Raising the Stakes in Your Novel

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Today I’m talking about how to raise the stakes in your novel: in other words, how to make it so interesting that a reader cannot put the book down. Following are some plotting tools I’ve learned for ratcheting up the tension in your novel:

  • Make the Villain Complicated

There’s nothing wrong with an evil villain: a villain who must be destroyed at all costs. I love and use them in my writing. But a writer can automatically increase the tension by making the villain more complicated. What if the villain isn’t an all-out bad guy, but simply someone whose interests are the complete opposite of the hero’s? What if the villain will stop at nothing to win the heroine, but he happens to be the hero’s best friend? The hero can’t just kill the villain; there’s too much history between the two. What then? (Some of you might have recognized part of this plot from Jeaniene Frost’s One Foot in the Grave.)

  • Give Your Hero a Lot to Lose

If the hero doesn’t succeed in his mission, not only will he face loss of reputation, but maybe even loss of life. Worse, what if it’s his family that stands to be killed if he fails? This automatically raises the stakes for your characters, and therefore for your readers.

  • Give the Hero More Than One Villain

Giving your hero more than one villain increases the sense of hopelessness and makes your reader wonder how he will get out of his predicament, which makes the ending that much more powerful when he does. This is especially true if the villains are people close to him. For example, in my recently completed manuscript, Demon Born, the hero has to fight the villain, an all-out evil guy who happens to be his father. On top of this, at some point in the novel, in order to protect the heroine he must also fight his brothers and the Council that employs him. This gives him nowhere to turn for help.

Can you think of any other plotting tools for raising the stakes in your novel? Anything that particularly draws you in as a reader?

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9 thoughts on “Raising the Stakes in Your Novel

    Marlo Berliner said:
    January 10, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Thanks, Rosalie! I just got a great idea from this post!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 10, 2011 at 10:38 am

      All right, Marlo! Glad I could help. 🙂

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    January 10, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Great and timely post. I’m fleshing out my new villain right now. He’s a complicated man who has to be in control. It’s much easier to work with my hero – he’s a decent guy and decent guys are easier to write.
    In my romance/suspense, Anytime Darlin’, my husband insisted I rewrite the villain and make him flat our heinous. He scared me and I had a tough time getting into his head, but I forced myself – it worked, the villain gives readers chills.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 10, 2011 at 11:07 am

      An all-out evil villain can be so interesting to read, but so can complicated ones. I guess it all depends on the story and what it demands.

    Nina Pierce said:
    January 10, 2011 at 11:15 am

    I like the villain that is so normal he/she blends in and the reader has no idea who is doing all the bad stuff. It’s a real challenge as a writer to keep that kind of villain hidden and still slowly reveal his/her psychotic tendencies so you don’t completely cheat the reader from trying to figure out the mystery.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 10, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      I agree, Nina, it’s a huge challenge…and venturing into romantic suspense territory.

    Katalina Leon said:
    January 10, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Being an author can turn anyone into a cruel mistress. We have to put our characters in emotional and physical jeopardy to wring the drama out of them. My problem is–I fall in love with the villains and resent having to kill them off or disrupt their plans.
    I like the sub-plot scenario where every step forward is actually causing the hero or heroine more troubles they are not yet aware of but the reader is.
    XXOO Kat

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 10, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      Wow Kat, you fall in love with your villains? I sense that they are hugely complicated then. 🙂

    Ciara Knight said:
    January 10, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    One of my favorite villain’s actually turned into more of the hero of the story. Talk about complicated. By the end of the movie you were hoping this serial killer got away. It disturbed me! But, what a great job on creating a villain. Too bad I don’t remember the name of the movie. 😦

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