Tue, 14 November 2023
Stakes are a part of a story. What does a character want? What means the most to the character? What are they after, what do they care about? Stakes can be really subjective like that and they can also be objective and more universal like death, debt, a threat to a home, nation, planet or even the universe. The most important thing though is that you can communicate the value of those stakes to the audience! It doesn't actually matter WHAT the stakes are as long as the audience understands that they're important.
Sooooo so many writers seem to have zero idea about that. One idea is that you need to “raise the stakes” in order to get the audience to be more invested, which certainly works but what a bad writer will always do is just crudely add onto the objective stakes: “Ten people were in danger but NOW it's 500! But wait… now it's 6000. OMG, now it's a million! Oh wow, the fate of the known universe hangs in the balance!”. The truth is that at a certain point it loses value, we just can't relate very well to bigger and bigger numbers and the “known universe” is an empty concept to most people. To really raise the stakes you have to pick things that the audience CAN care about and/or show that it's really affecting the characters in a way the audience can symbathise with.