It's a double shot of tips today! I'm doing a guest post over at Romance University, offering Seven Tips to Create Conflict in Your Novel. Since conflict and stakes go hand in hand, I thought it would be fun to do a companion piece here on raising the stakes. Mix and match these fourteen tips to create strong conflicts with high stakes to keep your readers hooked.
So here are Seven Ways to Raise the Stakes in Your Novel:
1. Have a consequence
Actions need consequences for them to matter, and if they don't matter, there are no stakes. If nothing changes for the character making the choice, why bother having her make it? There are wrong choices in fiction, and make sure your characters are faced with them as often as possible.
2. Have something go wrong
Characters assume their plan will unfold in a certain way, and when things don't go as expected, the dangers--and the risks--get higher. Anything might happen now that the plan has gone off the rails. Look for places where mistakes can be made and things can fail.
3. Make it personal
Bad things happening to faceless people don't tug at the heartstrings the same as something bad happening to someone we care about. This is why the teenage boy eaten by a shark gets way more news coverage than the thousands of teens who die from disease every day. Let bad things happen to the characters readers know and care about.
(More on making it personal here)
4. Demand a sacrifice
Make sure one of those bad things is a sacrifice. Having to give up something that matters a great deal shows how much is at stake for a character and what she's willing to risk to succeed. Take away what matters most and force her to go get it.
5. Make connections
Bad choices made early on can trigger catastrophic problems later in the story. Connect the problems and events so when that disaster does happen, both the reader and the character knows it's due to a mistake made long before. Knowing that events might have turned out differently makes every action mean more, and seeing how the story ties together makes the reader worry about even the small actions or choices.
6. Start small, get bigger
If the protagonist's life is at stake on page one, there's no room to raise the stakes on page five, let alone the climax. Start off with small stakes that can be escalated throughout the novel, so things are constantly getting worse. Even better, look for problems that will snowball, so the small stake in the opening scene eventually turns into the dire stake at the end of the book.
(More on when to escalating stakes here)
7. Mention the risks
This might seem simple, but tell readers what's at stake so they know. Sometimes it's not obvious, and the reasons why a character is doing what she's doing doesn't make sense. Keeping it secret also doesn't provide any opportunities to create anticipation, because if a reader knows what might go wrong, she can worry about that at every turn. Let your characters discuss or consider the risks--even if you never plan to have them happen. It's the fear of what could happen that helps raise the stakes.
Conflict and stakes are a strong combination for keeping readers reading. Novels with strong conflicts and high stakes are ones that are hard to put down. Make the most of every scene by tightening every conflict and raising every stake you can.
What's at stake in some of your favorite books? Or in your WIP?