Thursday, May 30, 2019

Emotional Stakes How Do You Raise Them? #WriteTip #Writing #Romance #EmotionalStakes

Emotional Stakes

Pull up a chair, everyone! It's been ages since I did a "Pull Up a Chair With Mon" post. I thought it might be fun to grab a few of my author friends and chat about emotional stakes in a way that would allow newbie writers to grasp the concept. I remember as a newbie writer--many many years ago!--thinking that story stakes and emotional stakes were the same thing. It was a long time before I discovered they were not. So, for any newbie writers seeking to understand stakes, I'm going to explain. Since I write romance, I'll be focusing on stakes in romance novels.

What are Stakes

Stakes create tension and give the reader an emotional interest in the outcome of your characters’ journey. If you want your reader to be invested in your story--even keep her on the edge of her seat turning pages long into the night--you must raise the emotional stakes. The big question must always be "what's at stake?" As I've mentioned, there are two types of stakes in the romance novel. Story stakes and emotional stakes. 

Story Stakes 

Are external conflicts/obstacles. Everything to do with the plot. It's the risks our characters take in their quest to achieve the external goal. You can up the story stakes by looking at what the character stands to lose or gain with relation to the external goal, then make the worse happen. 

Emotional Stakes

Emotional stakes come from the protagonists’ internal conflict. You raise the stakes by putting your character through emotional conflict. Give them a choice that places them between a rock and a hard place. Look to the character's fear for ideas on ramping up the emotional conflict. What is at stake for the character proves the lie they believe is true. For example, if your heroine's fear is love leads to abandonment, and her lie/limiting belief is that pregnancy always ends in being alone, put her in that position so her fear proves the lie. Of course, the truth will set her free. But first, we just need to torture her emotions a little. 

Remember that the lie/limiting belief produces the internal conflict and the fear produces the stakes. For instance, using the fear and lie example above, and knowing the emotional stakes comes from the fear, we can raise the emotional stakes by creating situations where the heroine causes problems for herself by maybe being too clingy, suspicious, untrusting. Maybe she checks the hero's phone messages or checks up on him, or any of the zillion crazy things someone who is afraid of being abandoned would do. For sure, she would hold on too tightly to the people she loves, which could make them feel smothered and, ultimately, bring about the one thing your heroine fears--abandonment. And worse of all, abandonment whilst pregnant! Give the hero emotional fears of his own that will collide with the heroine's fears. You can picture what an emotional mess these two characters will get themselves into. Of course, your hero doesn't knowingly abandon the pregnant heroine, but her fear caused the Black Moment where she loses everything. The emotional wound leads to the Black Moment but the fear causes it. So make sure the emotional wound is good and deep.

Stakes are the emotional conflicts in your story. They're what keeps your reader turning pages. In order to properly raise the emotional stakes in your novel, you need to first create well-developed characters. 

In the interest of clarity, let me briefly touch on this. The way I develop my main characters is fairly simple. I make sure both my hero and heroine have a name, an identity, a flaw, motto, lie/limiting belief, symptoms of the lie, emotional wound, emotional fear, want, need/truth, long and short-term ext GMC, and story question. Once we know these things, it's easy to raise the stakes.

How I Raise Emotional Stakes

Every author is different in how s/he crafts a story. The way I raise the emotional stakes in my stories is by making a list of questions based on the hero and heroine's emotional fears, flaws, lie, want, and wounds. These are predominately questions I think the reader will be asking as she reads the story. Then I intentionally create scenes that pose these questions in the reader's mind. I answer each question while posing another, making sure to keep it on an emotional level. This way, the reader will keep reading because she has to find out the answer to the last question I crafted. 

That's the way I create the roller coaster read. Let's hear from a few of my author friends to see how they do it.

Diana Rubinoauthor of BOOTLEG BROADWAY
At the height of Prohibition, gifted musician/composer Billy McGlory gets into one mess after another--and shocks us all at the end. 

"I make sure each choice/dilemma has more dire consequences than the one before, and involves the fate of at least one other major character."

Maureen Bonatch: author of NOT A CHANCE
Hope just wants to be normal—too bad that will never happen.

"Most of the characters in my stories have strong family connections. I often raise the emotional stakes by making my character face conflicting expectations from their family, love interest, and themselves. Often this can lead to emotional growth while making those difficult decisions and trying to be true to themselves."

Kathy L Wheeler: author of MAIL ORDER BRIDE: THE COUNTERFEIT (book 1)
Amelia’s saloon madam mother has decided it’s time to bring her daughter into the family business—imagine her surprise, and relief, when she is mistaken for Will’s mail ordered bride.

"According to Donald Maas, go deep, deeper, and one more deep. The second and third deeps are where you are getting to the heart of the matter. For example, if you have a heroine who is angry. Why is she angry? Because anger hides other “deeper” feelings. What feelings? Pain, hurt, desire even. The answer to the why depends on the situation of the character’s situation."

Pamela S. Thibodeaux: author of LOVE IN SEASON

Any time is the right time for love. In this collection, Pamela S Thibodeaux brings together 8 romantic stories that revolve around the 4 seasons as well as 4 holidays that focus on love and relationships. *Contains two brand new, never before published stories!

"There’s a saying most every author knows. 'No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.' 

This goes for laughter, terror, passion.

Raising the emotional stakes for your readers means you, as an author, must go a level deeper. It’s not enough to tell or even to some degree, show, your characters' emotions. You’ve got to get inside their heads and hearts and feel their feelings. Then transfer that to the page in a way that will make your reader sit on the edge of their seat in suspense or swoon with longing. Think deep POV.

Everyone feels the same basic emotions. Asking your characters the following questions can help you connect with them and your readers on that same deep level. 

Why does he/she feel that way?
What has happened to make them react the way they do?
When did this happen?
Who was involved?

More questions are: 
How do you want to feel, act, respond?
What would it take for you to evolve so that you can respond as you desire instead of with the same knee-jerk reactions?

Most of us don’t want to ask our characters these questions because, on some level, what he or she is going through we’ve either experienced or are afraid to experience. Many of us don’t want to feel our own emotions much less have some made up human being ripping us apart with theirs.

Alas, to grip your reader by the heart and not let go, we must look a level deeper, feel a level deeper. Even if it means facing our own fears and perhaps overcoming our own shortcomings."

Linda Carroll-Bradd: author of DULCINA (book 5 in The Widows of Wildcat Ridge series)
Will bringing an old friend to town provide the help Dulcina needs or a new kind of trouble?

"I often give the characters a previous history. Maybe one had a crush on the other when they were both youth but never acted on it. Or the pair courted (I write mostly historical stories) and planned a future then the relationship abruptly ended (lots of reasons here--parental disapproval, one family’s financial circumstances changes, war, relocation, death in family). When they meet again years later, they have to overcome whatever the past problem was plus whatever’s happening in the present. But they also have the fond memories of the times they spent together."

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  1. Great post Monique!
    Thanks for inviting me to participate and THANKS to you and the other authors for giving me something to think about when I'm writing!
    Good luck and God's blessings to all

    1. It's my pleasure, Pamela. Thanks for participating! :)

  2. Thanks for sharing...I feel wiser now and ready to up my characters' emotional stakes!

    1. So happy you found the post helpful, Erin. Thanks for visiting :)

  3. An interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Gail, it's my pleasure. And thanks for stopping by :)

  4. Great points, everyone. Whether we want to admit it or not, how we viewed our younger selves, what we mistakenly believe as well as perceived hurts, stay with us always. Only our God can heal us.

  5. I appreciate the different perspectives on emotional stakes. Thanks for sharing what works for you and how you draw a reader into the story. Cheers

    1. Pleasure, Marilyn. Thanks so much for stopping by :)

  6. A great post, Monique, with lots of terrific instructions.

    1. Thanks so much, Diane, and thanks for visiting :)

  7. Thanks for having me- what a great post with lots of tips!

    1. Thank you for participating and adding to the tips, Maureen! :)


Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I greatly appreciate it! :) :)