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Never write a scene where DEATH isn’t involved. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA (thunk)

June 27, 2013

Most of the inspiration for today’s post come as part of a recent post on Killzone by James Scott Bell about what to do when you’re stuck. (The rest comes from The Princess Bride.)

In his post, Mr. Bell says that the stakes of a story must always be death. That could mean the end of the protagonist’s life, or of all human life as we know it. Or it could be a metaphorical death–spiritual or professional. It could be–and I’m adding my own content here–a death of sorts for someone the protagonist cares very deeply about.

Read anything about the craft by Donald Maass, and you’ll see it referenced again and again–you must ratchet up the level of tension. Raymond Chandler said that when you don’t know what to do, have a man with a gun show up. It’s kind of hard if you’re writing The Sisterhood of the Traveling Green Tomatoes, but the gun could also be metaphorical.

In other words, figure out what’s important for your characters and then take those things away–or threaten to. Is she happily married? Make her fight for her marriage. Does he love his job? Time to get laid off. Is her best friend part of the structure of her life? Make something more important obliterate the friendship. Does he draw value out of being the breadwinner? Have an enormous set of unexpected expenses come up.

The more the better.

Your main character’s conversation should mirror the discussion in Return of the Jedi, where Han asks Luke how they’re doing. When Luke replies “Same as always,” Han says, “That bad, huh?”

One of the reasons you need to know your characters is so you’ll know what to take away. So if you’re stuck, make a list of the things your characters care most deeply about. Then set to work finding a reason for those things to be threatened or removed. Then let the fun begin.

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