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?