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Stakes

Banes at 12:00AM, Sept. 22, 2016
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In a story, a Protagonist wants something, and some kind of obstacle is in the way. When the Protagonist makes a choice, good or bad, to take them to that goal, we're off and running!

But what happens if they don't get what they want? What happens if they DO get it?

These are called “stakes”.

If Sully can't find the ingenuity to land his damaged plane, he and his passengers are going to perish!

If the marooned guy doesn't learn to survive on the island, he's going to starve to death or go mad.

If the young pop band doesn't take risks, they will be doomed to dull, unhappy lives.

If the two pals who pose as women to get a cheap apartment are found out, they'll be evicted and sent away from the sexy girls down the hall!

The stakes can change throughout a story too…in fact, they usually do. Kim Luster in The Godstrain is very likely going to die if she doesn't undergo an experimental new treatment. Later, she finds herself in a struggle for the lives of her family as well, and maybe for her very soul. And maybe even more than that (no spoilers).

To really be involved in your stories, readers have to understand what's at stake in a story, sequence, or even in an individual scene. What are the consequences of not getting into this club?

Stakes can be purely external (if a detective doesn't catch the criminal, the devil will commit more crimes), or can affect a character more personally (say if the criminal has kidnapped the detective's pet turtle. Or if he has evidence of an embarrassing secret from the detective's past that could end his career).

If the audience doesn't know the stakes, the story won't hold together for long!


Have a good one!

-Banes


p.s. I'm gearing up for a month of October newsposts about scary subjects. That's where my mind has been, so I'm sorry these last couple articles have been a little lean.

comment

anonymous?

KimLuster at 4:55AM, Sept. 26, 2016

hehe and again I regret using the diminutive name of my main character as my user name!!

ozoneocean at 12:31AM, Sept. 25, 2016

What I consider bad writing is when the stakes are raised too high. It can stop having any meaning- if the fate of the entire city, the country or the planet rests on one man's shoulders, that stops making much sense and that can start to pull you out of the story and you stop caring. I remember listening to the commentary on Farscape - the actors talked about how Space Opera is defined by the stakes getting bigger and bigger, but I disagree. If you raise the stakes higher than what is believable for the protagonists to cope with or too high for the audience to comprehend it, then your drama fails. Stakes have to make sense, that's important.

ozoneocean at 12:24AM, Sept. 25, 2016

Haha, it's Kimber Lee, not Kim Luster. Kim Luster is the author. Kim, you didn't pick that up? ;)

KimLuster at 8:34AM, Sept. 22, 2016

Awwww that is so cool that you used my comic as an example!! I'm so very flattered - thank you!! I'm sometimes fear if my steaks...er, stakes... are too big to swallow...!! Another wonderful article! And those are some fine looking stakes!! And Yes, Tom Hanks will appear in the Godstrain movie - he'll play the part of Poopingt... er... Biggs!

usedbooks at 7:23AM, Sept. 22, 2016

And I typoed Capt. :P

usedbooks at 7:20AM, Sept. 22, 2016

Worst example of motivation is in Treasure Island. Cat. Smollet (spelling unsure) and crew have the best plan to marroon the pirates on the island. Jim stows away with the pirates. Seriously, wtf Jim? Motivated by curiosity?! Childish thirst for adventure?! Forcing the plot so the book won't end before there's actually a story? Yeah. It's that last one. :P

Banes at 6:51AM, Sept. 22, 2016

@BrunoHarm - absolutely! There are moving parts that are easy to forget about. Sometimes I know I include them by accident and sometimes I forget them altogether...

Banes at 6:49AM, Sept. 22, 2016

@Gunwallace - and a sprig of urgency for a new idea is the parsley. And whiskey. Which is just whiskey.

Banes at 6:46AM, Sept. 22, 2016

@bravo - haha, I was wondering if someone would notice that Tom Hanks thread. XD

Bruno Harm at 6:32AM, Sept. 22, 2016

Mmmm stakes.. It's funny how something so fundamental can be overlooked when putting a story together. An early D&D campaign I ran had an abandoned Fortress that I spent a week or two putting together. The players ventured in about 100 feet and were confronted with a 10' hole. They quickly decided there was no real reason to risk going any further, and left. People need motivation. I'm getting a little off topic I guess, but an audience needs to understand the characters motivation. And they can't do that if they don't know what's at stake. Sometimes it's clear to you, and you don't realize that it's not obvious to everyone else,

Gunwallace at 2:42AM, Sept. 22, 2016

A rare post of quality, dripping with juices, smothered in a Bearnaise sauce, served with a side of thoughtfulness and potatoes.

bravo1102 at 1:20AM, Sept. 22, 2016

All your examples were from Tom Hanks vehicles. Is this a hint that the upcoming Godstrain movie will star Tom Hanks?


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