Brainstorming Strategy #7 – Brainstorming Stakes

As you begin to write each scene, determining the character goals is essential, but without stakes the goals will have no impact on your reader.

What are stakes? Stakes are simply what your character has to lose if they don’t reach their goal. What will or won’t happen for your character if they miss their goal.

Stakes help to build the conflict in your novel and make your reader care about your character. If the reader doesn’t care, the book is set aside unfinished.

How do you brainstorm stakes?

  1. Identify Goal
  2. Determine why it matters to your character.
  3. Determine why the goal should matter to your reader.

Identify Goal

In order to develop stakes that work in a scene you must decide what your character’s purpose is in the scene. Read the following story clip:

No one would rescue him. That was certain. Daniel swiped at the blood that dripped from his forehead. If he didn’t make the next EVAC point, he’d be stuck until morning.

Here we see that Daniel’s goal is to make it to the next EVAC point. The stakes that follow are rather weak. So what if he is stuck there until morning? Why does it matter?

Determine Why It Matters To Your Character

Be stuck in the woods overnight, or at a campground, or where ever Daniel is doesn’t matter unless we had more stakes. As is, we assume that he is probably in the military. But unless he is trapped in a dangerous place, or has a reason he needs to make it out we really aren’t going to care. Let’s ramp up the scene so it shows why our character wants to meet their goal.

No one would rescue him. That was certain. Daniel swiped at the blood that dripped from his forehead. His torn and blood spattered uniform clung to his damp body like a second skin. If he didn’t make the next EVAC point, he’d be stuck until morning. That is if he lived through the night.

Now we have made his humanity more clear. We know he is a wounded soldier on a dangerous battlefield. Life and death stakes are a big motivator for him to read his goal. This builds the stakes.

Determine Why the Goal Should Matter To Your Reader

Readers tend to care about heroes on the battlefield. That is a strong draw. How can you intensify the readers investment in the characters success? By adding in genre specific boosters.

Romance Genre:

No one would rescue him. That was certain. Daniel swiped at the blood that dripped from his forehead. His torn and blood spattered uniform clung to his damp body like a second skin. If he didn’t make the next EVAC point, he’d be stuck until morning. That is if he lived through the night.

Daniel crouched low against the rocky ledge and pulled a faded photo from his vest pocket.

Emily.

He’d promised her he’d come home. He kept his promises.

The story doesn’t have to go this way, but if we build the romantic stakes for a romance it will draw the reader that loves romance.

Speculative Fiction:

No one would rescue him. That was certain. Daniel swiped at the blood that dripped from his forehead. His torn and blood spattered uniform clung to his damp body like a second skin. If he didn’t make the next EVAC point, he’d be stuck until morning. That is if he lived through the night.

The ghoulish grunts of his enemies preying on the unfortunate drew closer. He was the target. He alone knew the genetic flaw that could bring down the whole enemy army. If they captured him, there would be no one left to tell.

The alliance would be overcome.

This is one way to add in the importance of the stakes for readers in your genre.

Stakes Review

Stakes are one of the elements in a novel that keeps a reader invested in the story. Each scene should have a clear goal and stakes that matter to both the character and reader. Try adding stronger stakes to your scenes to make them have more punch.

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Michelle Lim is the author of the new book Idea Sparking: How to Brainstorm Conflict inYour Novel. Also a romantic suspense author whose manuscripts have earned recognition in The Rattler Contest 2012, the Genesis Contest 2011, and the Frasier Contest in 2010. Michelle is the Brainstorm/Huddle Coach at My Book Therapy and serves as Vice President of MN N.I.C.E., a local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. Check out her blog at: http://thoughtsonplot.wordpress.com/.

Quick Skills: NaNoWriMo Scene Starter Infographic

Sally asked me for a Scene Starter Graphic to help her as she builds her scenes for NaNoWriMo.  If you haven’t joined the MBT WriMo Celebration yet, sign up for the fun, support and prizes at: http://www.mybooktherapy.com/mbt-wrimo-2012/!

Hope the Infographic helps!

(Right click on link below to download the graphic)

Infographic

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Featured Fiction Presents: Susan Meissner

Today we will take a look at the novel of another of our esteemed Fraiser judges… Susan Meissner and her book The Girl in the Glass.

Q: Susan, can you tell us a little bit about your book?

A: Sure! Here is a little blurb about the story:

Meg Pomeroy is feeling unlucky in life and love. She’s still smarting from a broken engagement; angry at her irresponsible father; and embarrassed by her mother, who’s dating a younger man. Seeking perspective, she travels toFlorence,Italy, where she meets Sofia, a Medici descendant who claims that Renaissance masterpieces “talk” to her. Will Meg question what’s real—or gain a new vision?

Q: What do you want readers to learn/take away from this story.

A: For our 25th wedding anniversary a few years ago my husband and I took a much-anticipated eight-day Mediterranean cruise. One of the ports of call on theItaly side was close enough toFlorence to hop on a bus and spend the day there. When I stepped onto Florentine pavement I fell head over heels in love. No joke. There is something magical aboutFlorence that I didn’t see inRome, or evenParis if you can believe that. The beauty created by the masters of the Italian Renaissance is jaw-dropping and it meets your eye no matter which direction your turn.Florence is the perfect place to recalibrate and renew your perspective on what really matters in life. That’s Renaissance means: rebirth. I knew just had to set a story there and somehow involve the infamous Medici family.

Here’s the thing. The Medici family both appalls and fascinates me. On the whole they were shrewd, conniving, opportunistic, unfaithful, vengeful, murdering rulers, who of all things, loved art and beauty. Michelangelo, DaVinci, Donatello, and so many other Italian Renaissance artists, wouldn’t have had patrons if it weren’t for the Medici family. They wouldn’t have the financial backing and opportunities to create all that they did. I don’t know if we would have the statue of David or Brunelleschi’s Dome or Botticelli’s Primavera were it not for the Medici family. They made Florence beautiful and yet most of them were addicted to leading un-commendable lives. That is astounding to me. They weren’t — taken as a whole — admirable people, and yet look at the legacy of beauty they made possible. I think that demonstrates there is hope for all of us to be able to see beauty in spite of living with much disappointment. You don’t have to look hard to find ugliness on Earth, but beauty is there. Don’t close your eyes to it.

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Susan Meissner is the multi-published author of  The Girl in the Glass as well as The Shape of Mercy, named one of the 100 Best Books in 2008 by Publishers Weekly and the ECPA’s Fiction Book of the Year. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism, and the leader of a local writer’s group, a pastor’s wife and the mother of four young adults.

Dealing With Disappointment: Part 4: By the Bootstraps

We’ve come a long way in these last few weeks. I know some of you have received wonderful news of an offer from an agent or editor. Others have new contracts. Sadly, some received disappointing news.

We’ve talked a lot about that. Hopefully, you’ve been able to put some of my suggestions in place to help you through that emotion. When dealing with disappointment—or any negative emotion—there comes a time when we just have to pick ourselves up by the boot straps and move on.

Easier said than done.

I get that. I really do, but at some point, you’re only hurting yourself if you don’t. Here are a few things to keep in mind as decide to move on.

1) Leave it in the history books. Regardless of how disappointing that rejection was, you can’t go back to that moment, even if you wanted to. It’s over and done with.

2) Never predict your future successes based on your past disappointment or failures. That’s a sure way to be disappointed in the future. They aren’t the same… well, unless you make them that way.

3) You can lay it down any time you wish. Or, you can keep it, travel with the heavier load and not make it to your desired destination. It’s time to let it go and look to what the possibilities that lie in your future.

Living your dream of being a published author in some cases is just a matter of continuing to pursue after others have given up. I have never met a person who gave up on a dream who did not live to regret it. Don’t be that person.

Facing disappointment often follows a big writer’s conference. That’s why I spent this month talking about it. Helping you through its valley and safely up the other side. Now, I’d like for you to do one more thing for me… well, actually for you. Here it is:

Tear off a piece of toilet paper. Yes, now. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Write your disappointment on it. Some of you may need a longer piece. Now ball up the toilet paper and flush it down the toilet. Umm… yes, I’m serious.

Sounds bizarre, I know, but you get my point. Get rid of the disappointment in your life and decide to move on. You’ll be glad you did. So will all your future readers.

Are you able to flush your disappointment, pick yourself up by the bootstraps and move on to success?
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Reba J. Hoffman is a natural encourager and Member Care Coach at My Book Therapy. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Counseling and is the founder of Magellan Life Coaching (www.magellanlifecoaching.com). She is the author of Dare to Dream, a Writer’s Journal published by My Book Therapy. She also publishes a motivational and encouraging blog, FindingTrue North. Contact Reba at reba@magellanlifecoaching.com.