the time. He also has a lot of issues with computer viruses on his computer. He gets and email from someone, who has also passed the information on and immediately wants to share it. Of course, while he opened that email, he infected his computer with a virus. But, he got it from someone he trusted? Yes, but without taking the time to investigate the initial source, the "sharing" did its damage.

As someone who teaches research writing at the college level, we spend a great deal of time discussing getting quality information for our papers. We talk about doing your research and not simply relying on a "gut instinct" or even what many junior high and high school teachers taught our kids that "If it ends with an .edu or a .org,, or a .gov, then it can be trusted." The problem is that anyone can use those endings. You still have to do your research.

I am seeing a lot of the same things in the publishing community. Writers get out there on their discussion forums, their Facebook groups and even in their writing chapters and groups and simply just "share information" with each other without taking the time to really do the research and trust what they hear. 

The writing community really seems to be notorious for this type of information transfer. Someone hears news about an editor, agent or publisher decision and immediately the information begins circulating like wildfire. You get that information and immediately trust it because it came from your critique partner or your chapter president and they can always be trusted.

But where did they get it from.

When I get information like that passed on to me, I immediately go to the source. Not the one I just heard it from. I do my research.

I tell my students and writers to always question the source. This is not questioning it because we think it is flawed in some way. We are questioning to insure the authenticity and the quality of the source. 

Are you doing this?