J is for…Jeopardy

A writing friend of mine told me that whenever she submitted work, her editor always asked her, “Where’s the jeopardy, where’s the jeopardy?” and it is a legitimate — not to say crucial – question. My trusty old Pocket Oxford Dictionary (thank you, Dad) defines jeopardy as danger, especially of severe harm, and good fiction usually reeks of it.

Most obviously, at some point in the story your protagonist needs to be put in jeopardy, as this is the best way of ratcheting up the tension and making your reader care even more intensely about their ultimate well-being. However, the danger doesn’t necessarily need to be of physical harm, unless you are writing a thriller.  The threat could just as easily be of mental or emotional damage, or something that your hero or heroine cares about passionately may be put at risk.  This could be a relationship, a piece of valued property, a career break, the family home – whatever you hit upon, make sure that the stakes are high.  Unless you potentially disrupt the world order you have carefully created within your story, there will be no jeopardy and without jeopardy there is no crackle, no excitement, no frisoon to your work.

Another source of jeopardy which you might like to consider is in the subject matter you choose to write about, or the way you choose to tell your story.  Something controversial will always make the hair stand up on the back of your reader’s neck.  Think Nicholson Baker.  Think Brett Easton Ellis.  Live dangerously.