Add Stakes to the Story Spine

You can add stakes to the Story Spine to simplify the rapid crafting of one or more novels in a series.

H. R. D’Costa’s book, Story Stakes*, shows writers how to increase tension by leveraging the negative consequences of failure. For example:

  1. General Protection: A group of people will suffer significant harm.
  2. Demise: Someone precious to the hero will die.
  3. Livelihood: The hero will lose gainful employment.
  4. Freedom: The hero will lose personal liberty, such as landing in jail.
  5. Reputation: Failure jeopardizes hero’s good name, legacy, or honor.
  6. Sanity: Failure triggers an alteration of the hero’s consciousness.
  7. Access: The hero loses access to a cherished place or person. 
  8. Regret: Success gives hero an opportunity to redeem a past failure.
  9. Suffering: Failure means the hero’s efforts were in vain.
  10. Sacrifice: Failure forces hero to give up something meaningful.
  11. Justice: Success allows hero to make right the villain’s wrong.
  12. Hero’s Happiness: Success ensures hero’s future happiness.

How to Add Stakes to the Story Spine

Understanding how you can add stakes to the story spine to influence readers is essential.

  • If the stakes don’t escalate tension progressively across the series, readers may feel the later books are not as good as the earlier ones. 
  • Those negative perceptions can lead to critical reviews and fewer readers.

Emotions Engage Readers

Story Stakes shows how emotions can encourage readers to keep turning the pages, what D’Costa calls modulating factors:

  • The Audience-hero Bond: Cement the bond between the audience and hero. In other words, use emotional cues to signal to the audience the hero is some combination of likable, empathetic, and fascinating.
  • The Audience-stake Bond: Draw out the most powerful emotional reaction from readers. For instance, create a bond between the audience and the stakes independent of their bond with the hero.
  • Boundaries and Restrictions: Increase tension and stakes power. For example, tighten the time and resource restrictions that influence the hero.
  • Vulnerable Populations: To increase the audience’s empathy, use as stakes a member of vulnerable populations, such as a child or pet, tapping into an instinctive source of empathy.
  • Hero’s Backstory: Add an extra layer of intensity, such as connecting threads of the hero’s past to the present story.
  • Setting: Increase the weight of the hero’s actions. For example, you can pick a setting where failure has a greater consequence.
  • Contingency Stakes: To make audiences feel more involved, pair other stakes with regret, suffering, and sacrifice.
  • The Secret Modulator: To maintain and increase reader engagement, grow failure’s negative consequences throughout the story and series.

The Story Spine lays out the critical elements of each story, and you can assign escalating stakes to each one. Compare the stakes across the series and adjust as needed to ensure escalation.

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