My Thoughts on Stakes...
I’m thinking this’ll probably be shorter than my usual posts on writing and storytelling, but we’ll see. Anyway, this is just my personal take on stakes.
Which is that *drum roll* you don’t actually need stakes to tell a story that people will read. Crazy, right? But I mean, the slice-of-life genre exists for a reason. Is it an outrageously popular genre? Maybe not, at least not in the West; Japan has s-o-l and a related genre, iyashikei (I’ve previously reblogged a definition of the latter if you’re interested), and both are more popular over there. Why? I dunno, but I suspect there’s less of a stigma against escapism in Eastern cultures; Miyazaki talks about the concept of ma in an interview, and how he works that space for breath into his movies, and it makes me think that there’s a relation between the two. I could talk about how Western culture, from our schedules to our media, encourage a constant state of doing without stopping to rest and simply be, but that’s a subject in and of itself, and I’m already off-topic.
The purpose of stakes is to introduce tension to your story, or to escalate tension. Your character(s) want x, or want to prevent x from happening; the greater the impact of not getting or preventing x on your characters, the higher your stakes. And the higher your stakes, the more invested your audience will be, so the logic goes.
Popular media of a more adventurous persuasion often takes this very literally, and puts the entire world/galaxy/universe in jeopardy, because what will affect your characters more than the entire world blowing up, amiright?
... No, actually, you’re not.
Red from Overly Sarcastic Productions (yes, I know, I reference her a lot, her stuff is just SO GOOD you should watch it) has a video on Youtube talking about the end of the world, and if I may summarize/paraphrase her, stakes don’t work like that; chances are, few things will affect your characters more than the blowing up of their personal, subjective world. In Andy Weir’s Artemis (spoilers ahead), the highest stakes throughout the book are whether or not the protagonist can save the inhabitant’s of humanity’s first lunar colony, comprising at most a few thousand people. According to the above logic, that should be a “Yeah, sure, kinda interesting”, but it was pretty suspenseful because the lives of people we knew and liked were at stake, not the whole world.
Humanity is growing more interconnected than ever before, but most of us have a few hundred people whom we perceive as having impact on our lives; everyone else is mostly treated with indifference. Not because we’re a cold, apathetic species, but our conscious minds aren’t capable of making deep emotional connections beyond that point.
Another part of this is that the audience is taking something of a gamble with every story they pick up. Does it end happily, or sadly? Marriage or death? And while there is certainly some satisfaction derived from a well-written tragedy, that’s really hard to pull off when the story’s entire world is destroyed and stays destroyed, to the point that I can think of precisely one example that did make it work: The Cabin in the Woods (and there are a few asterisks there, like it being a horror movie). So unless you can pull off one of the most difficult tasks any writer has ever attempted, you probably won’t write the end of the world, or even the end of your characters’ world, though that’s a more realistic goal. Remember that gamble the audience is taking? If you put forward the End of the World in a full-length novel (short-stories have more leeway because the audience investment is usually in the low tens of pages, and not in the mid to high hundreds), the odds of you writing it and satisfying your audience are so astronomically tiny that most authors aren’t going to actually write it. So the audience bets that your protagonists will prevail in preventing it. And they’re almost certainly right.
Let’s say you pick up a book, regardless of genre, set in a small town. There are good people, and decent people, and a few creeps. Most of the book takes place in this small town, and the author really writes characters well, to the point that there are a few characters you adore despite deep, nuanced faults, and some you hate with a fiery passion, even if they have redeeming qualities. This small town feels real to you, and while the story alludes to a wider world, grounds itself in this wider world, the meat of the story is here, wherever here is. We grow with our characters along this journey, and love this beautiful tapestry the author’s woven for us.
And then we find out that one character we love is going to die.
The world will keep on turning. This town will keep on living. In that literal, objective sense, the stakes are pretty low. But this light that’s kept us reading for five, six, seven hundred pages, will soon be snuffed out. And if the author has written this story half so well as I’ve described, the ending could be good even if, or perhaps because this character dies. In short, this character’s death is a very realistic outcome.
I’d bet the farm you’re more invested in this one character than in any number of worlds. In fact, a lot of those stories know the audience knows the EotW won’t happen, and so the suspense and shock, and plot twisting, if they’re written well, comes from which of our beloved characters will die.
And they don’t even have to die, really; even a protagonist not getting what they want can devastate your audience.
I once heard (and I wish I could remember the source of this) that in poetry, anyone can write of grand and noble ideas and objects, and sound wise, even profound, but it takes a true master of the art to appreciate and bring forth profundity in the mundane, the small, the innocuous. I think the same can be said of fiction; not that we all need to write literary fiction (good luck prising the dragons from my cold dead hands), but that maybe rather than writing grand sweeping vistas and great armies, we could write all the little happenings in a single tree. Travelling the length and breadth of an entire fantasy world can be a fun time, don’t get me wrong (Paolini was one of my favourite authors growing up), but if writing grand adventures ever gets stale for you... maybe try writing about that tree. Its breadth might not impress, but them roots might grow deeper than you ever imagined.
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for the request: Galadriel and her brothers
Summary: Galadriel’s surprise birthday bash! Modern AU
Characters: Galadriel x Celeborn, a whole lot of Silmarillion and LOTR elves :D
Word Count: 1.9k
Warnings: none really, family fluff, annoying older brothers. a whole lot of blondes.
If there was one thing Galadriel couldn’t stand, it’s surprises. She likes to know when things happen and have everything planned out. If she had the choice to foresee the future, she totally would.
But Celeborn wasn’t like his wife. And he really couldn’t refuse three ruthless blondes from barging into his home to throw a surprise birthday party for Galadriel, their baby sister. They would’ve broken the door down anyways.
It was a weekday, so of course Galadriel was working. Celeborn had taken the day off to pick up the cake that Galadriel had chosen for herself, and pick Celebrian up earlier than usual from school to help get a few decorations. The decor included a handful of balloons, and some party hats, which were mostly for their daughter than for Galadriel herself.
The door practically shook in its hinges at the sudden knock later that afternoon, making Celeborn jump. If it had been Galadriel, he would have been worried, but she had said she was working late. So who on earth...
“Oh... great.” Celeborn sighed and cursed internally. He set his laptop aside next to where Celebrian was colouring and hurried to the door, bracing himself.
“Is that Uncle Angrod?”
“Sadly.. yes,” Celeborn grumbled. He opened up and nearly fell back at the sight of three grinning faces. They were carrying large plastic bags and a few gift bags, and he immediately regretted opening the door.
They pushed inside, with Celebrian jumping into one of her uncles’ arms without any preamble, and Celeborn had a looming sense of dread about why they had shown up randomly at their home.
Finrod was the eldest, and the more approachable of the three. He explained their plans to set up a surprise party.
“You know she hates surprise parties! The actual birthday dinner is this weekend, you know that!”
“Yes, yes, we know, but we figured we’d do something different this time.”
“Galadriel works wayyy too much, Celeborn,” Aegnor huffed, flopping down on their couch. His blonde mullet was sleek and straight, and Celeborn caught a section of pure white that shot through one side of his hairdo. Another last-minute dye job, no doubt. “You both work way too much. If you’re not going to do anything about it, then we will.”
“She’ll kill us all.”
“Yeah, that’s fine. Come on, help me with the disco ball.”
“The disco ball?!”
Galadriel knew what was going to happen the minute she pulled up to her home. If the half a dozen extra cars in the street didn’t say anything, the flashing lights from the living room window gave enough away. She sat inside her car, genuinely debating if she should speed away and just come back in the morning, leaving Celeborn to deal with the aftermath of what looked like an attempt at some sort of party.
But then she remembered her chosen cake and pursed her lips in defiance. She had been very excited to eat it, and curl up with her own family to just watch a silly movie the rest of the night. She’d find a way to enjoy her birthday, even with her nagging extended family.
But the first person who greeted her at the door wasn’t her husband or any of her relatives. It was Gandalf, with a butterfly painted on his cheek and a top hat on his head. He had a juice box in hand and pulled her into a hug when he saw her in the hallway.
“Happy birthday, dear friend!”
“Oh, Gandalf. What have you done?”
“For once, this idea wasn’t mine. I was simply invited.”
“I’m sure you arrived on time.”
“I always do!”
He promised there’d be no fireworks this time; when he had set off his pyromaniacal schemes last, poor Radagast’s hedges and flowerbeds had burned to a crisp.
In the kitchen, Celeborn was nursing a wine glass filled with apple juice. Galadriel didn’t see any alcohol opened anywhere, which did help relieve her stress. He saw her come in and his face scrunched up in an apologetic expression, and it made her laugh.
“My love.. I’m so sorry-”
“Don’t start, Celeborn. What’s done is done. I suppose I’ll be forced to enjoy my birthday now?”
He grimaced and sipped his drink a little more. “If it helps, Celebrian is enjoying herself immensely.”
“Oh, is that right?”
“Orodreth is here. I promise everything is family-friendly, even if it is a little... wild.”
“Was the disco ball Aegnor’s idea?”
Galadriel’s siblings were all successful, hard-working people. At least, when they were on their own. Once you put the three brothers together, all hell would break loose. Despite their sheer differences, they were able to put things together and become a team. Often to the dismay of their younger sister who had to endure the torture.
Finrod was the eldest, and therefore the most responsible. He was a successful CEO who took his time to travel and explore every corner of the world. He was stern-faced, and defiantly defensive of his family and his life choices.
Angrod was the middle brother, and the most outlandish. His passion could lead to anger very quickly, but it made him the most emotionally expressive. His son was practically the sheer opposite of him. Orodreth was a little older than Celebrian, and very soft-spoken and quiet. He was incredibly gifted and intellectual, but you would never be able to read his face and discern that yourself.
And Aegnor was the unhinged youngest brother. As an artist and creative thinker, he explored one medium of art to the next. Galadriel believed he had a lot of potential, and being the two youngest they bonded and got along very well. But she had no idea where his life would lead him. One week it would be pottery, the other it would become architecture. But he was kind and encouraging, which made him the most favourable to babysit Celebrian out of the three uncles.
But once put together, all precedented rules of their characters went out the window.
Eldalote was in the bathroom giving people painted faces, and Galadriel assumed that was where Gandalf got his colourful butterfly. She knocked on the door and came in on Orodreth getting a big fish painted on his forehead. Her daughter was watching diligently next to her aunt as she painted. She had a large flower and heart on one cheek, and a party hat tied snugly on her head.
The minute she saw her mother she squealed and ran into her arms. Galadriel picked her up swiftly, and suddenly felt she couldn’t be mad at her brothers anymore. Nor could she be mad about them getting ahead of themselves and starting the party before she got home. It made it easier to blend in rather than have all the focus on her as soon as she had opened the door.
“Hello, sweetheart,” she nuzzled her daughter’s unpainted cheek who began babbling about the party thus far. Orodreth said a shy hello and wished her a happy birthday. Galadriel wondered how her idiot, reckless brother had ended up with such a diligent and sweet son. Nonetheless, she gave him a hug before Celebrian tugged her back to the living room, where the main socializing seemed to be happening.
The three elder brothers were plotting in a huddled group near the disco ball, and as soon as they saw Galadriel, they swarmed her. Aegnor set Celebrian on his hip, and Celeborn rushed to Galadriel’s side, still looking a little forlorn and guilty for letting the party get so rowdy.
“Sister! Happy fucking-”
“Hey! There’s kids.”
“Sorry. Happy freaking birthday, sis. Do you like our party?”
“I hate it.” Galadriel crossed her arms, but her eyes were twinkling. “You know how I hate surprises.”
“Hey, that’s why we’re not giving you a speech, alright? You should thank me.” Aegnor bumped Finrod with his fist. “Fin was planning on drawling on for forever if we hadn’t stopped him.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Finrod rolled his eyes, but he gave Galadriel a quick side hug. “We know you never celebrate yourself, Galadriel. So this is for you. We practically had to tie down your husband to let us decorate.”
“I mean, clearly.” Galadriel looked at the overwhelming amount of paper decorations and bright balloons. “He’d never allow it to look so hideous if he could help it.”
“You wound me, sister,” Angrod clutched his chest.
“Your cake remains untouched though,” Celeborn pointed out. “That’s the one thing I was able to protect. The rest of the house.. not so much.”
“Oh, well I suppose that’s alright,” Galadriel sighed. She watched the small group of friends and other people in her life gather in the living room and other spots in the house. The music was cheery but not blaring. And from the looks of it.. people brought their own dinner items, like an impromptu potluck.
Elwing and Earendil came over to greet Galadriel with happy smiles and a congratulations. The couple were constantly glued to each others’ side, and Galadriel was glad to have another set of seemingly sane parents in their social circle.
Their twins, Elros and Elrond, were sprawled out on the carpet with Lego and toy cars. Elrond’s face had been smeared with cupcake icing that he had scarfed down, and Galadriel watched, amused, as her daughter went over to him, tutting like she often would. She had a napkin in hand and proceeded to wipe his face, effectively smearing the icing even further onto his cheeks.
The sight made her chuckle, and the initial stress she had seemed to finally leave. She supposed she could enjoy as much of it as possible.
“To be fair, this party is looking to be the best I’ve ever had.” She looked around, slipping her hand into Celeborn’s. “Food I don’t have to pay for. No idiot college friends or condescending relatives. Kids who are actually enjoying themselves? I’d rank this in the top five, boys.”
“Then our work here is done!” Aegnor declared, bouncing Celebrian who giggled happily in his arms. “Now let’s get that cake.”
“Nuh-uh,” Galadriel wagged a finger at him. “That’s for me and my family alone. There’s enough food for you behind you. Go on, you swine.”
Aegnor stuck out his tongue, and she swatted him. He went off to explore the dishes that were laid out on the dining table. So did the rest of the group; going to get their faces painted or wolf down whatever fatty snacks were in reach. Galadriel turned to her husband and gave him a firm kiss.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t defend our fortress, my lady,” he sighed. She rolled her eyes.
“It’s quite alright. I’m not angry. Maybe because I was met with a very gleeful Gandalf at the door rather than my overbearing siblings. Besides, we didn’t even have to cook.”
He laughed. “I knew that would be the thing to win you over.”
A/N: I love these guys ;-; This is my character interpretation of Galadriel’s brothers/family in a modern AU. I posted this out of order for CB’s birthday- I finished it over a week ago but then I realized how close it was to the 14th so I just waited! I hope you enjoy my loves
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