Guest Post/Virtual Tour with Giveaway ~ Two Heads Are Deader Than One by Elena Hartwell

Objectives, Obstacles, and Stakes, as Explained by Basketball

Watching the Zags lose to North Carolina was heartbreaking for a lot of people in my neck of the woods. Having the team from Spokane, Washington, make it to the final game for the first time in the history of Gonzaga University, only to lose in the final moments, turned their inspiring story into a tragedy.

It also made me realize writing is a lot like a basketball game.

I work with numerous writers, providing manuscript critiques. I also teach playwriting at Bellevue College. One of the issues I often find in early drafts, including my own, are a lack of clearly articulated objectives, obstacles, and stakes.

These terms are popular with those who teach writing and they get bandied about a lot. And there’s a reason for that, without them, a story will usually fail.

Here’s how I see the connection between basketball and understanding these fundamental concepts.

A basketball team is made up of characters, a five-person cast if you will. The super-objective is to win the game. That’s the overarching goal of the entire event. Win.

But within that super-objective is a constantly changing set of objectives, obstacles, and stakes.

For example, the objective of the player with the ball is to move it down the court. Once in shooting range, the objective might change to successfully passing the ball to another player or shooting into the basket. At that point the objective becomes make the pass or make the shot.

Just as a private investigator in a murder mystery may have a super-objective—discover who killed the victim—the objectives change from scene to scene as the plot unfolds. In one chapter, the objective may be to locate a missing witness or find the missing weapon. In the next chapter the objective might be to lose a tail or win a gun battle. All of these moments still push the private investigator towards identifying the killer.

The primary obstacle for a basketball team to win is the other team. That other team has the same super-objective, in direct conflict with the one we’re rooting for. Our protagonist’s objective can’t succeed unless the antagonist’s objective fails. Only one team can win the championship and that only happens when the other team loses.

But obstacles change in a basketball game. Players get tired, and the obstacle becomes their own physical limitations. Referees call fouls and a player facing ejection from the game plays more conservatively. Players get injured and have to keep going despite the pain.

There are also psychological obstacles, as one player gets into another player’s head, causing them to miss the shot.

In fiction, obstacles change as well. Characters second guess themselves, get in danger, follow red herrings, and trust the word of the wrong person. A timid character gets afraid, a brave character gets hurt, an honest character is forced to lie. In each of these moments a new obstacle rises up, challenging the protagonist to move the story forward with ever increasing stakes.

What’s at stake with winning or losing an NCAA championship? Funding for the athletic program, endorsements after graduation, higher ranking in the NBA draft—it’s the final chance a player has to show what they can do. Those are pretty high stakes.

There’s also ego and limited access. These players are some of the best in country. If they’re lucky they get four shots at winning the Championship. That makes the stakes even higher, a senior playing their heart out means just a little bit more than a sophomore in the big game for the first time. With the latter we think, there’s another chance next year, with the senior, it’s all or nothing.

This translates directly to stakes for the characters in our fiction. If my private investigator has nothing to lose, the reader won’t care about the outcome. We root for underdogs because the stakes are so high. We love a beautifully drawn bad guy because they want something more than any other character in the story, something huge stands in the way, and the outcome really matters. And to make it even more compelling, the character is running out of time.

I asked my students recently if they’ve ever had the experience of watching a game and not caring who wins, but at some point, they find themselves rooting for one team or another. Most of them said yes. That’s the magic of objectives, obstacles, and stakes. One player stood out, wanting to win just a little more than the rest. Or you connected with the mascot or the coach said something compelling, and suddenly, there you are, wanting that team to win. And the obstacles become more and more important. The refs are making bad calls, the other team plays like a bunch of thugs, things are unfairly stacked against “your” team. And it matters now. The stakes have changed and become your stakes, which makes them more important.

If you can create this experience for your readers they will stay with you to the end. They will root for your character, be it hero or anti-hero, and turn page after page because they have become invested in the character’s success.

Some of the most common advice I give to writers struggling with their current drafts is return to these basics.  Ask yourself what your character wants. What’s in the way? And why does it matter? What happens if they do or do not get what they’re after?

Writers block can often be cured by asking these simple questions. Then, like a team in that final game, your protagonist facing the shot clock ticking down, your readers will be on the edge of their seat, waiting for the final buzzer to learn if the outcome is going to be inspirational or tragic or in rare but beautiful instances, both.

Series: Eddie Shoes Mystery (Book 2)
Publisher: Camel Press (April 15, 2017)
Genre: Cozy Mystery
ISBN-10: 1603813136
ISBN-13: 978-1603813136
Buy: Amazon, IndieBound, The Book Depository


Private Investigator Eddie Shoes is enjoying a rare period of calm. She's less lonely now that Chava, her card-counting mom from Vegas, is sharing her home. She also has a new companion, Franklin, a giant dog of curious ancestry.

Hoping for a lucrative new case, Eddie instead finds herself taking on a less promising client: her best friend from her childhood in Spokane. Dakota has turned up in Bellingham in jail, where she is being held on a weapons charge. Eddie reluctantly agrees not only to lend her friend money for bail but to also investigate who is stalking her. Soon after Dakota is freed, she disappears again, leaving Eddie to answer to the local cops, including her ex-boyfriend Chance Parker. Has Dakota been kidnapped? If not, why did she jump bail? What are Eddie's business cards doing on the bodies of two murder victims?

The key to these mysteries lies in Dakota and Eddie's shared history, which ended when Eddie left home after high school. As a person of interest in both murder cases, Eddie is forced to go in search of the truth, digging into the past and facing her own demons.

Thanks to the author I have one (1) copy of Two Heads are Deader Than One to give away.

Giveaway open to residents of the US only.
Giveaway ends on May 6th

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Winner will have 48 hours from the time of notification to confirm their win or another winner will be chosen.

After twenty years in the theater, Elena Hartwell turned her dramatic skills to fiction. Her first novel, One Dead, Two to Go introduces Eddie Shoes, private eye. Called “the most fun detective since Richard Castle stumbled into the 12th precinct,” by author Peter Clines, I’DTale Magazine stated, “this quirky combination of a mother-daughter reunion turned crime-fighting duo will captivate readers.”

In addition to her work as a novelist, Elena teaches playwriting at Bellevue College and tours the country to lead writing workshops.

When she’s not writing or teaching, her favorite place to be is at the farm with her horses, Jasper and Radar, or at her home, on the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, their dog, Polar, and their trio of cats, Jackson, Coal Train, and Luna, aka, “the other cat upstairs.” Elena holds a B.A. from the University of San Diego, a M.Ed. from the University of Washington, Tacoma, and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.

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Tour Schedule

April 14 – My Journey Back and My Reading Journeys – REVIEW, GUEST POST, GIVEAWAY

April 15 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – INTERVIEW, GIVEAWAY

April 16 – Books,Dreams,Life – SPOTLIGHT

April 17 – Readeropolis – REVIEW

April 18 – Dee-Scoveries – SPOTLIGHT, GIVEAWAY

April 19 – Books Direct – GUEST POST, GIVEAWAY

April 20 – Omnimystery News – INTERVIEW  

April 21- Texas Book-aholic – REVIEW

April 22 – Lori’s Reading Corner – GUEST POST, GIVEAWAY

April 23 – I Read What You Write – REVIEW


April 25 – The Pulp and Mystery Shelf – CHARACTER INTERVIEW


April 27 – Community Bookstop –  REVIEW, GIVEAWAY







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  1. Sounds interesting I want to read it.crime fighting mother daughter sounds intriguing.

  2. Thank you for having me on your blog! So fun to visit with your readers.

  3. The data which is used in this article is ought to be talked about more.
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  1. […] 22 – Lori’s Reading Corner – GUEST POST, […]

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