We want to make our books impossible to put down and to do so, we need to keep our readers turning the pages, dying to know what’s going to happen next.
And nothing does that better than characters in trouble with no end in sight.
We want to draw on our readers’ emotions and make them feel like they’re right there with the characters trying to find a solution to what seems like an impossible problem.
There are several ways we can raise the stakes and keep our readers invested in the story:
Have Plans Go Awry
Things never go as planned in real life, so why should they in fiction.
Mistakes happen, and plans fail.
If we increase the danger and leave the results uncertain, it not only makes the story more realistic but also more interesting, which is precisely what we need if we want to keep our readers riveted to the page.
Make It Personal
Nobody cares about nameless characters whom we know nothing about. The only thing that matters are ourselves and those we care about.
So, the goal is to make our readers care.
We do this through snippets of backstory, interaction between characters, and showing our character’s thoughts and emotions on the page.
We want to show what matters most to the character, then use it against them when the danger increases.
This leaves the readers emotionally invested in the outcome and rooting for our character’s success.
Require a Sacrifice
Sometimes a risk must be taken to succeed, and nothing is more personal than a sacrifice.
The hardest choices are usually the ones made in the most desperate of situations, and sometimes the few must be sacrificed to save the many.
However, sacrifice is never easy, especially the more personal it is, such as their life or that of someone they love.
The protagonist must be pushed to the point where there are no other options, and they are forced to make a decision that might change their lives forever, for better or worse.
Connect the Problems
We’re in it to tell a story and to do so everything must connect.
Even the most insignificant actions should affect future events, and by doing so, we place greater importance on the choices and actions of our character.
This allows for readers to look back and see where it all went wrong, much as we do in our own lives, bringing a sense of realism and emotional connection to the story.
Start Small and Increase the Stakes as the Story Progresses
We don’t want to overwhelm our readers with stakes that are too high at the start of our story, nor do we want to make it more difficult to find ways to increase it throughout the story.
We want to start small and gradually make things worse until we reach the climax where the stakes are dire.
Too much too fast lessens the impact of our climax and strong endings are what compels readers to look for more of our books.
So, spread out the stakes and make use of the entire range of the story.
Give Every Action a Consequence
Every choice a character makes should directly affect the story, to either make things worse now or to give them a temporary reprieve that makes it ten times worse later.
Each action and decision should impact the plot in some way and anything that doesn’t should be removed.
Make the Stakes Obvious to the Reader
A story has little impact on the reader if they don’t have a clue what’s going on.
The reader should always be aware of why a character is making a decision.
This keeps them afraid of what’s to come, even if the story doesn’t take the turn they expect, making the future uncertain and keeps the readers invested in the story all the way through.
Uncertainty and emotional investment are the keys to repeat customers. Make the best of them.
How do you use stakes to keep your readers’ interest?
FOR FURTHER READING
Renea strives to help writers develop the focus and skills they need to finish their first novel, offering writers practical writing advice they can apply one step at a time.
She is the author of Conquering Writing Pressures: Living a Balanced Writing Life in a Busy World where she helps writers find the courage to accept life will never be perfect. And if we want our dreams to succeed, we must fight to make them a reality.
She currently lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband Joe, her three children, and her five lovable furballs.
From a young age, Renea was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she read in the ninth grade.
She is an avid reader, with her main interests residing in history, mythology, and fantasy, along with some romance and science fiction in her earlier years.
When Renea’s not writing, she enjoys genealogy, role-playing games, and dreams of traveling the world. In a past life, she plucked chickens and milked cows.