Tag Archives: risks

An open discussion about stakes

I try to always post something on Sunday's. I've been a bit busy catching up from the delays my paycheck job threw me. Still, I sent an extensive email to the promotion company I found in Sun Valley. I finished my critiques and am ready for our group tomorrow. Will O' the Wisp is getting an Amazon advertising campaign too. I even managed to catch up with Dr. Who, Last Man Standing, and S.H.I.EL.D. I caught the finale of Fear the Walking Dead moments ago.

I'll figure out a way to catch up with Sleepy Hollow somewhere down the line. I have some major reading booked out for tomorrow too.

These programs got me to thinking about stakes. Good stories need them. The higher they are, and the more clear they are, the better the story… In many cases.

I'm free writing this tonight. Time caught up with me, and I usually get more time to think about stuff before I write.

When Obi Wan croaked, it didn't just propel Luke to new heights. It demonstrated to the audience that genuine risk was involved. Of course they had that whole Death Star demonstration too.

There are stories, like cute romances, where the stakes don't have to be life and death. I still think something has to be on the line, I think the more personal it is, the more it resonates with readers. Catching the killer might be interesting, but it's more interesting with a girl in a well or future victims at risk.

Nothing provides stakes like The Walking Dead. (The original one.) Many of you might argue for Game of Thrones, but I choose TWD. In each case, fully formed characters die. Viewers (readers) understand the stakes, and have seen the result of failure first hand.

In S.H.I.E.L.D. Colson lost a hand and part of his forearm. He managed to briefly turn this into a weapon, of sorts. I respect Colson, and know he's going to continue the fight. Previews tell me Dr. Who is going to die next week. I'm fairly sure time travel will repair this situation.

Do stakes have to be this personal? I believe there is an opportunity to demonstrate a burned out village, and a few refugees. It doesn't have to be on a character level each time. It can be so much better at a personal level though.

I've seen a few things recently where the stakes didn't measure up. They were killed in a flashback, telling me with certainty the character survived. The version of past tense did the same thing in one case.

In a treasure hunt type story, if the character can simply walk away there aren't enough stakes. Greed is a great motivator, but if Camelot will fall without the Holy Grail it's that much better.

I still remember when Robin was killed by The Joker. Those are stakes. Robin II survived a few adventures, and we knew Robin I survived all his adventures. When Robin II died, it gave renewed vigor to the Batman mythology.

I even went so far as killing off my main character in one story. Maybe this is too far, but it would have made a great Greek tragedy. I've been thinking about a short story called The Death of Lisa Burton. If I ever write this one, I assure her fans that she has an escape plan.

How far are you willing to go in your stories? Do you stop at redshirt characters? Those whose sole purpose of being in the story is to die and establish stakes for the hero. Is the sidekick going to kick off in your story? Is the main character going to get it, only to have the sidekick rise up and finish the story? Are you the kind who kills off the pet character? The mentor?

Let me hear it. What tricks do you use to establish stakes? How far are you willing to go? What prevalent tales disappointed in the stakes department? I'm going to start writing again as winter approaches, and maybe you can teach me something.

 

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