Making the Stakes Personal

Most of the gatekeepers into entertainment and publishing can shut down every pitch with a single question: “Why should I care?”

You have a suave superspy who can keep his head in any situation put through the paces and escape death numerous times. That’s nice. Why should we follow him for 300 pages?

If he fails in his mission, capitalism in the West will be destroyed and the landscape of world finance turned on its end (GoldenEye). Or maybe humanity will be wiped off the planet by a sinister bioengineered plague (Moonraker). Or the United States will lose the space race to the Soviet Union (Dr. No).

None of those stakes are memorable, though. If I hadn’t included the name of the movie, would you have been able to figure out which Bond film I was talking about? Probably not. As big a 007 fan as I am, I couldn’t actually explain what was at stake in either The Living Daylights or Octopussy, films I’ve seen a half-dozen or more times each.

So how do we as writers make the stakes truly memorable? I can answer that by looking at two video games in the Final Fantasy series. Continue reading “Making the Stakes Personal”