Raising the Stakes: A Checklist

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & karindalziel.

Last spring when I was taking my workshop in novel writing, one of our required books was “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. As you’d expect, there’s a chapter about raising stakes in your novel. Doing that, raising the stakes, simply makes your story stronger.

At the end of the chapter (at the end of every chapter, actually), Maass has a checklist. Because Raising the stakes in your writing is such an important part of the writing process, I wanted to post it here. Not everyone has read the book (I do recommend picking it up), and the checklist is an important one.

BREAKOUT Checklist: Stakes

  • High stakes yield success.
  • Stakes say what could be lost.
  • To test stakes, as, “So what?”
  • High stakes start with human worth.
  • Making public stakes real means starting with a grain of truth.
  • Breakout novels combine high public stakes with high personal stakes.
  • Deep personal stakes dig down so far that they show us who we are.
  • Public stakes change with the times.
  • To raise personal stakes, ask, “How can this matter more?”
  • To raise overall stakes, “How could things get worse?”
  • Keep danger immediate. Make your characters suffer.
  • High stakes come from your own stakes in writing your story.

[Was this post helpful? Would you like to see more of these checklists in the future? How do you raise the stakes in your own writing? Let’s discuss it in the comments!]

  • Dash

    Thank you this was helpful. I get stuck after asking 'So what?' I'm still not sure I'm giving my stakes the highest they need. Any advice?

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