How writers can use the snowball effect to add high stakes to a scene

“If it matters to the character, then the character must earn it.”

Creating high stakes is much like a snowball gaining strength as it rolls downhill. The story gains momentum, building throughout every scene.  


Each scene has three critical elements: a goal, conflict, and high stakes. Without those components, the scene loses purpose and falls flat. Each proceeding scene must build on the previous scene’s urgency increasing the point of view character’s struggle. Scene two can’t happen before scene one, and scene sixty can’t happen without scenes one through fifty-nine. I’m not a math whiz, but I see the logic of using this snowball effect to add high stakes to a scene. 


The high stakes must be worth the point-of-view (POV) character’s effort and communicated to the reader. 


“If it matters to the character, then the character must earn it.” Roz Morris 


Conflict comes in all sizes and shapes. These forces opposing the character lead the way for high stakes. 


* The character has an incorrect understanding of what is going on. 

* The character doesn’t have all the information. 

* The character is being lied to or deceived. 

* The character has blind spots. 

* The character isn’t sure he/she is making the right decision. 

* The character is afraid.  

* The character battles fears and/or phobias. 

* The character is alone. 


How do novelists accomplish snowball effect high stakes in their stories? Answering the following four questions help create a tight scene: 


  1. What is the POV character’s goal or problem to solve? 

  1. What new information does the POV character learn? 

  1. What backstory is revealed? 

  1. How are the stakes raised? 


Questions two and three can have the same answer, but the answer to question four is what causes the reader to catch their breath and flip to the next page. They are hooked and care about the trouble surrounding the character. What happens next?  


The high stakes don’t have to be earth-shattering and can be physical or psychological, but the stakes must initiate emotion. The opposing focus is the something that stops the character from achieving their goal. 


“Everything your character does to get out of trouble only makes the situation worse.” Jerry B. Jenkins 


To ensure tight, high-stakes scenes, use the characters’ fears and weaknesses against them. This causes the characters to not only struggle but also to face an inner and outer antagonist. Watch plot twists emerge that will add layers to the storyline. Seek ways to ensure the characters face one difficult situation after another. Assign traits that defy the characters’ goals and raise the stakes. Stop the characters from moving forward by establishing a barrier that ensures temporary defeat.  


Tips to increase the stakes:  


* Create a time element or ticking clock to stop the crime spree or prevent a crime from happening. 

* Add complications that apply pressure to the hero/heroine.  

* Use other characters, backstory, betrayal, internal turmoil, blind spots, and circumstances beyond the character’s control.   

* Force the characters to make tough decisions and accept the consequences. For example, the characters must choose between two rights or two wrongs.  

* Give the antagonist an edge that deems the goal impossible. 

* Punch the story with unpredictable and unexpected events. 

* Implore credibility by showing characters in action with strong motivation 

* Develop an antagonistic setting for every scene that challenges the characters’ survival. 

* Keep any type of relief at a distance until the climax and resolution. 

* Strip the characters of all things they have used in the past to solve problems. 


Writers search for clever means to raise the stakes for the protagonist. We dig deep within the character’s landscape to make the protagonist squirm and force him/her to manage challenges by relying on his/her strengths. In this way, the protagonist grows into a genuine hero or heroine.  



Are you incorporating snowball effect stakes in every scene of your novel? 


DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She weaves memorable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels with threads of romance. DiAnn believes every breath of life is someone’s story, so why not capture those moments and create a thrilling adventure?  

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards, Golden Scroll, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests.