How to Nail Conflict Stakes in Your Novel

hello everyone Alexa done here and today I am talking about how to nail conflict and stakes in your novel now no book story anything works without conflict and stakes conflict in stakes are the things that make stuff happen and not just make stuff happen but make stuff matter the concept of the stakes are the things that make you care about what is happening to your main character or characters and in the plot of your novel so like imagine the Hunger Games without the higher games if it was just a book about a girl who lived in a coal mining town and the whole book I'm trying to think of a book without conflict or stakes and the whole book was just a girl going to school everyday learning stuff talking to people the thing is all up so all of these things can happen in a book and you can create conflicts and stakes for those things you could write a book about a girl who lives in a coal mining town in a terrible place to live in a dystopic place and she doesn't necessarily have to enter the Hunger Games and fight for her life for there to be good conflict and stakes you could theoretically write like that quiet character-driven novel about Katniss living in district 12 and and starvation and all that jazz it would just be a very different book whereas the Hunger Games is what we would call like very commercial big conflict big stakes like and I do have to laugh that I mean I think my examples literally always The Hunger Games and I apologize to those of you who are like oh god I wish she talked about something other than the Hunger Games I just really love the Hunger Games The Hunger Game nails so many things that you should pay attention to when you were writing your novel it's high concept it's got great pacing the inciting incident isn't buried you care about the characters who are well drawn the world-building is good oh and god there's a lot of conflict in stakes and most importantly there's all the good kinds of conflict and stakes really kinds of conflict because there's more than one so you have your overarching plot conflict which in the Hunger Games is both they live in a dystopian future where everything is terrible and she has to fight in The Hunger Games and fight for her life / she did it to save her sister like all of that is like overarching plot conflict the stakes being she could die and then later the stakes are her success could start a revolution and you know save everyone so those are like conflicts an overarching conflict in stakes there's also character conflict characters are always gonna have conflicts with each other the same way that people have conflicts with each other you know you're in a conversation and someone says something kind of dickish that's conflict you're in you're in an interaction with a person and it's just kind of awkward that's a conflict you are you know interacting with characters Bowen you like them and or they like you or you like them and they don't like you that's conflict there is also internal conflict gilts is a fantastic bit of internal conflict and Katniss also has lots of internal conflict I shouldn't blow all of my Hunger Games examples because I am going to give you uh some concrete examples including from The Hunger Games of all of these different kinds of conflicts and scene specific conflict examples to give you ideas of how to weave conflict and stakes into your novel so internal conflict guilt you know any like feelings that a character wrestles with and struggles with internal conflict and then there's micro conflict which is slick scene level conflict and it can be it can be tied to the other types of conflict like that character conflict I mentioned if you're in a conversation with someone and they say something that's really dickish that is not only character conflict that is scene level micro conflict it is something that kind of buoys a scene and like gets it along like oh how's she gonna react to that micro conflict cat conflict gin ginger cat conflicts like showing up while I'm talking about conflict well I guess teddy really likes conflict yeah okay and of course conflict is meaningless without stakes your stakes are what your character has to lose or characters or world have to lose if the conflict doesn't work out of course in many cases like the big stake would be losing your life there's also stakes like losing hesitate to say your soul but like losing a piece of yourself losing your integrity it could be losing someone that you love it could be losing a war a fight like you know especially since than to Stolp you know what like you know there's revolution the stakes are well if you lose the war if you lose the fight a lot of people die death really is a pretty common stake but it doesn't always have to be stakes um dissatisfaction just like being unhappiness unhappiness is a great stake so often we see this in romance that if you can't be with the person that you love that you're just gonna be miserable that's a stake bigger stakes tend to have bigger emotional payoff or I should say personal stakes tend to have bigger payoff and emotional investment and you always want to get your readers to emotionally invest and your characters and your story and you do this through the stakes and how they bounce off of the conflict so you always want to make them personal /big it's like a combination of both and this doesn't mean that death is always the answer that it's always oh you're gonna die or someone you love is going to die as I mentioned it could be losing a piece of yourself or being unhappy and if you draw your characters and your world and your conflicts well enough those will be deeply personal stakes to the readers you have to make the readers care about the stakes so that the conflict is driving them to read and find out what happens and I'll say of it like the world is gonna end or people will die are really overdone whenever possible I do encourage writers to delve deeper to find better or different stakes or you know their stakes and being your novel but I encourage writers not to always default to those stakes as the stakes in your query if we're talking about pitching because in terms of getting an agent to care about reading well of course it's like well the world may end it's just a bit cliche so always think about how you can make the stakes personal and character specific that's for pitches but of course also for the actual writing of the novel novels should almost always be character driven we care about people occasionally we do care about worlds or things but typically we care about worlds and or things because of the people that connect to them so like Hunger Games Panem we care about ending this awful regime because we care about people in the world we don't want tons of people to die especially children so you can kind of tie into like the core things that people tend to care about well generally people don't want people to die that's true but also we can all connect to the idea that no one wants to be miserable that not getting you know the thing that your heart desires or the thing that would bring you happiness or even just contentedness I think we can all relate to that drive not to be miserable so please think about those things and that's kind of a footnote to the characters are important we need to care and the best stakes are emotional and personal stakes the things that your character does should have consequences it's hurt to care or be invested if only good things happen to your character or if everything your character does results in a success you have to have setbacks and failures in order to drive conflict and develop character and push the plot forward so don't be afraid to do bad things to your character or have bad things happen first of all it gives you more for your character characters to relate to to react to which gives you more to write calm what is good but also having setbacks and failures and good conflict does make you care more it's this delicate balance I mean you don't obviously want to does have it be like what are all the most horrific things I can possibly have happen in this book if you make it kitchen sinky conflict people are gonna know out but just just don't go the other way and have nothing of consequence happen when things happen to your character your character does things it's always good to get them agency have them making decisions and trying things and occasionally failing and having setbacks you're gonna create more character engagement in both the conflict the character and the stakes now I mentioned this in my pasting video but I think it's worth bringing it up against some what I call structural conflicts so these are kind of like plot devices for conflict that you can use to introduce conflict structure to your novel these are just some of my favorite shortcuts but I thought would be worth mentioning again a big one is the ticking clock like the countdown this works really really well in like thriller novels or adventure novels action novels sci-fi one of my favorite more recent examples is illuminate that book has a big ticking clock at a certain point basically everyone's gonna die you know big stakes again but it gives a tenseness to the narrative or anything where it's a thriller where you know someone has died or someone's been kidnapped or someone's going to die like you know think of something like and then there were none by Agatha Christie there's a ticking clock there every day you know every day someone will die so it gives you as a writer something to write towards like you know okay my characters only have so much time in which to do things and react to things and to have things happen it keeps the reader turning pages another really good structural conflict device is what I call like the tournament I think about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire one of my favorite examples you have the tribes of tournaments so you know that there are three tasks you know proximately when they happen if I'm remembering I think there's one every week or so but JK Rowling used this to basically break up her act structure kind of a Act one is obviously everything leading up to it but then Act two was basically like the first task stuff in between second task and then the third task kicked off the third act of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that structure of bam-bam-bam three task threes a magical number of who doing a tournament you can do more but I don't recommend more than three to be honest um it gives you as the writer again something that you're writing towards but also tournaments or anything that's like a competition front of glass that's something like that to Red Queen has something similar to that because there's like a and think about like it doesn't have to be like three events in a tournament trials or tests essentially create a conflict and pacing structure where the reader is reading towards something that is gonna happen and you should always of course make sure that your tournament or your trial or your test is high conflict high stakes it should be stuff should happen that is challenging to your character and the stakes for failure should be high now as promised I'm gonna break down some white books some specific examples for each type of conflict and yes I am gonna start with my perennial favorite a Hunger Games even though I've already kind of done some of that I I literally can't help it guys like I start talking to you about craft and just hunger games examples like tumble out of my mouth without even thinking about it I even knew I was gonna be breaking down examples for you but it's like a disease it's a hunger game example disease but I'm gonna break down those core types of conflict that I mentioned using the Hunger Games and again those types are the overarching plot conflict character conflict internal conflict and micro scene level conflict so let's start with the overarching big conflict of the Hunger Games Katniss has to fight in The Hunger Games to save her life and she entered it to save her sister that's like the main conflict in stakes she might die and as I mentioned eventually there's the revolutionary thing where winning has broader stakes for the world but also remember if Katniss way she'll save her family from poverty so there are layers of major plot conflict and stakes in The Hunger Games next is the character conflict Katniss has character conflict was basically everyone every character in The Hunger Games is using Katniss trying to kill her or want something from her and all of these dynamics create conflict of course you know we have Peeta he just wants her to love him but that creates a lot of conflict in Katniss especially internal conflict which I'm going to talk about next you have the other tributes want to kill Katniss and then that's big character conflict or you have someone like President Snow who of course wants to kill Katniss as well but there's a much broader deeper manipulative kind of you know parrying that happens between those two characters especially in the subsequent Hunger Games books but even in the first one there's a lot of just interesting character character conflict in The Hunger Games there's also not just even with Katniss think about other characters to have conflicts with each other and of course then there's an internal conflict there's a lot of it in The Hunger Games my favorite is that Peeta conflict for Katniss Katniss knows that she has to pretend to have feelings for Peeta at a certain point because it is her best way to win fever and sympathy and possibly win the higher names thus saving her life but she feels bad about it and that leads to lots of delicious internal conflict and this is actually one of my biggest like notes on the movie with where the movie just wasn't quite as satisfying for me because the beauty of a book is that you can get lots of internal conflict from a book you're reading it on the page from that person's perspective and the internal conflict that Katniss has about everything with Peeta and all the strategy she has to employ to win the Hunger Games is fantastic and then micro and scene level conflict I mean there's tons of this in The Hunger Games but the way that I want to mention is in the beginning just in the very beginning of the book it's a great example of starting your novel and having micro conflict in the beginning to also set up character and world building that's when Katniss is hunting and Gale distracts her and stops her from killing an animal the micro conflict there is that she's annoyed with him because she he distracted her and she didn't get the kill and the kill is important because she needs to feed her family it's minor conflict in the sense that of course she's best friends with Gail and she forgives him quickly but just that kind of like little version of tension tells you a lot about caddis as a person what she's doing why it's important who Gail is and what their relationship is so just really good example of micro conflict on a scene level I also want to talk about Fras blood disclaimer if I haven't said it before Ellie Blake is my critique partner so I love her I love her book and I just read it a lot oh it came right to my mind when I was thinking about conflicts so the overarching plot conflict of Frost blood is that ruby lives in a world where fire Bloods are hunted by the frost blood she lives in the frost blood kingdom and fire Bloods have been hunted almost to extinction and she's one of the last remaining fire Bloods so the big overarching plot conflict is Ruby of course wants to stay alive like not be captured and found out and killed but also after the frost blood King what his his guard has kept the capture of the guard kills her mother and so she has a drive for revenge so the overarching plot conflict is Ruby wants to kill the King because the king is responsible for hunting down and killing all the fire Bloods but it's also personal because he's essentially responsible for killing her mothers that's like that overarching plot conflict then there's a lot of character conflict in frost blood but especially romantic character conflict which I love are you seeing a pattern here for me Ruby and Arcas have a lot of character conflict because at first they don't really like each other Ruby as a fire blood is kind of impulsive and like says what she's thinking and loses her temper a lot whereas arcus as a frost blood and just as a person he's a lot more serious he's a lot more reserved but he's responsible for teaching her how to control her powers he kind of hates her instinctively for his own reasons because of conflicts between frost Bloods and fire Bloods but but also she's really resistant to his training they but heads a lot just really good strong character conflict there and of course eventually there's romantic character conflict so that would be a great example of character conflict in frost but internal conflict again perennial favorite is guilt ruby feels very guilty for the fact that her mother died she feels that she's responsible because the king's soldiers came to her village because of her someone found her out ratted her out and the soldiers came to the village they not only murdered her mother but they burned the village to the ground and killed almost everyone so she just feels immensely guilty and this leads to a lot of internal character struggle and conflict but also once Ruby starts developing feelings for arcus there's a lot of internal conflict there because he's supposed to be the enemy but she has these feelings for him also internal conflict because she doesn't think that he returns them so just those are really good examples of internal conflict both for guilt but also romantic internal conflict and lastly just a good example of micro conflict from frost blood there's a training scene where they're going back and forth and you know she's losing her temper and trying to control her powers and arcus it's getting fed up with her and he throws her into an icy like Lake Stream thing and that of course makes her even more mad cuz now she's wet and she's cold and that's just good micro scene conflict it's a scene with a lot of back-and-forth dialogue and then one character doing something to another character that adversely affects them so just a good example of micro conflict on a scene level I could honestly cut go on and on I could pick any any book any well-told story and give you good examples of all of these types of conflict but I won't cuz we just don't have time for that but I hope this was an illustrative and instructive overview of kind of conflict why it's important why the stakes are especially important how they relate to the conflict some ideas of kind of what you can do and how you can employ conflict in your writing if you work on the different kinds of conflict and really think about your stakes and I beg of you make it personal never forget to make it personal you will write stronger more compelling fiction that has people turning the pages caring about your characters and itching to read drop me comments down below any questions that you have I also love suggestions for topics if there's anything else that you want to hear about if you want to beg me not to use the Hunger Games as an example anymore I probably won't listen but you can try just you know hit me up down below give it a thumbs up if you liked this so I know to do more of these crafts type videos for you if you're not subscribe to the channel but you're interested in you know watching more videos like this I'd always appreciate a subscription just don't forget to hit the notification belt it'll tell you whenever I post a new video so thank you as always for watching and happy writing everyone