What’s at Stake?

As long as you write stories, there will be people out there, like your family or your friends, who will ask you,

                “What is your story about?”       

And when they ask you that question, what answer will you give them? You could say something like, “I’m writing a story about a girl named Samantha who makes jewelry.” Or, “My story is about a boy, named Van who loses his puppy.”

Your friends and family will probably say something like, “Oh, that’s sounds cool.” They may even sound like they mean it. But why don’t they sound more excited about what you’re writing? Why don’t they get that the story you’re writing is going to be amazing?? Probably because you haven’t told them anything about the plot. You’ve described to them a situation that your main character is in. And that’s not enough for a story. A situation is not a plot. Your story needs more.

 It needs stakes.

But what are the stakes? The stakes are what will happen to the main character if he doesn’t get what he wants or what he needs. Here’s an example:

Samantha is a teenager who makes her own jewelry. She plans to give away her handmade earrings to a group of sick children in the hospital on Christmas Eve. But when she loses the box of earrings, Samantha fears she won’t have any to give away to the children, and their Christmas will be ruined.

In this example, the stakes for Samantha are clear. She doesn’t want to disappoint the children.  The story you write will describe exactly what Samantha will do to be sure the children don’t get disappointed. Of course we don’t know whether or not Samantha will succeed…until we read your story!  

Here’s another example:

Van is a boy who loses his puppy. While he searches the neighborhood, he finds a magic marble with a clue attached to it. The answer to the clue will tell Van how to use the magic marble to find his puppy, but if Van can’t figure out the clue, he may never see his puppy again.

In this example, the stakes for Van are clear also. He may never see his puppy again. Here too, the story you write will describe what Van will do to figure out the clue and find his puppy. Again, we don’t know whether or not Van will succeed…until we read your story!

In Charlotte’s Web, the author, E.B. White gives us another good example of high stakes. Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer. Charlotte attempts to spin messages on her web in praise of Wilbur in order to convince the farmer to spare his life. But what if she can’t do that? What will happen to Wilbur? Wilbur will get slaughtered and all his friends on the farm will be devastated.
Those are the stakes of the story.

Can you see why the stakes are important? They’re important because if your readers care about your main character, they’ll care about the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. In fact, the bigger the mess, the better. That’s what makes your story interesting. Your readers want to see if your main character will succeed. They know what’s at stake if they don’t. That’s what makes them turn the page and keep reading!

So when you’re thinking up a story to write, be sure you know what’s at stake for your main character. And when your family and friends ask you what your story is about, be sure to tell them what’s at stake too. This time when they hear what your story is about, I bet they’ll mean it when they say, “Oh, that sounds like a cool story!” And I bet they really will want to read it too! 🙂

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