How to Write Stakes in Creative Writing

using a power game to explain stakes in creative writing

If you’ve come across or heard of the term stakes, you might wonder what on earth is means. Since I don’t seem to find writing stakes problematic, I’m happy to share some tips.

In the famous words of LeVar Burton, you don’t take my word for it.

A Quick Definition

Yeah, I know, every trendy SEO ranking blogger fills this section with a long dragged out definition to boost their word count and SEO rank. But I’m not going to do that.

Let’s play a game of poker. Texas Hold Em. Ante up!

Small Stakes

Okay, so you’re playing poker with three other people. You got chips, drinks, and whatever else you want to keep the party going. First up, put your ante in the pot. (Not to be confused with legal marijuana).

Oh, look at that. A small amount of money. Looks enticing, doesn’t it? But wait! There’s more.

Bigger Stakes

You stare hard at the other players. Why? Because you have two aces. With three more cards and everyone betting, you could win the pot. But, of course, you keep your poker face on.

Massive Stakes

The next three cards the dealer gives you are three kings. Wow! You have a full house, one of the best hands in poker. You could win a big amount of money. But wait! First, you have to make sure the other three players make a bet, so you keep your poker face on.

Keep placing your bets…

Last Round

All players show their hands; You proudly lay out your beautiful, high-ranking full house. The last player, with an even better poker face than you do, shows their hand.

Four of a kind. Your heart sinks. One of the few hands that beats a full house. The last player smugly takes their winnings as you stuff chips in your mouth.

Better luck next time.

The Point of Stakes in Writing

Stakes are always something the characters have to win or lose. In screenwriting, stakes are mandatory. In short story or novel writing, it varies too much and often depends on the genre, but some kind of stake is always there.

Enough of the Games! Tell me How to Write Stakes

It’s pretty simply, really. Your main character, or characters as the case might be, has a goal. There’s something they could win or lose on the way to trying to achieve their goal.

That something is called stakes.

But What’s the Easy Way?

Hurt your characters. Allow them to feel pain. It could be physical, emotional, metaphorical, or abstract. It could be any kind of pain.

The Secret is There Are No Secrets

Now, in all fairness, from the writers I’ve met, there are a lot of different processes, and I can’t say which one will work the best for you.

Sorry if you’re disappointed by the time you reached this part of the article.

Buuuuut, as a bonus for reading to the end, I’ll share my process.

I’m never afraid to hurt my characters. I don’t actually write stakes. I write conflicts that directly oppose the goal of the story. Stakes naturally create themselves. However, I do go over the story and make sure the stakes are clear enough. In screenwriting, I find I have to make stakes even clearer than, say, a short story.

So, I put everything in the pot, and then I count my winnings. Even if all my characters lose everything by the end, I walk away feeling like a winner.

Feeling like a winner in the stakes game

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