Thursday, January 14, 2016

Upping the Stakes -- How Values Can Add Conflict

Hi, all! So, I'm currently revising a proposal, and one of the editor's main critiques was that the stakes in my story aren't high enough. Hook? Check. Characterization? Check. Setting? Check. But stakes... hmmm...

Knowing this was some valuable insight, I took to the streets... well, the electronic ones, that is... and started asking several of my trusted friends for input on how I could put more zing into the stakes of my story, and consequently, add more conflict.

Photo by Ambro from
Liz Johnson (who really, is adorable in every way-- check out her books if you haven't already) gave me some advice that I decided to share on the blog today because it was so helpful to me. She said one of the best ways to raise the stakes is to pit the characters' values against one another. If they are working against each other even while falling in love, they'll have to make a sacrifice one way or another, and that leads to believable conflict.

For example, let's say your heroine has inherited her great-grandmother's home, and it's a prize to her heart. Meanwhile, the hero is a conservationist and has made a discovery that an endangered bird is nesting along the one and only country road leading to said house, and the road must be shut down to protect the hatchlings, rendering the house unlivable. It may seem like the two are at odds, but maybe by the end of the story, the heroine holds one of the little hatchlings, falls in love with it and the hero, and the two decide to use the house as conservation headquarters.

Or, let's make it personal. Let's say the hero has a desire to be a missionary overseas. The heroine, meanwhile, works at a local school for underprivileged kids. Grant money is up for grabs, and the two must vie against one another for the sake of their respected charities... but in the end, God blends their unique callings together, and they start an organization for immigrant children whose parents are struggling to make a living in America.

The key idea is that the values should be deeply entrenched in your characters' backstories, and that these values should conflict beyond something a simple conversation could solve. Forcing your characters into such an uncomfortable situation can actually push them together as they realize they must open themselves to an entirely new job/relationship/home than what was previously in their comfort zone.

Can you think of books or movies that do this well? Which are your favorites and why?


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

1 comment:

Liz Johnson said...

So glad I could be of help, Ashley! I can't wait to read your book!