Writing tips

Raise the stakes in your novel.

Does every scene raise the stakes of your plot?

Raise the stakes in your novel.

Raise the stakes in your novel.

Lately, I’ve been playing a little game called RTS.  It stands for Raise The Stakes, and it’s made a big difference in the tension of my novel.

In order to catch and keep your reader’s attention, you have to involve them with your characters.   You want them to love them or hate them, root for or against them, and be actively involved with them.  (Think of the audience in The Truman Show).  Every scene should create a dilemma for your character, leaving the reader to wonder how your hero/heroine will react and get out of this newest problem.  This is especially true at the end of chapters.  The absolute worst thing you can do is end a chapter where the H/H goes to bed.  This is known as the “back-of-the-toilet” scenario, whereupon your reader, metaphorically or literally, turns the open book upside down on the back of the toilet and leaves, possibly never to return to reading your cherished story.

What you want to do is raise the stakes for your H/H in each scene.  Whether it is major, like killing someone/finding a body, or minor, like having something prevent you from completing the report your boss really, really needs, some ACTION has to happen to prevent your character from going on her merry way.

No one wants to read a book where nothing happens.

Raise The Stakes, or RTS, came to me as I fine tuned my outline for the last third of my current WIP, The Dearly Departed Dating Service.  Of course, I wanted a HEA (happily ever after) for my heroine, but I want it in a specific way.  I kept thinking about how a totally different character from one of my favorite authors achieved a similar HEA (the plots are not even close in similarity).  I spent a few days reading her novel again.  First for pleasure, and second, deconstructing each scene.

How I deconstructed a novel

First, I established in whose viewpoint was the scene written.  This author fairly split the scenes between hero and heroine.  This effectively raised the stakes for the reader as switching between the H/H’s dilemmas kept them curious and involved.   You knew Joe had been hit with a new problem in the last scene, and here’s Jane getting hit, as well, but what about Joe?  Better keep reading.

Next, I wrote down who else was involved in the scene and why.  Each character has to have a reason to be there.  If not, get rid of him.

Next, I wrote a two or three sentence synopsis of what was happening in the scene.  More often than not, one of these actions was the RTS.  How can the Heroine pay back the money she owes when her job is threatened?  How can the Hero salvage an important meeting when someone shows up uninvited who he knows will ruin it?  What do you mean, you’re married?

As large or as small as each problem is, they incrementally suck your reader further into your story.  Each scene should raise the stakes, propelling the characters deeper and deeper into chaos until your reader has to keep turning the page.

Sure, it’s fun to write that scene where this or that happens to X, but if X isn’t disturbed by it, why would your reader want to spend time on it?  Dull scenes are the death of your novel.

An exercise for you

Take one of your favorite books off your keeper shelf.  You know, the one that kept you up until 2 a.m.  Deconstruct some of the scenes.  Maybe not the whole book, but enough to understand what the author is doing – swirling her characters down a whirlpool and taking you along.

Once you’ve recognized how neatly and masterfully your author has entrapped you, the reader, apply some of her methods to your own writing.  Take a current scene from your WIP and analyze it, keeping RTS in mind.  Are you raising the stakes for your characters?  What can you add that will make it worse for them?  Do you need to drop a secondary character or add someone else?  What EVENT has to happen to make things worse?

Whatever changes you make, ensure that your character is left off worse at the end of the scene than the beginning.  Your novel will be enriched, and your reader enthralled.

Happy writing!



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pinterest template keyboardI love, love, love keyboard shortcuts. They are the bomb. Or maybe I’m just lazy. No. Efficient. Yeah, I’m uber efficient.
It’s amazing how many people don’t use keyboard shortcuts, even the basics like CNTL+A for chose all. How weird that you wouldn’t want to make your typing easier and faster so you can write more or have time for other things.
Here is a handy-dandy list of keyboard shortcuts. I hope you’ll take advantage of one or two and increase your word count!

Ctrl+B Bold the selected text bold
Ctrl+I Italicize the selected text italic
Ctrl+U Underline the selected text
Ctrl+Backspace Delete the previous word
Ctrl+Del Delete the next word
Ctrl+F Find some text in the current document
Ctrl+Z Undo your last action


Ctrl+C Copy what’s selected
Ctrl+X Cut what’s selected
Ctrl+V Paste what you last copied or cut
Ctrl+A Select all


Ctrl+N Create a new document
Ctrl+O Open an existing document
Ctrl+W Close the current document
Ctrl+S Saves the current document
Ctrl+P Print the current document


Ctrl+N Open a new window
Ctrl+T Open a new tab (if your browser supports tabs)
Ctrl+W Close the current window/tab
Ctrl+R Refresh
Esc Stop
Alt+? Back
Alt+? Forward
PageUp Move up a page
PageDown Move down a page
Alt+Home Go to your homepage
Alt+D Move focus to the address bar to type in a URL
Ctrl+Enter Add “http://www.” and “.com” around an address
MiddleClick Middle-clicking a tab will close it, even if it’s not the active tab


Alt+3 £
Alt+4 ¢
Alt+5 ?
Alt+6 §
Alt+7 ¶     (pilcrow paragraph)
Alt+8 •     (black dot)
Alt+9 ª     (floating small a)
Alt+0 º     (degrees)

Happy writing!


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Writing intimacy is breaking down barriers. It's opening long-held secrets and exposing them to the critique of another.

Writing sex

Writing sex is breaking down barriers.  It's opening long-held secrets and exposing them to the critique of another. Words of wisdom from an old post regarding the difficulty of writing sex:

  • Sex is easy to write.
  • Intimacy is hard to write.

Writing sex is writing logistics.  Tab A in Slot B.  It’s the physicality of the act.

Writing intimacy is breaking down barriers.  It’s opening long-held secrets and exposing them to the critique of another.  It’s raw and vulnerability and an enormous amount of trust.  Writing intimacy should be a pivotal point in the story of the characters involved, pushing them into uncharted territory and sealing the way back to the way they were before.

Don’t cheat your characters and readers by writing a sex scene.  Make it something more, something intimate.  Your story will be stronger for it.

All the best,


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