I just finished reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Just typing that made me feel like an egotistical ickypants, but yes, I would like to write a book that makes me millions. Who doesn’t? Maass analyzes why certain books hit the bestseller lists while others don’t, and what those books have in common.
One of those things is steaks. Gah! I mean stakes. Darn empty stomach. Maass says breakout books need to have both personal and public stakes. In other words, what happens if the main character doesn’t achieve their goal, both personally and publicly? Will the main character lose a loved one? Will a loved one come back? Will the world erupt into chaos if the main character fails?
To raise personal stakes, Maass recommends asking yourself, “How can this matter more?” Why should we care about the main character? Hopefully the author will show you why by creating someone you want to root for.
Maass says to raise the public stakes, ask, “How could things get worse?” This makes sense. In really good books, don’t things usually go from bad to worse? That keeps us riveted! We have to know if the main character, whom we are now rooting for because of the personal stakes, succeeds with his/her nearly unattainable goal.
Great advice, Mr. Maass! So, how does everyone like your steaks? Better yet, how do you like your stakes?