Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Personal Stakes

I just finished a really great book. I almost want to mention the title, because it really was a very,  very good book that I read quickly, and actually missed a few subway and streetcar stops over.

But I know the author and what I mostly want to talk about isn't how great it was (and it was great) but why I don't think it was supercalafragalisticexpialadocious. (How the heck do you spell that? I'm sure I could google, but think I'll stick with my spelling. ;)

It's a YA fantasy, but the genre I think the book is closest to is an amateur detective story. (And in fact, it's been nominated for an Edgar.) It's set in this marvelous fantasy world that's beyond clever and the writing is very strong. But, and maybe this is why I don't read a lot of detective stories, what was missing for me was personal stakes. The hero of the story didn't have enough personally invested. I didn't believe the crime he was trying to uncover mattered enough to him, or maybe it simply didn't matter enough to me.

In the end I think it is a genre preference and explains why I don't tend to watch the crime/detective shows on TV, unless the shows are highly filled with the drama (love lives) of the recurring characters', or the show really delves into why the crimes are being committed (like Flashpoint).

But it also reminds me of something I think I heard Donald Maass say (might have been someone else...) and that was to create a bestselling blockbuster, not only do you need personal stakes, the hero needs to be threatened from two sides -- both the good guys and the bad guys. With dire consequences for him/her should either side catch up with him/her before the crime is solved. Think The Firm.

In this book, the hero was threatened from two sides, but, well, did it matter enough if either side caught him? Especially the good guys side? Although the detective after him was the a terrifying re-imagining of Snow White--no, not the evil queen--Snow White!! Maybe I'm talking myself out of my criticism for this particular book. I need to talk to Sinead (who's not around this week) because she and her husband are the only other people I know who've read it...

What about everyone else? Is an amateur detective solving a crime enough for you? Or do you prefer the hero/heroine to have something personally invested in the outcome.

For this book, it was enough for me. Totally. Because the world was so cool and the writing so awesome. But put it in another world and I don't think the stakes were high enough.

Okay, I think I've talked myself out of my criticism, I think the hero did have personal stakes, but they were internal, rather than external. He needed to believe he wasn't going to turn out like his father... But many people in the story tell him he's not like his father... So, I'm not sure I believed he was truly scared that he was...

Regardless, even if I've mostly talked myself out of my criticism while writing this post, this book did make me think about personal stakes. And everyone should read the book, so I'm going to mention the title after all. :)

The totally awesome book I've been talking about is Dust City by Robert Paul Weston. The hero is the son of the wolf who killed Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. How cool is that???


Molly O'Keefe said...

ohhhh - the book sounds amazing! I'm with you 100% on the stakes thing it's often why i don't watch crime shows either - I'm just not a proceduralist in my heart. But that said - Steph's manuscript about the mystery solving duo on Victorian england - it worked for me because the stakes were so high.

I can't wait to read Dust City- once again YA is the most fun right now. Most fun.

Eileen said...

See I love the procedurals. Law & Order reruns are totally my comfort watch.

Sometimes I get tired of too much in the personal stakes area. It starts to feel melodramatic. Maybe it's my age again. I just want everyone to simmer down and do their jobs.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I'm stakes girl too. I need the personal.

CSI, NCIS, L&O - none of them have worked for me.

Give me Castle, Bones - where the people are "growing" over the course of years.

Except for in the case of Bones where they blow out by trying to string the audience along for another season... nahhh I'm not bitter.

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