Monday, February 24, 2014

Critical Plot Elements - MIDDLES - #2 Raising the Stakes

So far in this series we’ve covered the plot elements critical to a successful beginning.  We've also identified at what point you’re transitioning your plot into the dreaded Middle Ground.  (Click here to see the previouscritical plot elements posts)

Now that your protagonist has decided to fight (or strive) and is settled on a plan, you have one goal for the next few chapters:

The protagonist needs to discover the problem is even bigger than they thought – and preferably, that there is even more at risk than they imagined.

In other words, turn up the heat.  Let some of the initial plan fail.  Let some of the assumptions be proved wrong.  Let the protagonist hit a wall or five – or suffer at the hands of the villain.

This is the time to bring your protagonist under immense pressure emotionally. 

I’ll say that again:

This is the time to bring your protagonist under immense pressure emotionally.

Emotions drive a book.  In terms of reader tension, events are only scary or riveting when the reader empathizes with the characters involved.

No matter how dramatic your climactic events are, the reader will yawn through them (or worse, stop reading before then) if they don’t care.  So use these pages of what is essentially transitional plot to make them feel. 

Then use that emotional connection to build an increasing sense that this situation is impossible, that victory is unattainable, that crisis is looming - and by the way, when crisis hits, the results will be even more catastrophic than we initially anticipated.

If you aren’t sure how to do this, the formula is simple:

1. Figure out what scenario would define blissful happiness for your protagonist.

2. Start pounding your protagonist with every imaginable conflict or circumstance which threatens to rip any possibility for scenario number one out from under them.**

So that’s your mission, should you choose to accept it.  Put your protagonist through the meatgrinder – and let them think that even if they somehow manage to survive it, the repercussions will be devastating. 

It’s hell on the writer, but at the end your readers will love you for it.

Your Turn: Tell me what would spell blissful happiness for your protagonist – and one of the things you’ll do to raise the stakes against them ever achieving that.  (Or tell me about the best protagonist you’ve read and what the author put them through).
**If you’re a writer who recoils from hurting your protagonist, consider this: We read to live someone else's story – but we bring our real emotions along for the ride. Human nature generally takes one look at the people who appear to have it easy / win all the time and feel jealous or a distinct sense of injustice, because life is hard. Conversely, when we see a person who has faced significant adversity and come out the other side stronger and successful, we applaud them. Food for thought?


  1. I couldn't agree with your more Aimee. In my recent novel my protag went through hell. His only happiness is to live until his eighteenth birthday in order to escape his psychotic father.

    Emotions run beyond high for Aidan as he deals with his father's Jekyll and Hide personality triggered by his drinking. The reader continues to turn the page to find out what happens next... Will he make it?

  2. Great blog with some amazing writing tips. When is your novel going to be published? What is it about? Just curious!:)


  3. @Komz - You'll have to ask God. Maybe He'll tell you 'cos so far He's hiding that little tidbit from me. *Sigh* But thanks for the encouragement!

  4. I really liked your point at the end - it is so much easier to identify with someone who's been through hell and come out stronger on the other end than someone who's always had it easy.

    Excellent food for writerly thought!!

  5. I'm happy to read this post. My protagonist, and the man she loves have been marching through hell for a while. I give them torment, then a reprieve where things start to look like they're going to be okay and then - Oh no! A worse disaster comes their way. It takes it out of me, emotionally, but I love the results.

  6. interesting post. Was it Stephen King who said you make up characters and then throw stones at them...? Without the stones there's no story or character development either. Impressive blog - love to know how you've built such a strong following....have you already posted on that subject? I'd love to read it.

  7. Hi Bridget, no I haven't posted on that... maybe I'll give that a shot after the plotting series - thanks for the idea!

  8. Once again, this post proves how valuable your blog is.

    I hope all writers are reading it.

    Yep, I hurt my characters - and it's for their own good. I throw them in a hole and start shovelling dirt on them. Metaphorically of course . . . ummmm

    *runs off*

  9. An interesting post that I enjoyed reading. Some sound advice for writers.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.