Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: Raising the Stakes

I just finished the third amazing fantasy/paranormal YA novel in a row (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Scorpio Races, Before I Fall), and it got me thinking: what do all these novels, which are all completely different from each other (we're talking chimeras and guardian angels, flesh-eating water horses, and a girl reliving the last day of her life over and over), have in common?

Well, for one thing, they're all completely engrossing. They all kept me up at night and were finished within a week (which is fast for me these days). And despite their differences, the reason they were so unputdownable is because, in addition to the beautiful world building and unique voices in all three books, the stakes were impossibly high. I think that's what I love so much about fantasy and paranormal: you can have life and death stakes that don't seem forced. You can put your characters in situations that simply aren't possible in the real world. It isn't hard to build tension when your character is facing losing her home, her family, and possibly her life in one fell swoop (The Scorpio Races), or when your character's eternal soul is at stake (or she thinks it is - Before I Fall).

Rose Leslie, my pick for Puck in the film version of The Scorpio Races.
Of course, building tension WELL and sustaining it throughout a novel requires a great deal of skill no matter what your plot is. That's something I learned with my last novel, which has life and death stakes but still wasn't exciting enough in the first couple of drafts. And one of the things that upped the tension was adding more of the paranormal elements. I think this is all part of why I don't enjoy contemporary YA nearly as much. I don't want to read about lives as average as mine. I read (and write) to escape reality and experience something new. All three of these novels inspire me to be a better writer, to up the tension in my own novels, and to be brave enough to try something no one has tried before.

1 comment:

Leslie Pugh said...

I'm struggling to raise the stakes in my WIP as well. It's hard to keep it exciting and engrossing without high stakes, isn't it? I'm hoping with continued writing practice I'll keep improving.

And those books sound very cool you mentioned. Will have to check them out!