Novel Writing: The X Factor

The new class of novel writers faced my lecture on “raising the stakes.” As usual, some of these writers were uncomfortable or downright shocked to learn that their story might need pumping up. As I tried to gently lead them to raise the stakes of their story, it occurred to me that the “Breakout Novel” that Donald Maass describes always has an X Factor.
Writing Tip for Today: Maass advises writers to combine high human worth, personal and public stakes as well as the willingness to watch the character suffer as ways to raise the stakes. The X Factor:

  • Involves deep and universal emotions. That’s why animals and small children are able to upstage adults.
  • Makes us care on a primal level, so much that we can’t stop reading.
  • Forms strong bonds between the reader and the character.
  • Appeals to readers’ sense of moral conduct or code. We love even “bad-guy” heroes like Dirty Harry, because we know these people have a strong moral code they will not abandon.
  • Presents the character’s personal stakes on an unavoidable collision course with the public stakes. EX: A character who is determined to find a cure for his wife’s terminal disease is suddenly faced with a pandemic. These two plot points rush headlong toward each other, usually ratcheting up tension by the sense that “time is running out.”

Does your novel contain the X Factor?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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