Monday, October 18, 2010

Raise the stakes

I was watching kids beat each other up on the playground at school the other day.

It was Kindergarten, so there weren't any fists flying...blood dripping...or faces shoved against the ground. But there were plenty of hands on hips and mouths shouting, "Oh yeah? Well I'm gonna..."

I thought about stepping in. I probably should have.

But I was laughing too hard by the fifth time I heard someone shout and stomp away without ever finishing the sentence.

From a dramatic standpoint, it was the most boring fight I've ever seen.

Don't get me wrong. As a teacher, I'm glad the kids didn't kill each other, mangling someone into tears, snot balls, and bloody noses.

But as a writer, I have to do better than that in my books.

I have to raise the stakes.

While watching the fight I couldn't help but notice all the kids' energy fluttered and flitted around in every direction. None of the teachers could tell what happened or what anyone wanted. If I write that way in my books, my audience won't know what's going on, either.

It's not as simple as just knowing what your character wants. All of those kids knew they wanted to win the fight.

But they didn't know how to win. And they definitely didn't want it bad enough.

Characters have to be willing to do anything, no matter what the cost.

Even if it means they get their face shoved to the ground. Or popped in the nose with a fist.


  1. It's always amusing that we can never truly write things "the way they really are". Our narratives have to have appropriate motive and cause-and-effect to maintain a reader's trust, especially when it comes to a fight.

  2. Here's to raising the stakes in conflict within our writing (and not in real life on the playground!)

  3. Good point. I do think our characters have to make hard choices, and stick to them. They have to be willing to fully commit.