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I’m talking about making your stakes personal. To your protagonist, that is.
Many times, I’ve seen pitches with stakes that are mentioned, but it’s unclear why it matters. For example, take this (completely made up) pitch:
When a serial killer abducts Michael, it’s up to Johnny to save him before Michael becomes Victim 13.
I frequently see pitches about the protagonist needing to save someone from certain doom, but like the fake pitch, it’s not always clear why it matters to the protagonist. In this case, what is Michael’s relationship to Johnny? Is he Johnny’s brother? Best friend? Boyfriend? Husband? Is he just another random person, but it’s up to Johnny because Johnny is the detective tracking down the serial killer? There are loads of possibilities here, but without the specifics, pitches like these fall flat regardless of how big the stakes may seem on the surface.
Repeat after me: we must know why the conflict matters to your protagonist.
Another pitch type I see revolves around characters having to save the world. On paper, this sounds like it’d be a really solid set-up for high stakes, but the truth is, personal stakes have a much greater impact than macro-stakes. Saving the world is great, but saving a loved one, or a child, or sibling, is so much more powerful.
The thing to remember is if we don’t know why the conflict matters to your protagonist, then the stakes (that is, what your protagonist has to lose) fall flat. So next time you’re working on a pitch, I encourage you to take a good, hard look at your set-up and make sure it’s absolutely clear why the conflict is so important to your protagonist.
After all, if your MC doesn’t care, why should your readers?
What do you think—are personal stakes important in a pitch?
Working on a query or pitch for your WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae says to make sure it's clear your stakes matter to your MC. (Click to tweet)
"We must know why the conflict matters to your protagonist." —@Ava_Jae on pitching your novel. (Click to tweet)