I think this is a problem most writer’s face. You get to that spot in the story where everything slows down and you’re certain it’s boring. What to do? I’m facing that problem today. One solution is to raise the stakes. There are at least five different kinds of stakes that I know of, and any one of them can pull the story out of the blahs. Let’s look at them.
1) Spiritual. My character’s religious beliefs can be thrown into question somehow. Is it okay to steal food if my kids are hungry? Will God really be displeased with me if I tell a lie (we all lie in real life, so characters should lie, too–and not just when it’s convenient. A good whopper out of nowhere can really shake things up). Does kissing this guy who’s not my husband mean I’m an adulteress? Is it still murder if the thing I killed is a life form from a different galaxy and I’m not even sure it was sentient? Okay, I’m getting silly now, but you can see where I’m going with it.
2) Emotional. Just when my character thinks life might be going fine, introduce an element that causes an extreme emotional response. Her child almost got run over by a car (or DID get run over–that’ll shake everything up for the rest of the novel). His co-worker stole his great idea that lead to the co-worker’s promotion–and there’s no way to prove it. Her sick Grandma just won the lottery, and that money would be ultra useful to get out of a jam–and then the guilt kicks in for getting greedy over Granny’s money. Those emotions can be fun to play with, so slather them on thick.
3) Mental. Thoughts, attitudes, understandings, expectations, we all have these things in real life. So does your character. Explore one of them, then twist it up so it’s no longer useful. She thought he loved her and would buy her a ring–until she saw the new pick-up truck he bought with his savings. He truly believed he’d get chosen to be on the team, but when the roster was posted, his name wasn’t on it. Misunderstandings can be especially useful to shake things up.
4) Community. Family members are the best for mucking things up, but there are also friends, neighbors, and that guy at the park you see every time you go jogging and you don’t know his name but you recognize his face and smile at him. And because they are all people, they can shake up a character’s carefully ordered world. Maybe your character is planning on going into business with younger sister, but she elopes and moves to Cancun. Or your protagonist is planning to spend that tax refund on a new golf cart, then one of the kids spills a gallon of paint on the hardwood floor in the living room and lets it dry instead of cleaning it up. Of course, all this physical excitement will lead to mental and emotional stresses, which raise the stakes even higher.
5) Global. Your character is cruising along through life, everything’s going good, then out of nowhere, Canada declares war and bombs Seattle. Or maybe it’s the Koreans. Or the Rusikans from Theta Seti 5. Or a tornado touches down and rips up the neighborhood. Unless your character is the president of the country, there’s nothing that can be done about a national or international crisis.
Now I must go fix my boring story by raising some stakes. Are there any helpful things in here? Any other stakes you can think to raise?
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