Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Raising Stakes

Raising stakes is important.  Janice Hardy talks about it better than I ever could, but I did have some recent thoughts on the subject that I thought I'd share.

 One of the problems with trying to raise stakes according to Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, is that it's too easy to have the same stakes only bigger- like, first New York is in peril, then later all of North America, then as the climax nears the heroes discover that the World is Doomed.  Of course, the reader has an easier time picturing an imperiled New York than the world doomed, so by the time the high stakes are reached his or her brain just exploded.

  There's another problem with raising stakes that way though; the emotional play is too similar.  "Oh no!  Not New York!" "Oh no!  Not North America!"  "Oh no!  Not the Entire World!"  The repetition can make everything flatten.  But sometimes the story really does want to go, "First New York... then North America... finally... the Entire World!"  Donald Maass suggests that one way to fix the problem is to have new complications mixed in -like family problems, or rioting.  That is very good advice.

Another thing that I think can help is varying the reaction of the characters.  I have been working (or pretending to work) on a story where there is a monster attack.  A couple chapters later there is an attack by an even bigger monster, only when I got to that scene the second monster felt anticlimactic.  There are, after all, only so many ways you can say 'my hero was terrified.  He was really terrified.  Seriously folks, this is scary stuff.'

  Fortunately, God blessed me with friends who aren't afraid to tell me when my story is not working so I went back to the scene, stared at it a lot, banged my head on the desk a few times and finally thought what if the hero isn't terrified?  What if, instead, seeing the monster gives him an adrenalin rush that makes him unusually reckless?  It's a reaction that makes sense, it builds suspense (because reckless characters might make mistakes) and best of all it's not just a repetition of the earlier scene.  I don't know that varying the reaction will always work to raise stakes, but I know it worked for me in this particular instance and I'm filing it in the back of my mind for future use. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Some thoughts on Christian Fantasy

I was reading an interesting book recently, a fantasy published by Bethany House, and I noticed I was way more critical of the underlying ideas than if I had been reading a book from a secular publishing house and then found out the author was a Christian.  That was not something I wanted to discover about myself.

I don't want to just turn off my critical thinking skills if a book is from a Christian publisher.  That can happen.  You just assume that you and the author agree, and you gloss over stuff that would raise a red flag if the book didn't have that label.  (Of course, I also have a tendency to gloss over stuff if the writing is amazing, and then realize several books later oh yeah- this person and I disagree about everything.  But she/he writes so well!)  I just don't want to judge people unfairly because they label their books as Christian fantasy instead of just fantasy.  A book should stand on its own.

Tim Hawkins once made a comment that people call him a Christian comedian instead of a comedian who is a Christian but they don't do that for plumbers and other jobs.  If someone is a Christian and also a writer, they aren't (or shouldn't be) more of a Christian if they're writing for Zondervan and less of a Christian if they're writing for Scholastic.  What a person believes may be presented differently, but there is something seriously wrong with the writer if their actual beliefs change whenever they switch publishers.

I don't know how many Christian fantasy writers think about whether they're writing for a Christian or secular publishing house when they're actually working on the book.  Marketing has to cross a person's mind sometime, but, at least at first, you just write the story how ever it wants to be told. 

This post is really just me thinking out loud.  I don't have any amazing revelations, just a realization that, yes, a label really does affect the way I approach a work, even if it shouldn't.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Happy Easter

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.

Job 19:25-27a