Long ago, when I was a brand-new baby writer, I pitched a novel to an editor at a writer’s conference. My short summary was going well (I thought) until the editor asked, “And if the heroine doesn’t reach her goal, what then?” I blinked. Blinked again. My mouth opened and closed but no words came out. I finally muttered something stupid about a dog dying, the editor declined to read my manuscript, and that was that.
I stayed in touch with the editor, and years later at another conference, I was able to hand him a copy of my first published novel. I reminded him about our first meeting, we had a good laugh, and I thanked him for his kindness. “But I was so mean!” he said. I told him he wasn’t mean. Not at all. He’d taught me a valuable lesson. He’d taught me about stakes.
If the hero has nothing to lose, there are no stakes and therefore no story. We all want to make our stories as gripping as possible, but it’s not always easy to see how. H.R. D’Costa spells out, in clear language, the different kinds of story stakes–from freedom and justice to regret, protection of others, and the hero’s own death. She uses many examples from well-known books and movies, so you can see the stakes in action. She also includes “modulating factors,” things that can be used to make situations even worse for your poor hero, mostly by making them emotionally difficult.
I would have liked to see a few more examples from books, rather than movies. The two mediums are quite different, after all. However, D’Costa explains that by using mostly movie examples, she reaches a wider audience. This is a minor complaint in an otherwise excellent book.
I know a lot more about story stakes now than I did the first time I tried to write a novel. Even so, I highlighted the heck out of STORY STAKES and bookmarked many pages. Thanks to H.R. D’Costa, now I’ve got even more tools to keep readers riveted to the page.
STORY STAKES can be found here.
Rating: 4 stars
This book is best for: intermediate writers
I recommend this book