Raising the Stakes

This month, the Book Length Project Group ate chocolate biscuits (thanks Emma!) and discussed raising the stakes in our stories. Raising the stakes is a gambling metaphor. We raise the stakes when we bet more money (or matchsticks). We have more to lose. Raising the stakes in our writing is the same. We put more at risk.

Why raise the stakes?

When there is more at risk, it creates tension or anticipation for the reader. (I might not care if Mary takes the next chocolate biscuit, but I might get a bit tense if she eyes off the last one.) Creating tension and anticipation makes the reader want to know what will happen next and keep on reading.

Give me an example that’s not about chocolate biscuits

Remember The Shining, that 1980 movie where Jack Nicholson grimaced through a splintered doorway holding an axe? The author of the book, Stephen King, raised the stakes through a series of small events well before the climax. We know that something terrible is going to happen: the hotel’s horrible history, Danny’s visions, the snowfall, the destroyed two-way, and Jack’s drinking are parsed out scene by scene to raise our heartrates and keep us on the edge of our seats. When Jack finally starts hacking through doors, we’re hiding behind the popcorn, but we’re glued to the screen because we really, really want to know who gets out of there alive.

Yeah, but I don’t write horror

And neither do the BLPG members. So we get it, your inter-generational family saga might not involve a haunted hotel (or it might – something to consider?). But you can still use the techniques that Stephen King uses to hook your readers until the very last page.

How to raise the stakes in your story

  1. Know your protagonist’s goal (I really want the last chocolate biscuit)
  2. Put an obstacle (or five) in the way (BLPG members are standing around chatting in between me and the morning tea table)
  3. Create an antagonist with a competing goal (Mary!)
  4. Introduce choices and consequences (I could hip and shoulder group members out of the way and get to the morning tea table first)
  5. Introduce unintended consequences (But I could hurt people in the process)
  6. The ticking time-bomb (Mary is edging closer to the table)
  7. The antagonist has a win (Mary makes it past the last group of people)
  8. The antagonist is temporarily thwarted (Emma stops Mary to ask about her work in progress)

The Book Length Project Group meets on the third Sunday of every month at Mattie Furphy House in Swanbourne. All FAWWA members and friends are welcome. If you would like to join us, please go to The Fellowship of Australian Writers WA (fawwa.org) for more information.

Please note that the Book Length Project Group will meet on 22 May and not the 15th as some of us will be attending the https://mrrwfestival.com/.

Published by karenwhittleherbert


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