Episode 25: Increasing Stakes

In which Robynne and Jane dive into the many ways to increase the stakes of your fiction or narrative nonfiction. Creating some sort of tension is imperative to grab your reader’s attention (and keep it!) and these tips will help you do just that. Jane starts with a great definition of stakes: what creates conflict in your novel: spiritual, financial, physical death or loss. Robynne adds that death is a profound stake, but, really, all stakes need to be is some important conflict. Internal stakes are as important and real as physical stakes. Whatever it is, it must be large and important.

Francine Rivers’ The Last Sin Eater is used as a wonderful example where there are multiple physical and emotional stakes, and they come through multiple characters. Cynthia Ruchti’s Miles from Where We Started is another great example of multiple stakes: emotional, financial, and spiritual. Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend is also packed with physical, social, and emotional stakes. Robynne’s point is that all books holding our attention are just full of stakes.

After establishing what stakes are and giving solid examples of authors who’ve done it well, Robynne plunges into 8 points for HOW to increase the stakes in your own stories. When to enter the story is first on the list, followed by making sure the stakes are personal to the main characters. If the stakes are happening to someone else, with little or no impact to the main characters, then why are we following their story? Number 3 is to find a way to connect your main POV character’s stakes to other characters. Intertwine them, making your POV character’s response to THEIR stakes have an impact on someone else. Number 4 is to have a deadline. If your characters have to do or learn or accomplish something by a certain point in time, the tension, and, therefore, stakes, are immediately heightened.

There are four more tips, too. But you’ll have to tune in to find out what they are!