Raising The Stakes In Fiction

My brain is in OVERDRIVE again.

Last night, as my husband and I sat watching the first fireworks of the night, I found myself in that familiar far-off stare that means this novel has taken yet another turn.

If you’ve read my blog, you know that this novel was originally intended to be in the Young Adult genre, but it never felt right in that skin, so I took that parameter away (as well as any other restrictions) and this novel morphed.

And it’s still morphing.

What dawned on me last night seems to be a simple thing I should have already thought long and hard about, but I confess, I have not. I have focused on developing plot lately, and when this little revelation hit me last night, I was unprepared, though I shouldn’t have been because it is essential to plot development. I was talking to the hubs about my plot when…poof…the realization of stakes hit me.

And holy crap. I realized that the stakes for my characters aren’t high enough.

I’ve given my characters goals. I’ve made those goals near impossible to reach. I’ve beaten and bloodied them on their journey to attain those goals.

But what’s at stake?

In my novel, not near enough.

We all have a level of stasis in our lives, as do our characters at the onset of the story. It’s what is necessary for us to feel a sense of stability and security in life.

Now…the question I asked myself last night was this:

“What would be the exact opposite of that stasis for my characters?”

I had to examine what I’d given them to lose. I had to consider whether or not the threat of what they could potentially lose was significant enough to make them evolve into the fierce characters I had hoped for.

At the end of this novel, I want the characters to be drastically different people than they were at the beginning of the story. Characters need to change….and I don’t just mean their circumstances. I’m talking about internal change as a result of external pressure. 

I had always planned for my protagonist to shift from white (fragile, unaware, uncertain) to black (hardened, cunning, dauntless), but what would cause a person to change like that?

This goes back to stakes. What the character values most must be taken away or threatened. They are always…in every decision they make…trying to get back to the status quo.

Another thing to think about is this: The stakes must rise throughout the novel. We have to pile on the conflict and give our characters more and more to lose….more than they ever thought they had to lose.

So…Looks like I have some work to do.

Gotta go raise the stakes. 🙂

What about you? Have you ever dealt with this? Do your characters have enough to lose? 

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  1. Hey Charissa! I had written a long, thoughtful comment, but it got eaten. So if this is a repeat, I'm sorry.

    In short, I said I know what you mean…thought those same thoughts with my own book. And good luck to you as you heighten those stakes!

  2. I think I go through this process with every book :P. I'm trying to get to the point where I do so at the planning stage! My first instinct, though, seems to be too nice to my characters. Thanks for sharing your process–hope it didn't distract you from all the fireworks!

  3. Isn't that the way? You're going along writing your story and all at once you realize you need to add something. Then you have to go back through the entire book and make sure you've left a trail sprinkled throughout the story. I think every author has done this at some time or other. Great post!