The Objective and Stakes
In establishing your protagonist you will have also shown us their goal or dream: the thing they must achieve in order to resolve the problem created by the inciting incident.
But what’s at risk? What will happen to your character if they fail? Tell us in the first act. This will engage the reader:
- We think that Marty just needs to get Back to the Future, but Doc tells him that unless he ensures that his parents meet and fall in love he and his siblings will never be born.
- In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett faces financial insecurity if she remains unmarried.
- In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo discovers that all of Middle Earth — even the Shire — will fall under Sauron’s power if he possesses the ring.
The key is to make the stakes relatable. Yes, the end of the world is high stakes, but it only means something if we relate to it. Tolkien takes time to establish the Shire as a haven for the Hobbits we have come to love. It’s Frodo’s home and where all his friends and family reside… and now even the Shire is under threat from distant dark forces. The reader has an emotional investment in Frodo and the Shire and now they want it saved too. Make that connection and the reader will follow you to the very end.
We’ll have a full course on stakes, how to raise them and make them work effectively in your story soon!