Raise the Stakes
The Crucial Role of Stakes in Storytelling
Storytelling is about exploration. How do you explore stakes? If we shine the spotlight on a fundamental element that keeps us on the edge of our seats and gives stories their emotional weight—that explores stakes.
1. Defining Stakes in a Story
Stakes: the consequences and outcomes that characters face as they navigate the challenges presented in the narrative.
Essentially, stakes are what make the story matter—they give characters, and consequently us as the audience, a reason to care about the unfolding events. It's more than life or death, or better than life or death.
How often have we cared whether two people finally kiss, or whether the protagonist find's their father's watch in time? Stakes.
2. The Importance of Stakes in Storytelling
Imagine a story without stakes—it would be akin to a ship without a compass, aimlessly drifting, purposeless. Stakes inject tension, urgency, and emotional resonance into a story.
Stakes create a sense of investment, prompting readers and the wider audience to become deeply engrossed in the characters' journey. Whether it's a personal goal, a moral dilemma, or the fate of the world at stake, it is the consequences that keep us hooked; it is the consequences that keep us invested in the story.
3. Three Examples of Different Types of Stakes
a. Personal Stakes: These involve a character's individual goals, dreams, or relationships. The risk might be personal failure or the loss of something valuable to the character.
b. Stakes of the World: These encompass high-stakes scenarios where the fate of the world, a nation, or a community hangs in the balance. Think apocalyptic events or political intrigue with far-reaching consequences.
c. Moral Stakes: Character grapples with ethical dilemmas, where the stakes involve making choices that challenge their values or moral compass. The consequence might be internal conflict or the judgment of others.
4. Implementation of Stakes in Storytelling
Consider a scenario where a protagonist has dedicated her life to finding a cure for a rare disease affecting her sister. The personal stake here is obvious—Sarah's sister's life.
The tension escalates when Sarah discovers that the cure requires a morally ambiguous action. Now, the narrative isn't just about finding a cure; it's about the internal struggle Sarah faces, introducing both personal and moral stakes.
Ex. What if Sarah had to kill another person to save her sister's life? Now we have stakes.
5. Stakes that Matter Now
Just as in storytelling, this newsletter aims to capture your interest and provide valuable insights. Your time is valuable, and I understand the stakes of delivering content that resonates with you.
I want each edition to be a journey, where the stakes are the impact my words have on your understanding, curiosity, and engagement with storytelling
As we continue our exploration of storytelling nuances, remember that the stakes aren't just elements within a story; they're the threads that weave together the narrative, making each section of the story a compelling and unforgettable experience that connects the greater whole.
Find the stakes in a chapter of your work or a short story. What are they, why does it matter to the reader? The challenge, make the stakes something other than life or death.
If we don't connect with a character, we don't care whether the character lives or dies. Look at something we can connect with or to.