Raise the Stakes: When the Stakes are Too High


“Raise the stakes for your characters.”

“Raise the stakes for your plot.”

You hear it a lot. Raise the stakes to keep your story moving forward. I follow it, to a point. But often my characters are entering a story with the goal of changing the world. The stakes for the plot? Already up there. The stakes for the character? Pretty sure my revolutionary is going to die if she fails, which will destroy a lot of other things, too. The sky-high stakes are riding the clouds.

Honestly? They are too high to start with.


When I first start writing, developing a story idea, my plot is huge. My characters goal, even if it starts small, is decided. The world is going to change.

Slowly, I have been moving my perspective on story-writing over to series writing. And I’ve realized something: the stakes are too high, too immediate, too grand at the beginning. I’m at the point that I don’t know where to go if my character does surmount this war. The goal is there and I have a calculated cycle of trials, with both successes and defeats, at my disposal to get there. But the goal is so high that I feel I can’t spread my journey too wide. My characters don’t have enough room for growth to have the personal stakes high enough for every journey that the character needs to complete.

At times, I wonder if the problem I have for this comes from my own personal issues. I’m a perfectionist. I aim high and can’t view a goal as a series of tiny steps. I can only view the BIG, only value the BIG upon completion. As a result, I sputter and stop. I try to focus on the small, but the BIG gives me a shove, telling me I’m not getting very far.

A lot of what I will be focusing on with my new stories is taking my stakes back a notch and letting them grow into something larger, not letting them be humungous from the get-go.


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