Tag Archives: raising the stakes

12.41: Raising the Stakes

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley

When we talk about “raising the stakes,” we mean making the outcomes of the events in a story increasingly important to the reader. In this episode we talk about the tools we use to raise the stakes in ways that are more sophisticated than just queuing up larger and larger explosions.

Credits: This episode was recorded in Chicago by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Try a few of the techniques discussed, especially by making the stakes more personal to a side character. And don’t do it by having anybody be dead.

11.27: The Elemental Thriller

Let’s get this out of the way up front: in the syntax of elemental genres, the phrase “the element of thriller” is clunky. But we’ll say it anyway.

We discuss the difference between the drivers in thrillers, horror stories, and mysteries, and use the elemental genre tools to assist in the differentiation. We also cover the tools we use to develop and maintain the tension that is so critical in a thriller.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Daniel Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson. 

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Ramp up the tension! Take the “yes, but; no, and” approach on one of your try-fail cycles. Prune the “sequel” down to nothing between a pair of “scenes,” and force your characters to move directly from a problematic success (“yes, but”) or a disastrous failure (“no, and”) into the next crisis.

Patriot Games, by Tom Clancy, narrated by Scott Brick

11.24: Stakes!

We talk a lot about “raising the stakes” in our writing. When we say “stakes,” we’re referring to the things that keep our characters involved in the conflict, rather than just walking away and doing something else. We dig into what this really means, and how everyone in the story must be driven by things that they have at stake.

Liner Notes: in this episode we refer to the three character-development “sliders” model set forth in WX 9.13.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Jeff Cools, and mastered by Alex Jackson. 

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An object, a character, and a genre. Look to your left and that’s your object. Check your bookshelf, and the first book that catches your eye is your genre. The character? Your best friend.

Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert O’Brian, narrated by Barbara Caruso

Writing Excuses 7.47: Raising the Stakes

What are the things that matter to your characters? What things matter to your readers? After we get the obligatory ambiguity out of the way, we settle into talking about the “stakes” and the escalation thereof.

As authors, we want our readers to feel that something is at risk, and that action on the part of the protagonist is important. It might only be important to the protagonist, but whether the world is at stake, or just one person’s reputation, the reader needs to believe that this matters.

In many outlining techniques (three-act structure, seven-point story structure, Hollywood formula) the writer is told to “raise the stakes” at certain points. So, not only must we put things at risk, we must find ways to either increase the amount of risk, or increase the character response to the risk already present.

We talk about the sorts of things that can be treated as “stakes” in the stories we tell, and how we can go about raising those stakes.

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Raise the stakes without resorting to risks to reputation, livelihood, or mental health. Or explosions. Don’t use those, either.

Control Point: Shadow Ops, by Myke Cole, narrated by Corey Jackson