High Stakes

Something I was pondering recently was the idea of ‘high stakes’ in books I have been reading – the ‘oh also the WORLD is at risk!’ element that can be thrown into certain books, particularly if there are sequels planned, in stories where there is already a personal quest of sorts going on.

I won’t mention any specific titles, because I think it is a very much your-mileage-may-vary situation, but at times I did feel as though this extra ‘aha, this is BIG!’ dimension felt superfluous. Because so much of story is the character and high stakes for them – rather than the world or the community or whatever it might be. And that’s what I’m most interested in – what many of us care most about, I think.

I mentioned this to Flatmate Of Joy, who said, ‘ah, yes, but what about Buffy?’

Well. Indeed. Which I had been musing upon. And I thought about ‘Becoming’, which I tend not to rewatch too often because oh good grief any time David Boreanaz attempts an Irish accent is painful, but we don’t actually care that the world’s ending. We care that Buffy has to send her boyfriend to hell in order to save it.

‘Becoming’ aired in 1998, which is making me feel a little ancient here, but apart from some dodgy special-effects for the hell-vortex, it holds up well. It’s BIG, it’s the world being potentially sucked into a hell-dimension, but that’s all just to facilitate buckletloads of emotional torment for the heroine. Cue the Sarah McLachlan.

The BIG stuff still needs to matter to the characters. It’s not going to be important to the reader or the viewer just because it’s the world – or, at least, it’s not going to have the same emotional impact. And yet because it’s BIG, it doesn’t work to introduce it and then let it play second or third fiddle to everything already established.

It’s a tricky thing to handle and honestly, it’s something I’ve mostly stayed away from – I’m not an action/thriller type gal. But I’d love to know your own favourite ‘character saves the world for personal reasons’ moments from books/movies/TV/comics etc – do tell.

Also, as an apology for using ‘high stakes’ as a title for a blog post about vampire slaying, have a picture of Spike reading the newspaper.


{6} Thoughts on “High Stakes

  1. Excellent post. Another time Buffy really makes this point is in The Zeppo where we keep *cutting away* from the apocalypse to focus on how Xander got his groove back.

    Liking my moniker, also!

    • Apocalypse as B plot, wahey!

      I am trying to consider whether (Secret Spoiler-Hiding-Code-For-Anyone-Reading-This) that Whedonish movie’s ending is a bit too Big Damn Apocalypse but I think it pulls it off. (In terms of mattering to the viewer, not in terms of how it is…. handily represented.)

  2. My daughter was born in 1998. She just watched ‘Becoming’ and totally lost it! Thinks Buffy is one of the best shows ever. I’m bringing them up right!

    There’s that moment in Deep Impact where the woman (Tea Leonie??) gives up her seat in the helicopter for the mother of a child already in the helicopter, knowing that she has no chance of surviving. I know this isn’t saving the world, but it is the human element.

    And I know it’s cheesy but I love the bit in Independence Day when Randy Quaid’s character flies into the alien ship and saves the world.

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