Exercise: Raising Public Stakes

How far do the public stakes in your novel-in-progress rise? How deep do they cut? How bad do they get? Take them higher and deeper. Make them worse—much worse. Your novel can only get better.

STEP 1: As briefly as possible, write down your novel’s overt and outward central conflict or problem.
STEP 2: What would make this problem worse? Write down as many reasons as you can.
STEP 3: When you run out of ideas, ask yourself: What would make this problem even worse than that? Write down still more reasons.
STEP 4: When you run out of steam, ask: What are the circumstances under which my protagonist(s) would actually fail to solve the problem? Write those down.
STEP 5: Have your novel conclude with your protagonist’s failure. Can you pull some measure of happiness from this ending? Make notes.

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