I have a few winners to announce.
The winner of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING is Joanne Fritz!
The winner of JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD is Liz Brooks!
The winner of Brent Taylor's Query Critique is Jenny C.!
And the winner of the May I Suggest Giveaway Hop is Anne May who picked the Amazon Gift Card!
Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.
Today I'm thrilled to have debut author Holly Bodger and her agent Lauren MacLeod from The Strothman Agency to share about raising your stakes in your novel.
Holly's novel is a YA multicultural, futuristic story that sounds fantastic. I just reserved it at the library for my summer fun reading. And it just came in. Yay!
Here's a blurb from Goodreads:
In the year 2054, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys for every girl, making women an incredibly valuable commodity. Tired of marrying off their daughters to the highest bidder and determined to finally make marriage fair, the women who form the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife.
Sudasa, though, doesn't want to be a wife, and Kiran, a boy forced to compete in the test to become her husband, has other plans as well. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Kiran thwart each other at every turn until they slowly realize that they just might want the same thing.
This beautiful, unique novel is told from alternating points of view-Sudasa's in verse and Kiran's in prose-allowing readers to experience both characters' pain and their brave struggle for hope.
So here's Holly and Lauren!
HB: One of the things Lauren often reminds me is to increase the stakes in my novel. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a character’s stakes are what he has to lose if he doesn’t meet his goal. For example, if Harry Potter doesn’t defeat Voldemort, he will die, so his stakes are death. In the case of my own book, 5 TO 1, Sudasa’s stakes are a life of misery married to a boy she hates. Kiran’s are death.
LM: I just searched through my sent email for the phrase “the stakes” and it does, indeed, seem to be one of those things I’m constantly talking about with you guys. But without high stakes, what is the point? Why should a reader invest themselves in this story or character?
HB: You are so right, Lauren. The stakes are what keeps the reader reading. In fact, according to James a character’s stakes must always be death. Don’t get too excited. He defines death in three ways: 1) actual physical death, 2) professional death (in YA this might be called death in stature, ie, a place on the basketball team), and 3) emotional death. This last one can be hard to pull off as it requires that you convince the reader that it will really occur. When I used this this last one for Sudasa, I had to make sure that it was REALLY clear that a life married to a boy she hates would be emotional death.
LM: That is such an interesting way of framing that! I feel like there should be some sort of category for interpersonal relationship death (not necessarily romantic, but frequently), but maybe that all falls under the umbrella of emotional death? (For some reason ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS popped into my head and I was trying to figure out where I’d slot those stakes.) Holly?
HB: Yes, I think loss of love/friendship would be an emotional death as long as the relationship is important to the main character. That’s what stakes must be personal. The main character must be facing his or her own death (or in this case, loss). If the stakes belong to another character, then they must relate back to the main character through an emotional death. For example, Katniss risks her life initially to save her sister and while she wants to win the games so she can continue to support her mother and sister, the stakes (of actual death) are hers because she is the one who might die. Had the games been different and Katniss had been playing for Prim’s life, we would have believed Katniss was facing emotional death only if we also believed Prim was so important to Katniss that she could not possibly go on living without her.
LM: Sort of like the emotional death Katniss would be facing re: Peeta Mellark? (Oh Peeta!) Katniss is facing her own death, but the reader also thinks she may be facing an emotional death if she loses Peeta. So she has personal stakes on two sides and, thanks to the winner takes all nature of the Hunger Games, she is put in this really fascinating place where it seems like she can’t win. The more stakes you can raise, and the more you can set those in conflict with each other, the higher the tension, the more I care as a reader.
HB: Yeah, Hunger Games was full of stakes. Katniss was facing the loss of her sister and Peeta, in addition to her own life. This really helped build engagement with Katniss because the stakes were specific. This is really important. I have lost count of the number of loglines I’ve seen where the only stakes are the end of the world
LM: Oh I agree with your requirement, but I think there is a place for *dramatic music* THE END OF THE WORLD, as long as there are some personal stakes tied up in there, too. I think there is some pretty fertile ground here, especially when you set it up so the stakes for the world conflict [am I beginning to sound like a broken record? I clearly like my stakes with a side of major conflict] with the main characters personal stakes. It demands a sacrifice or some sort of moral reckoning, which is also inherently interesting.
HB: So Lauren likes her stakes with a side of more stakes. Do you see a pattern here?
LM: Agreed. I’d add that the best books also really build the case for it being unlikely for the main character to get what they want. In the case of escaping physical death, for example, most writers (especially of YA) probably aren’t really going to George R. R. Martin a character and readers know that, so the burden falls on the writer to really make us fear/worry for our characters.
I think this is probably easiest in something like the Hunger Games and hardest in YA or MG when your stakes are more of the “professional death” variety. We see “so-and-so will die” or “the world will end” so frequently because those stakes register on a visceral human level.
Lauren has generously offered a query critique and Holly is offering a copy of 5 TO 1for a giveaway.
To enter, you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through May 30. I’ll announce the winner on June 8th. If you are interested in the query critique, please let me know in the comments. You must let me know this to enter. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is an International giveaway.
Here's what's coming up:
I'll be off next Monday for Memorial Day. Have a great holiday!
Next Wednesday I have a guest post by Elizabeth Varden and a giveaway of her new MG mystery IMOGENE AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING PEARLS.
I'll be off on Monday June 1st to get ready for my daughter's graduation and will be offline all week because I'm having family visiting to help celebrate our happy event.
Monday, June 8th, I'll have an interview with debut author Sarah McGuire and a giveaway of her MG fantasy VALIANT.
Hope to see you next Wednesday!