Raising the Stakes

Something I didn’t do a very good job in my last novel was raising the stakes. I didn’t layer the stakes or really challenge my protagonist. I was actually pretty nice to him now that I think about it. He only had one public stake one: stop an evil corporation. How is that important? For one it’s not very interesting. If stopping an evil corporation was the only thing my main character had to do, then what is he doing for the other 200 plus pages? Looking back at my novel, a lot of “stuff” happened with little at stake. See my point? His personal stakes were minor, and not enough to matter to a reader.

Public stakes matter to everyone. Can the protag stop the war, stop the bomb from going off, save the town, etc. What the protag does or doesn’t do affects people globally. The flip side of that are the personal stakes. The protag saving his wife from getting eaten by zombies, a lawyer defending someone wrongly accused, a mother trying to keep her family together after a tragedy. Both typres of stakes are important to a novel but need to be used correctly. A bunch of public stakes and you don’t care about the characters all that much. Too many personal stakes and the characters are not relevant to the reader. But the right combination equals a solid page turning novel.

This issue was covered in great detail in Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel. The book has been a valuable source of information, but I also did a Google search for personal and public stakes in writing and came across this blog post from  L. Jagi Lamplighter’s blog on writing.

So to keep the tension up in a novel, raise the stakes. Make the character work hard and challenge them to beyond their limits.

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