Our New Names are Cocoa Puff and Snack Train, Plus Swearing Ducks and Raising Stakes

Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Our New Names are Cocoa Puff and Snack Train, Plus Swearing Ducks and Raising Stakes

Everyone tells you to raise the stakes in your writing.

And that’s a lovely, easy thing to say when you are the editor and not the writer. But what does it actually mean?

You hear this and think, “Yeah. Yeah. High stakes equal important. Cool. Cool.”

But then you start thinking about dinner or something.

But it’s important. Carrie’s first breakout novel was NEED and it was a series about pixies trying to cause an apocalypse. Those are high stakes, right?

Agent Donald Maas says it pretty well, “High stakes yield high success.”

He suggests knowing exactly where the stakes increase. What page does this happen? Can those stakes be higher? Do those stakes make it harder for your main character to get what he/she/they want to get?

 A really, beautiful way he puts this stakes question out there is by asking authors to ask themselves, “So what?”

What’s the so what question?

It’s this: IF YOUR MAIN CHARACTER DOESN’T GET THEIR GOAL THEN SO WHAT? Does it matter? How much does it matter?

And that brings me to what I think of I think is Maas’s most important point about stakes:

The stakes in your story don’t matter unless you’ve built in human worth about your main character. If your character’s life doesn’t matter to the reader, than the stakes don’t matter, and this is even true for life-and-death stakes.



So, that brings us to the question of what is human worth and how do you make it happen in your story. That’s obviously a big cultural question, right? And this isn’t meant to be about philosophy, but about writing, and yes it’s all intertwined.

You have to ask questions about your character.

Who is she?

Why do we need to care about her?

What are the stakes that make it necessary for us to care that she gets her goal. There needs to be an extra burst of value in why us readers care about your character. Are they super moral? Are their morals and ethics at risk?

High human worth tends to focus on certain qualities of behavior such as:










So many books that are break-out books and movies are about friendships. Think about Harry Potter and Tolkein and Star Wars and even Marvel movies. There is a link that happens between the characters that show their worth through their caring for others. This isn’t just true for fantasy. But even in the specificity of contemporary realistic novels.

In realistic novels, we don’t necessarily deal with those blatant and beautiful archetypes that happen in science fiction and fantasy, but if there is anything that the Covid-19 pandemic teaches us is that there can be the heroic in the mundane. Hand washing and mask wearing can be an act of kindness and of power. But no matter how big our landscape needs to be then we have to make sure that our characters worth snags our reader into caring.

Some characters are unsympathetic and there is a tiny bit of redeemabilitiy in them. They have to somehow be likable. There’s got to be an element about them to latch onto. This varies in different cultures, but in ours currently, we can deal with a jerk of a character if they are funny or brave or super smart or charismatic. I mean, seriously, think about some popular celebrities that we latch onto. Charisma is a big deal thing and it lets you get a way with a lot.

Every reader has a slightly different threshold for the poopy behaviour they’ll put up with from a character.


Make your characters matter. Make them redeemable. Make them have human worth.


Choose the people who see your good, not just your bad.


The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. 

Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.


AND we have a writing tips podcast called WRITE BETTER NOW! It’s taking a bit of a hiatus, but there are a ton of tips over there.

We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream biweekly live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook. But she also has extra cool content focused on writing tips here.

Carrie is reading one of her raw poems every once in awhile on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!


Writing Tip Wednesday – WRITING IMMORTALS


A lot of us writers who dabble or write full-out fantasy or science fiction deal with these little devils. But what does it mean to be immortal? And what does it take to write them?

Marguerite Duras Wrote:

It’s while it’s being lived that life is immortal, while it’s still alive. Immortality is not a matter of more or less time, it’s not really a question of immortality but of something else that remains unknown. It’s as untrue to say it’s without beginning or end as to say it begins and ends with the life of the spirit, since it partakes both of the spirit and of the pursuit of the void.


If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.

Us, writers, are pretty obsessed with immortality and mortality, not just as a conceit for our own lives, but also in our work. But immortality is a messy beast in writing.


Immortality lowers the stakes. In our culture, we tend to think of death as the worst possible outcome. It’s the big evil that we often use to justify our own evil deeds. We usually try to avoid it at all costs and it makes the stakes in our writing really high (and therefore the reader really interested) if we put one of our character’s life at risk.

It’s hard to get the reader worried about a character that is immortal.

There are some interesting thoughts on how to deal with immortal characters in fiction here and here and especially here where CLEVER GIRL HELPS breaks down types and degrees of immortality.

Once you’ve read those hints, let’s talk about the big question, which is:


So, if immortality is so difficult to write, why do we keep writing immortal characters?

In an interview with Salon’s Sophie Roell, author Stephen Cave says of our obsession with immortality,

It’s a human universal. Among all of the animals, we probably uniquely are aware that we’re going to die. We try to avoid the worst, to keep going one way or another, yet we must live in the knowledge that it is futile – that ultimately, the worst thing that can possibly happen will happen. That all our projects and all our dreams — everything we’re striving for — one day it will all be over. And this is terrifying. So we are very keen to hear any story that can allay this fear and say death isn’t what it seems, and we can just keep on going indefinitely.

Longing for immortality and grappling with our mortality is pretty close to a human universal. It’s something all writers (who are humans) can relate to and therefore are compelled to write about.

So, we do.

And we try to do it well, but it’s hard. When the highest stake of death (of the immortal) isn’t possible, what is the second highest stake you can put in place of that?

  1. Death of the immortal’s loved one?
  2. Eternal entrapment?
  3. Forced to eat uncooked lima beans?
  4. Success of another immortal that there is past history with?
  5. Living with your own moral failures like in Doctor Who?

It’s up to you and your character to decide. Decide well!  It’s a cool thing to think about for you, your life, and your story. What is the highest stake in your own life? If you say death, what’s the second highest? Sometimes it’s good to put our own brains through the same questions that we launch on our characters.

Writing News

Next and Last Time Stoppers Book

It’s  out! You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.


Moe Berg

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

It’s awesome and quirky and fun.


Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!

dogs are smarter than people carrie after dark being relentless to get published

Writing Coach

I offer solo writing coach services. For more about my individual coaching, click here.

Ebook on Sale for October! 

And finally, for the month of July, my book NEEDis on sale in ebook version on Amazon. It’s a cheap way to have an awesome read in a book that’s basically about human-sized pixies trying to start an apocalypse.

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I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn!

Are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?

Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.

Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here


Apply Now!




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