A long, long time ago, I bought a book by Donald Maas about how to write a bestseller. WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. His advice? The higher the stakes, the higher the demand for your book. I’m writing cozy mysteries, and a few people have told me I’d sell more if I wrote thrillers or suspense. They might be right, but I’m an Agatha Christie fan, and I like what I like.
When I wrote urban fantasies, the entire plots hung on good vs. bad. If the good guys didn’t win, all things horrible would break loose. The world would end, as we know it. Okay, in truth? That was a lot of fun. But then I wrote six romances, and the stakes changed. If the guy didn’t win the girl, there wouldn’t be a happy ending. Enough to make me sad, so those stakes worked for me, too.
If as a reader I come to truly love and care about a character, I want him to survive and to be happy. I just finished readng WHAT ANGELS FEAR, and the stakes were high. If Sebastian couldn’t find the real killer, he’d be blamed for a crime he didn’t commit and probably hang. Did that make me turn the pages faster? I got every bit as hooked by Catherine Bybee’s FOOL ME ONCE, because I got totally caught up by the characters. Yes, there was a lot at stake. Secrets needed to remain hidden. Could Reece win Lori after she found out he was a P.I. who was tailing her for info? Before he fell for her?
Every book has to have high stakes, one way or another. Maas would say, the higher the better. What happens if the protagonist fails? How devastated will the reader be? But there are all kinds of stakes. Emotional. Political. Career. Reputation. Books are filled with little setbacks, chapter after chapter. After all, we don’t want to make it too easy for the protagonist, do we? We try to end each scene with the protagonist wanting more, feeling a little defeated, until the very end.
I read Caleb Carr’s book, THE ALIENIST, when it first came out. I haven’t seen the TV series yet, but I want to. His protagonist worked hard to catch a serial killer, using psychology to understand the murderer. The stakes grew higher and higher, knowing that if the detective team didn’t catch him, someone else would die. A ticking clock is a great way to add tension.
Mae Clair uses past events to heighten the stakes in her Point Pleasant series. The Mothman rescued Caden Flynn, and the “monster” and Caden have a weird bond. When strange sightings start again in Point Pleasant, the past and the present collide, and Caden knows he’ll be visitng the Mothman again. Is he meant to save the cryptid or destroy him? (If UFOs and the Mothman legend appeal to you, here’s a link: https://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Yesteryears-Point-Pleasant-ebook/dp/B0138NHJ4A/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1517091001&sr=8-3&keywords=mae+clair
Whatever you’re writing, may your stakes be high enough to keep the reader turning the pages. Happy Writing!
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