Quick Link: What Does It Mean To “Raise the Stakes”?

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What Does It Mean To “Raise the Stakes”?

Yay! I’m happy to be back at WHW as a Resident Writing Coach. *waves* Last time I visited, we discussed how understanding the interconnectedness of our story elements can help us with revisions, and today we’re going to dig deeper into one of those elements: our story’s stakes.

Stakes are simply the consequences of failure. If our character doesn’t reach their goal, what will happen? What can go wrong?

Low stakes—such as when there are no consequences or failure would be no big deal—can create problems with our story’s conflicts, tension, and pacing, as well as weaken motivations and make goals seem less important.

So we definitely want to follow advice like “Raise the stakes throughout your story,” but how do we do that?

Step #1: Check for Goals

We all know that our protagonist should have a goal (or at least an unconscious longing) in every scene, right? But we’re not referring to just a big-picture story goal like “beat the bad guy.” Rather, scenes should also have a specific, immediate goal.

For example, the character wants to…:

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