Writers often create challenges for heroes by taking away something they desperately need or want. Billionaires go bankrupt. Children become orphans. Diamonds get dropped in the snow.
Faced with this setback, heroes must find new ways forward, often against staggering odds. In some cases, they’re searching of the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Like many of the cards in Writer Emergency Pack, Stack of Needles invites you to consider doing exactly the opposite.
At first glance, Stack of Needles feels like a plot device — potentially an arbitrary one. You’re changing the trajectory of the story by introducing new elements.
Look a little deeper and you realize Stack of Needles can be a terrific way to reveal character. By giving your hero the thing she said she wanted, you force her to confront her true motivations, her future goals, and the burden of abundance.
“More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”
― Truman Capote
How much is too much?
In the second season of Silicon Valley, the small tech startup is frequently overwhelmed:
- They raise too much VC money.
- Hooli sends over hundreds of boxes of legal files, crowding them out of their living room.
- Their dormant video feed suddenly goes viral, melting their servers.
In each of these cases, the heroes were challenged not by scarcity, but abundance. By getting what they wanted, they got screwed.
The best consequences are the ones closely aligned with what the hero wants.
If your misanthropic baker wins the lottery, that’s not particularly special. But if his chocolate-horseradish muffins become a national obsession, that’s on-point and relevant. The thing he loves (baking) has brought him the thing he hates (people).
Sudden abundance forces characters to make choices they didn’t expect to make. When the pauper becomes a prince, will he bring his friends with him? When the zombie-outbreak survivors find a massive food cache, do they invite outsiders or close ranks?
Remember that nothing happens to just one character. Your hero’s success will affect everyone around her, for better or worse.
Using Stack of Needles
Like every card in Writer Emergency Pack, Stack of Needles can be used at both macro and micro levels of the story process.
Stack of Needles might be reflected in the main arc of your story. Does your hero struggle because of initial success? From Dreamgirls to Black Swan, many show-biz stories are built around this framework. Sequels often incorporate this idea as well, with the victorious heroes having to rediscover aspects of their earlier, simpler life.
On a sequence level, Stack of Needles works well as a mid-story twist. After finally discovering her real father’s name — Zebediah Obercampf — your hero will be frustrated to learn there are 100 men with that name living in the US.
Finally, Stack of Needles can be a great focus in a single scene. Your bank robber has just broken into the vault, but rather than one million dollars, he finds 100 million. Does he try to take it all? How will he get it out?
No matter how you use Stack of Needles, make the most of its much-ness. Give your hero more than he can handle, and watch what happens.