Identify and establish the stakes
If your protagonist fails to achieve their goal by the end of the story, there will be grave consequences. These are your stakes and you need to establish them nice and early in the story. If not, it won’t be long before your reader is lost and wondering why they’re even reading your story.
But how do you identify what the stakes are? Ask yourself this key question: if your hero walked away from the story, what would change? Would a dark lord rule unchallenged? Would a murder go unsolved? Would the opportunity for true love pass them by?
If your answer to the question “How important are the stakes?” is, “Uh, well, not much” then your stakes may not be high enough.That doesn’t mean your sweet romance or cosy crime novel needs to involve world-changing consequences, evil villains in lairs, or flesh-eating robots (though I would totally read that) but you will need to make the stakes important to your protagonist.
- How would your hero’s failure affect others around them?
- How invested is your hero in the success of their goal?
- Is your story a defining moment in your hero’s life?