14 Lessons from RWA14: #6, Stakes

This lesson is also from the great James Scott Bell. According to him, if you want your novel to have high stakes, then death must be overhanging for your main character. Death can mean one of three things:

  1. Physical death
  2. Professional death
  3. Emotional death

The first one is obvious. Think Katniss, Harry Potter, or any other main character who might die if they fail.

For the second one, if you’re a YA writer, this can be interpreted as any kind of loss of stature (for example, place on basketball team/cheerleading squad/honor roll).

The third one–in my opinion–is the toughest to pull off as it requires a) that the reader believe the consequences, and b) that the reader believe winning is important enough to warrant the consequences. For example, if a character said, “I’ll never be happy again if Blake doesn’t ask me to the dance”, the reader would need to believe a) that this character will actually be miserable for the next 80 years if she doesn’t get asked to the dance, and b) that going to the dance with Blake is worthy of this eternal misery. I personally think these kinds of stakes add a great extra layer when combined with #1 or #2, but I don’t find they’re high enough when used alone.

Category: On Writing