Nancy: Damn Fine Story Advice: Story Stakes

If you hang out with writers long enough, observe them in their natural habitat, and learn what keeps them up at night, at some point you’re bound to hear a discussion about what writers like/are able/can bring themselves to read when they’re deeply immersed in their own stories. Books inside their writing genre? Outside the genre? No books at all during certain stages o the process?

These days, I’m rarely ‘not writing’ (not to be confused with procrastinating – that I do aplenty!), so a writing-driven reading moratorium won’t work for me. But I tend to read like I write: a little bit of everything and more than story at a time. Lately, I’ve been drawn to non-fiction. Per usual, I’m geeking out on science-for-non-scientists books. But this weekend I put down Stephen Hawking and picked up some Chuck Wendig (with no segue, rhyme, or reason because my mind is a mysterious, scary, mess of a place).

If you’re not familiar with Wendig, you really must check out his blog, where he generously doles out  amazing advice, life observations, movie reviews, and the occasional recipe (although I am not going to try this one). For a more distilled collection of his story-specific guidance, I highly recommend Damn Fine StoryIt made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me…Okay, what it actually did was make me think, but don’t let that scare you away from it – it’s thinking in a fun way! As with all writing advice, he implores his readers to take what they need and leave the rest for another time, place, or writer. And this weekend, what I needed was a deep, thorough look at story stakes. Continue reading

Michaeline: Stakes

An artificial hand with gears inside

Stakes can be deceptive: the biggest things turn out to be little, and the little things become the most important. (Wellcome Images Via Wikimedia Commons)

(Pant, pant) Sorry, I’m late. I was up very late last night, and early this morning, too, with a trilogy of first-person mysteries. I’m going to talk about some general spoilers, so I won’t name the series, but if you’ve read it, you may recognize the main character.

But first, stakes. In fantasy and space opera, the stakes are often of the highest category: the whole world is in danger, and only one person can save it. Or possibly the fate of the universe.

But these super-huge stakes can feel impersonal. We should care, yes, of course, there’s no arguing with that. But let’s face it, we don’t KNOW those other people in the world, and our caring can have a vague, fuzzy quality of, “yes, yes, on the whole, it would be nice if we could all get along and people weren’t dying over there – but there’s nothing *I* can do about it. And I’m glad Superhero X is saving the day, but maybe I’ll just close the book for now and google ‘what’s for dinner.’”

More powerful stakes have faces and the sort of eternal connection to the hero that most of us can relate to – a sibling, a spouse, a pet.

Perhaps the most powerful stakes of all are about ourselves. Continue reading

Michaeline: Halloween and Love Stories

By Ellen Clapsaddle (1865–1934) (Drawing by Ellen Clapsaddle) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Practical magic

(BONUS! Mouse over the text to find the mystery Halloween links!)


Last week I talked about Halloween being the beginning of the story season. This week, I’ll concentrate on another great Halloween tradition: romance.

To our modern minds, Halloween is half cutesy kids’ stuff, and half horror and blood. But 150 years ago, people also thought Halloween was the best time to find your future mate. The boundaries between the everyday world and the world beyond blurred, and single men and women used all sorts of fortune-telling tricks with apples and mirrors. On a more practical level, Halloween parties brought young people together, and Halloween games gave them a chance to sneak off alone into the kale patch to seek their fortunes and canoodle in the dark.

So it should come as no surprise that Halloween has inspired some sweet, some sad, and some scary love stories. There’s something about a shiver and a chill that adds a little extra frisson to a romance.

One of my favorite stories Continue reading