1. MrWisp
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    MrWisp Member

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    Low-stakes plot?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by MrWisp, Feb 11, 2014.

    Hi all. So I just finished writing my first novel, which turned out much, much longer than I intended. It's a big, nutty epic that I've decided might be better revisited after letting it get cold. This tends to help me recognize/trim the less vital elements.

    In the meantime...

    I've started writing a very different novel (only three chapters in so far), and I expect it to be much shorter (about 85-90k). My concern, though, is that the plot seems very - I don't know - simplistic. It's essentially a contemporary murder mystery/ghost story. I love my main character, and am proud of how I've planned her development over the course of the novel. The murder mystery is a vehicle for her development and the realizations that she'll make about herself and her world, but I'm concerned that a neat little mystery about a murder and a jewel theft seems like small bananas. Maybe I'm just comparing this plot to the larger epic plot and watching it pale by comparison? Or maybe I should just keep writing and see what happens. I just haven't read a lot of mystery novels recently and am wondering if stakes have to be higher, or if the strength of the protagonist can win out. Thoughts? Hope this made any sense at all. :)
     
  2. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with having smaller stakes (smaller steaks, on the other hand, is a different issue ;)). Think about the Poirot novels by Agatha Christie. Were they about huge, worldwide events that Poirot alone could put right? No. In the end, it's the characters that keep readers going; if I read a book that has a terrific plot but terrible character development and even boring characters in general, it's highly unlikely that I'd continue with it. So I think you've got to ask yourself if the characters are interesting enough, especially for a murder/jewel mystery. For this genre, characters must be mysterious (hence the mystery!) and usually strange, showing quirks which will amuse or confuse the reader, in a good way.

    Also, your current manuscript probably seems 'smaller' in scope because, as you've stated, the previous novel you wrote you considered to be an epic! Don't worry about it - sometimes simple is better.
     
  3. MrWisp
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    MrWisp Member

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    Thanks. I did mean to ask for some examples in my original post, so thanks for mentioning Poirot. I read the Nero Wolfe novels when I was younger and had them in mind as well. I certainly think that my main character is quirky and interesting enough to carry the book, along with several supporting characters, so I'll just keep truckin'.
     
  4. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not every story requires lives to be at stake. You can create tension and suspense without putting the MC's life on the line. But something should be at stake, and that something should be important to the character.

    Simply, the character wants something, and usually there are two layers to it. There's the surface layer--she wants to solve the mystery, she wants to fall in love, she wants to win the scholarship, she wants some tangible goal, where it is black-and-white whether she's achieved it or not. Then there's the underbelly layer--what she really wants, which is embodied by the goal on the surface. Maybe she wants recognition for her hard work, maybe she wants self-acceptance, something that is less tangible and not starkly black-and-white. This is what is at stake for the character--this is what she stands to lose if she doesn't solve the mystery, fall in love, or win the scholarship.

    As long as I the reader understand what's at stake for the character and feel threatened that she might lose it, I'll be interested. It can be small bananas. Small bananas can be really good, and often low-key plots can really focus on strong character development. And it's the characters that keep me turning pages!
     

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