What are the Stakes?

I’d never thought about the phrase ‘what are the stakes.’ I know my character and why she is who she is.  I know why she did what she did.  The issue is, what would she lose if she chose the alternative path.  The path that could be your turning point in your plot?  What does she/he risk losing?

You have to know this.  I thought I knew the stakes, I really did. She risked losing her best friend. But my editor pin pointed it for me and made it all that much more clear.  She not only would lose her best friend if she makes a specific choice, but she also risks losing an extended family and the love of her life.  It was another “duh” moment.  And it helped me write a few more sentences that were clear and concise and will probably help the reader relate to my story.


While writing your query paragraph or your synopsis think hard about the stakes.  Maybe you like to plot?  That’s a great place to find what your character is risking by making certain choices.  Having a clear vision of what your character is up against will help make your story more clear to your reader.

Do you have some great examples of the stakes from different popular books?
Here are a few i can think of.

What were the stakes in The Hunger Games or the Harry Potter books?

I think for the Hunger Games – Book 1 – the stakes are pretty clear.  Kill or be killed (life or death).  But at the same time I think they go further.  Katniss has to choose how to come to terms with how she will survive while remaining herself.

Harry Potter has a resounding theme throughout, but of course each book as it’s own mini stakes.  The over all story is comes down to life or death.  If he can’t overcome his personal feelings of fear, failure, and anger he will be killed and so will most of humanity.

How about the movie How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days?  The steaks are get the job of your dreams or the man.

Here’s a fun one – what are the stakes in Fifty Shades of Grey?  Can you come up with a PG version?

8 thoughts on “What are the Stakes?

  1. PK Hrezo says:

    One of those things we learn the importance of as we grow as writers. WIthout stakes, there’s no story. The characters have to be in danger of losing something. Have to. And we have to always be willing to make it worse for them at every moment.

    • M. Ziegler says:

      I agree. Starting out it never even occurred to me how well defined the risks or stakes needed to be. Once I figured out they were important it still hadn’t hit me how important it was to spell that out. Thanks for your input!

  2. jamieayres says:

    I had trouble with this when I first started out. I had great characters, but I didn’t have stakes, no reason to make people to want to give a crap! Hopefully I’ve fixed that problem:-)

    • M. Ziegler says:

      I think being aware of it probably means you fixed it! That and your reviews imply you did. Isn’t that true with most parts of writing though? If we are aware we generally don’t do the same thing twice? Then again who knows.

  3. Katie Checkley says:

    Thanks for this…you know I’ve heard people use this term before, and I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never quite understood it…until now! You actually cleared it up for me. So thank you!

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