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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Got Stakes?

For today's critique, I've had to do something terrible. I didn't enjoy it, but I feel that I did put myself up to critique people's works, so I can't just back away when things are a bit uncomfortable.

See... someone sent me a query, the first chapters and a synopsis. The moment I read the query, I had the niggling feeling that something was missing. I couldn't pin it down until I read through to the end of the synopsis.

When I went back to the query, I realized that the stakes were missing.

People, that's a huge thing. If your story is a house, motivations and stakes make up at least a significant portion of its foundation. If the stakes aren't there, your story looks like a house of cards.


Well... Put yourself in an agent or editor's shoes.

Now, let's say you pick up a story that reads something along these lines:

Dear agent,

So and so finds out something that might actually not really matter all that much, which makes him decide to take a huge drastic step.

Because now his goal is to not do something that actually makes a lot of sense, because this thing he found up upset him for reasons only he seems to understand.

And now, someones begging him to do that thing that makes sense, so he has to decide if he's going to do it, or go on doing the opposite, because he's still upset for those reasons only he seems to understand.

Yeah. Doesn't seem like anything to get invested in, does it? And if there's no reason for a reader to get invested in a book, there's really no reason to read it at all.

Now, heaven knows that I know that a query rarely does justice to a book. And I'm yet to write or read a synopsis that actually makes me feel: "Yeah. This is exactly what the book was like." But the thing is, the query and synopsis are probably going to be the first things that an agent and/or editor will look like.

You need to prove to him/her that you have a firm grip on what it takes to write a great story. And as I said, stakes are fundamental.

So, lovely reader, go read your query and synopsis.

Why is a character making something his big goal? What's does he really stand to lose if he fails?

If these two questions don't have nice and obvious answers in query/synopsis, you'd better go find them in your story and put them in.

And if you can't find them in your story...

Sigh. Well... at least you know now that you'll need to revise.

Luckily for me, the writer whose query I critted tonight seems skilled enough to not have left stakes out of her story. So I'm optimistic that she'll have an awesome query out of this experience. Which is great, because I'd love to read the rest of her book one day.


Terry W. Ervin II said...

Yes, with nothing at stake, why bother to read.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

You need something to root for. People might want to be the girl with no problems but who wants to read her book? I would but that's another story. Yes I'm one of the strange ones. Anyway you need stakes in your story, it's that simple.

joss said...

What great advice, definitely something I will keep in mind for my next book. :) Thanks for sharing.

Julie Luek said...

Great advice. That is the needed "edge" isn't it?