The protagonist of our story must be someone our readers cheer on and support. One way novel writers can accomplish this is by giving the hero a worthy goal.
Creating authentic story stakes is an additional requirement if we want to create fans. Please note that I didn’t say story stakes was an alternative way. No, the hero’s goal and the story’s stakes are two sides of the same coin.
So, what are story stakes? They are the undesirable results (bad things) that result from our hero failing to accomplish his goal. Without a doubt, to create a great novel (or even a mediocre one), the hero’s goal must be entwined with the story’s stakes.
SPOILER ALERT: In my own novel, The Boaz Seeker, eleventh-grader Cullie Sims’ goal (initially) is to help Andrea, her classmate and friend, discover who killed Skylar Simmons, a rising ninth-grader who Andrea had befriended. However, Cullie’s goal becomes personal when she learns her mother was involved in the disappearance and death of Patrick Wilkins, the local high school’s assistant principal. The reason? Katie, Cullie’s mother, did so to avenge the brutal rape of her co-teacher and best friend Cindy Barker.
In a broad sense, Cullie’s two goals seem disjointed. If Cullie (and Andrea) fail to discover who killed Skylar, then her killer will go free (note: the local criminal justice system is disinterested or is looking in the wrong place). As to Cullie’s more personal goal, if she doesn’t protect her mother, she likely will spend the rest of her life in prison. In fact, the two goals are intertwined. I’ll leave it at that and let you read my novel to discover what’s at stake (regarding both Skylar and Katie) if Cullie fails.
Exercise: think about your story, your protagonist, and his external goal. What’s at stakes if he fails? Pencil a few snippets or a page or two.
If you want to dig deeper, read “The Secret to Crafting High Stakes,” by the talented C.S. Lakin.