• establish what your characters have to lose if they don’t get what they want


Why does it matter? If the character does not get what they want, why should we care, or more importantly why should they care – because if the character has real consequences from not getting what they want, how can we not root for them?

Stakes can be personal or wider-reaching: so Luke wants to bring down the Empire (wider-reaching) but why do we really care if he succeeds? It’s the personal stakes of trying to convert his father, Darth Vader, away from the Dark Side. Without that personal set of stakes, his story wouldn’t have the same emotional appeal.

For me, smaller is always bigger (in terms of emotional engagement).

Small, personal stakes over wide-reaching stakes every time.

The loss of a single child is almost always going to be more emotionally moving than the loss of a whole world.

I often read pitches where it says:

‘X must save the world from Y’

But a story that says:

‘X must save their child from Y’

That surely packs a great emotional punch and the stakes (for the character and reader – the important people) are much higher.


Murphy’s Law

It’s Writing time!

Write down what is at stake for your character if they do not get what they want. What are the consequences? Who/what will be harmed?

The closer and more personal to the main character, the better.Repeat this for every want, from the smaller page 1 wants to the big want of the whole story.