Thursday, July 28, 2016

Why Your Story Needs Real Stakes

A couple weeks ago, my husband, Gary, and I settled in for a movie night. After browsing Netflix, we decided on a movie that sounded pretty interesting. After the Dark. 

Here's the synopsis from IMDB:
At an international school in Jakarta, a philosophy teacher challenges his class of twenty graduating seniors to choose which ten of them would take shelter underground and reboot the human race in the event of a nuclear apocalypse.
I love the premise. The beginning of the movie caught our attention right away with all the philosophy talk. But it was just So we were even more excited when the professor announced that the students would have to decide which ten of them would continue on in the event of an apocalypse.

Except, unfortunately, it wasn't exciting at all. 

The students weren't actually deciding which ten of them would get to live. So there wasn't even the most basic stakes of, like, hurt feelings. They all drew a card with an identity or profession and decided based off those.

Every time they talked out a scenario, we saw it play out on screen. Each time they went through a scenario, ten of them were chosen and the rest died. Death is a pretty big stake, right? Half of the people dying is a pretty big deal? Nope. Because no one was actually in any danger whatsoever. They were really just sitting in a classroom. Still talking.  

That wouldn't have even mattered if the students' grades at least depended on how well they made decisions or if they got to live. But that wasn't the case either. At one point, the professor threatened to dock someone's grade, but he didn't say that until nearly the end of the film. And it wasn't a stake so much as him just being a jerk control freak.

I kept waiting for something redeeming, but when the credits rolled, Gary and I felt robbed. Where were the stakes!? A great idea is just an idea--not a story--if there are no real stakes. 

Your characters or their goals need to be in real danger in order to keep your readers captivated. If there's nothing actually at stake, the reader has no reason to invest their time. There's nothing keeping them glued to your pages to see how and if everything will be all right. Make your characters matter. Make their goals matter. Give such powerful stakes that the reader is personally invested, feeling that if the character fails, they're doomed too.  

Have you seen this movie? Do you agree or disagree? Share in the comments below!   


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