Tag Archives: Raising the stakes

Raising the stakes for characters, using Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” as an example

WARNING: There is a 1 in 470,000,000.27 chance your monitor will explode while you are reading this, causing shards of glass to fly out and injure you. Also, SPOILERS regarding last night’s Sleepy Hollow season finale appear in this post. Ooh. Scary!

Characters: Abbie Mills, Icabod Crane, Katrina Crane, Captain Irving, Jenny MIlls

Characters: Abbie Mills, Icabod Crane, Katrina Crane, Captain Irving, Jenny MIlls

Sleepy Hollow is a ridiculous show. Every time I think it can’t get campier or more over the top, the producers say, “Oh yes it can.” Zombie George Washington anyone? Many times this season I’ve decided they are just making stuff up to be weird and have flirted with abandoning it, and I almost sort of 15% thought of skipping last night’s season finale. After all, Doctor Who is returning one of these months, and I’m ready for a grown-up, grounded, reality-based show again.

[That last line was a horns-blaring, chaser-light-arrow, flashing-neon work of sarcasm]

Not steaks. Stakes! Jeez.

Not steaks. Stakes! Jeez.

I’m glad I did not skip the Sleepy Hollow finale. Because I, like many writers, hold back too often, and sometimes I need a reminder as to what “raising the stakes” really means. The Sleepy crew capped the season with a 5-way cliffhanger that will not be resolved until the show returns in the fall. Of course, not everyone writes fantasy horror, so take this example in spirit if you lean toward realism in your work.

For the uninitiated, Sleepy Hollow is about Revolutionary War hero Icabod Crane, who kills one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in battle, but not before being fatally wounded by his opponent. His wife Katrina, a witch, casts a spell on him that keeps him in suspended animation for 250 years. He wakes up in the 21st century, just as a demon named Moloch is about to unleash hell on Earth. Crane teams up with a cop named Abbie Mills who, based on prophesy in a heretical gospel, is a “witness” destined to take a stand against the forces of evil and (maybe) save the planet. Did I mention this show is over the top? Oh yeah, her crazy sister Jenny and her boss, Captain Irving, are along for some demonic possession, corpse reanimation, and other alternative lifestyles.

OK, I’m running the spoilers now, so don’t get mad at me if you DVRed it and still haven’t watched: By the end of the season finale, Captain Irving is being charged with 2 murders he did not commit; Jenny is bleeding to death in a mangled truck that has crashed on a deserted road; Katrina has been abducted by the Headless Horseman; Abbie is trapped in Purgatory (yes, that Purgatory); and Icabod has been buried alive by his own son. Who, if I’m not utterly confused, is also War, one of the Four Horsemen.

Not that kind of stake, either! Well, maybe.

Not that kind of stake, either! Well, maybe.

Whew! Those are some high stakes, and, other than perhaps Jenny’s crash, none of these events seemed wedged in at the last minute for contrived tension. The groundwork had been laid in earlier episodes. Cool. Consider me inspired to up the threat level next time I put fingers to keyboard and resume my novel (Hahahahaha. Haha. Ugh).

As a blank pager (aka pantser), I’m doubly enthused. My best writing happens when I throw something at a character without knowing what it’s going to mean until I get to the end. I don’t know if Sleepy Hollow’s writers have a master plan, but I’d sure like to take a crack at writing the first episode of season 2, just for the chance to resolve a 5-way cliffhanger that I did not set up. Hello! Hollywood? I will work for cupcakes.

How about you? Do you ever hold back and play it safe in your writing, though you know it’s keeping you from finding your voice and realizing your true potential? And forcing bloggers to close out posts with a cliché that, nonetheless, has merit?

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P.S. I would never abandon you, Abbie Mills. I was just talking.

 

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