Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Variety of Stakes

When I first learned about stakes, I thought it meant the main character's life had to be in danger. HUNGER GAMES is an excellent example of this -- kill or be killed is definitely high stakes.

Many of my favorite books have more subtle stakes. In AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, Colin Singleton's life is not in danger. His mission is to find answers about himself and his relationships. Mellow, but totally entertaining.

Stakes are about loss. What does our main character stand to lose as she jumps over the hurdles of our story? And why should anyone care? Besides loss of life, here are some examples of loss in my favorite books:
  1. Loss of family/friends
  2. Loss of security
  3. Loss of power
  4. Loss of social position
  5. Loss of money/job
  6. Loss of respect
  7. Loss of happiness
  8. Loss of love
  9. Loss of beauty
  10. Loss of physical abilities
Real loss, or the threat of it, deepens our stories. If we layer it throughout, hopefully the reader will care about our Lead and root for her all the way til The End.

What are the stakes in your favorite novels? Can you add other losses to this list?

28 comments:

  1. I tend to read books where the loss is more personal, like loss of self-esteem or loss of who the character is. Of course, there is usually the bigger loss overshadowing that, but it is the more realistic ones I enjoy.

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  2. Great point! Raising the stakes and adding tension can be about so many things and it's good for us to remember that. I love your list so much I'm jotting it down!

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  3. Great post Julie:) As you can probably tell from my WIP, I like books where the stakes are very high and very personal.

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  4. I was going to argue with you (just the mood I'm in) that it's not always about loss thinking that a change in circumstances making the MC's path more difficult raises the stakes but then as I considered, the change in circumstances is usually due to a loss of power/influence. So (sigh) you're right.

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  5. Loss of self-esteem might be tied to loss of respect.

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  6. This is very helpful- I've heard a lot about raising the stakes but the examples given usually seem to involve increasing the threat towards the MC's life or the life of loved ones. Your list is much more applicable for those silly not life-or-death situations.
    - Sophia.

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  7. A great post and a timely reminder. Thanks. Now I'm going add additional stakes in!

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  8. Loss of self-esteem/social position came immediately to my mind in the context of middle graders. I watch the social maneuvering of 5th and 6th graders all day and I see some real emotional blows when it comes to their place in the social scene. That is a tremendous loss at that age. Great examples of this scenario are in RULES by Cynthia Lord for MG and BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl for teen.

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  9. Loss of freedom. ;) That's one I would add. But you have a pretty good list going there! I really have to read An Abundance of Katherines..

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  10. Great examples… thx for the post.
    Maybe loss of self; is in morals... or belief in god.

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  11. Thanks for the great additions! I appreciate it. Anything else?

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  12. Great list. I have the hardest time keeping my stakes high enough. I like to solve my character's problems rather than make them worse. Gotta work on that!

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  13. How about loss of opportunity? That's what's at stake for the protagonist in my WIP. It's not a life or death situation, but what's at stake is really important to my protag, which drives her in the story.

    Great post!

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  14. Watership Down for loss of bunnies!

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  15. Loss of knowledge? Great post, Julie! I am keeping this list handy.

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  16. I'd say book where the loss is an emotional loss - of family or present situation - those are the books I end up liking the most. Often times it's tied in with loss of life stakes but not always.

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  17. I notice in a lot of YA i read that the big loss is their 'reputation'. So true that stakes are all about what is gained or lost or both! Great post!

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  18. This is a great post, Julie. Looks like you've gotten some great additions to your list. I can't think of anything right off the top of my head, to add to the list.

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  19. Great Post, Julie. Whenever I read about "raising the stakes" for your protagonist, I always think in terms of danger. So I appreciated the reminder that the stakes could be subtle. You provided a good list that got me thinking, and I liked the additions by others, too. I would add: loss of a valued item that had significance the provider; loss of memory, as in amnesia; loss of confidence or trust.

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  20. Oops, I meant significance to the protagonist! Oh these nimble fingers!

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  21. That's a great list of losses. How about loss of a pet? Or maybe that comes under loss of family or friends. LOL

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  22. Oh, love it--really thought provoking, thank you. I think loss of personal identity shows up in a few of my favourites as the thing a stake.

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  23. Great list!! I love books that have personal and public stakes that are intertwined and play off each other.

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  24. these are great and you've given me an idea for a short story I'm writing...how someone deals with various losses is intriguing to me....thanks for this.

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  25. Great list, Julie!!

    My last book was about a woman who feared she was losing her freedom or idependence. It was a comedy but still, to my heroine it was enough to call her to action. :)

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  26. Awesome post, Julie! Without stakes, small or large, stories & characters wouldn't be interesting.

    Hope you have a great weekend! :)

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  27. Great advice, and I loved the list of possible losses. Very helpful!

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