Friday, January 20, 2012

Holy Sh*t Mom, R U There?

About a year ago, my teenage son sent me the above text at 6:30AM on a school day. As you can imagine my heart pretty much stopped. Not that getting a text from my son is odd. At sixteen, text is his first language. I can call him a bazillion times (it's amazing how many of his friends live in "dead zones") and it goes directly to voicemail, text him and voila...I get an instant response. It was the "Holy Sh*t" part that made me nervous, so I called him first. All sorts of scenarios went through my head as the phone rang...and rang...and rang...and of course went to voicemail. So I texted...


And when he didn't respond to that text, I sent the more frantic:


And waited

I don't know if it was the Mom in me, or the writer in me, or a combination of both, but in the seconds before he finally DID contact me the following scenarios went through my head in no particular order:

The bus broke down and he needed me to pick him up (the mother)

He'd seen a lifeless body dangling from a noose and was sharing the news (the writer)

The bus had been involved in an accident, was about to explode and these were the last words he was able to type as he blacked out in a ditch by the side of the road...hopefully in clean underwear. (combo of writer and mother, I think)

His reply after I wrestled with these scenarios?

Geez, don't sh*t a brick.

So what was this Holy Sh*t situation?

He'd forgotten his project and needed me to get it to him before lunch.

Yes, really.

I don't know about you, but for me this is most definitely not a "holy sh*t" type scenario. At best an "oops" or a "crud" but a full blown, capital "Holy Sh*t"...not so much. Then again, I'm not sixteen, gunning for an A with no way to get home before said class.

As I rearranged my schedule to find a way to get the project to him it occurred to me how high these stakes were for my son. No, he wasn't saving the world from a zombie apocalypse but without the project he would get a zero. That zero would be part of his final grade. That final grade would be on his transcript. The transcript he'll be sending to colleges in the fall. Where a "B or C" gives its own impression, no matter if there is an explanation behind it. Well and what sort of explanation is forgetfulness anyway? Suddenly, getting his project to him became important.

As a writer of contemporary YA, I sometimes feel lost in the shuffle of dystopian societies, zombies, angels, androids and aliens. Stories with those elements are just naturally bigger, more exciting because of their uniqueness, but still - there needs to be a universal element in them, something the reader can identify with, right?

Deep in the middle of revisions, I find myself dissecting each scene and trying to up the stakes, but it's a struggle sometimes. How do I take my very normal, contemporary stakes form "crud" to "Holy Sh*t!" ?

So Paper Waiters, how do you go about raising the stakes in your own work? Is it something you actively think about? Or something that arises naturally through plotting?


  1. Okay, way to make us laugh our a$$es off AND get a great writing tip! :-)

  2. Talk about lol -- for so many reasons. Number one reason is I wrote a scene last week where one of my characters left a project at home and had to get it in by lunch or else. I swear.

    But I totally get your angst over not having enough angst-worthy events in your writing. When you write contemporary fiction, you are still competing against amazing dystopic worlds, freakish paranormals, and plots so brilliant your eyeballs burn when you read them.

    But there is room for character driven contemporary. At least, that's my mantra and I'm sticking with it.

  3. What a great post. I just RT'd.

    I tell my husband that he always needs to consider my writer brain. If he doesn't answer the phone at work, I'm sure that the facility is on lockdown because there's an escaped convict holding people hostage. If I can't get the babysitter on the phone, I'm sure someone has kidnapped the children and she's scared to tell me. If the dog barks at a stray leaf, it's really a mass murderer sneaking through the backyard.

    Our writer families need to be cognizant of these things!

    (I love this little scene with your son. So cool.)

  4. Julie - Thanks! Glad it gave you a giggle.

    Judy - That is too funny! See, a real high stakes scene. I'm a huge fan of all the amazing paranormal and dystopian novels that are out there, I'm frankly in awe at some of the stories writers come up with, but these are not the stories that come through me - so if you don't mind I'm stealing your mantra as well :)

    Brigid - Hey! Confession? "the bus broke down" was literally the last one I thought of - no, I was convinced there were sinister things afoot! And my son is unknowingly one of my biggest inspirations - that's why I never mind driving him and his friends anywhere - getting the cadence of boy banter is priceless. Although now his friends all have cars - I can't even begin to tell you the scenarios that come up then...I have to shut my brain off. Thanks for sharing your wild imaginings too!

  5. It's the drama - or the possibilities of the drama of life experiences - that writers live and breathe - what could be the worst scenerio?