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A tree falls in the woods. Do you care? Perhaps, but what if there was a nest of an endangered birds in the top? Do you care now?
That might be enough to reel some readers in, but the biggest grab of all is to put people in the mix. If people are in harm’s way, readers are drawn into the story. They have to know what happens next.
When the stakes are higher, the story matters. It carries weight and resonance, especially if it’s well done.
So, let’s make the stakes higher for that tree falling in the woods. What if the tree fell across an access road, and that road was the only way for a mountaintop community to reach medical care, and a pregnant woman is in labor?
Jayne Ann Krentz used this scenario in her 1993 release Hidden Talents. I mention this nearly 20-year-old book because that story and those characters still resonate with me, all these many years later.
There’s a reason we love reading books by bestselling authors. They know how to raise the stakes and make us care.
To make a short detour into craft, raising the stakes means layering the characters with strengths and weaknesses. Story events keep pushing the characters into areas where their strengths and weaknesses come into play.
It sometimes means having characters lose control.
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She kicks her cheating husband out, works on a story about the nudist colony for her newspaper boss, even though she wants nothing to do with naked people. She races home to meet her son’s school bus and there’s her husband, mad because his key no longer fits in the door.
Do you care what happens next? Can you predict what Molly will do when she’s been pushed to her limits? Here’s a snip of Murder in the Buff to whet your interest:
…A familiar red pickup in the driveway gleamed in the dappled sunlight around the oak-shaded house. Hadley’s truck. I thought of all the times the sight of his truck had brought me pleasure, of how we’d sneak away to snatch some together time.
Little did I know he’d been sneaking around other places as well. He wasn’t worming his way back into my life. No way, no how. I’d rather starve and go to the poor house before I allowed him one ounce of sympathy.
A tide of anger came over me, washing away logic and common sense. I wanted to hurt him as much as he’d hurt me. He loved that freshly waxed truck more than life itself. I gunned my Suburban and rammed his truck. Glass broke. Metal crunched. I rocketed forward against my seatbelt restraint…
Molly valued staying in control above all else, and now she’s out of control. Even though she’s done something terrible, now she has to deal with the aftermath.
Does a particular character from a favorite book still resonate with you? Share it with me and you’ll automatically be entered in a drawing for an electronic download of Murder in the Buff, my campy cozy mystery.
Happy July everyone!
Formerly a scientist and currently a freelance reporter, Southern author Maggie Toussaint loves to mix murder and romance in her fiction. With nine published books to her credit, her latest release is Death, Island Style. Toussaint is an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. Visit her at www.maggietoussaint.com