Tag Archives: stakes

What is it about Dean Winchester?

For Christmas this year, I got Supernatural seasons 1-5 on DVD. Yes, it was damned merry.

One of the things I’ve been doing on my internet break is watching through. I think I’ve seen through the end of season 3 via Netflix. At this point, having started from the beginning again and trying to include my husband in the watching, I’m only in season 2.

So while I’m watching, you know, I have to have these musings on lovable characters, what works, heroism, etc, and I have to ask myself: what is it about Dean? Obviously: pretty pretty pretty, and Jensen Ackles just has this charm about him that’s undeniable. (I mean, you loved his Dark Angel character too, didn’t you? You know you did.)

But it’s more than that. Because sometimes I’m watching Dean and I’m thinking: I’m not supposed to like this guy. There are a lot of characters who, if I saw them out there objectifying women the way Dean does, it would be a complete turn-off. Generally speaking, if a our hero makes references to porn every time the subject of the internet comes up, most of us get turned off pretty fast. Doesn’t matter how pretty he is, if he’s a guy who typically summarizes a woman thusly, “The secretary’s name is Carly. She’s 23, she kayaks, they’re real,” it’s usually hard to like him.

(At least it is for me who has said of Heinlein: if I have to choke down one more story in which some old intellectual dude has nubile young hotties falling all over each other to have sex with him, I’m just going to freakin’ scream. As a recurring theme, having cardboard females in wish-fulfillment scenarios does not work for me. But I digress.)

Or do I? Because last night I was watching season 2, episode 15: Tall Tales, which you may recall as the urban legend episode with the slow-dancing alien. It was very comedic, had a lot of good laughs, and also a lot of Dean being Dean with regard to women and me thinking, really, why am I so into you?

But I also know that I just can’t help myself. So then my self-respect requires some moments of reflection. (Yes, I probably take shit way too seriously. It’s just freakin’ TV. Just…stick with me here.)

When I think about Dean, who he is, I always think of him as one of the stupid bravest guys out there. And there are two main components to that. One is Sam. I think one of the things that gets a lot of us is Dean’s incredible love for, loyalty toward, and protection of Sam. He’s always taken care of Sam, that’s always been his responsibility. And while he does have his occasional very human moments being freakin’ tired of that, at the end of the day he’ll always be willing to do whatever it takes for Sam. There’s tremendous strength of character in that and it is absolutely moving.

The other component is Dean’s zest for life, which is generally the basis of behavior I know I choose to see as charmingly roguish rather than womanizing. Where Sam is more reserved, seems more serious, etc, Dean is his outgoing, impulsive complement. And I think part of what brings out the magic of Dean is that he’s never afraid to tell us he wants to live. Go back to the end of season one, the Winchesters facing off against the Big Bad, and Dean tearfully demanding of his father, “Don’t you let him kill me.” Or the beginning of season two, Dean in a coma and trying to communicate with his family, yelling at them how they need to find a way to save him. That was the kind of thing that I could see fatalistic Sam just sort of stoically bearing in silence while trying to use his quiet intellect to get him out of it. But Dean’s always running around, full of life and rage, yelling at his family, yelling at reapers, making demands.

What I’m getting at here is that Dean always makes his love of life and fear of death obvious to the viewer. If you think about what’s most important to him, it’s life.  His, his family’s. And that sort of makes it all the more impressive how he’s constantly willing to risk that to protect his family, and to protect complete strangers.

As a viewer, those are the things that make it easy to make excuses for Dean’s character flaws, and even to see them as endearing.

I think Dean is a great lesson in stakes, and how much more moving a character and his situations can be in fiction when he has things about which he cares deeply, and yet he’s constantly driven by circumstance and a set of principles into situations that put those things at risk.

These musings, of course, don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the awesomesauce that totally covers Dean, the Winchesters, or Supernatural. If you need to do some fangirl squee in the comments, please feel free.

And what about stakes? Can you think of other characters and fictions where stakes are used so effectively?


A great list of Supernatural stuff.


Filed under Superheroes, Heroism, and Romance

Blueprint Series Part 9: Fleshing Out Part 1

Thanks for visiting part 9 of the series. We’re really going to start fleshing out your story this week. In keeping with the 4-part structure we’ve been discussing, we’ll be going over one story section each day and working on some of the things that will help you build your outline. I’ve added a section into the Blueprint that deals with following up with your different threads and subplots. Check the download page to get the latest version. And if you’re just finding the series, click here for part 1.

Step 9: Part 1

  1. What is the hook or question that happens within the first few scenes?
  2. How will you introduce the hero? What will allow the reader to connect with the hero?
  3. How will you introduce the heroine? What will allow the reader to connect with the heroine?
  4. When and how do the hero and heroine meet?
  5. What is the theme(s) of the story?
  6. How will you allude to the theme(s) in Part 1?
  7. What events will you foreshadow and how?
  8. What are the hero’s inner demons? How will you show that?
  9. What are the heroine’s inner demons? How will you show that?
  10. What’s at stake for the hero? When the FPP happens what does he have to gain and lose?
  11. What’s at stake for the heroine? When the FPP happens what does she have to gain and lose?
  12. Are there other characters introduced in Part 1 who will continue through the story? List them, their relationships to the characters, their functions in the story.
  13. How does the FPP come about?
  14. How does the FPP unveil the antagonistic force?

Part one of your story is all about setup. It’s showing us what your character’s life is like before everything changes and she is pulled into the story proper. This is the place where you’re really doing a lot of planting and foreshadowing. You’re showing us what your characters want and need, what they’re afraid of. You’re planting elements that seem like background now, but may become oh-so-important later. When the FPP comes around at the end of part 1, a lot of these pieces will take on new significance for the reader, as she will automatically be in a position to understand how the FPP changes everything. She’ll know, without having it spelled out in exposition, what your character has to gain, what she’s afraid to lose, and why she must move forward into her story. Because you’ve shown all that in your setup.

Opening Hooks: Questions are important to me at the beginning of a story. What will happen next? Will she or won’t she? Why does she feel that way? How did this circumstance come about? What kind of a world is this, where things like this are possible? … Whatever it is, the books that really draw me into a story are the ones that give me some kind of a question that makes me want to turn the page and find out more.

Perversely, nothing turns me off of a story like feeling strung along and left in the dark. There’s a balance between creating intrigue and creating reader confusion. Good critique partners and beta readers will be invaluable to you in deciding if you’ve done your job right. For now, just remember throw the reader some breadcrumbs and answer some of these questions while you create others.

Getting readers invested: Readers follow your story by identifying with, and investing emotionally in, you characters in some way. Figure out what it is about your characters that will make your reader root for them and want them to succeed, whether it’s some need or trait we all tend to have in common, or something compelling that your character really cares about and needs to accomplish. Once you’ve figured out what that is, remember to find a way to show (not tell) it in your setup.

Theme: Some people hate the idea of theme. I love it. I believe in it. And no, I don’t believe writers always have a theme when writing or planning, but theme emerges all the same. I can usually find one in anything that’s been worth reading. It’s really about the question What is this story about? and the answer that doesn’t just summarize the plot. It could be about finding your place, discovering or embracing who you are, the places where Truth hides–this is the place to think a bit dramatically, I suppose. It’s about what you’re saying, beyond simply telling a series of events. It’s about why you’re passionate about telling this story. You may not know what your theme is at this point, but once you find it, you’ll be able to craft details and dialog to enrich the thematic experience for the reader.

Inner Demons: This goes back to your character arc stuff. These are the things your character needs to get over in order to win at the end of the story. In your setup, you can choose to show us what the character is afraid of and why, or you can save the why for later. You can present us someone who’s so distrustful of others that he’s never going be able to be the kind of team player your characters need to achieve the story goal. You can show us someone who is so beaten down by past failures that they can’t even conceive of trying again. Lots of different kinds of demons to slay out there.

Stakes: FPP’s Happen. Should be a bumper sticker. When yours happens, what’s at stake for the character? She must move forward. Why? What will happen if she doesn’t? What will she gain if she succeeds in gaining the story goal? Of course, she’s reluctant to go forward. Why? What will she lose if she tries and fails? Set it up and show us, so you don’t have to tell us.

Other Characters: Since these are notes you’ll be using to develop your part 1 scenes, it’s a good idea to list all the players you need to introduce, so that you can start thinking about at least giving them a mention or a walk-on in your setup.

FPP: If you don’t have some kind of an idea of how your First Plot Point happens by now, you really should. This is the most important moment of your story. The moment that makes it a story. If you’ve got no idea how it happens, make figuring that out a priority.

You might have introduced your villainous character somewhere in your setup. At the FPP, something else is revealed about him. He’s not just the mean, he’s evil. He’s not just greedy, he’s a demon (literally). He doesn’t just casually hate your main character, he actually has a plan in place to destroy her.  What new thing about the antagonistic force are you going to show the reader through the FPP?

There are a lot of questions to think through here, but that’s what makes Part 1 the easiest chunk to put together. By the time you get all of this stuff answered, it pretty much builds itself. Good luck with it.

Tomorrow, we’ll be on to fleshing out the first half of the middle.

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Filed under Blueprint, goals, tips, what not to do, writing