Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Language Day: Raise the Stakes

Raise the stakes. What does that mean? In my writing class, when a story is lacking drama or conflict, it is often because the we don't know what the character has to win or lose. If we don't know what it means for him to get the job or lose the girl, then we don't know how much to care, how much to invest in the outcome of the story.

One of the ways you raise the stakes in your life is to find what is really important to you, and go after it. If you really want to own your own design business or if making a film is where your heart returns, time after time, then following that raises the stakes of your life.

Now, you may be thinking: Wait a minute, Tiffany. Isn't that where you just said drama and conflict come from? Isn't drama and conflict difficult?

Um, yes? But did I also mention how much more thrilling life is for the characters of our novel, or the characters in our lives, when they achieve a big goal--something they really want? Or when they get rid of a terrible burden? Don't we cheer at the end, transported for a moment into the glory of attainment, of atonement with what the heart desires? Don't we root for them all along their journey?

But maybe the struggle and the difficulty sound like too much. Consider these lyrics. They're from the song "Small Stakes" by the band Spoon.
Oh Yeah Small Stakes Ensure You The Minimum Blues
But You Don't Feel Taken And You Don't Feel Abused
Small Stakes Tell You That There's Nothing Can Do
Can't Think Big, Can't Think Past One Or Two
I hope you read these in the same depressing way I do. Do you really want to live the kind of life with minimum blues? That it's better to just coast on along? To protect yourself from the risk of failure or struggle?

My guess is that if you're reading this blog, the answer is no. If you keep your life small, safe, with nothing big wagered, you're still a worthy human being. But what do we have to root for? What can we truly know about you? If we don't know your largest, greatest desires for your life, how can we help you?

And we want to help you. Give us something to root for. Raise your stakes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I think of raising the stakes in my life, I think about moving here to Austin. Neither my husband nor I had jobs lined up. We had the golden apple of my severance pay, but that’s a far cry from having security. We’d never seen the city, and I’m not sure (until we were actually gone) that anyone thought we’d be “crazy” enough to take that leap. All we had were our two cats, several houseplants I insisted upon bringing, a trunk full of clothes, our favorite frying pan, and faith in our ability to make things work. Scary as it was – I burst into tears when we checked into the Extended Stay America and felt the meaning of “homeless” – it has worked out better than if we had planned it. I had a job the second week in town, Matt had one just a couple of weeks later. Now, we own our first house and plan on moving in this weekend. Taking that chance gave me the distance I needed to separate what was authentically me from what was “hung on me” by the expectations of other people. Part of my transformation was realizing that writing isn’t just something I do because without it I sort of fall apart, but because it imbues my life with a depth and richness that would not be there otherwise. Although I’ve had some wonderfully perceptive friends read my work, I needed to find a community of writers. The trick was to find people true to the craft, not the coffeehouse-pale-and-tortured group who want to have a writer’s life without actually writing. As luck would have it, I’d taken one of the UT Informal Classes on real estate investment soon after I arrived in town and that opened me up to the awesome program of courses, including your Short Fiction Workshop. I signed up and I count my choice to do so as one of the biggest steps I’ve taken towards following my bliss. Now that I’ve started on this path, things are opening out in an amazing way. I’m sure everything isn’t going to be easy or clear, but to date, I encountered more conflict and soul-danger when I was forcing myself away from what I wanted into the land of “thou shalt.” I hope that through dedication to my writing and by surrounding myself with good books, supportive people and new experiences, I can stay on the path of creation, both of my stories and of myself.

- Erzsebet