Three Things You Really Need to Know About Stakes

Hi, thanks for dropping by. I have an important creative writing tip for you today!

We’ve all heard the expression the stakes are high… but why do they need to be high in your novel? I don’t think I’ve ever written a blog post specifically about stakes (not steaks, hehe!) before… but stakes are a vital part of any story, so here are three things you really need to know:

1. At the beginning of your story you will have a character who needs to sort something out. If he doesn’t know about it from the start, he soon does… because something happens. That something might be a bully hurting a friend, the discovery of a treasure map, suspicious activity next door, an animal in distress… whatever it is, this thing that happens has to affect/impact your character in some way.

Elephant walking on a road.

2. The ‘thing that happens‘ must be big enough to make your character ACT.

The pain of taking action has to be worth the effort: your character will have to weigh this up.

  • What will he stand to gain if he wins through and defeats the baddie/situation?
  • What will happen if he doesn’t?

These are the stakes.

3. You need to make the stakes so high that your character MUST ACT despite the risks (or you won’t have much of a story!).

Once your character is motivated to action, you can send him on his way to conquer the baddies, put rights to wrong, get his mum to safety, destroy the ring of power… or whatever it is he needs to do… and, of course, grow as a person through the dreadful trials you will put him through before he gets the prize. 🙂

Does that all make sense? Perhaps an example would be useful.

On a church youth club treasure hunt, Lance (my character) hears strange noises in the back of a lorry – it sounds like there are people shut up in there (something happens). What is going on? Hmm. Lance has a choice. He can ignore it/explain it away, or he can act.

What will happen if he doesn’t act? His conscience will bug him. If people really are shut up in that lorry, what if nobody helps them? What if he’s the only person who knows?

What might happen if he does act? He might be in danger from the lorry driver, but with God’s help he might be able to get the people out… or at least solve the mystery of the strange noises.

As Lance considers what to do (decide if the stakes are high enough for him to act) he reads his Bible verse for the day which says “do for others as you would like them to do for you.” (Luke 6:31)

That’s it! The stakes are now sufficiently high to make Lance act, and he sets off on a real treasure hunt (taking his friends with him).

Stakes are important! Make sure the stakes in your story are as high as you can make them, while still being believable. This will make for a gripping story to keep your readers engaged right to the end. Will your character win through? They will need to keep reading to find out.

Hope that helps you with your stakes (and if you have steaks, enjoy!),


Janet Wilson from Write for a Reason and Dernier Publishing

P.S. If you like the sound of Lance’s treasure hunt, you can read The Treasure Hunt pdf free by subscribing to emails from Dernier Publishing, order the paperback from our website or any bookshop, or the kindle or audiobook from anywhere in the world! We’ve had children say about this story, “This is the best book I’ve ever read.” I think it’s because they are so thrilled to find Christian characters in a book who have fun, go to church, and solve mysteries! Shows how vital Christian books are. So keep writing yours!

Girl absorbed in reading a story

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