I’ll define ‘stake’ here as something your character stands to gain or lose in your story.
The definition of story that I stumbled upon years ago and love using is ‘Someone wants something and is having difficulty getting it’ I added the word BADLY in there and so the definition I use is ‘Someone wants something badly and is having difficulty getting it.’
Stakes are crucial in your story because without clear stakes and raised stakes then your audience quickly get bored which gets them switching off your show/film/book.
How then do we as writers raise stakes in our stories to make sure the audience stay with us until the end?
I share some suggestions below on how I work on stakes in my stories.
- Cause and effect: Something happens, then something else happens as a result. The obstacles you throw at your characters have to follow some logic, you can’t just throw them for the sake of it. There has to be a clear goal your character is going after or the story ends up losing focus. Ask yourself if your story is progressing logically.
- Set up before you pay off: You shouldn’t have a moment where there’s no conflict going on in your story. This means that before you resolve a problem your character was dealing with, you have to introduce or foreshadow another problem for them, and this time, a bigger problem to complicate things for your character. This helps with the pacing of your story.
- Introduce a bigger problem: The more your audience experience something the less effect it has on them. E.g If the problem is the death of a loved one, then you throw in another death, then another, by the 2nd death we will be all cried out and will experience the emotions passively. In short be wise with the kind of obstacles you introduce to your character’s world and how that moves the emotions of the audience to the next level.
- Balance between external conflicts and Internal conflicts: What’s happening internally to your character and how does that affect how they react to the external challenges you throw their way? We are not robots, what goes on inside affects a great deal our reaction outside, so make sure to motivate the external reaction of your character with the internal emotions, for richer stakes.
- Character Development in relation to handling raised stakes: Under developed characters are dangerous to your story. Make sure you dig deeper into your character so that as you raise the stakes, the audience go the journey with you believing that even if the odds are stacked so highly against the Protagonist, there’s still a chance of them succeeding.
Hope these pointers inspire you on your writing journey.
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