At the Missouri SCBWI retreat back in late April, Viking editor Kendra Levine shared a couple of ways to think about creating a high-stakes story. It’s been more than a month, so any mistakes or misrepresentations of what she shared are the fault of my less than stellar memory and note-taking. But anyway, she started with a “What if…?” question. I was pretty satisfied with my response for PORTRAIT: What if a girl receives a small portrait from a relative that could have been painted by a Renaissance master?
But then Kendra went on to expand past the concept:
After inciting incident, a main character must main action while risking the stakes during setting.
And behold, as I tried to convert my “What if” into a plot, a wide and gaping hole opened up before me. In fact, after I tried an initial run at my story, I wrote the following in my notes:
So I knew there was a problem, but I do often need a metaphorical two-by-four applied to the side of the head. This came very gently with a preliminary evaluation from my insightful agent, Erin Murphy. I knew that my character was taking certain chances to do the right thing in my manuscript, but she wasn’t risking anything on a personal level.