Honored to have my great friend and fellow crime writer J.C. Martin here on the blog to talk about her awesome debut novel, Oracle–a thriller centered around the Olympics! J.C. is a butt-kicking bookworm–when she isn't writing, she's teaching martial arts and self defense! Born in Malayia, she makes her home in London, site of this year's Olympics.
Take it away J.C.!
Going for Gold: Giving Your Characters Something to Fight For
Any story can be made more compelling by increasing the stakes. Knowing what a character stands to lose should they fail in their quest is a great way of creating tension, which in turn stimulates compulsive reading.
So what is your character fighting for? Why can’t they settle for anything less? Here is a list of the possible stakes that could be introduced into a story, and an example of each from my book, Oracle:
Family can be one of the biggest motivators. From the mother who lifts an SUV off her injured child, to the brother who donates a kidney to a dying sister, there are numerous tales of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary deeds when the wellbeing of a family member is at risk. Could your protagonist be battling to save his mother’s life? Are they on a journey to find their long-lost father? Or could the hero’s own brother be the villain, creating all kinds of complications?
In Oracle, Detective Kurt Lancer fights to protect daughter Meghan from a mystery stalker, all whilst struggling to guide brother Reggie away from a life of petty crime. But can he turn a blind eye to Reggie’s latest travesty?
We all know love can make people do crazy things. When love’s at stake, what wouldn’t your character do? Could there be someone trying to get between the hero and his true love? Would a woman betray her husband when she discovers his secret dirty dealings?
Detective Lancer knows full well the agony of losing when love it at stake. Would he make the same mistake again?
Personal stakes can be selfish, like wealth and power: consider the prince whose aspirations of inheriting his father’s throne is blindsided by the return of a long-lost older brother. Or the accountant whose partner is threatening to reveal his embezzlement scam. On the contrary, personal stakes can be as simple and primal as self-preservation. How hard would someone fight to stay alive?
Lancer encounters some personal stakes of his own in Oracle: will he survive being cornered by some twisted criminals? And could one wrong decision cost him his job?
Sometimes the fate of dozens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people, could rest in the hands of just one person. This is a heavy burden to bear, making the stakes high not just for the hero, but for everyone at risk. Would you destroy an entire city to stop the spread of a deadly virus? Or be responsible for defusing a time bomb on a packed commuter train?
The detectives in Oracle face a fate-of-the-world stake as they race against time to decipher a madman’s pattern, whose coup de grace could well involve a stadium full of people at the Opening Ceremony of the Games itself.
Your protagonist’s stakes will create a sense of urgency, compelling your readers to read on long after they should have turned in for the night.
Which of these stakes have YOU utilised in your writing?
Find J.C.Martin at:
Toby, thank you so much for having me on your blog! I hope my guest post will make useful reading for some of your readers!
I write science fiction and I tend to have ‘fate of the world’ as a motivation quite a bit. In one of my books, the hero must kill the woman he loves to prevent the destruction of humans on planets throughout the galaxy.
But my current WIP is a bit more prosaic. It’s based on simple jealousy (personal reasons).
Love the timing of your new release. Looks interesting,
Thank you Greta. 🙂 It’s true that certain genres seem to play more on certain stakes: science fiction and political thrillers tend to use fate-of-the-world stakes, whereas things like romance tend to rely more on personal stakes and love.
I stumbled upon your site and this interview, and I’m glad I did. Very nice! Although my genre is entirely different than yours (memoir), I still find what you’re saying quite relevant. It made me think about my own journey with my father, which is the subject of my book. I never really thought about the stakes in it, but I’d say that the stake was his sanity. He was a WWII veteran suddenly suffering from PTSD and I didn’t know why because he couldn’t talk about it. I wanted to help him, but didn’t know how. My fear (stake) was that at age 81, he would never know peace again. Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful post! ~Karen