Good morning! Is everybody ready to write? Guest author Jody Feldman joins us today for a prompt that will help you raise the stakes for your characters.
Jody blames her 7th grade English teacher (justly or not) for turning her away from writing, yet the world mysteriously led her back. Her middle grade novels—The Seventh Level and The Gollywhopper Games series (all from Greenwillow/HarperCollins)—have won a number of honors including the Georgia Children’s Book Award, the Grand Canyon Readers Award, and the Show-Me Best Book Award. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri or online at www.jodyfeldman.com and on Facebook (Jody Feldman Author) and Twitter (@jodyfeldman).
Upping the Stakes
If you’re in a position to teach or lead or otherwise speak with some measure of authority, wouldn’t you play to your strengths? Wouldn’t that be normal?
I suppose I’m not always normal.
With this Quick Write, I am playing to my weakness. Before you click this off and revisit a different exercise, let me explain.
I was lucky to be born into The Nice Family. Think June & Ward Cleaver, but with loads of personality and a little bit of bite. That translates this way: When I write stories, I care about my characters and don’t really want anything bad to happen to them which pretty much defeats the possibility of an exciting plot. And so I have spent much time thinking about how to up the stakes or otherwise get my characters into trouble.
Maybe you can deal out death and destruction (or worse, embarrassment) to any character in any situation, but I’ve needed to disassociate myself from my feelings for these imaginary people. With my plot in mind, I generate generic lists of what bad things can befall otherwise good beings. Usually they land in following categories (and I’ve added some bonus examples):
I Shouldn’t Have …
*borrowed her bicycle
*said that snarky comment
*opened his locker
*loosened the rung on the ladder
*eaten the last taco
*eaten the taco that fell on the floor
*given the taco that fell on the floor (which the dog sat on) to that girl
*Hammered finger instead of the nail
*Airbag broke nose
*Was tripped which tore my best pants and bloodied my lip and got gum in my hair which is how I looked when I went on stage to ask 300 classmates to vote for me for Class President only after I grabbed my Sequoia tree report from my locker instead of my election speech
*The picnic got rained out
*The raccoon stole my backpack
*The snow storm left me stranded
*Lightning knocked out the electricity
*Lightning knocked out the electricity which caused a power surge that fried my mother board and left it impossible to access the 20-page report that’s due in 14 hours which is not only 50% of my grade but is half the project for my partner who’s the dreaded Connie L.
Other categories that have worked for me:
That Dirty, Double-Crossing #@%$^ (When antagonists do bad things)
I Didn’t Pull the Fire Alarm On Purpose, I Swear (When protagonists do bad things fully- or semi-unintentionally)
I Don’t Understand (Miscommunication, misinterpretation, and other mishaps)
The Truth (When s/he discovers a fact—emotional, familial, physical—about him/herself)
Just a couple more tips…
*Before you grasp onto your first idea, make sure there are no others that can better sync with character, plot and theme development.
*Escalation is often the key. When you layer your woes, when an unfortunate situation gets naturally worse, your story will be more effective than if you pile on several disjointed, anecdotal situations.
And now you can choose to:
A). Take a scene from your current WIP and edit it to further complicate your character’s life; or
B). Using a situation from the list above, afflict pain upon your own character or on a character borrowed from a favorite book.
I’ll be nosing around in hopes you’ll share any scenes or lists or thoughts. Have fun. And don’t get into too much trouble.
Note from Kate: Feel free to share some of those unfortunate situations in the comments today. This will be fun!