Monday, September 15, 2014

Raising the Stakes

courtesy of John Smarch Photography
Janet here. There’s so much to learn about writing a romance novel. To name a few: Storytellers must give the hero and heroine strong book-length goals, motivations and conflicts. Characters should be strong and active, not victims. Everything that happens in a story should feed into the plot. No tea scenes allowed. In each scene, the point of view characters should have goals that fit their book-length goal in some way. 

Whew, the craft "To Do" list is long, but today I want to talk about the importance of raising stakes. If we hope to keep our readers turning pages, we have to keep making things worse. Don’t you love that we romance writers have two story people to torture? 

Well, maybe not, especially if you’re stuck in a scene trying to figure out what to do next to up the stakes and make our characters worry so our readers will worry, too.

I’m guessing most writers—even Seat of the Pantsters—have a general idea of events in key scenes like the crisis, black moment and climax. The premise and the characters’ goals seem to demand these pivotal scenes. Other scenes may not have that desperate, must take action or all will be lost intensity. But without something happening that worries our characters, we won’t give readers what they’re looking for—conflict.

Not every scene is a cliffhanger so how do we make things worse for our story people in every scene? We are able to up the stakes by using what may appear on the surface as mundane goals, but for our characters the action required can carry a big wallop. By that
I mean every time the stakes are raised, our characters are shoved into disquiet or anxiety or even terror and that forces them to confront their deepest fears.  
There are countless ways to ratchet the tension by using the elements of story. To come up with ideas on ways to raise the stakes you might want to ask yourself some questions. To come up with the answers we need to know our characters well.
      How can things get worse?
·         How can this feed into the characters’ deepest fears?
·         How can I make these characters face what scares them most?

      Even ordinary goals can up the conflict and make things tougher on our characters.

·         Use the Plot.

The stakes are raised when another character thwarts the pursuit of the characters’ goals. Or the hero and heroine’s goals clash. Or a looming deadline adds pressure. Or a character intentionally or unintentionally stirs up past hurts and buried guilt.  
Fabric Storyteller from Colorado

·        Use the Romance. Remember the romance is not the plot. The romance complicates the plot.   

Attraction in a romance is good, right? Not when the attraction is unwelcome, complicates or makes things worse. Attraction is a fun way to strike terror in the hearts of our characters and put them in self-protective mode.

·       Use the Motivations.

Create events that threaten to expose the character’s motivations, especially when those motivations are not laudable or dredge up a past the characters can’t face.  
     Use the Faith Thread

You will up the stakes when a character with faith is dismayed to be attracted to a character without faith. Or when a character's actions prove her faith is shaky. Or when churchgoers fight the character’s worthy goal.
     Use the Setting.

      The setting can trigger upsetting memories that up the stakes.

I will give examples of using these devices to up the stakes in scenes with mundane goals from my novel Wanted:A FamilyIn this story, pregnant widow Callie’s book-length goal is housing unwed mothers. Orphan carpenter Jake’s book-length goal is to find his birth mother.

In the following excerpt Callie’s scene goal is ordinary—she wants to pry up the rotten boards on her unsafe porch—yet this goal feeds into her book-length goal of housing unwed mothers. Callie has reason to be suspicious of strangers but her desire for her goal overrules her disquiet over hiring Jake and her unwanted attraction to a drifter.

Again his gaze roamed the house. “I’ll restore this beauty for a roof over my head and three meals a day, a price most folks appreciate.”

She appreciated the price all right. But he was still a stranger. “I've got to wonder why a man with your experience would work without a wage. I’ll still have to say no.”

“I can’t allow a woman to harm herself, even a headstrong woman like you.”

Of all the nerve! She glared at him. “I’m perfectly capable of handling whatever task I set my mind to.” 

His eyes held a flicker of respect. “I’m sure that’s true, if setting your mind to a task got it done. But, this job requires more brawn than brains.” He winked, bold as brass. “That makes me perfect for the job.”

Aghast at the rush of attraction that shot through her, Callie folded her arms across her chest, more determined to send this rogue packing.

“One day I want a business of my own. Why not give me a chance to test my mettle by bringing this Victorian back to life?”

Though he’d used that spiel to manipulate her, she couldn't argue with his logic. Fixing up her house would prove his ability and allow her to keep her house.

Besides, she didn't see anyone else lined up to help her.

If the house wasn't safe, Martin’s parents would insist she live with them, putting an end to Callie’s dream. What would happen to Elise and her baby then?

In the next excerpt I use the PLOT to up the stakes. Jake’s scene goal is to fix Callie’s porch, again an ordinary action, but the job fits his book-length goal of finding his mother. When Jake is interrupted by Commodore Mitchell,Callie comes out to deal with her father-in-law, a difficult man who is fighting her goal so doesn't want Jake repairing the house.

“I appreciate your concern, Commodore, but I've already arranged for Mr. Smith to do the work,” Callie Mitchell tapped the toe of her serviceable shoe on the newly laid porch floor. “His work speaks for him.”

“Let’s have that tea,” Callie’s mother-in-law said. “Please.”

Ignoring his wife, Mitchell frowned. “You’re hardly a good judge of character, Callie. The last man you hired ransacked the place and took every cent in the house.”

Jake took a step forward. “Where I come from, a man speaks kindly to a lady.”

Mitchell turned suspicious eyes on Jake. “And where is that, Smith?”

“Does it matter? I believe good manners are the same everywhere.”

“I’ll tell you what I believe. A drifter has something to hide.” He smirked. “As soon as someone gets close to his secret, that’s when he leaves.” He turned to Callie. “Reckon I’ll stop at the sheriff’s office. See what he knows about ‘Smith’ here.”

He thrust the bundle at his daughter-in-law, then took his wife’s arm and stomped down the walk.

The threat tore through Jake, heating his veins. Even if the sheriff didn't find anything on him that didn't mean he wouldn't come around asking questions. It wouldn't be long until his past caught up with him and forced him out of town.

Can see how the encounter with Commodore has raised the stakes for Jake and has put fear in Jake’s heart? 

In the following excerpt, Elise pleaded with Jake to accompany her and Callie to church in hopes of taking the attention off Elise's first time back to church since her pregnancy became public knowledge. Jake agrees, and protecting Elise becomes his scene goal. But, the setting awakens bad memories in Jake and worse he's getting involved in the life's of others, the last thing he wants. Especially when these women are making him see the difficulties a single mother would've had raising a child.

Clay storyteller from New Mexico
Jake rose from the pew and stepped aside, letting Callie and Elise lead the way. As in jail and the towns he’d stopped in since his release, he felt eyes on his back. A stranger would naturally create curiosity. How long before those stares turned hostile? And curiosity became judgment?

Why he’d agreed to stay for the meal baffled him. With an instinct that rarely failed, Jake sensed few would welcome Elise or him into the fold. Fine. He’d never seen anyone until Callie do more than mouth their faith anyway. 

When Gerald Swartz had picked him out from the lineup of orphans, right after Jake’s sixteenth birthday and taken him home, Jake had believed he’d attained his childhood dream. As long as he could remember, his fantasies had centered on having a family, a home, perhaps sharing a room with a brother or two. At last, someone wanted him.

They’d wanted him all right.

To work from sunup to sunset handling every imaginable chore they threw at him. Eager to please, he’d slept in the barn, bathed in the creek, worn hand-me-down clothes, done exactly as told without complaint, certain he’d earn their trust and prove he wouldn't be a burden.

Soon they’d include him in the tight circle of family.

Soon never came.

Not that the Swartz’s were cruel. They’d filled his belly. Had taken him to church and sent him to school, exactly as the rules required. But he’d never been welcomed in. He’d never spent a single night under their roof. He’d never received an affectionate hug or a personal word.

Each Sunday, they’d sat in their church pew, nodding at the message of love, but never showed him a speck of it by word or deed. The night of his seventeenth birthday, he’d run away. Better to expect nothing than to live with unfulfilled hope. Better to learn a trade and earn a wage than depend on scraps of a family that kept him out. Better to go through life a loner than count on anyone.

Hadn't Susan given him further proof of that?

One church visit brought it all back. If these folks resembled the people he’d spent that year with, they were welcome to their songs. Welcome to their sermons. Welcome to their God.

Hypocrisy. All of it.

He couldn't wait to leave, to reject the stifling pretense of piety, but he couldn't desert Elise and Callie in case they needed him.

Jake’s attitude about churchgoers and faith won’t endear him to Callie. Yet underneath, he's conflicted by his anger at God.  

In the next excerpt, Jake’s goal is to finish repairs on the stair railing, but that’s not his true motivation and he almost gets caught, upping the stakes:

But the invitation gave him an excuse for finishing the railing, the little job a convenient ploy to get into the house early.

On silent feet, Jake moved down the hall toward the library. The knowledge Callie trusted him alone in her house tweaked his conscience, but seeking the woman who gave him birth wouldn't bring Callie harm.

At the last door on the right, he turned the knob. Inside the library, he strode to the desk. He’d leave the door open, listen for Callie’s return.  

The first stack of newspapers looked recent, but over to the side a pile, brittle and yellowed with age, looked promising. He’d start there. Rummaging through the stack, he discovered the newspapers dated decades before his birth.

His hand moved to another stack, yellowed but in better condition. His throat clogged. This stack might hold the information he sought. Flipping through the dates, he located the year 1877. With shaking hands, he looked for May 21, 1877. His birthday.

Or so he’d been told.

A squeak of the floorboards overhead. Jake jerked to his feet. One of the women would soon arrive downstairs. He straightened the newspapers and eased the door closed after him.

He made it to the foyer, grabbed the cloth and polished the banister, revealing the soft glow of the wood’s patina just as Callie made the landing.

In all of these excerpts the scene goals required ordinary actions, but, they still upped the stakes for the Point of View character. Notice how raising the stakes bonds readers to our characters. 

Leave a comment for a chance to win a $10 Amazon Gift Card. I brought breakfast sandwiches, melon, coffee and tea for breakfast. Pull up a chair and let’s chat about ways you raise the stakes. Or tell me how many kids each of the storytellers has listening to her oral history. Aren't they cute?


Helen Gray said...

That's a lot to think about, Janet. Thanks for feeding our brains.

Got home about 9:30 tonight from our friend's funeral. Weary to the bone.

The coffee pot is set.

Melissa Jagears said...

This is exactly what I'm dealing with, I like to make my romance the plot.

Great tips here.

Is there any craft books on plot anyone has run across that is good for a romance/character story? I usually just run across plot books for thrillers and adventures. Anybody know of good ones? Maybe even plotting for a literary story, not that I write literary story, but maybe more of a subdued plot craft book might hit me better.

Marianne Barkman said...

Sorry about your friend, Helen. And as tired as you are, you are still serving others. God Bless You! I love to gather little ones around me for story time. The fabric one has at least 6 (that I can easily see) and the clay one has 5 I think. Thanks, Janet. Looking forward to your next book!

Melissa Jagears said...

Ha, so I googled and found somebody's romance beat sheet, if anyone's interested: says it's for pantsters:

Terri said...

Janet, I loved the examples you used in your post. It really helped me understand your post and your book sounds excellent! I'm anxious to discover who his birth mother is.

The cloth storyteller had six children and the clay five. They're very pretty, especially the clay one. Isn't New Mexico a fun place to visit?

If you don't mind I'll have some tea while I read the beat sheet. Thanks, Melissa!

Cindy W. said...

A wonderful post as usual Janet! I try to make my romance the plot and it is so hard for me to get beyond the romance.

Your newest book looks great!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Food and wisdom!!!! I'm psyched, Janet!

Cindy, I think you're probably too nice to your characters... so you're fixing their problems too soon, maybe???

Make 'em suffer, darling! :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...


Thank you, thank you, thank you. Illness and funerals can be draining, but I'm celebrating that you got to go, that you had those decades of friendship and that we can gather around the kitchen table here and talk books and romance and loss and faith... and know that we're all in this together. God bless you!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

JAGEARS....(sighs...) You have to fill things in....

You have to think ahead of time.

'Sup wi' dat?

Usually if I'm sinking my feet into the muds of despair, it's because I'm trying too hard to develop an outside external conflict... Or because the internal conflict isn't strong enough.

For a coming home story, make the past rise up and slap them across the face... or have the past suddenly disappear, and then there's no way to fix things, only guilt...

For a dysfunctional family story, the pain of siblings is huge and the guilt increases exponentially....

For stories where dishonesty (even for noble reasons) prevails, the character needs to face the temptation of dishonesty to SAVE SOMEONE ELSE and then they have to choose God's plan or their own initiative...

I think it always comes down to action/reaction and feeding characters in.

Of course I'm generally WRONG.

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Funny you're talking about plot, because when my oldest daughter was reading that book, she kept groaning out loud. After the third or fourth GROANNNNN, I said, "What on earth is wrong?"

She said, "Everything just keeps getting worse and worse! Just when I think things will go right, they don't. Something else comes up!"

She was absolutely enjoying the torture, lol. I'll never forget that. It was the perfect description of a good plot. Even though my daughter is firmly a fantasy reader, Wanted: A Family is on her shelf.

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

Oh, Helen. Praying for all of you!

Kav said...

This is great, Janet. Love it when you give examples. :-) I've been concentrating on gmc scene by scene but when I edit it sometimes reads choppy. Reading this post, I'm realizing that I need to infuse the book length goals better. Sometimes I've had conflict in a scene simply to up the stake in that scene and it doesn't really contribute to the over all gmc...if that makes sense.

And thanks for that beat link, Melissa. Looks interesting.

Jenny Blake said...

I love the story tellers first one has 6 and is so sweet the second 5. It would be a cool collectable.

Mum was a story teller. She went with a friend to the Western Australia to visit the friends daughter who was a missionary to the aboriginals there they were house parents. They loved mum and how she would tell them a story without needing a book. They loved that she could tell it without needing to read anything. She would tell bible stories. Its a special gift and children love that.

I haven't on as much as I tire so easy.

Debby Giusti said...

Janet, you're such a beautiful writer. Loved each excerpt you provided that drove home the points you were trying to make. Excellent post!

Tell us a bit more about the storyteller dolls. We lived in the Southwest during our early years of marriage, but I don't remember seeing anything like the dolls. Do you have a "story" to go along with your ladies and their babes?

Janet Dean said...

Helen, thank you for the coffee. Hope you're able to sleep in this morning. Hugs to you.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Melissa. Writing novels is not easy. I have craft books on dialogue, premise, character, GMC, but don't have a craft book that's just on writing plot. You might check our archives for posts on plotting.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Marianne. You gave the right number of children listening to the storytellers. I keep them in my office. They always make me smile.

Thanks for your interest in my books!


Janet Dean said...

Melissa, hope this beat sheet is helpful for you!


Janet Dean said...

Hi Terri,

Jake and Callie's goals are very strong, which helps propel the story.

We loved our visit to New Mexico and would love to go back. Maybe next year.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Cindy W. Thanks! Wanted: A Family was released in 2011. Sorry. I should have put that in my post.

Characters with strong goals can help us stay on track with the plot. But, we do need to keep the romance front and center, too. Oh, and the faith thread. LOL Novel writing isn't easy.


Rose said...

What a beautiful picture of you, Janet!

Terrific advice.

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, thanks for your wisdom! We all must figure out what works for us, but being nice to our characters does not raise the stakes. But, we do try to be nice to real people, right?


Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, action/reaction builds the scenes and the scenes build the story. Excellent!


Janet Dean said...

Virginia, please give your daughter a hug from me! Thanks for sharing. You made my day!


Janet Dean said...

Kav said: Sometimes I've had conflict in a scene simply to up the stake in that scene and it doesn't really contribute to the over all gmc...if that makes sense.

You make perfect sense! If the goal of the scene doesn't fit into the character's main goal, the story will feel episodic. Everything in the book should fit the plot. Not just there because we need more trouble.


Piper Huguley said...

My condolences Helen. It can't be any easier when you are officiating. Take care of yourselves.

A great post Janet! I love your picture as well. Are you coming to M&M this year? I can't wait for Debby Guisti's RS workshop!

Jackie said...

Great post, Janet. Thanks for the examples.

It the story I plan to pitch at ACFW, the heroine runs on the beach at a low point in her life. Then a storm blows up and she twists her ankle. Then when she thinks God must be punishing her, He surprises her.

Helen, so sorry to hear about your friend.

Liz Flaherty said...

Hi, Janet. This is an excellent tutorial! I like your new picture, too.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Jenny. So great to see you in Seekerville! I've missed you. I'm sorry you're still struggling with health issues.

You nailed the number of kids. Storytellers are a great collectible. I've even seen a silver storyteller pin. Adorable but I'm sure expensive.

Your mother had a gift for sure! Love that she used it to tell the stories of the Bible.

My grandfather had the gift of storytelling. When the story was funny, he had this wonderful laugh that just made everyone listening laugh, too.


kaybee said...

Hi Janet,
Good post. I just had my plot session with Cathy Yardley (THANK YOU SEEKERVILLE) and she helped me refine my WIP. My characters, Pace Williams and Oona Moriarty, are strongly attracted to each other but have opposing goals: she wants to go back to Ireland to avenge her family and he wants her to stay and make a life with him in the Oregon Territory. But he's also outrunning some enemies from his past, so when they show up in the village he has to get Oona out of there to protect her.
Janet, I think I asked you this before, but can you have a scene with people drinking tea/coffee/sarsaparilla and/or eating a meal IF their conversation or interaction advances the plot? By tea scene, do you mean a scene where what basically happens is they drink tea? Sorry for my denseness, but this is something I struggle with.
RUTHY, you are always right.
Off to work, check in later.
I brought my special Pumpkin Pie Muffins, which is a pumpkin bread baked in muffin tins and laced with chocolate chips.
Kathy Bailey
NOT drinking tea in NH

Janet Dean said...

Hi Debby! I bought my pottery storyteller in Taos, New Mexico. The figures are made to honor tribal oral storytellers.

I read online that the figures are based on the traditional "singing mother" motif. The first contemporary storyteller figures were made by Helen Cordero of the Cochiti Pueblo in the 1950s. In 1964 she made a male storyteller to honor her grandfather, a tribal storyteller. The storytellers' mouths are always open and are surrounded by children. Other Native American tribes also produce the figures.

When did you live in the southwest?


Cindy Regnier said...

Romance is not the plot. Thank you Janet. I'm not sure I totally understood that before now. I will be forever grateful to you for a synopsis critique you did for me a few years back where I learned so much! This post is a keeper too. And thanks Melissa for the beat sheet link.
I don't know how I missed reading Wanted: A Family, but after all those amazing excerpts, I am off to get it on my Kindle. Thanks again Janet!

Janet Dean said...

Thanks Rose. I'm experimenting with the photo taken at RWA. Trying to update my headshot. But I look squinty eyed. LOL


Janet Dean said...

Hi Piper! I'm not coming to M&M but would love to attend Debby's workshop. Myra's coming this year. You all have a great time!


Janet Dean said...

Hi Jackie. Love how you use a run to up the stakes with an encounter with God! Remind us at ACFW to pray for your pitch.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Liz. Great to see you here! Any wisdom on raising the stakes that you'd like to pass along?


Tracey Hagwood said...

Hi Janet~
I really enjoyed this post.

From a readers pov, I know exactly what you are saying and couldn't agree more. I read a story recently that opened well then continued for the next 150+ pages to repeat SAME said conflict over and over without "raising the stakes"! Couldn't wait to finish it. The last 30 pages were great, so I don't really know what to say except that dreaded "middle" needed work.

Clearly from your post, you understand how to keep the reader engaged and turning the pages. I'm sure you have more than 5 or 6 "listening" to your stories than those storytellers do ;)

You've pulled me in with your excepts of Wanted, a Family, I want to know what happens next, I'll be getting a copy of this book!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Kathy. I love when the hero and heroine have opposing goals! Someone has to sacrifice theirs for the romance to thrive and survive. Your story sounds exciting.

By tea scene I mean a scene where nothing happens to advance the plot. However that doesn't mean the plot can't be advanced when our characters are having a meal or drinking a beverage.

In Wanted: A Family Callie has a dinner party with Jake in attendance. She has invited the sheriff and his wife and Commodore stops by. The dinner guests ask Jake questions that up the stakes for him. And Callie drops a bomb in conversation that an unwed mother will arrive soon. She comes from the town where Jake was tried and jailed for a crime he didn't commit. From experience he knows once people find out about his time in jail they will make trouble for him or even drive him out of town so this meal was not good for digestion. That's always a good sign that this isn't a tea scene. LOL


Janet Dean said...

Kathy, forgot to thank you for the Pumpkin pie muffins. They are delicious!

I brought chili with toppings and cornbread for lunch. We're having a cool day.


Jackie said...

Hi Janet,

Thanks for the offer to pray for my pitch. I appreciate you and all the others here at Seekerville.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Cindy R. You also have made my day with your sweet comment about a critique I gave your synopsis. Many thanks for reading Wanted: A Family! These characters still hang out with me. LOL


Tina Radcliffe said...

Wow, Janet this is excellent and also prevents episodic writing.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Tracey. Wow, thanks for your kind words and desire to read Wanted: A Family!

I think most writers struggle with raising the stakes in the middle. Glad you hung in for that terrific ending!

I think it's easier to raise the stakes with the plot than to raise them in the romance. I need the reminder to up those stakes too. Just ask Missy. :-)


Janet Dean said...

Hey, Jackie, nothing pleases us more than seeing so many Villagers leave Unpubbed Island!!


Janet Dean said...

Thanks Tina. You're so right. Episodic writing is frowned upon by editors. We want to please our editors.


Mary Hicks said...

Lovely new photo, Janet!

Thanks for the great examples. It's always fun and helpful to read excerpts from your books. And thanks for the other writing tips, too!

Amy C said...

Wow! What an interesting post. Thank you.

Tracey Hagwood said...

A done deal, I now have the book on my kindle!

Next on the TBR list. I'm reading a book from each Seekerville author this year. Your book is number 10 towards that goal; so much fun and such diversity in writing styles.

Rebecca said...

Very, interesting tips, thank you. Don't make the romance the plot!

Sherri Shackelford said...

When Janet talks craft, I listen :)

Janet Dean said...

Hi Mary H! Thanks! I love your pretty photo. You look happy, excited, like a go-getter.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Amy C. Thanks for stopping in. Lunch will be ready soon. The chili is simmering.


Janet Dean said...

Tracey, I love the variety of great books written by my Seeker sisters! They are keeping me busy reading.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Rebecca. The romance thread is woven throughout the story, much like the faith thread, but as you say, the romance is not the plot.


Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Sherri. Thank you, dear fellow LIH author. Doubt you need any help with craft!


Sandra Leesmith said...

Morning Janet, Great reminders of how to wratchet up those stakes. I needed that list today as I'm revising like crazy and need to do just what you are recommending. yay.

Have a great day.

Jeanne T said...

Wow, Janet. What a great post. I sooo need work on upping tension and stakes in my stories, and you've given me the keys today. Thank you! Your examples are great.

Thank you!

Oh, and I love your story tellers, especially the one who has the six kids circled around her. :) They are darlling!

Jana Vanderslice said...

I've been out dealing with some medical stuff. Things haven't gone as planned (long, complicated story). But I HOPE to write this week!! I'm incredibly excited! I NEED to write this week. It's time.
Today's goal is to clear off the desk & organize the office area- which means put my Baylor stuff out, hang up some motivating verses & quotes, and put all the junk in a box to go through later. :)
Just wanted to check in & say Hi!!

Myra Johnson said...

Lots of great info here, Janet!

I still remember one of the first Christian romances I read many years ago. It was ALL about the romance--"Does he like me? Does he not?"--with no real plot to speak of. It bored me to tears.

Christian fiction has come a LONG way since then, and I am so glad!

Myra Johnson said...

Also mean to add you look drop-dead gorgeous in your new photo, Janet!

Debby Giusti said...

Thanks for the information about the storyteller dolls. So precious! Love their open mouths and the babies gathered close.

Hubby was in the military and stationed at Fort Bliss, TX. After our honeymoon, we traveled to El Paso to start our new life together. Lots of wonderful memories!

Debby Giusti said...

Waving to Piper. Can't wait to see you at M&M. Found out the "Three Faces of Romantic Suspense" workshop I'm doing with Leslie Tentler and Larissa Reinhart is scheduled for 5 PM on Friday afternoon. Oh my! Not a good time. Glad you'll be may be the only one! LOL!

Myra Johnson said...

Must go check out the M&M workshop schedule, DEBBY! Thanks for the reminder!

PIPER, looking forward to seeing you there!

Jan Drexler said...

I love those storytellers!

And your eyes don't look squinty at all in your new picture.

Great post, Janet! And thanks for showing us how to up the stakes! I always learn so much when I stop by Seekerville :)

One problem I've been having with my WIP is that I was increasing the stakes, but my characters didn't have enough depth in their back stories to make it mean anything. So it was back to the drawing board with them...digging further in and exposing their wounds.


No wonder writing is such hard work sometimes!

DebH said...

hi Janet
LOVE your new picture.
My first thought is how did I miss WANTED: A Family? As an adoptee who found her birth parents, I always glom onto stories about characters searching for their birth mothers. It's now on my Kindle and I'll probably go home and read it tonight instead of working on something else I should (yep, the pull is that strong).

As for the post. Boy, do I need this. Your examples are awesome for helping me understand how to use what essentially already exists within my WIP to up the stakes. (and believe me, I'm not torturing my h/H near enough...*heh*)

Thanks for the help.

p.s. the storyteller dolls are really cool. six littles for the first and five for the second. where in Colorado did you get the storyteller doll?

JENNY: have missed seeing your comments here. good to "see" you. will pray for your health.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Sandra. Don't you love it when a post is timely? Have fun making those revisions.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Jeanne T! Glad the post helped!

I went looking for a pottery storyteller and thought that was enough. But then I fell hard for the fabric storyteller. Tried to talk myself out of it. Walked away, checked out all the other shops, but then went back and bought it. Storytellers are an essential souvenir for a writer. Or so I tell myself. LOL


Courtney Phillips said...

Great info here. I remember reading Wanted: A Family and really enjoying it! I'm always searching for ways to build tension/conflict. Thank you for the tips!

Janet Dean said...

Hi there, Jana!! So glad you took time to check in at Seekerville!! Hope you're doing well with the medical stuff. Know how much time that takes. Have fun at the keyboard!


Mary Connealy said...

Janet have I told you how much I love your new picture?
I know you've been using it a while but it's gorgeous.

Raising the stakes?

I suppose letting the bullets start to fly isn't exactly what you mean, huh?


Janet Dean said...

Good afternoon, Myra. Great observation. The diversity and top notch writing of inspirational fiction is exciting!

I'm reading Gilbert and Mary's story. Really pulling for them! Your books have given me a strong desire to visit Hot Springs.


Janet Dean said...

You are so sweet, Myra! Drop dead gorgeous is a compliment, but when you think about it, the term is hilarious. I suspect a fan of suspense created it.


Janet Dean said...

Debby, career military families see a lot of the country and many places abroad. Know those experiences have enriched your lives. Did your kids deal well with frequent moves?


Janet Dean said...

Debby, you will have a lot to share with those writing suspense. Hope you get a good crowd!


Heidi Robbins said...

Raising the stakes is so important to keep the story moving along! I love an equal balance of plot and romance- when one takes a backseat to the other I miss it. Great examples from your book!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Jan! You made a great point in your comment:

One problem I've been having with my WIP is that I was increasing the stakes, but my characters didn't have enough depth in their back stories to make it mean anything. So it was back to the drawing board with them...digging further in and exposing their wounds.

Love your insight! When something happens to raise the stakes in the plot, it's not just the characters goals that are at risk, it's their very psyches. Their self worth, their coping mechanisms. Poor things must cringe when they see us coming to the keyboard. :-)


Janet Dean said...

Hi Deb H. How cool that you were able to find your birth parents. I'm sure I'd feel that same pull to know more about them. Hope you enjoy Wanted: A Family.

Sometimes we forget that torturing our characters makes readers bond with them and want to cheer them on.

We were visiting my brother and his wife in Golden and went up to this quaint mountain town where I bought the fabric storyteller, but I can't remember the name of the town for sure. Might've been Georgetown.?


Missy Tippens said...

Janet, what a great post! Upping the stakes is something I always struggle with. This gives me good ideas for where to find that added conflict!

Melissa, thanks for the beat sheet!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Courtney. You're welcome. I'm delighted you enjoyed Wanted: A Family.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Mary. Some of us just happened upon the photographer offering free pictures at RWA. Free always attracts me. But if I'd known, I would have worn a more colorful top.

You're the master at using flying bullets to up the stakes! Never a dull moment in a Connealy novel!


Janet Dean said...

Hi Heidi. You're very wise! When we braid all the threads--romance, plot, faith--we create a strong story!


Janet Dean said...

Hi Missy. I wish I'd thought about Jan's point of upping the trouble in the characters' back story as a way to make the external conflict stronger and matter more. I'm going to remember that!


Natalie Monk said...

Great article, Janet!

I'm struggling with upping the stakes in my opening scenes, since there doesn't seem to be enough action. There is conflict, but it's a few paragraphs in. Introducing a peaceful character in his "normal world" is hard for me make exciting.

I've got a reticent character, who is about to be cornered and convinced into a journey he doesn't want to take. The scene opens with him worrying over a haunting dream, his last memory of his ladylove-to-be, then he's painting the church foyer and talking with his little sister before another character comes to convince him to take this journey. :s Don't know if it's too slow of a start.

I'll be rereading this post to get ideas for how to up the stakes. Great stuff!

Natalie Monk said...

Oh, P.S. I got my first MS rejection letter today! YAY! I'm actually really encouraged. The agent said the historical market was in a slump, but she went on and on about loving the story. It's time will come, I suppose. :)

Sherida Stewart said...

Thank you, Janet! This post is excellent and just what I need to work on right now.

Love your storytellers!

Sherida Stewart said...

Helen, praying for comfort after your friend's funeral.

Natalie, sorry about your submission---but know you will find the right place at the right time! And I know what you mean---a rejection means we have submitted...and that's a good thing! Very nice about the comments from the agent!

Jackie Smith said...

Your picture is lovely, Janet....your hair always looks perfect!

Good to see Jenny commenting...hope you are improving!

Jennifer Smith said...

Melissa, thank for the link to the romance beat sheet!

And Janet, thanks for this helpful post! I'm working on raising the stakes in my WIP. :)

Janet Dean said...

Hi Natalie. I'm not sure from this brief description, but most manuscript openings I've seen don't start too soon. I know we're told to start the story in the protagonist's normal world, but I'd try rewriting and see if a faster opening works for you. Then run it past someone who doesn't know your story. If the reader is confused by the faster opening, you will need to add more normal world elements. But editors want the hero and heroine to meet early--especially in category romances--because they know readers are impatient to meet both the hero and heroine.

Just my two cents. Not that you asked for it. LOL


Janet Dean said...

Natalie, congratulations on that wonderful rejection. You've impressed an agent with your work! That's huge!


Janet Dean said...

Good afternoon, Sherinda. Thanks! Hope the information helps you write the story. Or revise, whatever point you're at.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Jackie S. I'm grinning at the hair comment. I only finger combed my hair this morning. When I'm out and about I spray until it's stiff. No hero could get his fingers through my tresses. LOL


Janet Dean said...

Hi Jennifer S. Have fun torturing your characters! No waterboarding allowed. :-)


Natalie Monk said...

Thanks, Janet! That helps a lot!
I tried starting slower this time, because a previous version of the manuscript finaled in the 2013 First Impressions contest, but both the final judges said they were confused and needed more info to go on. So I guess now I've gone a little too far with their advice and gave too much lead in. :) Maybe I'll try for "the middle," and hope it finds the happy medium. :)

Janet Dean said...

Natalie, hope the middle is the perfect solution! If you want fresh eyes, send the first five pages of the revised version to WeRSeekerville with my name in the subject line.


Sandy Smith said...

Great suggestions for upping the conflict. This should be helpful for me as I begin plotting my novel. While I have my basic conflict for my characters, I have already discovered that I don't have enough conflict throughout the story. Please enter me into the drawing!

Julie Lessman said...

JANET ... SO sorry I'm late, but this blog today was worth the wait -- EXCELLENT!!

Especially LOVE the part about romance upping the stakes!! ;) You said: "Attraction in a romance is good, right? Not when the attraction is unwelcome, complicates or makes things worse. Attraction is a fun way to strike terror in the hearts of our characters and put them in self-protective mode."

LOL ... AMEN AND AMEN!! This is my personal favorite way to "strike terror" in the hearts of my characters, and YES, it's VERY "fun" to do!


PS LOVE rereading your scenes -- it reminds me just why your books are among my favorites.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Sandy. Conflict equals story. I keep reminding myself of that. We need it throughout.

You're in the drawing. Thanks for stopping!


Janet Dean said...

Hi Julie. You are never too late to Seekerville!

You love to torture characters and I know romance is your favorite method! More than one of your characters needs therapy by the time you're done with 'em.

Returning the compliment. Love your books. Your characters live on in my mind.


Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Janet, your blog was so helpful. Many thanks for the tips for raising the stakes. Something I have difficulty doing. This one is a keeper too.

Natalie Monk said...

Thank you SO much, Janet!!! I will! :)

Janet Dean said...

Hi Pat Jeanne, thank you so much. I gain as much from writing the post as those reading them.


Janet Dean said...

Natalie, I'm happy to take a look.


Lyndee H said...

Janet, I'm so late! I got tied up with my adorable three year old granddaughter!

I loved this post for so many reasons, but especially because your suggestions confirmed some of the things that I've fallen into by accident on this current WIP. I will use this post as a reference over and over. Read it twice already today!

HELEN, sorry to hear bout your loss.

CatMom said...

Super post, Janet (sorry I'm a day behind---but I DID get tons o' writing done Monday!).

I've loved all of your books, so please keep writing them! :)

Hugs, Patti Jo

The Artist Librarian said...

Awesome post! Now I have a hankering to re-read some of my favorite romances to see how the authors use different types of conflict ... =)

Mary Preston said...

A very interesting post thank you.

The fabric storyteller has six, the clay 5. They are just so beautiful.

jubileewriter said...

Thank you for yuor insights. Very helpful post.
Melissa I read the e-book Romance-ology 101. It was full of lots of helpful information.
Cindy Huff

Sara Ella said...

Hi Janet! I have so much fun raising the stakes in my writing. I just keep thinking, "How could this get any worse?" and then I let the daggers fly, so to speak. I am particularly drawn to well-written love triangles where I can honestly see the character choosing either hero. It really keeps me on the edge of my seat, and I've tried to incorporate that in my own writing.

Thanks for the giveaway! I'd love to win!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Lyndee, after a fun day with your granddaughter, I'm impressed you had the energy to stop by. Glad the post resonated with you. Wishing you all the best with your wip!


Janet Dean said...

Hi Patti Jo. Congratulations on getting lots of words on the page! Proud of you! And grateful for your interest in my books.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Artist Librarian. There's a reason those books are favorites. I'm sure you'll find oodles of conflict that kept you turning pages.

Thanks for stopping.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Mary P. Thanks! I love my storytellers. You're in the drawing.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Cindy H. Glad the post was helpful. Thanks!


Janet Dean said...

Hi Sara E. Conflict is fun to read and fun to write. I can hear your delight in torturing your characters and the reader. :-)

You're in the drawing!


Anna Weaver Hurtt said...

Thanks for sharing, Janet!

Janet Dean said...

Welcome, Anna. Thanks for stopping!


May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...


I'm soooo late, but here. Nice photo by the way!

Such good examples so we can really *get* it. I like too, that you categorize them. This is a keeper. Thank you. :)

Adore your storytellers too. Lovely collection!

Sharon Timmer said...

I am not s writer, but I am s HUGE reader of Christian fiction - that being said I love when writers raise the stakes when they throw something so unpredictable in that you never saw it coming! :)

Please enter me in the drawing for the gift card - thanks so much & you ladies all keep writing please!
I have discovered so many new authors through Seekerville!

Christen E. Krumm said...

I'm excited to try some of these technics in my writing! Thanks, Janet!


Janet Kerr said...

Great ideas on how to raise the stakes. I didn't realize there were s many ways!