But? What could be wrong with my story?
"But no one is going to care much about a guy who will lose his job if he fails. Raise the stakes."
Okay. Right. Put the Universe in jeopardy or something. But what? I lost interest in the story before I found the answer.
One way to make a story bigger -- and make it more likely that your hours of effort will reach your audience -- is the raise the stakes. But how?
Here are some suggestions:
- Find out why it matters so much to your character. In the nonfiction book I'm writing now, the heroine, America's first female botanist, studied hard, defied society by turning down a suitor, slipped into a forest filled with hostile Native Americans, and incurred her father's wrath by outdoing him. For what? To study plants? I think she did it to save her sanity.
- Make it a decision. My character was pushed into botany, but she chose to become one of the best, and she sacrificed to make it happen.
- Make it irreversible. Making it impossible for a character to step back from a decision and return to life as it was. Once my character turned down her suitor, she shackled herself to her father's goals. She would succeed in becoming a scientist, or she would spend the rest of her life in charge of cheese production.
- Imagine the worst. If my character fails, she loses her job. Hmm. But she really loses the chance to explore, to be the first to discover new species, to have rich conversations with people like Benjamin Franklin, to act with a level of autonomy, and to keep a brilliant and agile mind occupied in a world of routine.
- Imagine the best. Full success would mean becoming famous. A trailblazer who showed women were as capable as men. Having new species named in her honor. Possibly even traveling to Europe and being feted by the great scientists there.
- Play another card. Why is "Luke, I am your father," one of the most memorable lines in film? Because from then on, Luke knew he would achieve his goal only if he was willing to sacrifice his father.
- Make it a good card. Luke also had an amazing, new possibility open up before him when Darth Vader told him the secret of his paternity. He could forget his hopeless quest with the rebel alliance, and be more powerful than he had imagined.
- Oh, and make the revelation painful. Darth's little secret made the beloved Obi-Wan Kenobi a liar. Ouch.