Friday, August 21, 2009

Defining Personal Stakes

Donald Maass has in WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL: THE WORKBOOK an exercise about defining personal stakes (page 48), which I'm applying to TEEN TIME WITCH. The main character's central goals are to win Chase's heart and find her mother.

What could make ths problem matter more: Chase is the prince in a witch's prophecy Eve discovers, and she has to be with him as part of the prophecy, otherwise the "bad" side will win. Eve's best friend points out that Chase doesn’t really act like a prince. He will have to rise up to the occasion. But how can a teenage boy who is susceptible to a popular girl's attention (Avery) give that up when Avery is the prettiest and richest girl in the class?

What could make this problem matter even more: There is some larger political controversy looming in the background that the prophecy ties into -- a possible conflict between the country Eve's mother was from and the US. Eve's best friend Jocelyn's father is involved as he often goes to that country for his ambassadorial position.

What would make this problem matter more than life itself? The abolition of the U.S. if they get into a conflict with this country that would mean nuclear weapons.

After pushing you to keep coming up with reasons to raise the personal stakes, Maass challenges you to incorporate these into the novel in at least six places.

Reflection on Exercise

This is a difficult exercise but stretches your creativity. Maass mentions that people often see this exercise as a way to add plot complications. I'm always looking for new ways to plot so this is helpful. Raising personal stakes will be important in my mystery because there is always the question in amateur sleuth mysteries why the protagonist becomes involved. The problem with the exercise is that in continually brainstorming personal stakes some of them become outlandish. For example, when Maass asks "what could make this problem matter more than life itself?" I ended up with the U.S. potentially being bombed with nuclear weapons!

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