Hello, Write Owls! Welcome to Day 18 of Storytelling 101. Today we’re talking about stakes.
Stakes are important to your story’s conflict and tension. What is at stake if your protagonist doesn’t achieve their goal? Stakes come in many different forms.
Stakes can be public or personal (Maass). Is the world going to end? That’s a public stake. Is your protagonist going to have a broken heart if they fail? That’s a personal stake. Personal stakes tend to be more impactful (Donne).
Stakes are also high, low, or somewhere in between. The higher the stakes, the better. Maass recommends having high public and personal stakes.
When coming up with your stakes, ask yourself these questions: What can be lost? How can this matter more? How can things get worse? These will help you identify stakes (or potential stakes) as well as increase the stakes (Maass).
I like playing the “What if?” game with stakes. What if I add a college scout to the basketball game scene? Not only is the outcome of the game at stake, but now the protagonist’s future education is at stake. What if the bad guy kidnaps a side character? Now the side character’s life—or at least their safety—is at stake in addition to everything else that was already at stake.
Stakes are fairly straightforward, but again, remember that higher stakes are the most effective with personal stakes having the greatest impact on the reader.
These are the basics of stakes. If you have any questions about this topic, please leave them in the comments; and I’ll try to answer them either as a reply or in my Q&A on Saturday.
Feel free to answer these in the comments if you want to chime in!
1) What is something at stake in your life right now? Can you incorporate this into your story?
Donne, Alexa. “How to Nail Conflict and Stakes in Your Novel.” YouTube, uploaded by Alexa Donne, 13 November 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhRt7C1se0U
Maass, Donald. Writing the Breakout Novel. Writer’s Digest Books, 2001.