Monday, April 20, 2015
What the heck!
I agree. What the heck! isn’t exactly a profound philosophy for life – or writing. But it’s as near as I can get to the kind of carefree “Give it a shot” mindset that I love to see in authors. Because that’s the attitude that takes risks, that doesn’t mind giving it a go, even if the attempt (at whatever) is ultimately torn up.
It’s easy to try and play it safe as a writer – and I see that all the time in submissions. Ideas that are similar to ones that are out there already, tried and tested tropes, stock depictions of characters, language that is serviceable but not unique or powerful. And of course, genres that are perceived to be currently successful and in demand (though the truth may be that they were in demand, but aren’t so much any longer). I don’t see a lot of risk – but then, of course, you aren’t in the position of knowing what we agents DO see, or what I might deem exciting risk.
I know how much writers want to see agents’ wishlists. You want guidance in the dark. Just a hint of what might float our apparently capricious boat. I’m never entirely sure about wishlists, though. Once, a writer tore up their WIP and wrote something entirely based on what I said I was looking for. When she submitted it to me and I turned it down, it was clear she felt really aggrieved and that she’d been misled. “But you said in your blog you wanted . . .” Um yes, but I never meant you to totally redirect yourself to fulfil that comment, and anyway it was months, if not a year, ago!
You see what I mean about wishlists.
I’ve read three books recently that made me think about wishlists. Because none of these books would have triggered an easy categorization. Because all three of them are in some way unique, a little mesmerizing, a touch strange, and very much about language and/or structure. I don’t represent any of them, but they all reignited my excitement about being a literary agent, being a reader. And that, in short, is my wishlist. I wish to be reignited!
So what are these books? The first is THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER by Leslye Walton (Candlewick). A strange family history, a girl with wings. Violence and beauty. Magical realism that is definitely risky, definitely out there, but impossible to ignore or forget. There’s a scene that smacks you in the face because it’s so devastating . . .Whoa, now THERE’S an imagination and a risk-taker.
The second is Jandy Nelson’s Printz Award winner, I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN (Dial, Penguin). I have met Jandy, and aside from being rather beautiful, she appears to be a regular human being. Which is surprising because she writes like a cross between a mad dervish and an angel of light. Ransom Riggs said, “her pages practically glow in the dark”. It’s hard to describe this story of love and loss, pain and self-discovery, other than that it’s an explosion of language which stops you like a deer in the headlights and burns its way into your heart (sorry, but it’s also the kind of book which makes you mix metaphors.) This is a book that takes risks, big and small, on every page.
The third book is one I’m still only halfway through. THE BONE GAP by Laura Ruby (Balzer & Bray, Harper). People are going slightly nutty about this novel. Author Mike Jung does a daily Facebook post to tell people TO READ THIS BOOK, like he’s been anointed by it. Again, it’s a little strange, mysterious, magical and other-worldly; it combines beauty with really chilling scariness, and it doesn’t give you every answer you think it will. The author is telling you just enough. Booklist called it “bewitching” and that’s just the right word.
I’m not saying that any of these books are perfect. What does perfect even mean? But they light you up as a reader. They make you think about questions big and small – from the meaning of life to the use of a phrase. If you’re a writer, seeking your path, they should never be copied (as if one could) but they might open a window to a revelation of your own, authentic risk taking. Because authorial risk is very personal – you have to find your own on a road less travelled.
I can tell you many kinds of books that I’m seeking. I can say I want “contemporary with a hook” or “middle grade adventure” or a “stunning new chapter-book concept” or “an unreliable narrator”. All true. But ho hum, these narrow definitions don’t excite me much.
What I really want is to be filled with glory. To be reminded again why I have the best job in the world. Because I want to bring your voice to readers, believing it will shape their lives. Not every book can smack us in the face, but maybe, just maybe, yours could.
Today, as you sit down at your laptop, try shouting, “What the heck!” Put it all (everything that’s in you) out there, take your risk, give it a shot, stretch your creativity, your voice, your language, like an arrow from the quiver. Sure, you’re ultimately going to have to craft it like a silversmith, but first you’ve got to find your molten metal.
What the heck!
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Welcome to 2015, and welcome to Greenhouse!
I love a good quote, and this one has inspired my last few months: “Just because it’s never been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”*
Those words make me stand taller. They fill me with confidence and courage. And they help me to think in new ways that dare to be different. We don’t need to be watching others to see if we replicate them. We don’t need to be scared of trying something new. Whatever I do, whatever the Greenhouse does, I want it to be done with passion and conviction. That was the spirit with which I created the agency back in early 2008 and now, with my agent colleagues John and Polly, it’s the spirit in which we go into 2015.
As I sit here on New Year’s Eve (with a glass of brandy-laced egg-nog), I have next to me a rather remarkable telephone. It looks like a regular phone, but it’s actually VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). Among Greenhousers it’s called the Batphone. It’s special because it’s programmed with both American and British numbers. If you’re in the US you call me on a Virginia number. If you’re in the UK you use a London number; both come into the same phone.
This is just so cool to me, because it reflects the transatlantic nature of Greenhouse, and the publishing world we inhabit – where opportunities, and authors, can come from anywhere; where we regularly do business with publishers all over the world. It’s recognition that we want to make communicating as easy as possible for ALL our clients and industry contacts. The Batphone is one small example of how our agency technology changes our notions of “Just because it’s never been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
But new technology is only a means of facilitating business. The bedrock of the business itself is ancient, and it doesn’t change; it never changes. It is still that old, old wonderful thing called Story – and the talented authors who create it. That means YOU!
Let’s tinker with that quote a bit. Writers, how about this version: “Just because you’ve never done it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
Perhaps you’ve been struggling for several years to find representation. Perhaps you’ve received knock-backs. Maybe you’ve been published but you’re scared stiff of writing something new; suppose you can’t make it work a second/third/fourth time? Oh yes, I know the anxieties of the writing life!
And that’s why I’m more interested right now in encouraging and inspiring you than listing “what I’m looking for” (though I’ll also be doing that in the next week or two). Writing comes from who you are, how you feel about what you’re doing, how resilient you are to setbacks, how ready to change course. And whether you’re prepared to take some risks (whether with voice, structure, genre or concept) and say “Just because it hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
Did you know that a writing career needs major courage? Courage to begin again, to experiment, to use setbacks as a catalyst for approaching your WIP from a new direction. I’m always excited by something that feels fresh, different and ambitious – even if it doesn’t quite come off. Go for it, give it a shot – and then be prepared to work like crazy to get it right.
Maybe at the start of this new year, it’s time to do something new. Finally torch the work in progress that isn’t coming together and embark on that Passion Project you’ve been mulling for ages? Or maybe start writing some short fiction, experimenting with voice and perspective. Perhaps there’s a germ of a picturebook idea in there that needs to see the light of day. Or maybe it’s just time to get serious about writing craft; there’s a ton of resources out there.
Like a clean sheet of paper waiting to be filled, 2015 awaits us – and that’s why I love New Year’s Eve.
“Just because it hasn’t been done – or because you haven’t done it yet - doesn’t mean it can’t be done”.
Wishing you the spirit of adventure in 2015.
* I suspect this is my version of George Bernard Shaw’s “People who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those who are doing it.”
Tuesday, September 09, 2014
We’ve got two exciting announcements in the world of film and t.v.!
Tommy Wallach’s WE ALL LOOKED UP (Simon and Schuster, 2015) has been optioned by Paramount Insurge. This debut y.a. follows the lives of four teens two months before a meteor is set to pass through Earth’s orbit with a 66.6 percent chance of striking and ending all life on the planet. Davis Entertainment will be producing; the deal was co-agented by Adrian Garcia at Resolution.
Monday, November 25, 2013
It’s been a busy Fall. Three conferences and many client manuscripts (hurrah!) have made it hard to find time to blog. But I’ve missed it, so thought I’d do a little ‘state of the nation’. Or, I guess you could say, ‘the view from my desk’.
There’s been much food for thought this year. 2013 has been a tough one, and from talking to other agents and editors I sense we’re in a transition. YA has been so dominant for so long, but is feeling very saturated these days. It’s not that YA deals aren’t being done this year, but I perceive there are fewer of them, editors are being very picky, and deals are less likely to be for multiple books and six figures than they were a year or two back. Maybe some of that is due to the high number of multi-book deals done a while ago for dystopian or paranormal trilogies or series, which are still working through the publishing schedule? Maybe Books 2 and 3 aren’t performing quite as well as Book 1 (usually the case) . . . . And we have seen so many dark, high-concept novels in general acquired over the last few years that perhaps editors are feeling it’s time to start re-balancing lists a little and seeking more diversity in both age group and theme.
If you look at deal notices in both Children’s Bookshelf (subscribe free to the bulletin that comes out Tuesdays and Thursdays) and Publishers Marketplace, you’ll see far more picturebook and middle-grade deals than you would have seen a year ago. ‘The picturebook is dead’? Hah, that old chestnut sounds almost funny now, given the line-up of PB deals we’re seeing every week. And isn’t it great to see some zing back in MG again.
If you’re writing YA, don’t panic. It’s not that YA is dead – far from it – but we’ve all got to raise the bar on both ideas and execution. A great, original idea, strongly crafted, is still grounds for huge editor excitement, but it’s not the time to be complacent or derivative of trends. There’ll still be an editor feeding frenzy around a manuscript in any genre that does and says something different, which frames its emotional punch in a new way, but any manuscript we put out there is going to come under exacting scrutiny, both editorially and commercially.
So, in YA what am I seeing in abundance? Still many submissions of dystopia and paranormal, girls with powers, dead characters (eg, Grim Reapers), quite a lot of sci-fi, and many stories that concern evil and secret government projects, often biological/genetic. Also, Contemporaries that deal with suicide, abuse, and drugs. (Many, many suicide stories at the moment.)
What would I like to see in YA? The hottest item on my wishlist would be a smart contemporary romance with a strong hook. We were moving in that direction before ELEANOR AND PARK (Rainbow Rowell) but that book has certainly put a great sales imprimatur on Contemporary. As a wider guide, I also always mention NANTUCKET BLUE (Leila Howland), THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE (Leila Sales), and THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT (Jennifer E. Smith) as having the kind of fresh, romantic, modern vibe I’m seeking. Writing a story like this is much harder than it looks – it’s not enough just to have a girl go through problems and emerge knowing herself better. Sure, it’s a basic trope that in a sense never gets old, but you’ve got to frame it in some sharp new way to make it stand out. Maybe you’ll use an interesting structure or new motif in some way? And however lonely/hurt/confused (etc) your characters may or may not be, you’ve got to catch the sweetness and pain of teen love so it really touches the reader. It’s always all about character and voice!
I’m also always looking for strong international or historical settings – a context that allows you to do something fresh and impactful with teen relationships. Word of warning – it’s got to be authentic. Don’t write about places you don’t know, periods in history that you haven’t studied in years. I’m not suggesting you spend a fortune flying around the world or take a time machine back into history, but you can’t fake a story set in Africa or guess at the reign of Louis XIV. You have to immerse yourself and then cherry pick what to give your reader as you weave a real novel from your knowledge.
What else in YA? Really, I am open. A concept that stops me in my tracks in some way, with an opening that makes me sit up. And that could be high fantasy, a verse novel, the heart-stopping story of a boy in Syria, a thriller with a twist I’ve never seen before . . . Who knows what will appear, and I can’t wait to be surprised!
And then there’s middle grade.
I am definitely on the hunt for more MG. Primarily, I’m seeking a voice that stands out (so incredibly important in MG), and that does SOMETHING strongly. For example Alison DeCamp’s THE STUPENDOUS SCRAPBOOK OF (SOMEWHAT MANLY) STAN which I recently sold to Crown, made me laugh – a lot. It’s got touches of WIMPY KID, but set in the 1890s and illustrated with original adverts of the day. How cool, and I’d never seen anything like that before!
We’ve also just sold a really fun, child-friendly fantasy adventure both sides of the Pond – IVY SPARROW by Jennifer Bell. I’d never use the ‘it’s like Harry Potter’ pitch, but several editors and scouts have said it reminds them of HP in the rich invention, and immense detail, of its world building.
So, in MG what am I seeing in abundance? Stories about bullying, and many stories about animals –or told from the perspective of animals. Lots of variations on superheros. Kids going back in time to different periods of history, usually to ‘learn’ things.
What would I like to see in MG? Really, again, anything that feels new and different. It could be a lovely, classic voice and heart-wrenching story of family life and identity like A DOG CALLED HOMELESS (Sarah Lean), or it could be clever fantasy, full of puzzlement like A TANGLE OF KNOTS (Lisa Graff). Obviously, I’d have loved to find WONDER (R.J. Palacio), but equally I’d be excited to see a great adventure theme, dealt with in a new way (not just a child whose archaeologist parents take him to different parts of the world).
We still don’t see enough MG. Bring it on, folks! It’s a great time if you’re writing for this age group.
Finally, let’s not forget picturebooks.
As you know from our sub guidelines, I’m not currently open to debut PB texts – but my colleague John Cusick is, and I sell them when by authors I’ve taken on for longer, older fiction. Also, I’ll occasionally sign a client who is writing in multiple genres – including PB (eg, Martha Brockenbrough and Kat Yeh). We are doing very well with PBs these days and eagerly seeking more.
I always think that the fewer the words, the harder writing becomes. To write a great PB you have to turn your story on a dime, with not one word out of place.
What we’d like to see in PB? Everything I said in YA and MG above about ‘fresh concept’ applies here too. Also, could a child and parent read your PB thousands of times and never get tired of it? (As a parent myself, I know how important that is!) This means you need to build in ‘layers’ of meaning within your story, and a great ‘takeaway’. ‘Takeaway’ is key, and it means the ‘message’ implicit within the story. You can’t just describe a pretty scene, a special moment. What is the ‘integrity’ of the story, the heart of what you’re saying/revealing, which means the pay-off, the resolution, gives the reader something important and enduring? What do you know, understand, about life, family, kindness, happiness, meaning, at the end of the story that the young child reader didn’t know at the beginning?
Oh, and you have to do this in a very small number of words. We used to say under 1000, but now we really want a lot less than that. Can you do it in just a few hundred words? Or maybe even with no words at all!
Hey, I’m off to ask John if he will write us a special blog post about the picturebook, where we can go into more detail.
So that’s it for tonight. 2013 has been good for Greenhouse, and we’re seeing increased diversity in what publishers are seeking. However, the bar continues to be raised across the spectrum, and some manuscripts which would have sold a few years ago may not find such an easy path today. And that’s a challenge to us all – authors, agents, and editors. We have to write cleverly, develop and advise authors carefully and helpfully, and publish smartly into an ever-increasingly competitive environment. It’s about finding an edge.
I like a challenge. Do you? Keep on sending those submissions!
Pix: Shots from this Fall. 1) Me, at Fallen Leaf Lake, Nevada, where I was on faculty for SCBWI Nevada’s conference and opening to their fab mentoring program. Look at the strength of this light! NB: my legs aren’t really this huge . . . honestly. 2) Salmon, Nevada. Fascinating - they spawn and then die. But meantime, are compelled to try to swim upstream. Tragic, really. But swimming upstream against the current is what we all do, all the time, in the books industry. 3) En route to Reno in snow - if you’ve a query or ms on sub, you know all about the long,dark tunnel. Right? 4) And finally - dear Lucy, Greenhouse dachsund, passed away on Weds, November 6. She is the red one. I miss her, under my desk.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Annemarie O’Brien’s debut middle-grade novel, LARA’S GIFT, publishes this month with Knopf, an imprint of Random House. She’s currently in the middle of a blog tour publicizing the book, so I’m delighted to welcome her to my blog today and ask her a few questions about her writing career and her gorgeous book.
When did you start writing and how/where did you learn to craft a novel? Did it come easily to you?
I actually started writing short stories in Russian while I was living in Bosnia. It was my attempt at strengthening my Russian language skills. My Russian professor liked them so much, he recommended that I get them published. I thought it would be easier to write in my native language of English. So when I retired from my overseas work in 1998 and moved to the San Fran area, I started taking writing classes at UC Berkeley and Stanford. I did that for about five years and then decided to get an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. VCFA is where I really jumped a few levels in my craft and developed the kind of skills to foster continued growth. Some parts of writing came to me easily like building a plot and structuring my story. I had to work at setting, evoking sensory details, and internal character arc development.
LARA’S GIFT is your first novel. We’d love you to tell us what it’s about.
I’d like to borrow a quote from Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor author of THE UNDERNEATH:
“LARA’S GIFT makes a reader believe in the power of intuition, family, and fighting for one’s true calling. LARA’S GIFT is a gift to anyone who loves adventure, a good story and above all, a beloved dog.”
You lived in Russia for some years. What was that like and in what way did the experience inspire you to write LARA’S GIFT?
Russia is a magical place. It is rich in music, literature, the arts, science, and history. My first visit was during the cold war when the United States and the former Soviet Union were at odds politically, socially, and economically. And while our governments didn’t see eye-to-eye, I found that I connected with Russians easily. I couldn’t understand why our countries were “at war” on so many issues when the people I met were warm, welcoming, and highly intellectual. Living and working there forced me to think and question so many things. This experience forced me to open up my mind and grow personally and professionally. That kind of growth was like a disease that spread and fed off of the experiences I put myself in. The kind of experiences that challenged me. So many of my family and friends had funny notions of what Russia was all about back then and used to joke with me about it. Few of them could understand my interest to work there. I wanted to change those kinds of perceptions and felt that Lara and Zar’s story needed to be told to show another face of Russia.
What are the themes in the story that most excite and interest you, and what aspect of the story did you enjoy writing most?
Good question, Sarah. I actually wasn’t aware of the theme in LARA’S GIFT until well after the copyedit process. And then one day, it dawned on me that the theme mirrors what my father instilled in me as a kid. He always told me that I could do whatever I wanted, if I put my mind to it. He also told me to follow my heart and happiness would follow. He also said that I should trust in the gifts I have. These are all things I believed in growing up. They weren’t necessarily things I ever talked about. I just led my life this way unconsciously. So if there’s one thing I hope my readers walk away with after reading LARA’S GIFT, it would be a newfound sense in themselves to pursue life following your heart and passion. Everyone should lead life following his/her own dreams. Had I followed my father’s dream of where he thought I would have or should have landed, I’d be an engineer, just like him! Fortunately, for good or bad, he let me be me and the engineering world is better off for it.
I enjoyed developing Zar’s character on the page most, as well as the bond he has with Lara.
You have two Borzoi dogs! Tell us about them – what is it about these large, elegant dogs that fascinates you so much?
I’ve also got a Silken Windhound puppy (looks like a smaller borzoi) named Zeus! It gets a little crazy in our house with the puppy stirring things up!
This is a tough question because there are so many reasons why I fell in love with borzoi. I suppose part of it is because they are calm and gentle and complement the quiet, yet active, lifestyle I strive to create around me. I suspect the biggest reason is linked to the bond I had with my first borzoi, Dasha. I got her at a time when I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life. Those years were the foundation that led me to where I am today. I had to make big choices and Dasha was always right there by my side supporting me every step of the way. It’s this last quality of loyalty that I wanted to reveal in Zar’s character, as well as his love of Lara and vice versa.
What will you be doing to promote LARA’S GIFT?
My first big book launch party will be in Piedmont, California on September 6 at 7pm. It will be hosted by Havens Elementary School and Books Inc. I will also go to Forbes Library in my hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts to do an author event on September 21 from 2-4pm and at The King’s English in Salt Lake City, Utah on September 28 at 2pm. I also plan to do events in Kauai, Philadelphia, Iowa, and the greater San Fran Bay area. If everything works out, I hope to be in Manila and Palau next spring to do school visits and author events.
Are you currently working on another novel – and if so, what is it?
While I have a number of story ideas in my head and some jotted down in files, my focus at the moment is on two stories. The first one is set in Thailand and is in the final throes of revision. Without giving too much away (call me superstitious!) this story came to me in a dream that likely rooted itself out of one of my biggest fears.
I am also currently in research mode for the companion story to LARA’S GIFT. This story is set primarily in the Gorbachev era and draws greatly from my own experience living and working in Russia at that time. Since my whole world revolved around Russia and all of its changes during the 1980s thru the 90s, I suspect this story will have a lot of heart, as well as come more easily to me.
Finally, there’s a great tradition of fiction about dogs. Are there any other great dog novels that you particularly love?
Recently, I have enjoyed A DOG CALLED HOMELESS by Sarah Lean, THE DOGS OF WINTER by Bobbie Pyron, THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt, LITTLE DOG, LOST by Marion Dane Bauer, as well as THE DOG DIARIES series by Kate Klimo.
My favorites as a kid were LASSIE COME HOME, 101 DALMATIONS, and LADY AND THE TRAMP.
I’m always looking for good dog books! I blog about them on Dog Reads which features interviews with authors who’ve written a dog story for children. If you know of one or have written one, please contact me through my web page (below).
How can we find out more about you and the book (and buy a copy?!) ?
Here are some useful links:
Web page: www.annemarieobrienauthor.com
Book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whcIDqxCq9g
Thanks, Annemarie! We’re all wishing you and the book tons of success.
Pix: 1) Jacket of LARA’S GIFT 2) Annemarie - and her gorgeous dogs 3) A cheeky little pic of one of the Greenhouse dogs (Sargie, the wire-haired Dachsund) crept in here! Couldn’t resist.
Monday, May 27, 2013
I talk a lot with my clients about plotting, and we often get involved in editorial work and revisions on manuscripts before they go on submission. When new author Elle Cosimano entered my life with her query in February 2011, she had a strong idea and the makings of a great voice, but was about to embark on a journey into the wonders (and challenges) of intricate and high-stakes plotting. A journey that led to her gripping and emotionally powerful thriller, NEARLY GONE, being preempted in a 2-book deal by Kathy Dawson, a legendary and award-winning Penguin publisher. Kathy now has her own imprint, Kathy Dawson Books, and NEARLY GONE will be on her high-profile launch list which publishes in early 2014. You can read more about Elle Cosimano here.
Now Elle shares her thoughts on what she learned about plotting while writing and revising NEARLY GONE . . .
This post is about high-stakes plotting.
This post is not about:
A) gratuitous violence,
B) exploding muscle cars, or
C) ridiculous sums of ransom money.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “I write quiet works of literary fiction, and the importance of high-stakes plotting does not apply to me,” then the answer is D) sit your lyrical ass down and keep reading. This post pertains to all of us.
Don’t get me wrong.
I get it. If you were to Google “high-stakes plotting”, you’d come away with pages of examples of “loss” in the form of death and destruction, and “gain” measured in simple monetary terms. These only serve to further our very black-and-white understanding of literary versus commercial fiction. I argue that the two, when done well, aren’t as mutually exclusive as we are led to believe.
So if A + B + C does not equal a high-stakes plot, then what does?
Forget wooden vampire-obliterating sticks for a moment, or the mountain of chips on a poker table. All good examples of stakes, but these aren’t the kind we’re talking about.
When it comes to plot, we define “stakes” as personal or emotional concerns of value. Notice, there is no quantifiable thing. Because we are not measuring an object to be won or lost, but rather the value of its emotional resonance. Heightening stakes is not about increasing the value of the physical things our characters want or stand to lose. It’s about tying those things to a deeper yearning – assigning each gain and loss a devastating or life-changing emotional impact.
In his book, From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction, Robert Olen Butler says, “Desire is the driving force behind plot. The character yearns, the character does something in pursuit of that yearning, and some force or other will block the attempt to fulfill that yearning. …You cannot find a book on the bestseller list without a central character who clearly wants something, is driving for something, has a clear objective… You name the genre. Every story has a character full of desire.”
When I embarked on my first full re-write of Nearly Gone, Sarah (my agent) asked me, “What does your character want?” This was a transformative revelation for me. My character had been doing all these things – going through all these motions without any true sense of destination. The plot was fuzzy. It lacked direction, because the end goal didn’t resonate deeply enough to drive it. Truly knowing my characters meant not only understanding what they wanted, but why. I had yet to fully grasp what their physical wants and goals represented to them. What they yearned for—whether it be identity, a place in the universe, redemption, or connection with another—and what they were willing to risk for it. I had to dig beneath the surface to reveal a yearning strong enough to hold together a plot, and hold a reader’s attention.
Heightened stakes don’t have to do more. They have to mean more. They’re anchored in the character’s innermost fears and deepest desires. They make the reader care, so that we sit up and take notice when those desires are threatened.
And threatened they must be.
Because antagonists yearn, too. They have their own stakes, their own desires. Conflict lies at the intersection of these opposing desires. It’s this balance between the main character, and the counterbalance of a person or the world or events standing in her way that creates tension, and gives the plot focus.
Perhaps our misunderstanding of high-stakes plotting lies in the name we’ve assigned to it. Maybe if we called it deep-stakes plotting, we’d stop building stories on mountains of meaningless events, and look beneath, at the white-hot human core of them, to find the stuff worth risking for. The real gems are hidden inside.