Why should anyone care about the story you’re writing? Before you launch into an explanation of how your stoic hero is also tenderhearted and how your heroine helps heal his wounded heart, step back for a moment. Yes, compelling characters are vital to a good novel, but you also need to consider the big picture and ask the question: What’s at stake?
What: There are three different types of stakes: public, private and personal.
- Public stakes are what we care about as a culture: an alien invasion of our planet (Independence Day) or some sort of global attack on humanity. The movie Sahara has public stakes because an unknown toxin threatens the world’s entire water supply.
- Personal stakes hurt the heart of your main character. Think about it: How often in a movie does a global threat laser in on someone the hero cares about? Superman’s love interest, Lois Lane, was always being threatened. Ditto for Batman, Iron Man, Thor … pick a superhero. In my novel Catch a Falling Star, my heroine is a family physician. I threatened her patients — specifically some of the children she cared for.
- Private stakes involve a character’s values. As your story progresses, force a character to choose between two competing values, creating inner dissonance or turmoil. My Book Therapy founder Susan May Warren does this beautifully in her book You Don’t Know Me. The heroine has been in the Witness Protection Program for years — but now the bad guy knows where she is. Her safety — and that of her family — is threatened. Her value of protecting her family (by leaving them) competes with her love for her family (and wanting to stay with them).
Why: Why do you need to weave stakes into your story? Let me repeat the question I asked at the beginning of this blog post: Why should anyone care about the story you’re writing? Stakes are based on the things we care about — globally and intrinsically. If we write about fears that everyone struggle with, if we write stories about values — and being forced to choose between two legitimate values — then our readers will connect with our imaginary characters in a very real way. Adding stakes also increases tension in your book, which keeps readers turning pages. Think about your work-in-progress: Have you included stakes in your story? Ask yourself these questions to help you figure out what kind of stakes you might include:
- Public stakes (affecting home and community): What do I fear?
- Personal stake: What would I die for?
- Private stakes: What two equally important values can I pit against each other?
Do you know what’s at stake in your novel? Click to Tweet
The What & Why of Writing: Weaving Stakes into Your Story Click to Tweet
MTB Skills Coach Beth K. Vogt believes God’s best is often behind the doors marked “Never.” After being a nonfiction writer and editor who said she’d never write fiction, Beth’s second inspirational contemporary romance, Catch a Falling Star, released May 2013.Read the Rest