While searching for more writing tips/advice, I found this post on Jami Gold blog about raising the stakes in your story (along with this one and this one, too, from Janice Hardy). In theory, I’ve always understood how this works. I get that there are reactions to every action, that there are consequences, and that each time things should get a little tougher and harder.
But in practice? Most, if not all of my stakes are something like “If she doesn’t do this/get this thing….. she will die.” Dramatic, I know.
More importantly, when I have to make things worse, to build up to that Dark Moment, I have a hard time figuring out what’s worse than her dying. Everyone else dies too? She lives and everyone dies? …Eternal pain? It’s practically all the same.
And so, I’ve decided to use the example that Jami Gold gave, and apply it to my story, because I work best with examples and application. Here’s one of my protagonist, Makaya’s earlier goals in the story:
Goal: Makaya wants to travel to Kovaki to get ‘Kan’on’s sword‘
Stake (“failure would result in…”): (Original thought: Well.. she can’t become the Savior)
This doesn’t seem like much when its shown so plainly, so I had to play with motivations to make this feel more personal. She wants to fulfill her twin brother’s wish to become the Savior; wants to become stronger because she constantly feels weak; she believes that becoming the Savior will make her stronger.
See? I’m not very good at this.
If the threat of death is the strongest, biggest stake, I need to think of smaller things that affect her, still hinder her process, and build up throughout the story. Maybe something like this:
First, she can’t find the sword.
Then when she finds it, she can’t pull it out ( sort of an Arthurian theme).
Once she finally get the sword, it’s worn and useless. And she doesnt’ feel the ‘change’ of becoming the Savior like everyone said she’d feel.
She return to her friend, who had traveled with her, to tell her the news, and she missing.
She tries to find her, but she needs help. And the only people who can help her are the ones she previously rejected, because they wanted her to fight in the war with them. Before, she was in control because they needed her. Now, she needs them just as much as they need her, if not more so.
You get the point.
After reading those blog post several times, looking for examples of raising the stakes of different stories, I think I finally have a handle on this.
I’ll continue to work at this, building the stakes slowly to that end point (possible death that I may or may not have talked about very early on) and see what happens.
Now, I wanna hear from you all. What tips have you heard recently? From who, and how did it help you?