The Importance of Raising the Stakes in Your Story

I’ve been reading a lot of independently published romance lately. I’ve noticed a common problem – not much happens in too many of these novels. That’s not to say nothing happens. Girl meets hot guy, they get together, something keeps them apart, but they end up living happily ever after. The problem is, there’s seldom much at stake for the hero or heroine. If she doesn’t land the guy she may cry a little, but she’ll be fine. Instead of these books keeping me on the edge of my seat, they make me nod off.

Stakes are all about your main character having a goal, and what she has to lose if she doesn’t achieve it. In romance, that goal always includes a guy. (Or sometimes another girl.) If the main character doesn’t have a goal, whether it’s getting laid, getting married, or saving the family farm, the reader has little reason to stick around and see what happens. And if there’s nothing standing in the heroes way, then scenes become about as exciting as figuring out what to make for dinner.

Stakes are relative. Your heroine doesn’t have to save the world from an incoming asteroid to make for dramatic reading. Marty, the classic 1955 film (based on the 1953 teleplay) is a perfect example of this. Marty meets Clara one night at a dance. He likes her. She gives him her number. But when his mother and friends object to her, he decides not to call her.

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Imagine if Marty was your typical romance hero. He’s good looking, with smoldering eyes, a confident swagger, and an interesting job. If he doesn’t call Clara, it’s no big deal. We know it won’t take long for him to find another girl.

But Marty is the complete opposite. He’s a butcher, not very attractive, and at 34, likely to be a bachelor for the rest of his life. The stakes for Marty are very high. We want to jump out of our seats and thrust the phone in his hand. We want to tell him he’s found a kind, sweet, wonderful girl, and he better not louse things up. It’s a simple story, but it’s great drama. That’s why it won four Academy Awards.

Try this. When you’re rewriting your novel, look at what your hero has at stake. Then sit down and write 25 alternative possibilities for what she might risk if she doesn’t achieve her goal. You might find a gem in there that will elevate your novel from so-so to something readers can’t put down. Don’t be afraid to go all-in. You won’t regret it.

Happy writing,

Kelee

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Real Moms Don’t Have Sex

One of those classic childhood conversations popped into my head the other day. (To tell you the truth, I’ve never had this conversation myself, but it does illustrate my point.) It’s the one where a kid is incredulous at the idea of his parents actually having sex. Of course, his/her friend then points out that they must have done it at least once.

Moms are sexy, and I know moms are having sex. But you wouldn’t know it from watching mainstream media. Yes, I know someone like Sofia Vergara in Modern Family might come to mind, but she’s now 42 years old. Her sexy days on television are numbered.

Young sexy mothers are acceptable on television and in the movies, but once a woman reaches a certain age… Well, you wouldn’t want to gross out the all-important adolescent male viewers.

If you don’t believe me, check out this very funny and accurate skit: Last Fuckable Day

Well, I’m here to tell you all you boys and girls that not only are moms of any age sexy, most of them even enjoy sex, no matter what their age.

I close with mention of an incident that happened a few months ago that I found very disturbing. Former Iowa legislator Henry Rayhons was arrested for having sex with his wife. Yes, his wife Donna, a mother of three, had Alzheimer’s, but there was no evidence that he coerced her in any way. I would suggest that instead, one of Donna’s daughters and the staff at the nursing home might have been disturbed by the very idea that a woman of “a certain age” would still be having sex. Despite our modern sexual mores, there is still a lingering belief that once an woman has borne and raised children, sex should be something she should put behind her. After all, there’s more important things to be done, like the cooking and cleaning.

Best Wishes,

Kelee