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You heard about “raising the stakes” in your work.

But what are “the stakes” or should I say, what is AT “stake”?

Usually in speculative fiction it’s stuff like a life, a kingdom, a nation, a planet, the galaxy, the Universe, the whole of Existence. It’s what on the table and the reason why the characters do what they are doing. But the object itself is meaningless, it is the value that the author/character/reader give it that matter.

Stakes are like money in that money only has value relevant to what it gets you (what you can acquire with it) and the work you put in to get the money in the first place.

So what do the “stakes” need to acquire this “value”?

1)The stakes are real. Something that it’s quantifiable and observable. It’s hard to care when you don’t understand what your fighting for.

2)The stakes always rise. If you think the stakes are high on page 1 wait until you get to page 321. I mean it’s defeats the purpose of raising the stakes if they already reached their limit. Otherwise the character(s) (and the reader) will call it quits have way through. Thinks are always worse than you can imagine.

3)The stakes are personal. It’s always personal. Ties in with the stakes being real. There is got to be a reason why the character is willing to sit on the table and drop a wager. He may need the money to buy old grandpa’s farm from the bank before they foreclose or his waiting for the fellow who is drinking at the bar to let his guard down so he can drill him one on the head. What that bastard did to his sister won’t go unpunished.

4)The stakes are always constant. Seems to contradict #2 but if the stakes diminish, so does the overall tension that pushes the story forward. Not that the characters should not catch a break once in awhile, but it’s only a break before the story goes on overdrive.

5) The stakes demand sacrifice. Blood, money, life, it’s what your betting and there is always a chance that you are going to lose. You might think it’s a chew in, but it ain’t and before the day (and the story) is through you will lose some to win all. It’s the way the game is played.  Without the possibility of loss, the stakes are meaningless.

So that’s all I got to say about it. Now ladies and gents, the game is on.

By way of a visual explanation here is a short game trailer that will illustrate the above. Enjoy!

(Note: See if you can identify two of the voices in it.)

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