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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.

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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