Lindsey R. Loucks

Author of Romance and Other Scary Things

I’ll Have Mine Medium Rare With a Dash of ‘Why Should I Care’

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?

6 Comments

  1. People tend to think in quite broad terms with this sort of thing, his daughter been kidnapped, his wife’s been poisoned, there’s a bomb… but the stakes can also be high when they’re character specific and low key. He offers to make his ex-wife a cofee and finds he’s run out of milk can be just as tense if hse always complained about how badly organised he was.

  2. I’ve heard great things about this book, now I really really need to get my hands on one.

    Thanks for sharing Lindsey.

  3. Excellent point, Mooderino! It doesn’t all have to be whiz-bang explosion kind of stakes.

    Akoss – If you’re looking for a writing book that offers a fresh perspective and doesn’t feel like you’ve read it before, read this one!

  4. Let’s face it, if a reader’s a cynic, he won’t care, whatever you put your character through – but people like that don’t usually read?
    I agree, the stakes depend very much on the writing. And on how you’ve build up the character.
    In my writing, I go from personal to global – not global literally – trying to keep it realistic here – but to beyond personal conflict.
    I just hope I write it well enough :S

  5. I will heed that advice Lindsey. Thanks again.
    By the way I have an award for you. You gave me my best days on CC and I can never forget that.
    http://fantasypen.blogspot.com/2011/03/award-friday-yay.html

  6. I like oak stakes. They really penetrate the vampire’s heart well without fear of splintering…

    Oh you meant stakes as in what’s at stake? 🙂 I like things to get really bad, looking as if the character’s world/life/love is coming to an end, before they figure out how to save the day. I think I’m working toward that goal again. Probably won’t be a breakout novel, but I’m sure to get a few breakouts before it’s done 🙂

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