Last week, I talked about the importance of connecting with a character to make a story compelling.

This week, I’d like to continue the discussion, but move it more into the storyline. What if the characters are fine, you like them, you connect with them, but the stakes just aren’t high enough to compel you to keep reading?

Not so much in a DNF way, but in an ‘I’ll finish when I remember to, where did I put it, oh, here’s a good recipe for Brussels sprouts, lemme read that’ way.

I am currently editing a book that has that issue, and I have to figure out how to address it. My characters are interesting, multi-faceted and dynamic, but their stakes are simply not high enough.

Stakes need to be high to compel readers to move onto the next chapter. Like a movie or a TV show that has a deadline–House has to save a life before the unknown virus eats a life, Harry needs to quash Voldemort before he gets enough bad wizards backing him, Edward has to keep Bella safe without turning her into a vampire–books need that kind of compelling plot point, an external one, to reinforce the inner turmoil. I don’t think inner turmoil is enough. I want there to be an actual threat of death, or ruination, or irrevocable life change, for those characters. Something to make me read, even though it’s midnight and 7:04am (yeah, weird, but whatev) comes quickly.

For this book, then, I am going to make it so the hero realizes that if he and the heroine are together, they will be under a constant threat of death because of their respective circumstances (it’s an interracial nineteenth century romance).

What are your favorite time deadline stories? What book surprised you with its solution because you never thought the characters could get out of their situation?