September 11, 2015

What’s at Stake in Your Novel?

By Beth K. Vogt

Do you know what’s at stake in your novel?

No matter what type of story you write – romance, suspense, fantasy, women’s fiction – the goal is always to seize your readers’ attention. To keep them flipping through the pages, chapter after chapter, ignoring all the other things they need to do. Ignoring the ticking of the clock. Yes, they’re tired at work or school the next morning – but they’re also satisfied readers who are telling other people all about your book.

One key way to engage a reader is to weave risks for your characters through your story. Think about your work in progress (WIP) and ask yourself: What is at stake for my hero and heroine in this story?

If you’re not certain how to answer that question, consider these three different kinds of stakes:

1.       Public: Public stakes involve things we care about as a nation or a culture. Think alien attacks like in the movie Independence Day or a toxin that is going to pollute the world’s water like in the movie Sahara.  In Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel Gone with the Wind, the country is at war – and freedom is a definite Public stake. To begin to discover a possible Public stake ask: What do I care about?
2.      Personal: Personal stakes involve things – or people – that touch the heart of your hero and/or heroine in some way. In almost every single super hero movie, from Superman to Ironman, the love interest of the super hero is threatened. Put Lois Lane or Pepper Potts in danger? Perfect example of Personal stakes. In the first book in the Narnia Chronicles, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Edmund’s life is in danger – albeit because of his own bad choices. His sisters and brothers, as well as Aslan the Lion, are all concerned about his safety.
3.      Private: Private stakes force your character to choose between two competing values, such as family and work or honesty and protecting something or someone they care about by keeping a secret. Doing so creates inner dissonance or turmoil. At the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy by C. S. Lewis, the hobbit Frodo has to choose between what he wants – the ring – and what is best for the Shire and the whole world – destroying the ring by throwing it into the fires of Mordor. He has to choose between selfishness and selflessness. In the classic novel, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bennet has to choose between her prejudices against Mr. Darcy and her growing love for him for a chance at happily ever after.

As a writer, you can weave one, two, or all three of these stakes into your story. Increase the number of stakes and you increase tension. Take a closer look at your WIP. Who knows? Maybe you’ve already woven compelling stakes into your story and didn’t even realize it.
Beth K. Vogt believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” A 2015 RITA® Finalist and a 2015 and 2014 Carol Award finalist, Beth is a contemporary romance novelist with Howard Books. Her 2014 novel, Somebody Like You, was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. In 2015 she introduced her destination wedding series with both an e-novella, Can’t Buy Me Love (May) and a novel, Crazy Little Thing Called Love (June). Connect with Beth; bethvogt.comWebsite: 

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