Margie Lawson

Make your writing soar


Stacking the Stakes

The stakes have never been higher.

With the Internet, Netflix, HBO, Prime, movies, news, everything at reader’s fingertips, who cares has never been more important.

Sure, you have put your heart, soul, and every drop of blood into your characters and the story they have to tell. You have created a compelling plot where characters run a gauntlet of obstacles. You have edited, deep edited. Every word sings.

But you are still getting critique partners saying, “I don’t get it.” Worse, you are getting those form rejections or those just-didn’t-care-enough responses.

Simple truth is, it has never been so important to grab a reader’s attention and not let go. 

But while these rejections and questions can feel overwhelmed, don’t look at it as an insurmountable mountain.  You too can grab your readers, keep them up late at night, have them begging for your next story.

You just gotta up the stakes and make readers care.

And Stacking the Stakes is here.

In this two-week intensive, we’ll discover ways to get your readers caring about your characters, your story and every single page until the very end.   Full of easy-to-read lectures, hands-on assignments, and plenty of opportunities for class and instructor interaction, Stack the Stakes will take a languishing story from plodding too powerful.


  • Define stakes
  • Realize size doesn’t matter
  • Discover the difference between stakes that matter and a gauntlet of problems
  • Take stakes from functional to fantastic
  • Develop ways for stakes to impact the protagonist
  • Create and sustain caring, caring, caring
  • Use connections to keep readers engaged
  • Power up the stakes and tighten the tension
  • Change up the middle to rev up the pace
  • Write knockout endings that make the journey worth taking

Lesson Plan:

Week One

Lecture 1: What is at stake

  • What are stakes
  • The importance of what is at stake
  • Finding your stakes
  • Crafting killer goals
  • Active characters matter

Lecture 2: Deepening character goals

  • Shaping your goals
  • The who of your character
    • Upbringing
    • Values
    • Backstory
  • Character shapes goal
  • Goals shape character
  • Weaving it all into Powerful Stakes

Lecture 3: Make your stakes personal

  • Keep your characters tied to the story
  • Upping the ante on your stakes
  • Sacrifice makes it matter

Lecture 4: Ultimate stakes

  • Death stakes
  • Learn from favorite writers
  • Finding your death

Week Two

Lecture 5: Raising the stakes

  • The where, when, and how of weaving stakes throughout the whole of the story
    • Inciting incident
    • From act 1 to 2
    • Mirror moment
    • Midpoint
    • All is lost
    • Riding to the climax
  • Weaving your stakes throughout

Lecture 6: Meso level of stakes

  • Stakes on every level
  • Chapter/scene goals and what is at stake
  • Weaving in chapter goals
  • Facing moral dilemmas
  • Weaving dilemma, action, obstacles, stakes, goals, and character in every moment
  • Keeping the focus tight
  • Keep your character in action
  • Reaction vs. action scenes
  • Scene endings that keep the reader reading

Lecture 7: Plot stakes versus Character stakes

  • Know the difference
  • Use the difference
  • Tips and tricks for raising plot stakes
  • Tips and tricks for diving deeper into character stakes
  • And don’t forget societal stakes
  • Grow your stakes

Wow, that’s a lot in two-weeks, but it’s not all. With more than seven get-you-started assignments and opportunities to share your work, immediate, personalized feedback will offer even more assignments, more opportunities, more chances to grow your work from where you are rather than where-a-class-expects-you-to be.  So, take a chance because the stakes have never been so important.


Rhay Christou

Rhay Christou loves her dogs—Fredo and MoJoe—her teaching and writing. Making her home in a small village in Cyprus, when she is not wandering the National Park's trails, she uses her MFA in writing from Vermont College to share her knowledge and experience to cheerlead writers in creating their best stories. Since graduating, she has taught everything from creative writing to academic writing at the university level and writing workshops on the lovely island of Cyprus, in Greece and the USA.




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