Monday, August 1, 2011

Raising the Stakes

I'm getting close to the finish line. Yes, that finish line. The one where you get to type "the end" finish line. And for me, this may be the hardest part of writing.

I write realistic fiction. No vampires or zombies attacking. The world isn't ending. No need to try to figure out who done it. (Not that there's anything wrong with that! I'm a sucker for a blood-sucking or spattering, a huge fan of dystopian, and love a smoking gun.)

But I write realistic, contemporary fiction. And as I near the end of a novel, I know I need to raise the stakes, up the ante, make my main character suffer.

I'm set with the final crisis, the one that makes the world crash in, but I needed to come up with the final turning point -- that part in the story where the main character thinks it can't get worse than this (oh, what he doesn't know!). I've been pondering this for weeks. Nothing seemed big enough. I was drawing blanks. So I turned to my bookshelves, scanning books on writing, looking for some help. And all I can say is, thank you Donald Maass!

I read through his chapter on Turning Points in his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. Maass uses some great examples of deep emotion as turning points. Addie, in Jodi Picoult's Salem Falls finally taking the sheets off her dead daughter's bed and saying goodbye as the fresh scent of Tide rises from the washing machine. In The Lovely Bones, Susie Salmon's father, unable to contain his grief and rage, smashes his collection of ships in bottles.

So now, as I work through this final turning point of my WIP, I'm focused on my main character's emotional arc -- I'm finding his reactions don't have to be extreme, but he does need to react and his emotions must be more volatile that ever before.

He has to suffer, but thanks to reminders from Donald Maass, his fictional suffering can put an end to my writer's block.

Here's to chasing away writer's block! Cheers!


  1. Good luck and may your character's arc satisfy you and your readers.

    Linda A.

  2. Sounds like not only are you close to the "finish line" but it is in sight. Keep going!

  3. Thanks, Linda -- working on it!

    Meg -- soooo close!

  4. I can see that devising the final crisis is hard work - it not only has to fit the character, but also has to line up with what you've plotted out in previous chapters.

    Bet you can think of the perfect storm! Keep at it.