Taking a Risk

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:

While Risking:


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.

3 thoughts on “Taking a Risk

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I’m working on my first chapter and realized after a critique that mine didn’t start with a problem and the obstacle to achieving the goal. So I had to think to fix it. Hard when you discover those holes.

  2. I’ve been thinking about increasing the stakes too. In my WIP, the risks were all personal for the protagonist. After reading “Starcrossed” (on your recommendation), I’m trying to expand the risks to threaten a bigger problem.

  3. This really can be a struggle. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to write the book that I want. It’s going to be a bit quieter because no one will have McGyver/Jason Bourne skills. But I have alway liked books with the “Ordinary person caught up in extraordinary circumstances” approach.

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