I don’t tell clients to raise the stakes anymore.
I feel it removes the writer from the emotional core of their characters.
**also, I think it raises their blood pressure :/
Aren’t stakes important?
Of course they are. Donald Maass, the BREAKOUT novel king, has eleven chapters in Writing the BREAKOUT Novel and one of them is STAKES.
Writers should always be thinking about their stakes, but, they should be thinking about them in a specific way.
I use questions, not statements. Questions will open creative veins instead of closing them in pure terror.
Here are 3 of the 10 questions I ask:
How can you change the successful outcome of your protagonist?
Where does it happen in the story?
Is your character aware of their state of survival?
I also want writers to create these answers in the voice of the character. I know, it’s kind of a dorky-little-school-assignment-for-adults kind of thing, trust me it works. If you are answering the questions as the writer controlling the character, you are further removing yourself from their situation. I want you closer to the character, not further away.
Get in your characters head and look at their life from the inside. Yeay, we are playing pretend!
Feel the anxiety they have for their own future and you will know if your stakes are high enough.
What if you are starting from the beginning?
What if you don’t even know what type of character you are using for your protagonist?
That is a good place to be. Don’t fret, you aren’t really starting from scratch. You know your character has to be someone with a real human worth. The trick is to not make it the most obvious character type that a reader would automatically feel sympathy towards. It’s drama. You have to create this sympathy through their accomplishments and obstacles, and how they tackle each one.
It’s the same way you pick your friends, yeah?
I had this friend that would overreact when food was spilled in her apartment. Overreact to the point of creating more of a mess all the while cursing curses used for the most brutal of situations. This showed me a lot about how she would handle the rest of her life. Sad, but true.
How are you going to show your reader the little things that will also show the big things. I knew that this girl would not handle big stresses well. Also, she was using the bad language to make herself feel bigger than the problem. To take control in any way she could.
These intricacies of human behavior are what your reader connect to, or disconnect from.
Who cares how high you make the stakes, if your character is going to piss them away on spilled spaghetti?
What are you really saying?
Your stakes start with your character, not the situation you
put them in.
What hoops do you make your characters jump through?
Do you have a system for raising the stakes?
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Thank you Twitterers and fb buds for stopping by to witness
the debut of my Tips N’ Tricks Blog Series.
More Tips N’ Tricks next Friday: The Danger Behind a False Hook
(and, no, I’m not talking about pirates.)
I am also teaching an online course in October through Lawson Writer’sAcademy -
An Actor’s Take On Writing Physicality, Choreography, and Action
Action creates a rhythm allowing the reader to breathe in sync with your characters. Physicality has the ability to highlight personality, relationship, and motivation. Choreography, in a fight or love scene, can expose the intricacies of your ever moving story.
To see the topics covered in this course click over to: