Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Winnie Griggs
Winnie Griggs

Stakes are what drive your story forward, what makes your reader really care about the ultimate outcome. Simply defined, the stakes are the consequences your character will face if he fails to achieve his goal. If there is nothing particularly life-changing about those consequences, then your reader won’t have a reason to care.

That being said, stakes don’t have to be large in the general scheme of things, they just have to be large to your protagonist. Because if the consequences for failure doesn’t destroy your protagonist’s world in some way—be it physical, emotional or spiritual—then the reader will begin to think so what, which can be the kiss of death for your story. Having the kind of stakes that your reader can relate to, that allows the reader to internalize the consequences of failure, is what ratchets up the story tension, and story tension is what propels your reader forward through the book. In other words, give your reader something in your protagonist’s world to root for, and then put it at risk.

The stakes are what fuels the tension and conflict in your story. And as you know, the higher the tension, the more of a page-turner your story will be.

So here are a few tips for keeping your stakes front and center:

·    First and foremost, make certain your readers know what the stakes are.
And the sooner the better. The longer you take to introduce the stakes, the greater the risk you run of losing or boring the reader.
·    Never completely remove the stakes.
If you remove the stakes, you remove the sense of urgency from your story, in fact you rob it of all story tension. If you’re going to remove or resolve a particular story goal or a consequence of failure, make certain you’ve introduced something even bigger to take it’s place.

·    Which brings me to - Keep raising the stakes
Your stakes should escalate in stages throughout your story. In other words, the consequences for your protagonist if he should fail to achieve his goal should become more significant as the story progresses, and at the same time, his chances of success should narrow. Turn it into a real nail-biter as you close in on the climax of your story. An added benefit from increasing the stakes is that it forces your character to make riskier and riskier choices. You should always be thinking how can I make this bad situation worse for my protagonist.

·    Reinforce the stakes occasionally
Despite what I said above, you won’t be able to raise the stakes in each and every scene.  So when you’re not working on raising the stakes, you may want to reinforce them.  Subtly remind the reader what the stakes are, or show some other aspect of the consequences that may not have come to light initially.
·    Make your stakes engaging
Your stakes need to really matter to the character in a way that engages the reader. But keep in mind, the stakes don’t need to be earth-shattering to do this. Internal stakes can be just as compelling if properly motivated—for instance, failing to get the job your character has set his sights on can be devastating to him, and vicariously to the reader, if he’s sacrificed for years to work his way up the ladder and has tied his entire sense of self-worth, or the future well-being of his family, to achieving that goal.
·    Test your stakes by asking so what
What would happen if the protagonist just walked away from his goal? Would there indeed be strong consequences and repercussions to that character? If not, then you don’t really have high stakes. This is true even if there are dire consequences to ‘nameless others’ in the story. Because stakes are all about personal loss and the reader connection. What the reader cares about, what they are investing their time and emotions into, is your protagonist.

So what are some ways to raise the stakes in your story?

·    Be Clear On The Consequences
Make certain your reader understands the stakes.  Even if you’re not ready to reveal all the repercussions, there should be a clear impression that the stakes matter.

·    The Stakes Should Be Personal
Having consequences that involve nameless masses is nowhere near as effective as having stakes that impact your protagonist personally.  If you’ve done your job right, the protagonist is who your reader will identify with, who they will sympathize, with and you must give them a reason to worry about and root for them.

·    Use Subplots To Fold In Additional Stakes
Subplots are a good way to introduce conflicts with smaller stakes that will keep things moving in Act Two of your story.  And if you want to show your protagonist failing early on, this is a place to do it.   But these additional stakes are most effective when they feed into and impact the major story stake in some way.

·    Escalate
Start with small but intriguing consequences, then allow them to snowball into something that grows bigger as the story progresses.  If you pile it all into your opening scenes that leaves you nowhere to go.

·    Use The Domino Effect
It’s the old cause and effect method.  You want a logical escalation.  Show how decisions – good or bad – that are made at each step of the way cause problems and escalation of consequences down the road.

·    Most Importantly, Show What Your Protagonist Must Sacrifice
Part of what’s at stake is that your protagonist will change in some way to reach their goal.  And this will likely require a sacrifice on their part.  Make certain, before the climax of your story, you have given us a view of how deep this sacrifice will be.  You want to give your resolution as much power as you can to make the story satisfying to your reader.

So what do you think?  Are stakes something you struggle with in your own writing?  Did these pointers help?  Can you think of things to add?
Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for a copy of Journey to the Heart.


Click To Buy
From merry old England to the wilds of Texas, take a delightful journey into adventure and romance alongside a feisty spinster, an English lord, a trail boss, a determined widow, and an unusual train companion—a parrot. 
The Road Home by Winnie Griggs 
Anisha's life is just beginning, and Wyatt feels like his is over. How can a displaced, exotic beauty and former surgeon help two grieving orphans find a forever home? 
Also in this collection The Gentleman’s Quest by USA Today bestselling author Camille Elliot 
The Trail Boss’s Bride by New York Times bestselling author Erica Vetsch 
Winnie Griggs is a multi-published author who writes for Love Inspired Historical.  Her writing has garnered enthusiastic reviews and numerous awards, including a recent RT Reviewer’s Choice Award. 
 Winnie spent her childhood in an undeveloped area her friends thought of as the very back of beyond.  She and her two younger siblings spent many an hour exploring the overgrown land around her home, cutting jungle trails, building forts and frontier camps, and looking for pirate ships on the nearby bayou.  Once she ‘grew up’ she found other outlets for dealing with all those wonderful, adventurous imaginary friends by filling notebooks with their stories.    
 Eventually she found her own Prince Charming, a rancher whose white steed is disguised as a tractor and whose kingdom is nestled in a small rural community she happily calls home.  Together they’ve built their own storybook happily-ever-after,  including four now grown children who share Winnie’s vivid imagination and her husband’s steadier influences and who are now out in the world pursuing their own adventures.
 You can learn more about Winnie and her books at www.winniegriggs.com  or connect with her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author 


  1. Thanks Winnie.
    Stakes are important to up the excitement and angst. I think I've been getting better at raising the stakes. In my newly released Trail of SandPiper -Betrayed the main character's Missionary Compound is attacked and she is caught behind enemy lines with seven children. When she meets up with the US Navy the leader doesn't believe her or trust her. Just some of the stakes.

  2. Hi, Winnie! It's great to see you here in Seekerville! Then again, it's great to see you anywhere. I remember meeting you in person at a Love Inspired spotlight at ACFW a few years ago. I was the person in front of you who turned around, realized who you were and let out with a fan girl squeal that probably left your ears ringing throughout the rest of the session.

    Back in my newbie writer days, I didn't get the importance of upping the stakes. I heard about that weakness from contest judges, my agent and others and have been working on it ever since. If we don't make things hard on our characters, we end up making things hard on ourselves, meaning rewrites, revisions and edits. The way I finally made peace with making my characters miserable was to promise them everything would turn out all right in the end, but they had to trust me along the way. Most of them do, thankfully.

  3. I can see how the points raised could be very useful to a writer.

  4. Winnie is back!!! I love it when Winnie is here. She is such an excellent instructor! This is totally what I need right now in my WIP! Thank you.

  5. Love your indie cover, Winnie. Are they all historicals??

  6. Winnie, welcome back to Seekerville! Fun to share the dance floor with you at the HQ party. We LI writers can rock. :-)

    Thanks for the excellent tips on raising the stakes. Cute post title! The hard part is finding ways to escalate the conflict. No one wants to chew on old stakes. Your post is a great reminder that the characters' decisions create the trouble.

    Great cover! Love the size of the font of the author names.


  7. Winnie, thanks for the reminder to continually be on watch for ways to raise the stakes. It's so easy to forget how important that is.

    This is a keeper!:-)

  8. thanks for this post Winnie. Upping the stakes, or even having relatable stakes is something I struggle with. This post is a great help. This is the kind of thing that reminds me of why I love Seekerville. I learn so much.

  9. Welcome back to Seekerville, Winnie! Excellent, excellent, excellent points. Definitely a post to print out and put in my "reminder binder!" Thank you!

  10. Great post Winnie. As a reader, I do prefer my stakes WELL DONE! I enjoy those page turning stories!

  11. As a writer and reader of romance, I like those stakes right through the heart. Just as important in romance as suspense. Great post. Thanks, Winnie!

  12. WINNIE!!! Welcome back, girl, it's always great to have you in Seekerville spreading the wealth of your knowledge, which is CONSIDERABLE!!

    I am a steak/stake lover from WAY back, so I totally agree with all of your excellent points, especially "Raising the stakes," which I learned all about when I bought Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, which is pretty dog-eared by now!

    Like Tina, this blog is EXACTLY what I needed today as I finish up a synopsis for a proposal that definitely needs more red meat!! So THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!


  13. LOL, KELI GWYNN ... you said, "The way I finally made peace with making my characters miserable was to promise them everything would turn out all right in the end, but they had to trust me along the way."

    LOVE THIS!! I put my O'Connor family through SOOOO much grief and charred stakes that I was always afraid to be caught in a dark alley with them (especially Charity!). But you're right -- they always forgive us in the end. :)


  14. Welcome back, WINNIE! Thanks for this great teaching post on raising the stakes!

    Since I'm not a plotter, raising the stakes in my stories seems to happen organically. The characters start out with whatever goals or problems I set up initially. Then they make decisions and act on them, their actions have consequences, and those consequences usually lead to more complicated problems.

    But if I try to figure out each rising complication before I start writing, nothing goes as planned. I think I know where the story should go, but the characters don't cooperate. But if I give them a chance to just be themselves, they come up with plot twists I never would have thought of in the initial planning stages. Somehow it works. So far, anyway! ;-D

  15. Great post, Winnie. I really need this and will refer to it a lot. I started my book during Speedbo and wrote as much as I was prepared to write. I have a lot of issues I am now trying to get through and I think raising the stakes could be a big help. I will keep it in mind.

    Please enter me in the drawing. The book looks good!

  16. Winnie, I do tend to struggle with stakes. As I read your post, I saw some things I can consider to make my story stronger. I think the biggest challenge I have is in increasing the stakes and making things worse and worse for my character. Thanks for sharing your insights today!

  17. Winnie, what a fun collaborative effort! I've never read one of Camy's historicals, but I love yours and Erica's!

    So this is a great post, and it's one I should read daily because I long to SOLVE PROBLEMS too quickly.

    I can't do that.

    I have to push myself NOT TO DO THAT, and those stakes are crucial!!!! Thank you for this, and by the way.... because I love you.... I brought triple chocolate chip cookies that we're selling at the farm stand.

    And Snickerdoodles.

    Because a cup o' joe and a cookie is perfect right about now!

  18. Hi Winnie:

    Thanks for a great summary of how to raise the stakes in a novel. I already have it pasted into my best writing article files for future needs.

    I've long had an idea for a story that's a twist on raising the stakes and I'd love to know what you think of it.

    All the increasing problems facing the hero keep rising as the story unfolds. However, what the hero does not know but the reader does, is that it will be a total disaster for the hero if he achieves his goal! The reader is actually rooting for the hero to fail but he is so resourceful he keeps doing the impossible, challenge by challenge, to move forward. In the end it is the hero's sum total of successes that causes him to fail in his misguided quest.

    In essence he failed only because he was successful at every sage of his journey. It was these very victories that led to his final failure which in turn proved to be a success after all. It was his brave successes that produced the foundation for his ultimate failure which it turns out, as the read knew all along, was actually what he required for success. I think there is some irony in all this.

    In addition: I believe that raising the stakes is a way to increase the tension the reader feels. So I've given some thought to other ways to raise the tension in addition to raising the stakes.

    Listed below are some of my thoughts that might prove helpful to other writers.

    Raise the stakes -- both risks and rewards.
    Raise the obstacles -- same stakes, more roadblocks.
    Raise the costs of succeeding -- hero has to give up more to achieve his goal.
    Raise the doubts -- is the game even worth the candle? Place a devil on the hero's shoulder telling him to quit.
    Challenge hero's self-confidence -- hero has failed once or twice before at the same upcoming challenge, "Why should I be successful this time?"
    Raise the rewards for giving up the quest -- ala the devil's temptation of Christ in the desert.
    Raise the odds of success -- risks are the same but odds of success become much worse.
    Move up the deadline for disaster -- risks are the same but suddenly there is less time to be successful.
    Raise the sympathy the reader has for those who will suffer if the hero fails, that is,- keep raising the degree in which the reader is emotionally invested in the characters' welfare.
    Humanize and create sympathy for the character who will lose if the hero is successful -- as in the loveable hit man who supports his blind mother.

    Again thanks and please enter me into the drawing for your new book. I really like the theme of you story.


  19. Thanks Tina. Thought I'd stop in since it's been awhile. I stop in and read frequently.

  20. Thanks Tina. Thought I'd stop in since it's been awhile. I stop in and read frequently.

  21. Good morning everyone. Thanks for the warm welcome back to Seekerville - I just love it here. As many of you know, I'm more of a night owl than a morning person (I was up until 2:30 this morning working on my WIP) so I apologize for once again being late to the party. But I have my breakfast with me (Leftover slice of pizza and cup of tea)and am ready to 'talk' to everyone now.

  22. Tina P. - Good for you! It sounds as if you've been working on this aspect of your writing and it's paying off for you.

    Keli - Hi! So good to see you here and I most definitely remember that incident - totally made my evening! And LOL about making deals with your characters! I've found myself doing that myself. Especially with those secondary characters who want to take over a scene or book. I usually promise them a book of their own if they just behave themselves :)

  23. Hi, Winnie! I do struggle with keeping the stakes rising and non-repetitive in my writing. Thanks for sharing these points!

  24. That is a gorgeous, eye-catching cover!! If I saw that on the shelf, I would immediately pick it up :-) Are all the stories historicals?

    A super teaching post, Winnie. I don't think I've ever read stakes explained in such an easy-to-understand way.

    Did I mention the cover is gorgeous?

    Nancy C

  25. Hi Mary - glad you enjoyed the post.

    Tina! Thanks for the warm welcome. Enjoyed seeing you in New York a couple of weeks ago. And thanks for the very kind words. As for my book, it's small press, not indie, but yes they are all historicals. And I had such fun - with this one - it's something a bit different from my usual story.

  26. Ooh this collection looks wonderful! Please toss my name in the dish for the drawing! :)

    Winnie, this post is definitely a keeper for me. I struggle with developing stakes for my characters, and these pointers are already sparking ideas for me!

    Julie, I'd be nervous in a dark alley with Charity too if I'd constructed the path she traveled! :) You just gave me some much-needed giggles today, so thank you!

  27. Just-picked from the garden tomatoes, anyone? We have far too many right now.

  28. Janet - great seeing you at RWA, you always have such a warm, welcoming smile on your face. And thanks for the kind words on both the post and on my new release.

  29. Mary H. - you're quite welcome - glad you found something in the post that sparked with you.

    DebH - I think having strong stakes is something we all struggle with, especially if we're not writing suspense.

  30. Glynna and Caryl - thanks for the welcome and I'm so glad you liked the post!

    Cindy - Oooooh, stakes right through the heart - I LOVE that. I may have to use it next time :)

  31. Julie - I'm definitely glad to be back. I love it here. And I agree that the Donald Maas workbook is a fabulous resource! Oh and LOL on the 'charred stakes' - another phrase I may borrow :)

  32. Hi Myra. I'm a frim believer in not every method works for every writer. You've got to go with what works for YOU. And it sounds like you've found that for yourself.

    Sandy, glad to hear that this post resonated with you. Hope it helps with your WIP

  33. Jeanne T - Glad you found some helpful takeaways - and you're quite welcome.

    Hi Ruthie! Chocolate chips AND snickerdoodles - yummmm!! Now I definitely feel loved :)

  34. Vince - what a fabulous post! I love your story idea and would enjoy reading such a book. And your tips on ways to emphasize the stakes are really good. I especially like the ones that focus on the rewards aspect since I did not discuss that aspect at all.

  35. Hello Natalie - I think it's something we all struggle with. Reminders never hurt!

    Nancy - Thanks for the kind words on the cover. And yes all three novellas are historical.

  36. Sarah - Hello. Oh it's so cool that the post is already sparking ideas for you - thanks for letting me know.

  37. Winnie, Thanks for reminding me about how stakes need to be raised with every scene. Yeah, I struggle with conflict. I want everyone to be happy, and the characters can't have that until the last scene. But I love how you tie the stakes into why we care about the characters, and it's important to stop and think-if we love the characters so much we're writing a whole book about them, we definitely want that to shine on the page so thanks for some reminders on how to do that.

    Thanks for the great tips.

  38. Winnie, this is such a great post!! And perfect timing for me as I'm working on a novella and just not loving it. I think this post diagnosed my problem. So thank you!

    Now, I'm off to work on strengthening my stakes.

  39. Natalie, that's a great point about not being repetitive! I have to watch for that.

  40. Sarah, I sure wish you could send me some of your tomatoes! Grocery store tomatoes don't even seem to be the same species as home grown. :)

  41. Tanya - LOL, I think we're all guilty of wanting to be 'nice' to our characters. After all, we love them or we wouldn't be excited to tell their story. I'm so glad my post gave you some ideas you can use.

  42. Hi Missy! Thanks for the welcome and glad the timing of the article worked out. But I know you're an old hand at this and it is just refresher, not new material for you

  43. Winnie, it's amazing to me how I forget things! I get blinders on. Your post made me pull back a little and think bigger.

  44. BTW, I thought of a plot twist that adds a bit of mystery (new for me). :)

  45. Winnie, your post is a great writing lesson! A much needed one for sure.

    I loved the cover. Please enter me.

  46. Winnie,
    Your blog posts are always packed with info! Thank you for sharing your expertise with us today. I spent the bulk of the afternoon with my cp, working on the next story and uping the stakes. Your input was perfectly timed!!!

    Many thanks!

  47. Fabulous advice! I will definitely be keeping this in mind as I read and review books! Please put my name in the hat for your book! :)

  48. Winnie, your thoughts on raising the stakes and keeping focused on the stakes are very appreciated. "Because stakes are all about personal loss and the reader connection." This is what I need to work on...connecting the words I write to the reader. Thank you for the valuable lesson!

  49. Winnie, welcome. You are a new to me author that I just discovered at my local library. They have a huge selection of Love Inspired titles there and I can't wait to try reading yours. They look so great. It's really funny because I just took some out and yours are in my to read pile. I always enjoy high stakes books, the excitement of the story keeps me whipping through the pages. Thank you for the teriffic post ! Please enter my name for the drawing. Thank you = - )

    Deanne Patterson
    Cnnamongirl at aol dot com

  50. SARAH SAID: "Julie, I'd be nervous in a dark alley with Charity too if I'd constructed the path she traveled! :) You just gave me some much-needed giggles today, so thank you!

    I'm glad, Sarah, because Charity ALWAYS makes me laugh when I write her scenes, and laughter is soooo good for the soul, right? Along with home-grown garden tomatoes, of course, so I am drooling over the thought! My garden is in Dierbergs, Hy-Vee, or Wal-mart, so no home-grown for this jealous girl!

    WINNIE ... glad I could give you a laugh with the charred stakes. Makes me hungry ... ;)


  51. Hi Winnie, Good to see you again in Seekerville. Thanks for the great post. I love the way you raise those stakes. smile

  52. Sounds like a lot of us needed this post in our current wip. Thanks again Winnie. It is always great to be reminded of special things we need to look out for.

  53. Winnie,
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge! I thought of a great plot twister for upcoming book!

  54. As a reader I have not finished books because the stakes were not that high. It was not worth reading on and I said. . so what? :-) I do not think I realized why at the time, but I knew I could not go on. :-)
    I would love to win a copy of Journeys to the Heart.
    Thanks for writing.

  55. Great post. A lack of high stakes for the protagonist is one of my common complaints when reading fiction. I simply don't enjoy it as much. Maybe I subconsciously desire to feel tense?

  56. Missy - isn't it fun when a brand new story scene pops up while you're writing!

    Donna - glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for the kind words about my cover

  57. Debby - Hi! So glad the post came at a good time for you.

    Heidi - thanks for the kind words and your name is definitely in the hopper for the book

  58. Hi Sherida (love that name!). You're quite welcome, and yes, the more your story can engage your reader, the better they will like it.

  59. Deanne - Oh wow! you made my day with your comments about finding my books! It's so cool that your local library carries the Love Inspire titles.

  60. Thanks for the great tips. It's nice to have a good list at my fingertips. :)

  61. Sandra - hello! Thanks for the nice welcome and so happy to hear you liked the post.

  62. Edwina hi (I often get asked if that is my 'real' name). You are quite welcome, and ooooooh, I love it that you got a new plot idea!

  63. Hi Becky. Thanks for the confirmation of what readers want in a good story. And yes, you are entered in the drawing

  64. Cynthia - LOL on the subconscious desire to feel tense. But yes, story tension is a good thin g and is what keeps readers turning the pages.

  65. Hello Crystal - glad to be of service :)

  66. Hi Winnie,

    I can't believe I missed this yesterday. What a great post! Definitely a keeper. Thanks for sharing!

  67. Hi Jackie - glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  68. Thank you for showing us HOW to up the stakes, Winnie. I'm keeping your post for future reference!