Friday Write-Day: What are the Stakes?

fwd-what-are-the-stakes

Manuscript: Beta for The Warden of Everfeld: Memento has started off well, albeit not as smoothly as I had hoped. Only 8,000 words into my second draft, my writer’s feels this week have run the gamut from soaring over-confidence to sinking self-loathing.

I believe this is the quintessential curse of the writer.

What are the Real Stakes?!

After rolling through rewriting the first 10-12 pages of my manuscript, I hit my first big snag this week. I reached a point in my narrative where I had to begin laying down the stakes for the coming conflict. This was an issue all of my alpha readers pointed out — What are the real stakes of this story?

Why does the conflict seem so imminent to the characters, and why should the reader care? Why is all of this happening now?

It’s frustrating when a simple question like that seems so clear in your head, but when you try to articulate it in conversation or in prose, the words only come out in incomplete thoughts and rambling phrases. So I had to go back and free-write about what the stakes are for my conflict.

Free-Writing to Uncover the Answers

When I free-write, I tend to begin with an If-Then question, similar to a cause-and-effect game, except I ask myself the questions directly because it forces me to answer them directly:

IF (character) does (action), THEN how does that affect (character/outcome)?

a) Potential outcome A

b) Potential outcome B

Then I’ll list possible outcomes, if necessary, and follow through with more questions. This both forces and allows me to trace a logical, well-reasoned line from the start of my conflict to the end. Instead of forcing the end to be a particular outcome, I can puzzle out what a character would be most likely to do in a given situation.

I’ve learned over the last year or so of heavy writing that stopping to ask yourself the big existential questions is essential to discovering the truth of your story. Some questions I would recommend keeping in mind as you build your story:

  1. Why do the characters care about what is happening? What is their stake in the story? (This will help you learn why the reader should care too!)
  2. Could this plot occur without these characters? This goes back to why they exist in the first place. If your answer is a hesitant “…no”, then consider giving your characters more agency in their decisions and a greater impact on the results.
  3. What happens if your protagonist fails? What happens if the antagonist succeeds? These are the real stakes of the story. If your answer to either of these is something along the lines of IMMINENT DOOM AND DESTRUCTION… then you’re probably on the right track.

Progress

This free-writing slowed my progress, but I think this demonstrates that I am still getting somewhere. I feel more engaged with my writing than I have in months. I look forward every day to going home, opening up my laptop, and sharpening the story I have been crafting for so long.

My general plan for Manuscript: Beta has been to have it ready and sent off to my beta readers by the end of February. I have a long way to go…

But I think I can make up some ground over the weekend and extend my second draft to about 15,000 words.

How do you get yourself out of a writing snag?

Steve D

3 thoughts on “Friday Write-Day: What are the Stakes?”

  1. If I’m really stuck on a project, what I’ll probably do is outline a new project or draft something new. Editing is hard for me to begin with, so having a “new” project to play with keeps me moving forward while simultaneously giving my mind the mental break it needs.

    1. Yeah, I’m considering shifting to a different section, something where I have a little more clarity of purpose. For tonight at least, I’m thinking that may help me make progress without bogging myself down. Good thinking 🙂

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