Monday, July 03, 2006

Lesson 8: Ultimate Stakes

Good Monday morning...For the next couple of weeks I'm home on vacation...this is going to seem strange but I try to etch out a daily schedule of writing so as not to waste the time. If anyone would like to check out our local situation, here's our Press and Sun-Bulletin Newspaper link. They've been doing a fabulous job of keeping people updated!

And these Flood Pictures show one of the houses in Conklin that blew up!

I'm going to a Christian Writers Convention in Philadelphia and I had been procrastinating at getting my manuscript ready to go. Last night while I was outside, a shooting star streaked across the sky. I looked up and said, "Okay God, I get the drift (water...flood).You didn't need a flood to get me in gear. A little rain shower, maybe dropping fish or ice chunks on my deck would have sufficed! I'm on it!

Okay, let's get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Okay...Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

In case your just joining us...What I am attempting to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. Today's lesson is in Section One: Ultimate Stakes.

Think about why we do the things we do...Lately my version of that has been a little skewed, but none the less...We get up, scan the paper, fight the rush hour, placate the boss, mow the lawn, save for vacation, etc, etc. There are reasons for all of these things. Not that we think about them before acting, but if pressed we could come up with explanations.

We care. We feel that what we do matters, even when it is a small thing. We have to care because no one can live for long feeling that life is futile, or without purpose. If we did, at the least, we'd stay in bed in the morning. At worst, after a life without reason, we'd check out.

When life tests us to the utmost, our motives grow exponentially greater. Our deepest convictions rise close to the surface. We become more determined to make a difference, to persist, to overcome all problems and obstacles.

At the moment of ultimate testing we summon our deepest beliefs and swear that nothing, nothing, will stop us!

The hero of your novel also will be tested to the limit of his/her convictions, or at least I hope so! If not, are there enough obstacles in the way of your protagonist? How does he/she respond at this supreme moment? the way that you or I would, let's hope, but even more strongly.

Is there a moment of ultimate stakes in your current manuscript? If not, fix it on the page. Your hero's testing and eventual commitment will be fixed in your reader's mind for a long time to come!

Step 1: Identify the moment in your story when your protagonist's stakes hit home...when he/she realizes that there is no turning back. This is the moment of irrevocable commitment.

Step 2: Write out that moment in one paragraph.

Step 3:Look at the paragraph you have written. Notice its shape, feel its effect. Now imaging that this is the first paragraph of your novel.

Note: Probably it would be difficult to place that paragraph at the top of page one. It's probably part of the climax. If you put it first you'd wind up with a novel told as a flashback. And there's a Certain Agent that we all know who would set her hair on fire at the notion of this!

Even so, it's tantalizing to think that your protagonist could have that kind of commitment, and your novel, that kind of emotional power, right from the opening moment, isn't it?

Well why not? don't dump a mountain of commitment on your protagonist immediately, yet you can give him/her a passioned caring about something at the beginning. Emotionally speaking, why open the novel in low gear?

Follow-up: The moment of commitment that you just created has an opposite: a moment of irresolution, a healthy adversion, a justified selfishness, or similar reaction. Write it down. find a place earlier in you manuscript to slot this in.

Conclusion:: You may not wind up directly using the paragraph that you created with this exercise: however, let your hero's inner commitment infuse and underlie all his/her actions. Let them be driven. When resolve weakens, reinforce it. Strong commitment on the part of your protagonist will generate strong commitment on the part of your reader.

The same is true, not surprisingly, when you create strong commitment on the part of your antagonist!

My compliments to my friend Ric for this joke.

An elderly man in Louisiana had owned a large farm for several years.
He had a large pond in the back. It was properly shaped for swimming,
so he fixed it up nice -- picnic tables, horseshoe courts, and some
apple and peach trees.

One evening the old farmer decided to go down to the pond, as he
hadn't been there for a while, and look it over. He grabbed a five
gallon bucket to bring back some fruit.

As he neared the pond, he heard voices shouting and laughing with
glee. As he came closer he saw it was a bunch of young women
skinny-dipping in his pond. He made the women aware of his presence
and they all went to the deep end. One of the women shouted to him,
"We're not coming out until you leave!"

The old man frowned, "I didn't come down here to watch you ladies swim
naked or make you get out of the pond naked." Holding the bucket up he
said, "I'm here to feed the alligator."

Moral: Some old men can still think fast.


  1. Bernita said...
    Tremendous gallery of flood pictures, Bonnie. Thank you for the link.
    Bonnie S. Calhoun said...
    It's sinking in now, pun intended. This is my first day actually working at home. I've done all I can do there until the electricity and phones are turned back on! We shall survive!
    Gordon said...
    Bonnie, y'all hang in there. If there is anything I have learned after doing some relief work in Mississippi this year, it is that with people pulling together and by the grace of God you will survive.

    You are in our prayers.
    Rulan said...
    This is a great series, Bonnie. I'm really enjoying it. Can't wait to read more.
    Rulan said...
    Hi Bonnie. I tried to go to the links you have given, but my server is way too slow tonight.

    How are you holding up?
    Sandra Ruttan said...
    Good for you re: getting your manuscript together, and I hope you have a great time at the conference!
    Live, Love, Laugh said...
    LOL!!! that joke was hilarious!!!!
    Joe said...
    See, Bonnie, you just shouldn't feed alligators. It causes them to lose their fear of naked ladies.

    I may decide to write a book, based on your teachings. I think it would be a novel idea.
    Georgiana Daniels said...
    Ooo, I'm glad I found your blog! Great series, thanks.
    David Meigs said...
    All this talk about creating the ultimate steak has got me hungry.

    I love BBQ’s. Thanks for the invite.

    Soooo, where’s the grub?
    Bonnie S. Calhoun said...
    Curm...right about now they're cutting them up with chainsaws to haul away the carcasses...A lot of cows drowned in the flood...cows, cows everywhere, and not a bite to eat!
    David Meigs said...
    That is so sad.

    Poor cows.
    Bonnie S. Calhoun said...
    what's even sadder, a girl told me they saved all the little calves...she was so excited!

    I told her that's because the calves were worth a lot more...they're veal calves!

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