Stakes: You need them!

This is a topic I’ve covered quite a bit on my own website, but I still see a lot of writers struggling to include stakes in their query. So we’re going to talk about it again here.

So you’re writing your query. It’s going well. You’ve established your setting. You’ve established your characters. You’ve even got some good conflict going. That’s all great! Now you want to end your query with maximum level impact. Something that will leave the reader with that I-gotta-have-this-immediately feeling.

How do you achieve that effect? If you can’t guess from the title of this post, the answer is stakes. Character, setting, and conflict are all necessary aspects of your query. But really standout queries also rely on clearly established stakes.

Stakes are more than just conflict. Stakes are what your main character stands to lose if they don’t win the conflict you’ve already presented. Without stakes, there’s no real reason to care whether the main character succeeds or not.

Would we care whether Frodo could destroy the ring if the fate of Middle Earth didn’t hang in the balance? Would we care whether Katniss could win the Hunger Games if failure didn’t mean death? Probably not. In your query letter, you need to be clear about what happens if the main character can’t successfully resolve the conflict.

If you’re unsure how exactly to do this, I have a simple formula I recommend. It goes as follows:

Main character must do [insert really hard thing] or else [insert really bad thing] will happen.

You can play with the wording, of course. But that’s the gist of it. Not too hard, is it?

Don’t leave your reader wondering why they should care. Give them stakes!

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