What is at the heart of a good story? Most people would say that conflict is what creates that spark of an interesting and engaging read. But characters, I would wager, are just as important. Characters are, after all, the biggest connection that you have with potential readers. You can think of your characters as ambassadors between your book and those picking it up. If your characters are compelling people who inspire either empathy or disdain, then your story is likely to hold a reader’s attention. Conflict, though, is also important. To combine these two essential elements of writing, your characters need to be involved in a conflict to push their story forward. But that’s not enough either. Your characters must also care about the conflict in which they are engaged.
A recent post over at Chuck Wendig’s blog lists 25 Things to Know About Your Story’s Stakes. What are the stakes? That’s what your character stands to win or lose at the end of the story. If they succeed, what will they get in return? If they fail, what do they surrender forever? These are important questions that need to be considered if your story’s central conflict is to be both interesting and believable. The third item on Chuck’s list deals with making your characters care.
3. THE STAKES DAMN WELL BETTER MATTER TO THE CHARACTERS
The characters are the engine that drives any story, and if the stakes don’t mean shit to the characters, the story becomes artificial — a cardboard story blown over in the most inconsequential of breezes. Why do they care? If they don’t give a damn, why will we?
That final line says it all: if your characters don’t care about what is happening to them, chances are your readers won’t care either. The players in your story need to be engaged with their surroundings and with what is happening to them. Therefore, the stakes had better be big. If your character has a child, put that child in danger. If there is a prized possession of some kind that the character loves, tie it to the tracks of a train and stand back to see what they do about it. Whatever it is, make your character sit up and take notice, and that will push forward an interesting plot that readers will flock to.
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan