Up the Stakes

Up The Stakes

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is U is for Up the Stakes.

What makes a reader keep reading a story, or a viewer binge-watch their favorite series on Netflix? It’s the amazing art of upping the stakes. When you up the stakes, a reader can’t help but turn the page. What does it mean to up the stakes? Simply, you make something mean more for your character.

When You Up the Stakes They are more invested.

A writer might up the stakes in a thriller by revealing that the main character, a female army general, has just found out the man she married two years earlier is an Al Qaeda operative.

A romance author might up the stakes by having the heroine find out that the man she just had a fender bender with is her new boss. And she hadn’t noticed when she was berating him at the accident scene, just how hunky he was.

What about less dramatic stories?

Do you have to have something earthshaking happen when you up the stakes? No. But it needs to be compelling enough to keep your reader interested. In fact, you don’t want to have round after round of upping the stakes in a dramatic way or your reader will grow weary of the comic book-like way of moving the story forward.

Instead, you should have more of an action-reaction cycle. One scene will build to the action. Your protagonist has a goal. It might be to get Billy Bob to go on a date with her kid sister, Marybelle. So she plots and schemes to make everything just right. Then, just as she’s about to achieve that goal, disaster strikes. Marybelle is missing. The protagonist goes to tell Billy Bob, but she has set such a romantic mood that Billy Bob kisses her! That’s upping the stakes.

Now, what is going to happen?

That’s the question that makes your reader turn the page and begin reading the next chapter. The next chapter is where we will deal with the fallout of the action in the last chapter. The characters will react to the misplaced kiss. The protagonist will feel guilty about kissing her sister, Marybelle’s intended, Billy Bob. Billy Bob will fall madly in love with the protagonist, and Marybelle is still missing. What will they do? That decision will bring is back to the action scene, now with the protagonist’s new goal in mind.

Each time you have the action scene, you should find a way to up the stakes, even if it’s something small. Maybe they learn that Marybelle’s true calling is to become a professional square dancer and Billy Bob has two left feet. The possibilities are endless. Just ask your self what the goal of your protagonist is and how you can throw a monkey wrench in it.

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What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

Have any questions or comments? I would love to hear from you! By commenting, you agree to the terms of my privacy policy.

12 comments on “Up the Stakes

I like this–up the stakes. I’m plotting my current novel and realize I haven’t done this well enough. You’ve inspired me, Heather.

I’m so glad, Jacqui. Sometimes I think we are too nice to our characters. We need to think like the evil genius that says, “I wonder how they’ll get out of this problem?”

Upping the stakes is a new idea for me too, Heather, and a very clever way to think about moving the plot forward in a novel. When I think about it, it’s also done really well in creative nonfiction such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack, one of my favourites.
I love your thought-provoking posts, Heather. Thanks.

Hi Karen. I just ordered the book on your recommendation. I am really looking forward to reading it. I have a feeling 2 of my daughters will want to read it, too.

Ah yes, putting your protagonist up a tree and then throwing rocks at them. Sometimes I think authors really don’t like their MCs as they keep throwing terrible things at them.

Hi Liz. Someone said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I’d like to find that guy and tell him a thing or two. But, it really does work for our characters.

The boss and the fender bender, lol XD I find things like that in romance very amusing…

The Multicolored Diary: Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales

I think you know when you’re reading a novel that does this wel because you want to keep turning the pages to find out what’s happening next, but you are also dreading each page turn because it brings you closer to the end of the story.

Leanne | http://www.crestingthehill.com.au
V for Visualise and Plan

You are so right, Leanne. That’s the tightrope we walk as writers and readers.

That’s terrific, Heather. I really hope that you and your girls enjoy Henrietta Lack’s story. After you’ve read it, do take a look online at the author’s process for writing the book. It’s quite incredible.

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