Friday, June 4, 2010

Weekly Update & Upping the Stakes

I was going to do a post about upping the stakes in your story, but then I realized it's Friday and I haven't done an update in a while.  So, I decided to do both...

Since last we updated (May 22), I've written 17425 words - most of which were pretty good if I do say so myself.  My heroine is in a deep mess, a killer is running around offing innocents, and her former lover is driving her nuts.  The dog holds the key, but he ain't talking*.  Or maybe the old lady's the one with the answers.  In either case, Jo is up to her ass in alligators and the water's rising.  Which is always good.

And a good segue into the post I planned last night for this morning...

Recently I read Changes by Jim Butcher.  Right now I'm reading Academ's Fury by the same guy.  Two different series in two different genres with one major commonality - throughout the story, Mr. Butcher keeps upping the stakes. You all know how I hate spoilers, but in order to talk about this, I'm going to have to release a few... so if you're planning on reading either of those books, stop reading this post now. 

In Changes, Mr. Butcher has put Harry in a precarious position and it seems like every chapter, the heat gets turned up on poor Harry.  Just when you think there's nothing else that could go wrong, another thing goes wrong.  In one chapter, someone tries to kill Harry then his house catches fire, his cat runs away and he breaks his back...  And you think that's enough, but then...  BAM, in order to fix his crushed spine, he agrees to give up his...

Sorry, I just can't give that spoiler away.  The point here is that the story just keeps getting more and more intense.  (Sometimes too much so, IMO, but I can't deny the idea is brilliant.)

Now, I'm only halfway through Academ's Fury, but last night I was struck by the way Butcher writes the tension.  Just when I think to myself 'Okay, things have gotten as bad as they can get', they get just a little bit worse.  This book is written with different POVs and different locations for a few key characters, and right now, every single group is up shit creek. The situation looks bleak all over Alera Imperia and it looks like the only way out is in a pine box.

I know Butcher will make everything right - maybe not for everybody, but by the end, most everything will work out for all the major characters.  And maybe that's what pissed me off about Changes.  He didn't make everything right again before the end of the book.  But that's neither here nor there.  I was on the edge of my seat, rapidly flipping pages, throughout the whole book and I'm about at that point in AF (which started out a little slow, but is quickly catching up).

In the words of Mickey Spillane "The first chapter sells the book. The last chapter sells the next book."  I'd go one further and say that upping the stakes gets the reader through the middle chapters to the last chapter and all of that tension sells the next book - especially if you're writing a series.  This is what I'm trying to achieve with my own WIP.  I want this to be written in such a way that the reader can't help but buy the next book and the next... ad infinitum, or until my hands drop off.

Now it's your turn.  How do you feel about books that up the stakes?  Do you have any other examples I can hunt down and devour in my quest?  Any books that upped the stakes so high you wanted to throw the damn thing against a wall?

*sorry.  that was kinda spoilerish, but no more so than a back cover blurb.


  1. I am working on upping the stakes in my WIP as well. It's hard to be so mean to your characters!

  2. Great post, B.E. A good reminder that a book should be like an escalator - tension constantly moving up, up, up until you get to the floor you've wanted all along and then a quick ride down the other side with purchase in hand.

    OK, not sure if that analogy works, but makes sense to me. I try to do the 'upping the stakes' with my characters, but sometimes we all need a little rest and those are the chapters I need to learn to cut, cut, cut!!

    Your WIP sounds intriguing :)

  3. Lol, Unlike Lydia, I adore being mean to my characters-- but only because I know they'll get a happy ending after all the stuff I throw at them.

  4. Upping the stakes is akin to pushing down on the gas pedal in your car. To get anywhere you have to keep up a constant increasing pressure.

    Truly enjoyed your blog. I agree with your take on CHANGES. There is just so much punishment the human psyche and body can stand without shutting down. And despite being a wizard, Harry's basically more or less human, though with a great healing ability.

    Have a great weekend - glad to have found your blog, Roland

  5. We are ALWAYS thinking about how to up the stakes. It's tempting to go easy on our characters sometimes, but in every single scene you've to to figure out the worst case scenario and write it. Definitely a challenge!